Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Democratization: transitional? superficial? illiberal? real?

Whenever I see a bit of analysis like this I want to know what scholarly observers would say. Well, until we get a comparative equivalent of The Monkey Cage, we'll have to go back, read the textbook, and try to extend the analysis to current events.

A Region Totters Toward Democracy, Gathering Momentum
I had just arrived in South Asia after five years in the former Soviet Union, where I saw one leader after another dispensing with truly competitive politics.
South Asia
Elections kept happening, but there was only a glaze of competition; for the most part, the opposition candidates were docile, handpicked characters, because no one else was allowed to run. On the rare occasions when actual rivals were able to take part, as in recent elections in Ukraine and Georgia, the candidates who lost found themselves in court or in prison. The experiment in democracy, born in the euphoria of the 1990s, seemed to be ending.

In South Asia, that experiment is much closer to its beginning.

For many years, India and Sri Lanka were democracies surrounded by a grab bag of monarchies, dictatorships and military regimes. But then their neighbors began sliding into the democratic column, as if by force of gravity…

A cascade of elections is taking place this year and next, with six out of seven governments in South Asia — Sri Lanka is the exception — likely to change. Many of them have the white-knuckle feeling of an experiment: What happens when elections run into resistance from institutions that took shape over the course of decades?…

As South Asian institutions adjust, its new democracies will have to contend with “the sheer weight of the past,” [Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University] said. “It is going to be a form of ballast, that you are going to have to slowly jettison,” he said. But he rejected the notion that the shift to democracy could reverse itself. “People get a sense of excitement that they can kick out the rascals,” he said. “It’s very difficult to tell them they’re not going to be able to get rid of the next set of rascals.”…

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