Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Democracy's Ongoing Challenges!
Kenya’s efforts to establish a true and lasting democracy recently suffered a series of major setbacks when widespread violence broke out following allegations its presidential election was rigged. According to independent news reports and humanitarian agencies, more than 650 people have died and tens of thousands more have been displaced as a result of attacks carried out by supporters of incumbent president Mwai Kibaki and his opponent Raila Odinga.
Early polls indicated Odinga won the race handily, yet delayed voting results reported impossibly high levels of turnout and support for Kibaki. He quickly claimed victory, sparking unrest among those who maintained that the election results were fraudulent.
The United States initially congratulated Kibaki on his apparent reelection, but, in the wake of mounting evidence of election fraud, the Bush administration retracted its support. In an attempt to cling to the purported victory, Kibaki employed strong-arm tactics, including restricting the media and ordering the country’s security forces to respond to unrest with force.
According to observers, the situation shows little sign of abating as ethnic and politically charged violence—especially within Nairobi’s slums—continues. Kibaki, who remains in power, has rejected the opposition’s demands for a recount or new election. Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan is scheduled to arrive in Kenya later this week in an attempt to mediate the crisis.
The situation in Kenya is not unique. Around the world, new and burgeoning democracies are being challenged by internal corruption, election fraud, economic hardship, and, in some cases, power unevenly distributed among political parties.
Hoover senior fellow Larry Diamond explains that a democratic system is one in which citizens are able to choose and replace their leaders in regular, free, and fair multiparty elections. Democracy, especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the former Soviet Union, has spread around the globe. In 1974, only 40 democracies existed--the vast majority in developed Western nations. By the end of 2006, according to Freedom House, there were 123 electoral democracies throughout the world. Despite democracy’s apparent prevalence, however, Diamond warns democracy is in danger. “Government corruption is the greatest threat to emerging democracies,” Diamond explains. “In countries like Kenya, the Philippines, and Venezuela, democracy is seriously under assault.”
The list of struggling democracies is long. In Nigeria, the nation’s two leading opposition candidates in its most recent presidential contest claimed election fraud. The International Republican Institute (a U.S.-based election-monitoring group) and other watchdog agencies reported Nigeria’s elections had not been conducted according to prevailing standards. Other African nations, such as, Malawi, Senegal, and Mozambique, are classified as democracies by Freedom House but suffer “significant abridgements of political and civil freedom.” Democracy in the Philippines is struggling to gain a foothold in the wake of a succession of corrupt and ineffective leaders, stemming back to the failed leadership of Ferdinand Marcos. South Africa has likewise endured political turbulence with the recent election of Joseph Zuma (currently facing corruption charges) to the leadership of the African National Congress.
In December, Venezuelans narrowly rejected a sweeping referendum that would have given socialist president Hugo Chávez unprecedented power and control, including sway over the nation’s petroleum resources. Bolivia and Nicaragua have also encountered challenges and setbacks in sustaining democratic governments. In Nicaragua, former president and Marxist rebel/Sandanista leader José Daniel Ortega Saavedra won the 2006 presidential election. He has since declared that he wanted an end to “savage capitalism,” a statement that raises concerns among some Latin American scholars who believe that Ortega’s socialist policies could derail Nicaragua’s democratic efforts. In Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, the election of socialist president Evo Morales has failed to bring stability to a nation racked by economic disasters, increasing ethnic tensions between indigenous and nonindigenous populations, and the ongoing war on drugs.
Although the democratization of some former Soviet satellite states and republics, such as Ukraine and Georgia, is promising, Diamond asserts that democracy in Russia has been quashed: “Democracy in Russia has died under Putin.” Other former Soviet states are currently plagued by allegations of media suppression and human rights violations. In Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov has been accused by human rights groups and free press advocates of stifling the country’s media and using violence to suppress protests. A similar situation exists in neighboring Kazakhstan, which Freedom House characterizes as a “firmly authoritarian country that has none of the fundamental features of a democratic society.”
In the Middle East, democracy is almost nonexistent; most countries on the Arabian Peninsula are long-standing monarchies whose ruling elite has little or no incentive to move aside for democratic reform. Yet, as economic conditions improve and globalization takes hold, Diamond says he is hopeful that citizens living under autocratic regimes will begin to demand more liberties, such as suffrage for women and freedom of the press, that could result in more democratic institutions over time.
Although regime change can create an opportunity in which democratic leadership can step in, simply replacing an authoritarian government does not guarantee that democracy will instantly flourish. In Iraq, removing Saddam Hussein from power and holding free elections has not resulted—yet—in a stable democracy. Diamond states that democracy in Iraq is unattainable until “the rival Sunni, Shia’a, and Kurdish factions can find a way to compromise and write a fair constitution.”
The Gift of Democracy
Abbas Milani, research fellow and codirector of the Hoover Institution’s Iran Democracy Project, writes that “democracy is a gift only a nation can give itself.” Many experts, Diamond included, point out that establishing a democracy requires enormous effort and that emerging nations need assistance to successfully negotiate the many obstacles they confront. The United States and the World Bank have long supplied funds to aid and support countries with fledgling democracies. Diamond asserts that, despite the healthy influx of cash, many democracies, especially those whose mineral wealth fuels corruption, are faltering.
In the case of Kenya, the United States and other World Bank–contributing countries, according to Diamond, should have taken aggressive corrective actions when Kenya’s anticorruption czar, John Githongo—appointed as Kenya’s permanent secretary for governance and ethics by Kibaki—was forced into exile after numerous death threats. “The World Bank,” per Diamond, “should have been more vigilant to ensure that the monies given were aiding efforts to combat corruption and not to enrich those in power.”
Despite recent setbacks in countries such as Kenya, successes in Brazil, India, South Korea, and Taiwan offer hope and lessons to help struggling and emerging democracies find their foothold. Although most experts believe that free elections are the cornerstone of democracy, they also believe that they are just the “first steps on the road toward a lasting democracy.”
Peter Berkowitz, the Hoover Institution's Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow believes that liberty lies at the heart of democracy building: “Over the long haul, the best way to make democracy stable and just is to practice toleration, establish an independent judiciary, encourage a free press, and build a market economy—hallmark liberal institutions all.” —Michelle Bussenius, Editor
democracy on the web
Journal of Democracy. Website for the influential quarterly journal which focuses on analyzing democratic regimes and movements around the world. The Journal is edited by Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner.
U.S. Department of State International Information Programs: Democracy. This website contains the latest news about the spread of democracy and democratic principles both domestically and abroad.
Freedom House. This website offers history, advocacy, projects, and publications related to its mission of supporting democracy and freedom around the world.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED). This website offers information about this private, nonprofit organization that was created to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts.
The website for the World Bank offers comprehensive information about its members, projects, and history.
The website for USAID Democracy & Governance, an independent federal government agency that extends assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms, focuses on information and publications related to U.S. efforts to promote and sustain democratic development.
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). IDEA is an intergovernmental organization that supports sustainable democracy worldwide. Its website offers news and resources related to promoting democracy.
U.S Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs: Kenya. Official website contains current news, press releases, photos, and other information about Kenya.
International Republican Institute: Kenya (IRI). The website for the IRI, a nonpartisan organization that advances democracy worldwide, offers news and insight on the Kenyan elections, and what is happening to democracy in Kenya.
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