How and Why has Multiparty Democracy Spread Over the past 100 years, and What Difference has it Made to the Lives of the Poor? | Democracy

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Since the 1990s, democratisation has become a central goal and tool of many development agencies. As well as having intrinsic capacities relating to civil and political rights, democracy is argued to promote economic growth and pro-poor development. This paper reviews the growth of democratisation in developing countries, and discusses the agencies, institutions, and structural factors driving this phenomenon. It considers the evidence for pro-poor impacts of democratisation. Democracy tends to promote individual civil and political rights more than other political systems. However, where formal democratic institutions are created without support for political voice and freedoms, pro-poor impacts are limited. There is little evidence supporting claims that democratisation promotes economic development. Indeed, tensions can arise between democratisation and economic development in some contexts. Rather than adopting a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to democratisation, the paper concludes that it is important for states to develop tailored solutions to collectively defined problems of political and economic development.
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    How and why has multiparty democracy spread over the past 100 years, and what difference has it made to the lives of the poor? Lisa Horner Since the 1990s, democratisation has become a central goal and tool of many development agencies. As well as having intrinsic capacities relating to civil and political rights, democracy is argued to promote economic growth and pro-poor development. This paper reviews the  growth of democratisation in developing countries, and discusses the agencies, institutions, and structural factors driving this  phenomenon. It considers the evidence for pro-poor impacts of democratisation. Democracy tends to promote individual civil and  political rights more than other political systems. However, where  formal democratic institutions are created without support for  political voice and freedoms, pro-poor impacts are limited. There is little evidence supporting claims that democratisation promotes economic development. Indeed, tensions can arise between democratisation and economic development in some contexts. Rather than adopting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to democratisation, the  paper concludes that it is important for states to develop tailored solutions to collectively defined problems of political and economic development.   This background paper was written as a contribution to the development of From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States Can Change the World , Oxfam International 2008. It is published in order to share widely the results of commissioned research and programme experience. The views it expresses are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Oxfam International or its affiliate organisations.    How and why has multiparty democracy spread over the past 100 years… From Poverty to Power - www.fp2p.org   1   Overview Since the 1990s, democracy has been a central goal and tool of many development agencies, and has been considered to possess intrinsic values related to civil and political rights and the instrumental capability to promote economic growth, poverty reduction and social stability (see for example Sen, 1999; UNDP, 2002; World Bank, 1997; DFID, 2006). The aim of this paper is to examine the spread of multiparty democracy throughout the world over the past 100 years, paying particular attention to the acceleration of democratisation in developing countries over the past 40 years. After considering the shape and dynamics of global democratisation processes, it discusses the main factors that have been driving them. It argues that analysis of the forces driving democratisation and the nature of the democracies they produce must be country-specific, taking into account both individual and group agency 1  and considering how people’s actions are affected by underlying structures and political dynamics. The final section of the paper discusses what the implications of the global spread of democracy have been for the poor, concluding that it has brought benefits in many cases through providing a framework for the realisation of individual political rights and avenues for the strengthening of their political voices. However, there is little conclusive evidence to suggest that democracy has the direct capability to promote economic development, as is often assumed. Moreover, the construction of democratic institutions does not in itself guarantee strengthened civil rights and political voice, and any attempts to build or strengthen democracy must be specifically tailored to local structural and political dynamics. 1 The nature of democracy Deriving from the classical Greek for ‘rule by the people’, the term democracy is usually used to refer to Western-style liberal democracy in which leaders are elected by citizens to act on their behalf (Luckham et al ., 2003). Luckham et al . (2003:18) distinguish between ‘democratic institutions’ and ‘democratic politics’, with the former making up the rules and structures within which the latter can take place. Protected by a national constitution, formal liberal democratic institutions usually include elected representatives; free, fair and regular elections; freedom of expression; access to alternative, independent sources of information; freedom of autonomous association; and inclusive citizenship (Dahl, quoted in Crick, 2002 pp107-108). Politics can be defined as processes of negotiation, conflict and cooperation for power and resources (Leftwich, 2000), and democratic politics refers to such struggles underlain by democratic moral and political principles such as the accountability of political representatives to their electorate and political equality amongst all citizens (Luckham et al ., 2003). Liberal democracy has in most places taken the form of multiparty democracy, in which groups exercise their right to freedom of association to form political parties and contest for power 2 . 2 Trends and dynamics: how has multiparty democracy spread over the past 100 years? In 1991, Samuel Huntington identified three major ‘waves’ of democratisation that have swept through the modern world. The first began in the 1820s with the widening of suffrage in the United States, continuing for nearly a century and leaving 29 democracies in its wake. After a ‘reverse wave’ reduced the number of democracies back down to 12 with the rise of fascism in the 1920s, a second wave began after the Second World War, bringing the number of democratic states in the world back 1  ‘Agency’ is used here to refer to the idea that people can instigate and drive change in the political economy. Theories of political economic change can broadly be divided into those that believe agency is the main driver of change, and those that believe the role of underlying economic structures is more important. This is discussed in section 3. 2  Space does not allow for discussion of other forms of democracy here, but it should be noted that Western-style liberal democracy is not necessarily the best form of democracy or the most appropriate for all countries. Other forms of democracy include more participatory and deliberative models (see for example Huber et al ., 1997), and some countries have attempted to experiment with different forms of democracy, for example Uganda’s no-party democracy from 1987-2006. Liberal multiparty democracy is, however, the globally dominant form and commentators are often sceptical about other models.    up to 36 by 1962. Huntington’s ‘third wave’ began in Portugal in 1974, spreading first to Greece and Spain and subsequently to Latin America where elected civilian governments replaced military rulers in nine countries between 1979 and 1985. The mid-1980s and early 1990s saw democratisation in the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 prompted competitive elections in most of Eastern Europe, whilst Benin and South Africa opened the floodgates to the wave in Africa in 1990. By 1997, most African states had legalised opposition parties whilst only three could have been classed as democracies at the beginning of the decade (Diamond, 2003). Huntington’s third wave of democracy has been the longest and most powerful yet, with 121 countries classed as electoral democracies by Freedom House in 2005 compared to only 76 in 1990. This is an increase from 41 to 61 percent of the world’s nation states (Freedom House, 2006). Fukuyama (1992) has suggested that this global democratisation represents the ‘End of History’, with liberal democracy being universally accepted as the only viable and sustainable political system. However, some commentators have identified a current backlash against democracy, with countries such as Russia, Belarus, Venezuela and Ethiopia placing restrictions on foreign agencies involved in the promotion of democracy and condemning democracy aid programmes as aggressive foreign policy interventions by the West, aimed at regime change in the interests of donors (Carothers, 2006). There is thus a danger of a third ‘reverse wave’ of democracy undoing achievements made over the last thirty years, with semi-authoritarian leaders making policy that encroaches on democratic freedoms in the name of maintaining domestic stability and resisting imperialism (ibid). 3 What can be done to make change happen: why has multiparty democracy spread over the past 100 years? This section aims to identify the main factors that have driven transitions to multiparty democracy over the past 100 years. Democratisation processes are highly contextual, with changes in each country being caused by a unique combination of factors that produce democracies with different characteristics. There are therefore no clear-cut answers to the question of what drives democratisation and each country should be considered individually. However, theories of democratisation are useful in providing a framework for analysis, and will therefore be discussed briefly. They can be divided into two main camps, those that focus on the role of agency, and those that focus on the role of structure. 3.1 Agency-driven institution building Theories that stress the role of agency tend to work within what Carothers (2002) refers to as the ‘transition paradigm’, making the assumption that any country moving away from authoritarianism is moving towards democracy, and that this process occurs in a set sequence of stages. First, cracks appear in the legitimacy of ruling authoritarian regimes, caused for example by human rights abuses or failure to achieve economic development. Proponents of democratic transition make use of these fractures, eventually breaking through to install new democratic regimes based on institutions of liberal democracy. The final stage in this process is democratic consolidation in which new democratic norms and culture are institutionalised and accepted by all of society. According to the definition of liberal democracy outlined in section 1, it is at this stage that democratic institutions are combined with democratic politics to produce a well-functioning, established democracy. The main actors in democratisation according to this approach are civil society groups and elite actors, with the former placing pressure on the latter to design new political systems based around democratic institutions. Pacts between elite groups in society are often important, with democratisation the outcome of negotiations between groups of elites who may have different interests, but who are willing to compromise as chaos and anarchy are the worst outcome for all parties (Adeney and Wyatt, 2004). For example, Bardhan (1993) suggests that democracy has been successful as a political system in India because elite groups have found it to be a useful device for keeping bargaining between them within moderate bounds. How and why has multiparty democracy spread over the past 100 years… From Poverty to Power - www.fp2p.org   2    The promotion of democracy by donors and international financial institutions (IFIs) through both direct political conditionality and the creation of international norms have undoubtedly been a major factor driving the third wave of democratisation. For example, conditionality effected regime change in Kenya and Malawi (Hauser, 1999) and gave rise to ‘snowballing’ effects of regional democratisation following the establishment of democracy in a number for key countries (Huntington, 1993). The rationale behind this international push for democracy is rooted in economic and political theories associated with the post-Washington consensus 3  as discussed in Section 4.2. It is an agency-driven transition view of democratisation that dominates international approaches to democratisation. If elites can consciously engage in political negotiation and build democratic institutions to suit their needs, it follows that development agencies can intervene and assist in this process, thereby helping to foster democratic politics (Luckham et al., 2003). Donors also attempt to prompt democratisation and consolidation through working with civil society organisations, building their capacity to campaign for democracy and engage in productive dialogue with the state (World Bank, 1997). This institution-building approach to democratisation is simplistic and a-historic, and fails to recognise that political systems are embedded in a constellation of social, political and economic power relations. The case of Haiti discussed in Box One illustrates how democratic institution-building can lead to the upwards accountability of states to donors and western liberal democratic norms rather than to their people, and to the building of shallow democratic institutions that fail to substantially increase the political voice of the poor. Box One: Building democratic institutions whilst undermining democratic politics: the case of Haiti  After the collapse of decades of authoritarian rule in Haiti, the country held its first democratic elections in over thirty years in 1991. The President was ousted by a military coup only 7 months after these elections, but was re-instated with international assistance in 1994. It was at this point that international aid agencies embarked on a democratisation programme in Haiti, devoting vast amounts of resources to bring political stability to the country. However, the approaches taken were focussed on the building of formal democratic institutions and did not directly aim to build the political voice of the poor or entrench democratic politics in the country. This is illustrated by the donor-driven process of judicial reform, which centred on the provision of training for judges, the reformulation of laws and engagement in conflict resolution. However, throughout Haitian history, the judicial system has evolved to act in the interests of powerful elite groups rather than to promote social justice for all. Reform therefore acted as a mere face-lift, leaving the historical pattern of the systematic exclusion of the majority of the population from the legal system undisturbed. What was really needed was a reorientation of the system towards the interests of the majority through measures such as the development of legal aid services, translation of proceedings into Creole and promotion of literacy and education. The faith of the poor in the judicial system was further undermined by the failure of the international community to support the National Commission for Truth and Justice, insisting instead that full amnesties were given to the armed forces involved in the 1991 coup. The result was the creation of a cycle of impunity and the effective legitimisation of violence which, rather than helping to entrench democratic politics, prevented citizens from believing in the principle and rule of law, social inclusion and democracy. International approaches to democratisation in Haiti were thus not primarily aimed at building the political voice of the poor and entrenching democratic politics and culture. Instead, evidence suggests that donors were more concerned with the government’s accountability to neoliberal reform programmes rather than to the poor. In 1995, the President went back on pledges to privatise nine state-owned enterprises, as popular opposition feared this would put resources into the hands of elites that had supported the military coup. The donor response was to freeze financial assistance, 3  The term ‘Washington Consensus’ refers to the broad international agreement from the 1980s that markets are the most effective drivers of growth and development. State intervention in the market should therefore be as limited as possible. The term ‘post-Washington Consensus’ was coined in the late 1990s to refer to a new body of thought and analysis that was emerging. This highlighted market imperfections and argued that more, rather than less, state intervention and institution building is required in order to overcome market failures. According to this new ‘consensus’, states have more responsibility within the development process, and it is therefore essential that they are made accountable through democracy and good governance measures. See Saad-Filho (2005) for further discussion. How and why has multiparty democracy spread over the past 100 years… From Poverty to Power - www.fp2p.org   3
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