About two-thirds of the world’s Muslims live under governments chosen through competitive elections. The remaining third lives mostly in the Arab world, a region that poses the hardest challenges for democratization. The road ahead is long and arduous, but this will not daunt the Arab and Muslim democrats who are fighting to make democracy a reality in the lands and among the people they love. We may not be as brutal as our autocrats or as numerous as our theocrats, but we are determined to fight the battle for the future, to fight for democracy, and we would welcome help.
A surprisingly large number of recent democratic elections have been closely fought. Many of these tight races attracted intense voter involvement and involved deeply consequential choices for their respective societies. The defense of democracy and the promotion of democratic values require constant vigilance; the persistent renewal of political participation on the part of the citizenry is a continuing, open-ended process. To keep the show on the road requires multiple and overlapping sources of reinforcement—legal and societal, domestic and external, local and national. But no sources of enforcement can substitute for a collective sense of tolerance, openness, and fair play.
Contrary to popular belief, British colonial legacies do not explain India’s successful transition to democracy in its postindependence era. Rather the democratic underpinnings of the Indian nationalist movement ensured the adoption of a democratic form of government. In subsequent years, India’s democracy has weathered threats and been consolidated. Though Indian democracy is hardly bereft of shortcomings, social forces are likely to contribute to the further deepening of democracy. The country must also make a concerted attempt to bolster the robustness and efficacy of a range of institutions and procedures if it hopes to extend the promise of democracy to its entire population.
There is no doubt that India’s democracy has become stable, yet economic change could create distributional conflicts and stresses on its democratic institutions. Economic change and liberalization have served to reinforce and further stabilize democracy rather than undermining it. This has happened partly because of the nature of economic and social transition, which has allowed the rich many options in the private, urban, and global economy. Simultaneously, the poor are divided and seek redress through electoral and democratic channels. Weak coalition governments in the 1990s have responded to claims from the poor contributing to the continuing stability of Indian democracy.
Thanks to India’s “Silent Revolution,” parties representing lower castes now regularly win elections and assume state power. This achievement sometimes obscures India’s meager progress on an equally important measure of democratic deepening—the establishment of less corrupt forms of governance. The first wave of anticorruption activism developed innovative techniques for involving poor people as citizen-auditors of government programs, blurring the citizen-driven and state-oversight dimensions of accountability. A second wave of activism has built upon the first, bridging four additional divides that have hampered India’s anticorruption movement, the continued health of which may provide a telling indicator of India’s ability to continue democratizing.
India’s courts have been playing a growing role in the country’s political life. Defenders of the judiciary often focus on the few success stories that result from judicial decisions. Yet there is a glaring lack of concrete, empirical data on the effects of court intervention. Courts can proclaim new rights as much as they want, but the proclamation of rights by itself does not produce results. Judges have an important role to play in strengthening our democracy. But they will have to exercise great discretion and resist the intoxication which comes from the view that judges are the last, best hope of the republic.
As Afghanistan enters its sixth year since the overthrow of Taliban rule, the violent comeback campaign by Islamic insurgents is dominating headlines. Restoring security will require bringing more aid and better government to neglected rural areas, but it will be impossible to deliver those improvements so long as officials, workers, and projects remain vulnerable to attack. It is now dramatically apparent that even though Afghanistan has successfully held elections and met the formal requirements for a transition to democracy, it remains beset by a staggering array of problems, from public corruption to private warlordism, that have been allowed to fester virtually unchecked.
The acceleration of authoritarianism in Venezuela since 2004, together with Hugo Chávez’s reelection in 2006, cannot be explained easily with functional theories. Instead, we focus on political opportunities: specifically, economic resources at the state’s disposal together with weakened institutions of representation helped crowd out the opposition. We show how clientelism and electoral authoritarianism feed each other. Together with deliberate strategies of polarization, impunity, and job discrimination, lavish spending has allowed the state to mobilize majorities and emerge undefeatable at the polls. This invincibility is, paradoxically, the reason that the Venezuelan state has become an unreliable force for promoting democracy.
Putin’s regime is, and always has been, a kleptocracy. It is time to end the fiction that Putin’s Russia is an equal member of the club of democratic nations. Stop providing Putin with democratic credentials that he uses against his critics in Russia. Stop pretending that a dialogue with Russia is taking place when in reality there is no common language with this Kremlin regime. You cannot treat Putin’s police state according to the same rules as Germany or Canada because the Russian people do not enjoy the same rights and the same voice as Germans or Canadians.
In the last three years, Russia has at least been inoculated against faith in false shortcuts, the most pernicious of which are order without law and democracy without liberty. It is impossible to say exactly when this realization might translate into renewed tolerance for conflicts and stalemates. The experience of other nations, however, suggests that this will happen when the deficiencies of the current political system begin to reverberate in increasingly more obvious and damaging ways throughout Russia’s economy and society.
Despite all their difficulties, today’s Kremlin political operators probably calculate that they will be able to protect themselves against the forces that undermined Gorbachev’s reform project in the 1980s—elite division, grassroots mobilization, intractable national problems, and new electoral rules that gave the regime’s opponents a huge opening. Yet they cannot be completely secure as long as they are constrained by these same electoral rules. Running a one-party state is easy enough if you can set the rules yourself and break them at will. But keeping up democratic appearances means taking risks that can empower your opponents.
Freedom appeared in a state of stagnation during 2006, according to Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World survey. The most significant development was the decline in freedom in Asia and continued poor performance in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Globally, many countries showed evidence of problems with press freedom, rule of law, and corruption. Freedom House also pointed to a growing “pushback” against democracy in such countries as Russia, Venezuela, Iran, China, Belarus, and Zimbabwe. Regimes used legalistic methods to smother independent media and marginalize nongovernmental organizations in a broad effort to eliminate sources of potential democratic ferment.
On 30 July and 20 October 2006, less than a year after a December 2005 constitutional referendum, the vast and strife-wracked Democratic Republic of the Congo held its first multiparty elections since 1965.The holding of competitive elections must count as a significant achievement even though voters signaled their disaffection with the entire array of political elites that had been ruling them.
When 55.5 percent of the citizens of Montenegro voted on 21 May 2006 to sever the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro and make their republic a fully sovereign country in its own right, they set the capstone on a political shift that has been noteworthy for its peaceful and orderly conduct in a region which has seen a great deal of chaos and bloodshed since the breakup of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.