Many critics of democracy promotion assert that the rule of law and a well-functioning state should be in place before a society democratizes, but this strategy of "sequencing" is based on a set of mistaken premises.
Those who argue that democracy requires preconditions often cite the example of gradual unfolding set by the established democracies. A glance at history, however, shows that even today's most placid democracies have "backstories" as turbulent as anything found in the developing world today.
The 1997 financial crisis undermined the argument for a putative “Asian-style democracy” that prioritized economic development over political liberalization. Yet recent electoral and other reforms have set the stage for the emergence of a genuine “Asian model” of democracy.
A crucial requirement of government by consent is the willingness of defeated candidates and parties to concede when the voters’ verdict goes against them. Events in Mexico following its July 2006 presidential election have sorely tested that country’s young democracy in this regard.
Mexico’s system of electoral governance and dispute settlement worked reasonably well, yet it created too much noise and too many needless invitations to distrust. The failures observed were less those of institutions than of actors. The loser reacted deplorably, but none of those involved acted in a manner beyond reproach.
Presidential term limits have spread across the world, but in many countries presidents and their allies seek to circumvent or eliminate them. Advocates of democracy must protect this institution, as its role in democratization may be far more powerful than is conventionally recognized.
Voters casting ballots are an indispensable element of free government, but who decides which names go on those ballots? Although methods of candidate selection have received surprisingly little study by political scientists, they merit the attention of students of democracy everywhere.
- Excerpts from remarks delivered at a memorial for Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist and human rights advocate murdered in Moscow on October 7.
- Excerpts from a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission, condemning the September 19 military coup in Thailand which ousted Thaksin Sinawatra.
- Excerpts from a December 1 speech by Felipe Calderón, his first address as Mexico's president. (For more information on the controversial presidential election, see "The Mexican Standoff" articles in this issue.)