Non-Western roots of international democracy support

A striking feature of international democracy support is the connection between a country’s domestic experience with democracy and the shape of its efforts to promote democracy beyond its borders, according to Carnegie analysts Richard Youngs and Thomas Carothers.

The nature of a state’s democratic transition inevitably influences how it perceives and interacts with transition processes in other countries. In addition, the specific form of its own democratic institutions will condition how it seeks to support institutional reform in other countries.

These linkages can be a source of strength. By drawing on their country’s own experiences with a particular institutional form or political process, aid providers and democracy activists can offer usefully grounded knowledge to others grappling with similar challenges. Yet they can also prove problematic if those same actors try to export their own transitional experiences and institutional forms to disparate contexts in which different democratic solutions are needed. Western support for democracy around the world in recent decades has often embodied both the strengths and weaknesses of such internal-external linkages.

As rising democracies in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere increasingly engage in supporting democracy outside their borders, internal-external linkages in this domain take new forms. Often these countries have only relatively recently transitioned from authoritarian to democratic rule, and thus lessons from their own experience about how democratization should or should not unfold are vivid in the minds of policymakers and aid providers. ….

Thus, exploring the internal-external linkages that characterize the democracy support work of rising democracies is a useful early step in gaining a deeper appreciation of how these countries go about such work. It sheds light on the assertion made by actors in some rising democracies that their external democracy work benefits from political nuances and sensitivities that Western democracy assistance may lack.

To help illuminate this issue, experts in the recently established Carnegie Rising Democracies Network explain, on a case-by-case basis, how the experience of democratic transition influences external democracy support policies in Brazil, Chile, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, and Eastern Europe. These case studies highlight how the expanding range of actors involved in international democracy support is increasing the variety and complexity of the field overall.

BRAZIL – Oliver Stuenkel

Brazil’s democratic transition, which began in the late 1970s, was gradual, steady, and relatively peaceful. After introducing free and fair national elections in the 1980s, the government undertook market-oriented reforms and controlled inflation in the 1990s and initiated broad cash-transfer programs to reduce poverty and inequality in the 2000s….

Compared to other countries’ experiences, the Brazilian political transition was relatively drawn out. …..Democratization occurred without the explicit intervention of international actors (the IMF played a key role in the 1980s, but it was not a prodemocratic force). This fact helps explain why Brazilian foreign policy makers today remain skeptical that outside intervention of any kind can be of much help in a country’s quest to democratize, even though Brazilian political leaders agree that outsiders can at times help mediate internal conflicts. Furthermore, Brazil’s relatively smooth and bloodless transition contributed to a natural reluctance to support potentially disruptive prodemocratic movements that may lead to sudden instability and complicate civil-military relations. ….

CHILE - Claudio Fuentes

Following Chile’s transition to democracy in 1990, the country’s new leaders began developing a set of foreign policy initiatives to promote human rights abroad. Several consecutive governments promoted Chile’s proactive involvement in various regional and global institutions—the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Organization of American States, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Labor Organization, and the UN Security Council, among others. Under these governments, the Chilean armed forces also participated in international peacekeeping operations and contributed to international debates on pressing global issues, such as the UN discussion on the global responsibility to protect populations from war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. 

Chile’s domestic experience of transition helped inform this proactive approach in three ways.

First, the experience of human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990, pushed Chile’s new democratic authorities to make human rights protection a foreign policy priority….Second, Chile’s first generation of democratically elected policymakers played a crucial role in shaping the country’s emphasis on international human rights protection. ……Third, policy continuity also played an important role in bringing human rights to center stage. …..

These three factors—historical context, political leadership, and substantial policy continuity—were crucial in shaping Chile’s considerable engagement in advancing human rights abroad.

INDIA - Niranjan Sahoo

Once considered an unlikely candidate for democracy, India’s political journey continues to surprise international observers. With each passing election, India’s democratic credentials have grown stronger. Unsurprisingly, successful democratic governance in a large and highly diverse country like India that is plagued by mass poverty and low levels of literacy has attracted considerable academic interest and global recognition. Given India’s success, Western powers tend to see the country as a beacon of democracy in a region characterized by authoritarian regimes and failed states.

However, India remains hesitant to exercise soft power to promote democracy beyond its borders. ….The reasons why India tends to avoid including democracy support in its foreign policy stem from the country’s complex domestic politics and institutional processes. Respect for national sovereignty, a legacy of India’s anticolonial struggle and Cold War anxiety, remains an abiding principle of the country’s foreign policy. The memory of colonial subjugation and perceived virtues of nonalignment, through which India sought to position itself as the leader of the Third World, mean that Indian diplomats still tend toward nonintervention and active or interventionist democracy support finds few backers within India’s foreign policy establishment. ….

India’s dismal rights records, domestic vulnerabilities, volatile neighborhood, and rocky democratic transition have a decisive bearing on India’s foreign policy postures when it comes to values such as democracy support. Given this, India’s democracy support has mostly been in the form of extending technical assistance, capacity building, and institutional strengthening.

Yet, in recent years, there has been considerable positive movement with regard to India’s changing worldview on the role of democracy and human rights concerns in its foreign policy. The interaction of various internal and external stimuli seems to be creating an environment that is conducive to increasing democracy promotion efforts…..

INDONESIA - I Ketut Putra Erawan

The case of Indonesia exemplifies the close connection between a country’s experiences in democratization and its initiatives for external democracy support. Democracy and reform processes in Indonesia, reformasi, are perceived as new foundational national values and experiences that need to be nurtured internally and shared externally. The country’s experience of democratization strongly colors the characteristics and approach of its external democracy support initiatives in a number of ways. …..

The country’s democratic transition entailed the positive engagement and interaction of the state with civil society and other nonstate actors. The emergence of reformers from inside Indonesia’s state institutions brought not only greater legitimacy to the process of change but also the possibility of reforming the state from the inside. The engagement of civil society, media, and other nonstate activists then became crucial for sustaining the reform process.

As a result, Indonesian democracy support efforts target state, civil society, and nonstate actors. Through the Bali Democracy Forum initiative, an annual intergovernmental summit on the development of democracy in the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia engages state actors in its neighborhood and beyond to share their experiences with and learn about democracy.

Lessons and experiences made available by international and regional actors and institutions informed Indonesia’s democratic consolidation. These external partners shared with Indonesia examples of constitution building, legal reforms, party reform, accountability mechanisms, and other institution-building challenges. International and regional actors provided support while respecting Indonesia’s internal processes and its leaders, an approach that is now reflected in the country’s emerging foreign policy.

JAPAN – Maiko Ichihara

Japan is one of the few countries that did not democratize as a result of a domestic social movement for political change. Instead, the current democratic regime was installed in the aftermath of World War II by external forces led by the United States. Due to the lack of a mass democratization movement in their own country, the Japanese remain generally opposed to supporting popular struggles for political change abroad. ….

Japan has a relatively weak democratic tradition, which is reflected in the country’s external democracy assistance policy. While the Japanese government has launched multiple policy frameworks on democracy support since the early 1990s, the country has not become a major player in the field. Between 1995 and 2012, Japan on average only allocated approximately 1 percent of its official development assistance to democracy support. ….

SOUTH AFRICA – Tjiurimo Alfredo Hengari

At the heart of South Africa’s transition was a model of tolerance and overcoming injustice. An abiding legacy of South Africa’s transition is that democratization was about “the weak” prevailing over “the strong.” That model now sits at the root of South Africa’s external projection, and this ethos continues to condition the way democracy support is woven into the broader aspects of South African foreign policy. 

A result of this legacy is a duality in South Africa’s foreign policy. During the apartheid years, South Africans saw some countries providing considerable support to the African National Congress (ANC) while other countries supported the government the ANC was fighting. As a result, some in the ANC came to associate democratic transitions with overcoming Western geostrategic neoimperialism; this has bred a reluctance to be at all interventionist in foreign policy. On the other hand, some came to see democracy support more as a civic-led movement with strong links across borders. This school of thought has pushed for more active South African democracy promotion policies built on support for civil society rather than cautious government-to-government, sovereigntist diplomacy. …..

Through the legacy of the past and the messianic tone used by the ANC as it was endorsing the transition in 1994, South Africa has elevated itself to a principled role, and it could serve as a guarantor and promoter of democratic norms and values, particularly in Africa. However, the past two decades have witnessed shortcomings in the manner in which such values have been instituted in South Africa’s external democracy support initiatives. The same features of the country’s transition that inspire others also inhibit or confuse South African democracy promotion efforts abroad. The normative bases in the country’s foreign policy, with democracy at the core, have been pursued inconsistently—albeit within the limits of what is possible and permissible in light of South Africa’s own history and the structural international political context in which the country operates.

SOUTH KOREA - Sook Jong Lee

South Korea’s democratic transition began in 1987, when the ruling authoritarian regime gave in to popular demands to reinstate direct presidential elections (an indirect system had been in place since 1972). The country’s democratization struggle drew the participation of diverse liberal segments of South Korean civil society. The involvement of white-collar workers and middle-class citizens in this struggle played a critical role in pushing the country’s ruling elites to seek a compromise for political liberalization. ….. 

The role of international organizations or foreign governments in this evolution was limited. In fact, the United States, an influential ally of South Korea, did little to press the ruling authoritarian regimes for reform at critical junctures in the process of democratization.

South Korea’s democratic transition thus grew out of successful internal modernization. It was successful only after the country had already modernized substantially.

This particular pattern explains why South Korea today supports the democratization of developing countries primarily through indirect means. Although South Korea experienced a tenacious internal struggle for political change and has evolved into a vibrant democracy, its government and nongovernmental organizations remain reluctant to support democratization struggles in other parts of the world directly. Having experienced no such intervention from the outside world during their own democratic transition, most Koreans view autonomous democratization as the most viable path.

Moreover, South Koreans tend to believe that democracy is sustainable only once a certain level of economic development has been achieved. …..

TURKEY – Senem Aydin-Düzgit

Nowhere is the linkage between a country’s domestic political system and its support for democracy and human rights beyond its borders more visible than in Turkey. In the Turkish case, this connection is best illustrated through three main processes. 

The first concerns the debates on Turkey’s potential as a democratic model in the Middle East. Turkey became active in democracy promotion after the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 in what was widely seen as a test case of whether Islam and democracy could indeed be compatible in a modern state. ….

A second important internal-external linkage in the Turkish case pertains to the ways in which the AKP, particularly after the Arab Spring, has used the discourse of democracy promotion in the Middle East and North Africa to consolidate its power base at home….

A final key linkage between domestic political developments and Turkish democracy promotion efforts concerns the rise of neo-Islamist ideology, which became prevalent across the Turkish state and government bureaucracy with the AKP’s ascent to power. In the foreign policy realm, this ideology envisions a strong revival of Turkey’s soft power in the post-Ottoman space through the country’s cultural, historical, and religious ties to the region. It is therefore no coincidence that the volume and scope of Turkish democracy assistance (as well as its development and humanitarian assistance) in neighboring regions has increased substantially under AKP rule. The regional dimension went hand in hand with the AKP’s internal political project and was mirrored in the nature of external democracy support.

EASTERN EUROPE  - Tsveta Petrova

The Eastern European members of the EU, and especially Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Lithuania, are some of the most active emerging donors providing external democracy support. Unlike many other new democracies, Eastern European states do not negatively associate democracy promotion with an imposition of Western values. In fact, for much of Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War was a victory for the democratic West over the regional imperial power, the Soviet Union, and its autocratic governance system. ….

As a result, democracy promotion efforts by Eastern European governments and civil society actors primarily stem from the desire to share their own transition experiences with other countries struggling to overcome authoritarian rule, and the Eastern European countries’ own democratic experiences have influenced their foreign policy priorities. Eastern European democracy promoters thus very consciously and purposefully pass on best practices and lessons learned about what worked and what failed during their own transitions. ….

Eastern European democracy promoters also prioritize work with governing elites in recipient countries. Most of this work has been primarily political, that is, building and strengthening the prodemocratic forces within recipient states rather than focusing, like many other donors do, on recipients’ socioeconomic and state development as an intermediate step toward political liberalization.

Lastly, the influence of the Eastern Europeans’ democratic experiences on these countries’ democracy promotion priorities has produced some distinctive thematic investments and policy instrument preferences. For instance, Hungary prefers to implement democracy assistance projects with the consent of the host government and often emphasizes human and especially minority rights questions. Czech diplomats, on the other hand, strongly believe in the power of “naming and shaming” oppressive regimes at the international level. And Estonia has invested in sharing its distinctive e-governance expertise in the realms of information policy and transparency with regional partners. In each case, these thematic priorities reflect aspects central to the country’s own democratic transition.

CONCLUSIONS – Richard Youngs and Thomas Carothers

The group of states included here as rising democracies went through different processes of transition. …..Each of these countries draws on the distinct features of its own transition to inform the way in which and the extent to which its supports democracy externally. This internal-external link can be purposive or more instinctive. That is, in some cases these countries seek to share their own transition experiences directly through democracy initiatives that they fund in other countries. In other cases, they simply tend to believe that the nature of their own transition represents the best way for political change to occur. Central and Eastern European states often foster civic activism as something positive, for example, while for Brazil elite-led change is seen as more desirable. 

These types of internal-external links can be seen as both advantageous and problematic. Rising democracies make a valuable contribution to democratization by sharing their own distinctive experiences. They can add much useful experience that is not so readily available to Western democracy promoters. Arguably, however, there is not sufficient recognition on the part of rising democracies that their own models of change might not be the most appropriate for some other societies. Rising democracies struggle to detach from their own transition experiences and design their external support from an understanding of the local desires and particularities of the countries in which they operate.

In addition, as with established Western democracies, at times these countries operate from myths about their own transitions that underplay complexities and can be unhelpful if projected onto other states. As they fine-tune their democracy support, these rising democracies grapple with the same difficulty that established Western democracies have long faced: they benefit in some ways from the richness of their internal experiences, but they are simultaneously hindered in other ways by the local specificities of their own experiences and models.

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Tunisia’s growth slows, dialogue resumes

Photo: NDI

Photo: NDI

Tunisia‘s growth slowed to 2.2 percent in the first quarter of the year compared with 2.7 percent in the same period a year earlier due to a slowdown in most sectors, the central bank said on Thursday, Reuters reports:

The North African country has turned its attention to economic revival after almost completing its full steps to democracy three years after the 2011 revolution that ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

The country’s national dialogue will resume on Friday, said Houcine Abassi, Secretary-General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) following a meeting with Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the President of the National Constituent Assembly.

“The date of presidential and legislative elections will be on the agenda,” he said. “No date has been fixed yet for the holding of elections with seven months to go before the year-end deadline, as set forth in the transitional provisions of the Constitution,” Abassi highlighted.

Tunisia still needs to dismantle and reform the structures of the old dictatorship, including the police and the Ministry of Interior, writes Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, who visited political, business, and civil society leaders in Tunisia as part of a recent trip with the International Crisis Group:

Close observers say that the success of the country’s democratic transition depends on the government’s ability to decentralise as well. The concentration of government at the national level has bred corruption. As rights activists Sihem Bensedrine put it: “As long as [the] administration is centralised, it gets many privileges.” Decentralisation (establishing more empowered regional governments) has been enshrined in the new Constitution to allow a more equitable distribution of revenue and governance.

“The country has long been divided by its coastal wealth and poorer interior,” former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali had explained to me and our small group of international visitors. Some legislators are thus looking to redraw regions so each includes both coastal and interior areas.

With Tunisia’s new constitution ratified and election preparations underway, citizens are optimistic about political progress and the gradually improving security situation, but they are concerned with high unemployment, rising prices and poor service delivery, according to a new round of focus group research by the National Democratic Institute.

The focus groups, conducted April 10-17 with 142 participants from four cities across the country, build on nine previous rounds of public opinion research conducted by NDI since March 2011. Respondents discussed their views of political parties and institutions, their perspectives on progress to date, and their priorities going forward, including expectations regarding the next elections. Key findings include:

  • In a reversal from previous NDI research, the majority of participants believes the country is headed in the right direction, citing political milestones including adoption of the constitution and the handover to a caretaker government. Enthusiasm about political progress is nevertheless tempered by ongoing anxiety over the economic situation.
  • Despite their positive impressions, citizens report low awareness of the contents of the constitution and the next steps in the electoral process, and they are eager for better outreach from political leaders on those subjects.
  • Political parties are often viewed as talking “at” citizens. Tunisians want leaders to engage in genuine dialogue with them on their concerns and to present realistic solutions.
  • Tunisians admit to confusion about the election commission, the ISIE, and some have doubts about its ability to run transparent elections. They thus view election observation, particularly by domestic civil society organizations, as crucial in safeguarding elections, especially as many anticipate infractions by political parties.
  • Views are mixed on controversial provisions of the electoral law debated by the NCA, particularly on exclusion of former regime and ruling party members from running as candidates and the institution of an electoral threshold. The latter provision would require parties to secure 3 percent of votes nationwide to obtain seats in parliament.
  • Despite some disillusionment, most citizens are committed to exercising their right to vote. They are especially interested in municipal elections, which are seen as vital to resolving local problems.

    NDI, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy, is sharing the findings with leaders of ruling and opposition political parties, civil society organizations and the government to inform the policy-making process and encourage increased responsiveness to citizens’ interests and needs. The research was made possible by funding from the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative.

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Arab transitions: ‘more democratic, less liberal’?

 

Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

The troubled transitions of the Arab Spring pose a thorny question for Western observers: Do Arabs have the right to decide — through the democratic process — that they would rather not be liberal? Brookings analyst Shadi Hamid asks.

This is the Middle East’s difficult twist, he writes for The New York Times:

For secularists and liberals, certain rights and freedoms are, by definition, nonnegotiable. They envision the state as a neutral arbiter that stays out of the private lives of its citizens. On the other hand, even the most “moderate” Islamists want the state to promote a basic set of religious and moral values through the soft power of the state machinery, the educational system and the media. As one of Ennahda’s “hard-liners,” Sheikh Habib Ellouze, told me in February 2013: “There aren’t any of us who do not believe in the rulings of Shariah. All of us believe in banning alcohol one day. What we disagree on is how best to present and express our Islamic ideas.”

Liberals would say that their solution is the only acceptable compromise. In a liberal society, everyone — secular and Salafi alike — can freely express their religious preferences. But the notion that liberalism is “neutral” can be accepted only within a liberal framework.

TEMPTATIONS ISLAMISTIslamists cannot fully express their Islamism in a strictly secular state, argues Hamid, the author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East:

If elected Islamist parties have to give up their Islamism, then this runs counter to the essence of democracy — the notion that governments should be responsive to, or at least accommodate, public preferences. Asking Islamists to concede who they are and what they believe is also unsustainable and perhaps even dangerous, pushing conservatives outside the political process.

The implications are clear, if somewhat unsettling. For democracy to flourish in the Middle East it will have to find a way to truly incorporate Islamist parties and, by extension, it will have to be at least somewhat illiberal…..

The ideology and ideas of Islamists need to be taken seriously as something deeply and honestly felt. Islamist movements do, in fact, have a distinctive worldview and vision for their societies. If anything, what their detractors say is at least partly true (and it’s something that many Islamists themselves will admit in private): There is, in fact, a “politics of stages” — you concede your Islamist objectives in the short term to strengthen your hand in the long run.

But, as troubling as this may be for Arab liberals, mainstream Islamist movements have been and are likely to remain committed to a democratic process, Hamid suggests:

The lesson of the Arab Spring isn’t that Islamist parties are inimical to democracy, but that democracy, or even a semblance of it, is impossible without them. When there are democratic openings — whether that’s in 5, 10 or 15 years — Islamists might look different and talk differently, but they will still be there, waiting and ready to return to political prominence, and perhaps even power.

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Shadi Hamid is a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center and the author of “Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East.”

Economic assistance alone won’t secure Tunisia’s transition

TUNISIA UGTTSince the start of the 2011 Arab uprisings, a debate has emerged in Washington concerning the focus on development assistance in response to citizen demands for economic advancement and more accountable governance, notes Scott Mastic, the director for Middle East and North Africa programs at the International Republican Institute. Advocates of economic assistance argue that popular demands for jobs and an improved quality of life is what drove citizens to the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond; therefore, U.S. policy should prioritize programs supporting economic stability and growth, he writes for the Fikra Forum.

A new poll by the International Republican Institute (IRI) shows that Tunisian citizens directly tie perceptions of their economic situation to the political transition’s progress, revealing an important linkage between both factors. This data suggests that progress on the political track is crucial to effectively managing the public’s mood about the state of the economy. At the start of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, initial public euphoria was high with 79 percent indicating that the country was headed in the right direction. However, by October 2013, with little to show in the way of progress in the country’s political transition, that number flipped to 79 percent saying that Tunisia was moving in the wrong direction.

In this most recent poll, IRI’s first since Tunisia’s formation of a caretaker technocratic government and passage of a new constitution, numbers have again shifted toward the positive (right direction up 31 points). The key indicator that changed between the October 2013 and February 2014 surveys was future economic expectations. In asking people what they expect about their household financial situation in the next year, the February survey revealed a 18 point positive shift in the number of people saying that they expect it to get either somewhat better (37 to 51 percent) or much better (7 to 11 percent).

Trends in IRI polling data in Tunisia and elsewhere suggest that the immediate post-election period will see another positive leap in both public attitudes and expectations. The trends underscore the importance of a U.S. policy that provides economic assistance, but also one that helps the current government and next government achieve success by effectively managing expectations and delivering on core democratic governance principles……

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Scott Mastic is the director for Middle East and North Africa programs at the International Republican Institute, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.

 

Burma’s transition ‘unraveling at the seams’?

Does a series of recent setbacks mean that Burma’s transition from authoritarian military rule is ‘unraveling at the seams’?

“These setbacks peaked in 2014, beginning with reports in January that a mob of police and Rakhine villagers had massacred up to 49 Rohingyas, including children, Catherine A. Traywick  and John Hudson write for Foreign Policy:

The U.N. called on the government to immediately investigate. But Thein Sein’s office, to the dismay of both human rights groups and U.S. officials, continues to deny that any such event occurred. The following month, the State Department highlighted the plight of the Rohingya in its 2013 human rights report, saying there were “credible reports of extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detentions and torture” against the group. The report also noted continued abuses by government soldiers, “including killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups in Shan, Kachin, Mon, and Karen states.”

Making matters worse, the government in March ousted Doctors Without Borders from Rakhine state, claiming that the humanitarian organization was “biased” toward the Rohingya, a group that Myanmar authorities do not officially recognize. Sentiment against aid workers sympathetic toward Rohingya reached a head on Thursday, when a mob of over 1,000 Buddhists attacked the homes and offices of international aid workers in Rakhine state.

To be sure, the overall changes in Myanmar in the last three years have been impressive, even if grave challenges remain. “Things have improved phenomenally,” said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, citing the country’s more vibrant political system, freer press, and gradually thinning ties to China. “But it’s going to take a while,” he added. “We can’t expect [Myanmar] to reach Jeffersonian levels of democracy overnight after 50 years of authoritarian rule.”

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