Democracy and Democratization

Democracy and democratization is on the agenda of the development practices. What is democracy and democratization? Is democracy a prerequisite for development? Is there a right time for democratic transition? Should democracy be brought by the external forces? Now, it is time to discuss these hard issues.

What is democracy? Text books follow a time-sequence starting with Ancient Greek to the third wave democracies of the post-Soviet World. In this sequence, pathway towards democracy includes critical junctures such as Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution. Including all these legacy from the past, democracy is remembered with freedom and equality. Due to the peculiar characteristics adhered to democracy that it would foster ‘freedom of any kind’ and equality in the society, it is championed in the 21st century politics and put into the development agendas. In this regard, democracy was found its place in the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) of IMF and World Bank and on the policy lists of the international NGOs.

Democratization of the polities in the third world is supported on the basis that democracy brings freedom, equality and peace. Freedom House found out that ‘Freedom in the World‘ was the highest among the liberal democracies. Democracies are applauded on their motivation to sustain equality not with the rule by law but the rule of law. It was long argued that no democratic countries declared war to another democratic country in a war against each other.

Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”. Being the best among the worst is only suitable for the Western countries or is it a universal necessity to have a Western-type liberal democracy? The one –size-fits all kind of universal liberal democracy discourse was criticized on the basis that the pushing forward of a single pathway for democracy could be disrespectful to the historical, social, and cultural conditions of a specific country. Lee Yuan Yew, who ruled Singapore between 1959 and 1990 as the single man, stated that “What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value. Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual. As an Asian of Chinese cultural background, my values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient.”

For development, is democracy a prerequisite? As the history, especially the examples of Asian Tigers being the most obvious, shows the answer is no. Is democratization a prerequisite for sustainable development? As Acemoglu and Robinson argued that only with inclusive institutions that were complementary to democracy, the long-term and sustainable development was achievable. Democratization of South Korea and Taiwan can be understood from this perspective. South Korea achieved democracy with the emergence of the Sixth Republic in 1987 while in Taiwan  the ‘baby-step reforms’ started in the late brought a liberal democracy to the country with the first direct presidential election in 1996.

When is the right time for democracy? For most of the developing countries ‘development first democracy later’ is the attitude towards democracy. Carothers (2007) explained that the postponing the democracy forever was not effective. He accepted gradualism which “pushes for democratization now, in the service of a belief in democratic possibility” but not sequencing of democracy which approaches democracy’s values and chances with skepticism. Moller and Skaaning (2013) also stressed on the fallacy of democratic sequencing and concluded that “the autocratic pathway to liberal democracy was unrealistic”.

What happens if not all countries chooses to be ruled under democracies? In this condition is external push a necessity? Formal president of the US, George W. Bush said “The United States made military and moral commitments in Europe and Asia, which protected free nations from aggression, and created the conditions in which new democracies could flourish.”. However, Carothers (2007) argued that “Once democratization clearly starts somewhere, a collection of Western governments and other organizations usually steps on to back it”.

The consequences of ‘democratization’ in Yugoslavia and Iraq whether it was triggered by the Western governments or organizations or backed by them shows a clear picture. Do not bring democracy let democracy flourish itself!  Nor Yugoslavia neither Iraq is in a better condition right now than before when there was not any democracy existed in those countries. Bringing democracy or backing up it after all did not result with democracy and created a blur future for these nations. Only the memories left from those ‘glorious days’ of holding a Yugoslav Passport, which was a visa-free gateway from Soviet Russia to the US and Europe, or Iraq which once “the new beacon of Arab prosperity and power

Democracy has been standing at an important position in the Western political tradition. For centuries from Aristotle to Rousseau and Tocqueville, democracy has been embedded to the Western culture. However, this is not what makes democracy valuable and valid in the 21st century. The practical outcomes of the liberal democracy tradition highlighted that it might actually be the best form of governance, or the best of the worst similar to what Churchill said. However, being democratic or not is a matter of choice that societies should decide for themselves. Democratization can be realized in time, gradually or it can fall the trap of sequencing. External pushes to ‘democratize’ ‘the Rest’; however, is a big mistake as past attempts reminded. It should be noted that no external force should try to ‘bring democracy’ to nowhere but let democracy flourish itself.


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