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?

Croatia: A Human Trafficking Victim Speaks With RFE/RL

The extent of human trafficking, for prostitution mainly, but also for indentured servitude has increased dramatically since the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. A more interdependent and globalized world leads to opportunities for many, but also to horror and destitution for an increasing number of the world’s most vulnerable. Here is an account of a Croatian victim from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL–an excellent website for information on the former communist world, the Middle East, and parts of western Asia).

ZAGREB, June 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) — Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is becoming increasingly widespread in countries undergoing transition. Many young women seeking better jobs and better lives find themselves against their will in secret brothels of Western countries. Such is the warning of nongovernmental women’s unions in Croatia, where 45 victims of trafficking have been identified in the last four years. Unofficial numbers are many times greater.

“It happened abroad,” says Martina, a 29-year-old trafficking victim from Zagreb. “I was sold for 3,500 euros [$4,400]. I was beaten, raped, forced against my will. They would put out cigarette butts on me and cut me with razors.

It was like a horror movie, she says. Martina was 19 years old at that time, trained as a cook. She lived in the suburbs of Zagreb and desired a better job and a better life. She met a young man who told her about his brother who had a restaurant in Italy, but who had a hard time finding good employees.

‘It Sounded Rather Convincing’

“He told me that if I really wanted to work I could come with him, but that if I did not intend to pursue work there I could be back in Croatia in three days,” Martina said. “It sounded rather convincing. Given that my life had been miserable since I was born — my father was an alcoholic and my mother ill — I went there without a second thought.”

“As soon as I arrived and as soon as he brought me to his apartment, everything started. He told me there was no work and that I had crossed the border in order to work as a prostitute, that he had paid a ton of money for me and that he will come for me in three days, and that I had to be ready by then,” she continued. “I told him to get his mother ready instead, and then he hit me on the head with his fist. Since we were in the kitchen I turned around and struck him with a pot. Naturally, I was no match for him physically. He beat and raped me constantly for three days, to the point where I was lying in blood and urine while tied to a bed. He then brought two of his friends who raped me, put out cigarette butts on me, and cut me with razors.”

Martina was locked in a Rome apartment for two months. Instead of working in a restaurant, she was beaten and raped daily until she was “broken” and had become a sexual slave. Then, she says, the man who bought her took her out to the street.

Four Passports

“That man was from Bosnia,” she said. “We found in his apartment four passports and another girl from Croatia who was also a mother of three. That was a complete horror. They beat me endlessly. A girl of 16 from Albania almost bled to death in my arms because they had pushed a car antenna into her vagina. A girl from Bosnia was found dead. That is when I completely broke down.”

Two prostitutes appearing in a World Cup-related advertisement in Halle, Germany (epa)She said she had been completely dulled, as if separated from her own body. Even when there was a chance of escape she remained a prostitute.

“There was no way for me to be freed from what had happened to me,” Martina said. “I endured this for six years. I went to the street with prostitutes, not in order to work, but to see the people who come to them and who force them to do this. Then I would throw a bottle of gasoline on their car or puncture their tires. I didn’t care what would happen. I did one or three customers — I didn’t care. I didn’t look at those people.”

Martina was a typical, vulnerable young woman without steady employment or family support. Nobody wondered about her disappearance. After all, even her own father beat her from a very young age. Sadly, that experience prepared her for what she endured in Rome.

Coalition Government set to be Formed in Croatia

In a previous post, I noted the relatively democratic nature of the post-election bargaining amongst the various parties, coalitions, and options. Party leaders and other officials assured the public that a new governing coalition would be sworn in before the expiration of the constitutionally-mandated period. This has, indeed, been the case with an 83-member coalition government presiding over the Croatian Parliament’s (Sabor) 153-seat single chamber. The Financial Times reports on some highlights of the new government:

he prime minister, who has governed in a minority coalition for the past four years, secured a slender parliamentary majority through deals earlier this week with the Peasants and Social Liberal parties and the Serb ethnic-minority party.

Other ethnic-minority representatives and a pensioners’ party member bring the new governing coalition to a comfortable 83-seat total.

A Serb member enters the cabinet for the first time as one of four deputy prime ministers, while the new governing coalition also includes the first-ever member of parliament from the Roma minority.

Croatia has a new Government?

After inter-party negotiations, which have lasted since election night–November 25th–it looks as though Ivo Sanader, head of the center-right Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), will finally embark on his second governing mandate, this time as the head of a potentially unwieldy coalition government. The big news, however, is that the elections themselves, and the aftermath, proceeded in a fair and just manner, signaling Croatia’s ever deepening democratization. The Financial Times reports from Zagreb:

“He [Sanader] assured me he has the support of 77 elected parliamentary deputies,” [President] Mr Mesic said. The HDZ holds 66 seats – 10 more than the SDP, yet still 11 short of a majority. Mr Sanader appears close to forming a cabinet with the third-place Liberal-Peasant list and could also, as he did before, bring aboard parties for ethnic minorities, including Serbs.

But he could find himself politically weaker than in the past four years, when he ruled through a minority coalition in which the HDZ retained all cabinet ministries.