2012–The year for Democracy?

Here’s an example of a good post for the POLI 1100 blog assignment for this week. This took about 20-25 minutes to complete.

As noted in Chapter 2 of the Dyck textbook, the number of democracies worldwide has risen dramatically over the last couple of decades, to the point that currently a majority of the world’s population lives in more-or-less democratic states. More-or-less since democracies vary in character from one to the next. Some democracies fully respect human rights, whereas others are less stringent in this regard.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Christian Caryl claims that “2012 could be a great year for democracy.” In all, almost 1/3 of the world’s countries will be heading to the polls this year to elect leaders at the national, regional, and local levels.* As for whether this is a sign of deepening democratization, Caryl is more equivocal:

That may be true. But it hardly means that the triumph of democracy is ensured. If history has taught us anything, it is that nothing in human affairs is inevitable. Most people undoubtedly yearn for freedom. In our imperfect world, however, the political choices actually facing most citizens are messy, risky, or morally fraught. There is no straight line to an open society.

Egypt is illustrative. What happens there, in the largest Arab country, is likely to have broad repercussions for the other countries of the Middle East. Yet Egyptians face many obstacles as they strive to assert their political rights. The military stubbornly refuses to yield power. The weakness of the economy, if allowed to continue, could easily sow doubt about the desirability of representative government. Then there is the possibility of sectarian or factional conflict. Already the two Islamist parties that have emerged victorious from the country’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections have begun feuding among themselves. And that’s not even to mention the lingering disquiet among Egypt’s large Christian population after last year’s pogroms.

Elections are a vital prerequisite of democracy. Yet, as many examples this year will remind us, elections alone do not a democracy make.

I think that the bolded part  above (my emphasis) is the key part of the story here. We can think about this in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. While having elections is necessary for a political system to be considered a democracy, elections are not sufficient for democracy. Other institutions, such as a free press, respect for human and civil rights, the freedom of assembly, etc., are needed as well.

For a list of countries that will be holding elections this year, this page is maintained by the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening. We see that Finland will be the first to have elections this year–Sunday, January 22–with the first round of Presidential elections. (is Sami Salo running?)

Here is an interview with Croatia’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, Vesna Pusic, with EUObserver.com about the upcoming referendum in Croatia on whether to join the European Union. (In the interview, which was held in early December 2011, Minister Pusic speculates that the referendum would take place in February 2012. In fact, the elections will be held this Sunday, 22 January 2012.

*N.B.: Just as an aside. Is it really striking (statistically, that is) that in any given year 1/3 of the world’s countries will have citizens go to election polls to elect representatives?

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