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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

problems of democratic transition and consolidation

Most of the world (with the obvious exception of Chinese rulers) celebrates the achievement of Egyptian „people power” – but how little analysis about the prospects which lie ahead. One of the exceptions is a piece by an Egyptian activist which goes beyond the superficial reporting of the Western media; warns about the military; and gives a rare insight into what workers have been doing. Read the full article (and the good discussion thread) here.

Central and Eastern Europe countries seem to offer the most recent examples of (differential) experiences of the fall of dictatorships. I have referred several times to the Romanian experience which Tom Gallagher has described most clearly in his Theft of a nation – Romania since the fall of communism
Romania is patently the worst of the recent accession countries. It got rid of a dictator - but the same personnel and system persisted for almost a decade. It has a constitutional and electoral system which splits power between a Presidency and 2 parliamentary bodies and makes coherent action extraordinarily difficult for the coalition governments which have become the basic feature of its governments. And the culture of every man for himself makes it almost impossible to work consensually and in the public good. For a good example of the lawlessness which passes for government here in Romania see the post of 12 Feb on this site.

But I don’t think the central European countries offer much useful experience to the Egyptians and Tunisians. For a start they did not have the decades of military rule which Egypt has experienced – indeed the military in most of these countries has been and remains a joke (despite their salaries and pensions). Turkey and the south American dictators of the end of the last century are the better parallel. And, despite being in the EU Neighbourhood programme of technical assistance, neither Egypt or Tunisia have any prospect of European accession – which was the basic incentive for (formal) institutional changes for the central European countries. Almost two decades ago, when I started this latest phase of my life, working in central Europe, I read thirstily the literature which was pouring out then on the mechanics of transition – how countries which had been under dictatorships could make the transition to democracies (see section 3 of this annotated bibliography on my website.
The best was one which drew on the Spanish and south American experience and was produced in 1996 by Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan - Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation – S Europe, S America and post-communist Europe. It’s a remarkable and definitive book – which initially establishes the basic classifications to conduct the assessments on the extent to which the transformations are consolidated and then analyses each country and region in considerable detail and profundity. They suggest a four-part classification for non-democratic regimes
• Authoritarian
• Totalitarian
• Post-totalitarian
• sultanistic

A "consolidated" democracy is one which combines behavioural (elite), attitudinal (public) and constitutional elements. Five conditions are suggested –
• Free and lively civil society
• Relatively autonomous and valued political society
• Rule of law to ensure legal guarantees for citizens' freedoms and independent associational life
• Usable state bureaucracy
• Institutionalised economic society

Each of these interacts with the others - and affects the outcome of transition. They also bring in five other important, but less major, variables - (a) the leadership basis of the prior regime, (b) who controls the transition, (c) international influences, (c) political economy of legitimacy and coercion (relationship between citizen perceptions of economic efficacy and of regime legitimacy) and (e) constitution-making environments. This study is the culmination of a lifetime's study of the transformation process; is written elegantly and with very detailed references for follow-up study. A summarising article they wrote at the same time can be found here.
A different type of book from Elster J, Offe C Preuss U was their Institutional Design in Post-Communist Societies - Rebuilding the Ship at Sea (1998) which focussed on Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria.
Those activists want us to trust Mubarak’s generals with the transition to democracy–the same junta that has provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years. And while I believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who receive $1.3 billion annually from the US, will eventually engineer the transition to a “civilian” government, I have no doubt it will be a government that will guarantee the continuation of a system that will never touch the army’s privileges, keep the armed forces as the institution that will have the final say in politics (like for example Turkey), guarantee Egypt will continue to follow the US foreign policy whether it’s the undesired peace with Apartheid State of Israel, safe passage for the US navy in the Suez Canal, the continuation of the Gaza siege and exports of natural gas to Israel at subsidized rates. The “civilian” government is not about cabinet members who do not wear military uniforms. A civilian government means a government that fully represents the Egyptian people’s demands and desires without any intervention from the brass. And I see this hard to be accomplished or allowed by the junta.
The military has been the ruling institution in this country since 1952. Its leaders are part of the establishment. And while the young officers and soldiers are our allies, we cannot for one second lend our trust and confidence to the generals. Moreover, those army leaders need to be investigated. I want to know more about their involvement in the business sector.

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