Tag Archives: democratization

Democratization in Myanmar

Although results have yet to be confirmed, Sunday’s election in Myanmar appears to be headed to transferring power to Nobel Peace Laureate and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy. The elections marked the first democratic ballot after nearly 50 years of military rule. Although final results are still more than a week away, Suu Kyi’s party was already won 256 of the 299 seats declared and the military has already declared it has lost more seats than it has won.

The constitution of Myanmar, developed by the country’s military government in preparation for the transition to democracy, still places considerable limits on the new government. Suu Kyi will be a member of the parliament but is ineligible to serve as the country’s president. Further, the military retains control of key government operations, including the Ministries of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs. It is also guaranteed at least 25 percent of the seats in parliament. Nevertheless, there have been high expectations that the election represents a significant step forward in the democratization of Myanmar.

What do you think? What comes next in Myanmar’s democratization? Will the process continue or will it suffer setbacks as the nation moves forward? Why? And what lessons, if any, does Myanmar hold for other countries transitioning to democracy?

The Rule of Law

Thursday marks the 26th anniversary of the student protests in Tiananmen Square. On June 4, 1989, the Chinese military used force to end a mass student protest demanding democratization and liberalization. The BBC marked the anniversary with an interview with Mo Shaoping, one of China’s most well-known defense lawyers. Mo specializes in handling sensitive cases and has defended many Chinese dissidents, including Guo Guoting and Liu Xiaobo.

In the video, Mo criticizes the Chinese government for what he sees as a lack of progress in democratization. He argues that, “China has laws but no rule of law. We have a constitution, but no constitutional governance.”

What do you think? Is Mo correct in his assessment? And if so, why has the push for democratization in China stalled? What does Mo mean by “Rule of Law” and why is it important for democracy? How has economic growth affected demands for political liberalization in the country? And what might the Chinese experience suggest for democratization and development elsewhere?

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Al Qaeda militants seized control of the Iraqi city of Mosul yesterday, forcing the country’s prime minister to request parliament declare a state of emergency in the country. According to the BBC, overnight, hundreds of militants sized control of local government offices, police stations, the airport, and regional army headquarters. An estimated 150,000 people have fled the city, sparking Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the neighboring province of Kurdistan to issue a statement requesting the UN refugee agency step up assistance for those fleeing Mosul.

The past week has seen a sharp uptick in violence in Iraq, with the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and its allies launching a series of attacks across northern Iraq. While Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki has promised swift measures to enhance security in the country and drive back ISIS forces, it is not clear how effective Iraq’s fledgling military will be. While the United States completed the withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq in 2011, the United States continues to provide support for the Iraqi military.

What do you think? Does the rise of ISIS and other militant Islamic groups in Iraq necessitate an increase in US involvement in Iraq? What should the US role in Iraq look like? Should it be limited to financial assistance and military aid? Should the United States provide air support? Military training? More extensive involvement? And what happens if Iraq falls to Islamic militants?

Commemorating Tiananmen Square

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square. Many people remember the dramatic footage of “tank man,” the lone protestor who stood in front of a column of tanks in an attempt to prevent their movement against other protestors. The crackdown marked a dramatic shift in Chinese politics. In 1989, broad shifts were taking place across the Communist world. Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, was attempting to introduce sweeping reforms in the country. Those reforms quickly spiraled beyond his control, and eventually the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union broke apart, and Eastern Europe moved to democracy.

Similar protests erupted in 1989 in China, culminating in a massive, student-led movement occupying Tiananmen Square and demanding democratization in China. The Chinese government cracked down, condemning the protests as a “counter-revolutionary riot.”

In this video, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviews one of the student leaders in the protest, Wu’er Kaixi, who was forced to flee China after the crackdown and now resides in Tiawan. In this interview, he offers his thoughts on the protest and the future direction of China in a post-Tiananmen Square era.

 

Libya: The Drivers of Democratization

Pro-US Protester in Libya

Pro-US Protester in Libya

In continuing developments in Libya, protestors on Friday stormed the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia and the Sahaty Brigade. Both groups were believed to be involved in the recent attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi.

Anti-American protests continue to reverberate across the Middle East in response to a trailer for the controversial film The Innocence of Muslims. The trailer—which makes B-movies look like Academy Award material by comparison—was apparently shot to promote a film which (given the quality of the acting, thankfully) was never made. Nevertheless, many protestors believe the film was produced and that it mocks the Prophet Mohammed.

While protests against the film continue in many parts of the Islamic World, in Libya, the protests now appear to have a different message.

Pro-US Protester in Libya

Pro-US Protester in Libya

Protestors there have taken to the streets there to demand justice for the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stephens last week. Many have carried signs like those here.

There appears to be reason to believe that Libya has, as the BBC put it, “bucked the Islamist trend.” While democratization has been a boon to the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Egypt, in Libya there appears to be much less support for fundamentalist parties.

There is a rich tradition in political science of exploring why some countries move towards liberal democracy while others do not. Common theories center on one or more of the following variables: wealth (gdp per capita), education (especially female education), a free market economy, social equality, a civic culture, cultural values, foreign intervention, and even age distribution. Unfortunately it is not clear yet why (or even if) Libya is moving towards liberal democracy while its neighbors are not. At a minimum, though, the contrasting experiences of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt will likely provide interesting case studies for comparativists moving forward.

What do you think: What drives democratization? Will Libya sustain its move towards democracy? Or will the trend reverse?

With Qaddafi Gone, Can Libya Overcome the “Resource Curse”?

Libyans in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square celebrate news of Qaddafi's demise.

The death of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi is widely regarded as a positive development for the Libyan people as the Transitional National Council (TNC) seeks to usher in a more democratic and prosperous future. But it is unclear whether Libya’s new leaders can extricate the oil-rich country from the grasp of the “resource curse” and bring both democracy and economic development to the Libyan people.  The resource curse refers to the fact that countries endowed with abundant natural resources frequently end up with autocratic regimes and poor populations.  International relations professor Peter Fragiskatos explains the causal mechanism underlying the resource curse in a recent blog post:

“Islam’s supposed hostility to democracy is often cited as the cause of authoritarian persistence in the Middle East and North Africa, but oil
is a far more credible culprit. Oil has sustained the rule of tyrants in the
region, whether it was Gaddafi, the shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein or the princes of Saudi Arabia. In place of taxes – and the calls for democracy and representative government they usually give rise to – the Gaddafi regime used oil profits to maintain its power. Flush with cash, the only real requirement it needed to fulfill was to adequately fund a security and military force that could silence any signs of dissent.”

Some analysts suggest the resource curse is all but inevitable.  An NPR report observes that “If the resource curse is inevitable, then you might imagine that Libya has much worse odds than Egypt at becoming a real democracy. Some leader will eventually take over those oil wells, capture all that wealth and become yet another despot.”

But other observers are optimistic, and they focus on the power of transparency to overcome the government’s monopoly on information and wealth production.  In an op-ed piece at the Huffington Post, U.S. Senators Dick Lugar and Benjamin Cardin tout an International Governmental Organization that is dedicated to overcoming the resource curse:

“In recent years, a number of  international actors — including responsible oil and mining companies and  citizens groups — have begun to tackle the resource curse problem by calling  for greater disclosure and accountability of revenues through voluntary participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  An Oslo-based international organization, EITI requires member countries and the companies they host to publish payments and receipts, and to have the results audited and certified.  The voluntary EITI approach has  been enthusiastically endorsed by the World Bank, the IMF, and the G-20 group of major economies.”

What do you think?  Does the resource curse provide a convincing explanation for the persistence of autocratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa?  Or is this an overly simplistic argument?  What is the likelihood that Libya’s new leaders can create a democratic and prosperous state, and why?

The Troubled Road to Democracy

The toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad, 2003 was an iconic image but only the beginning of a difficult transition to democracy.

With the historic changes of the Arab Spring many observers have concluded that “people power” has finally begun to triumph over autocratic regimes in a region that had seemed strangely resistant to the waves of democratization that swept over other parts of the world in previous decades. And while there are indeed many hopeful signs throughout the region for those who value democracy, it is worth noting that the road to democracy is often fraught with setbacks and challenges that the pictures of falling statues, cheering crowds, and jubilant voters don’t communicate.

Scholars such as Fareed Zakaria have distinguished between electoral democracy and liberalism (the presence of civil liberties that limit the government’s reach). While liberal democracies enjoy both free elections and broad civil liberties, illiberal democracies combine (at least nominally) democratic institutional structures with serious deficiencies in the area of civil liberties.  Countries undergoing transitions to democracy sometimes get “stuck” in this halfway zone and find it hard to progress the rest of the way toward full liberal democracy.  Consider Russia, a country that began its transition with the collapse of Soviet communism in 1991.  It holds regular elections (although the degree to which they are free and fair has come into serious doubt), but as noted in this Freedom House report, individual liberties including freedom of speech, assembly, association, and religion are lacking. 

America’s recent “democracy projects” in Afghanistan and Iraq have produced nominally democratic regimes that have a very long way to go before they can be called mature democracies.  Not only do serious questions persist about the freedom and fairness of elections (particularly in Afghanistan) but basic democratic norms such as respect for minority rights and nonviolent resolution of disputes have not yet permeated these societies. 

Despite the stagnation and setbacks associated with so many democratic transitions, Daniel Drezner’s recent thought-provoking blog post on trends in global democracy and autocracy suggests that the future for democracy remains bright.  Drezner cites the analysis of Jay Ulfelder, who explains the deepening authoritarianism of certain nondemocratic regimes as increasingly desperate attempts to contain democratic aspirations that will ultimately prevail: “[It is] evident that these regimes are increasingly struggling to contain the same forces that have propelled the diffusion of democracy elsewhere in the past two centuries. What I learn from the trajectories of prior transitions is that those forces cannot be contained forever. The processes of political change spurred by those forces are often choppy, frustrating, and even violent, but the long-term trend away from self-appointed rulers toward elected government is remarkably strong and consistent, and the forces driving that trend are already evident in many of the world’s remaining “hard” cases of authoritarian rule.”

Are Drezner and Ulfelder simply putting a rosy spin on some very harsh realities, or is there reason to be optimistic that freedom will ultimately prevail in countries such as Russia, Iran, and China? What signs are there that the newest revolutions, in Egypt and Tunisia, will result in democracy? What signs are there that these embryonic transitions have already stalled?

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The G20 (which actually has 22 states attending this year) met this weekend in London. The ongoing economic crisis, of course, dominated discussions. The meeting produced a communiqué in which the states commit themselves to restoring financial growth and strengthening the global financial system. Discussions were dominated by several important divisions between the member states, particularly between the developed and developing countries (largely over reform of the International Monetary Fund) and between the United States and Europe (over the urgency and scope of economic stimulus efforts). In the end, the only real, concrete policy initiative was the agreement to enlarge the membership of the Financial Stability Forum to include all G20 members. Created in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the FSF monitors the global financial system and coordinates policies between the international financial institutions.

In news from outside the G20 meeting:

1. On Friday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed concern over the mounting U.S. deficit and the future stability of the U.S. economy. The Chinese government currently holds an estimated 70 percent of its $2 trillion foreign exchange reserve in dollar-denominated assets and is the single-largest buyer of U.S. Treasury Bills. A decline in the value of the U.S. dollar therefore threatens China’s massive reserves. But while the Premier is pressuring the U.S. to ensure the stability of its currency, Luo Ping, the director general of the Chinese Banking Regulatory Commission, reassured the U.S. government (and dollar markets more generally), that the investment in the dollar remains the “only option” for Chinese foreign reserve holdings.

2. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, fresh off her trip to the Middle East and Europe, will be visiting Mexico later this month to discuss the crisis resulting from the growth of drug cartels in the country. The U.S. and Mexico already have an ongoing anti-drug effort (currently valued at approximately $750 million). However, the effort has not been successful in curbing the growing influence of the cartels, and many observers fear that Mexico may fall to the cartels. The situation in Mexico has become so stark in recent weeks that the U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory, and the U.S. Joint Forces Command has begun gaming exercises based on the assumption that Mexico could undergo a “rapid and sudden collapse.”

3. The deepening political crisis in Pakistan continues. Over the last week, the government has increased its crackdown on opposition party members, which they accuse of attempting to undermine Pakistan’s fragile parliamentary democracy. A series of nationwide protests led by many of the country’s lawyers has been demanding the “restoration of democracy and the rule of law.” On Sunday, the government placed Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, under house arrest and attempted to block protests in Islamabad, the country’s capital.

4. On Tuesday, Madagascar’s the army gave the country’s president, Marc Ravalomanana, a 72-hour ultimatum to resolve the ongoing crisis or resign from office. Madagascar has been suffering from an economic malaise due the collapse of the vanilla market, Madagascar’s main export. While the country has begun to attract foreign investment, Madagascar remains incredibly poor, with a GDP per capita of just $330, and inequality between rich and poor remains very high. Ravalomanana remains defiant. On Saturday, he addressed his supporters to say he would not be resigning.

5. In a new statement released on Saturday, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden warned Arab leaders against cooperating with the West and renewed calls for his followers to prepare for jihad. Bin Laden singled out Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, as countries headed by leaders that “have plotted with the Zionist-crusader coalition against our (Muslim) people.” Bin Laden also made reference to the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, describing it as a “holocaust.”

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza continued this week, with Israeli air strikes and rocket attacks by Hamas through much of the week culminating with an Israeli ground attack over the weekend.  So far, more than 400 Palestinians and 4 Israelis have been killed in the fighting.  A Libyan-sponsored United Nations resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire was blocked by the United States on Saturday.  Meanwhile, some international observers warned that the use of military force will not achieve a stable solution to the Gaza conflict

In other news from the previous week:

1.  The Chinese government has moved to isolate dissidents who support Charter 08.  The Charter, often referred to as the most significant push for opening the one-party state in China since the Tiananmen Square protests, has been signed by 7,000 Chinese and foreign intellectuals.  The Charter warns of “the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions” if the Chinese Communist Party does not move towards greater democratization and political openness. A number of signatories to the document have been detained by police, and the government has cautioned the media against carrying interviews with the Charter’s signatories.

2.  Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are growing as both sides seek to mobilize support for their position in Europe.  Russia cut off natural gas flows to Ukraine last week, accusing the Ukrainian government stealing gas from the pipeline; the Ukrainian government denies the charges.  The standoff is a major concern for several members of the European Union, which secures up to 20 percent of its natural gas demands through the disputed pipeline. 

3.  Cuba celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution on January 1.  The revolution led to the overthrow of the dictatorial government of Fulgencio Batista and the establishment of a communist state under the leadership of Fidel Castro.  The resignation of Fidel Castro earlier this year, the economic slowdown on the island, and the devastation brought by two hurricanes have left the country in crisis.  As a result, celebrations of the revolution were scaled back.  The future of U.S.-Cuban relations is likely to be a significant policy question for the incoming Obama administration.

4.  John Atta Mills, the leader of the opposition National Democratic Congress, was declared the winner of Ghana’s presidential runoff elections on Sunday.  He defeated Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party to win the presidency in elections characterized as free and fair.  Ghana has long been viewed as the model for political and economic reform in Africa, and the peaceful political transition in Ghana is viewed as a model for other struggling countries.

5.  On Friday, the government of Sri Lanka announced it had seized control of the northern town of Killinochchi in the northern part of the country.  Sri Lanka has effectively been divided in half for years, with the northern part of the country under the de facto control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the Tamil Tigers) and the southern part of the country under the control of the Sri Lankan government.  The government’s victory in the Tiger stronghold of Killinochchi is widely seen as a dramatic blow to the Tamil Tiers.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The big news this week was John McCain’s surprise choice for running mate choice: Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska.  There were many developments outside the United States and its presidential race, however.  Here are a five important stories you might have missed:

1. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called for new elections, which will take place on October 14.  Harper’s Conservative Party has ruled Canada as a minority government since February 2006.  The election is expected to be closely contested, as the Liberal Party, under the leadership of Stéphane Dion, mount their challenge.  With Canada’s economy tittering on the brink of recession, the economy figures to be the central issue of the campaign.  The outcome of the election may also signal a fundamental shift in Canadian politics, as the Bloc Quebecois appears to be losing its regional support in Quebec, creating the possibility of a Conservative majority in the national legislature.

2. There were two important developments in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute last week.  On Wednesday, the Palestinian Strategy Study Group released a report which indicated that Palestinians may be willing to endorse a bi-national state with Israel should the U.S.-backed two-state solution fail.  The proposal would mark a dramatic change in the structure and intended goal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  In an unrelated development, Israeli President Shimon Peres on Friday called for direct talks between Israel and Syria to address outstanding issues.  The two countries been engaged in mediated indirect talks for a number of years, but relations between the two have generally been poor since 1947.  Normalization of relations between Syria and Israel would have to be a central component of any comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian question.

3. In a not-so-subtle confirmation of the flood of divestment from the country following the conflict over South Ossetia, the Russian central bank was forced on Thursday to intervene to support the rouble.  According to some estimates, as much as $21 billion in foreign currency has been withdrawn from Russia over the past several weeks, leading to a dramatic decline in the value of the rouble.  This represents the worst currency collapse for Russia since the 1998 crisis.  But despite the crisis, the Russian government still have the third largest currency reserve in the world—estimated at some $582 billion—thanks in large part to the dramatic increase in oil and natural gas prices over the past few years.

4. In Paksitan, Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People’s Party won Saturday’s presidential elections as expected.  Zardari, who is the widow of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, now faces a number of challenges: reinforcing the fledgling democracy amidst growing political and economic instability, normalizing relations with the west in the face of strong opposition in key regions of the country, and establishing a stronger degree of national unity while addressing growing violence within Pakistan. 

5. Talks between Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and the ruling ZANU-PF suffered their most serious setback to date last week.  The MDC announced it had lost faith in negotiations intended to bring about a power sharing agreement, accusing South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating the negotiations, of trying to force through a deal which would see ZANU-PF’s Robert Mugabe retain political power.  The MDC also refuses to sign an agreement under which Mugabe would retain control of the country’s security forces, which they contend have been used for the political gain of the ruling party.