“What determines whether or not new democracies survive … is the way in which political leaders respond to their inability to solve the problems facing the country,” wrote Samuel Huntington. “Democracies become consolidated when people learn that democracy is a solution to the problem of tyranny, but not necessarily anything else.”
And political parties have an especially important role in managing citizen expectations during transitions from authoritarianism to democracy, says a new report. But while “huge expectations are invested in political parties, the transitional period is arguably when they are weakest.”
“Parties’ performance will be a key determinant in the quality of both the political system and the democratic culture that surrounds it,” write Greg Power and Rebecca Shoot. “The legitimacy and durability of the political system requires political parties that are both responsive and resilient.”
“For all political parties, the period of transition will be characterized by significant wins followed by punishing losses; by gains and by failures,” they contend, in a must-read report from the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy. “The ultimate test for political parties, and for the consolidation of democracy, is partly how parties build on success. But it is as much about how they react and respond to failure.”
Drawing on the first-hand experiences of practitioners and analysts from Latin America, Turkey, Indonesia, Serbia and South Africa, the report aims to provide insights for their counterparts negotiating the process of transition in the Middle East and beyond.
As recently as 2010 the prospects for political transition in the Arab world appeared poor, the report notes, citing the Journal of Democracy’s article, ‘Why are there no Arab democracies?’
“The revolutionary movements in the Arab world were the result of multiple frustrations about the arbitrary use of power,” the report notes. “Democracy offers the prospect of political influence, choice, and accountability.”
The report includes case studies of Latin America from Genaro Arriagada, which draws on his personal experience in his native Chile and his observations of transitions in Spain, Portugal, and the former Yugoslavia. Suat Kiniklioglu’s chapter on Turkey outlines the emergence of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) from banned opposition movement to its ascendance to power.
Kevin Evans examines the process of transition in Indonesia, highlighting the military’s disengagement from politics and the challenges of developing a political culture that involved ‘learning to negotiate as democratic citizens’. Branimir Kuzmanovic draws on his role within Serbia’s Democratic Party to explore the challenges of “creating, mobilizing and campaigning” during the transition from Miloševic’s despotic rule through to the party’s consolidation as a significant political actor.
Tom Lodge assesses the state of democracy in South Africa, focusing on the emergence of the African National Congress (ANC), and the conduct of negotiations between the ANC and the then-governing National Party.
The case studies stress parties’ pivotal role in changing the relationship between citizens and state, people and power, and focus on the challenges for new parties in “establishing and distinguishing themselves, fostering multi-party dialogue, negotiating the withdrawal of the military from politics and convincing the public that democracy works.”