The transition from authoritarianism to democracy is notoriously difficult, according to Council on Foreign Relations analysts Isobel Coleman and Terra Lawson-Remer. Countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Myanmar should draw on the democratization experience of Poland, Ukraine, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa, as outlined in their new book Pathways to Freedom: Political and Economic Lessons from Democratic Transitions.
1. Don’t miss the opportunity presented by a good economic crisis.
Studies show that it’s not economic growth but rather economic crisis that triggers regime change. Over the past three decades, many democratic transitions have been precipitated by serious economic shocks that ruptured the authoritarian bargain.
2. On elections, “Fake it till you make it.”
A clear lesson from our case studies is that elections — even sham elections — lead to greater success in the transition to substantive democracy. ….Other quantitative evidence confirms that authoritarian regimes with partial political openness are the likeliest to become more democratic, especially if they provide for multiparty electoral competition.
3. Be wary of armed rebellions, but back nonviolent, mass mobilizations.
Nonviolent, mass mobilizations have a stronger track record of laying the groundwork for democratic change. Sustained peaceful protests lead to a more engaged citizenry and a better-organized civil society — critical for staying the course during the inevitable challenges of democratic transitions. Consider Poland’s experience with its trade union federation Solidarity and South Africa’s broad-based grassroots liberation movement.
4. Encourage Inclusive Growth.
The promise of political freedom raises peoples’ expectations for economic and social opportunities. The success of emerging democracies depends fundamentally on whether democratization can also materially improve people’s lives. When citizens do see improvements in social inclusion and living standards, they reward the politicians who provide them, creating a powerful feedback loop that helps consolidate democracy. Cash transfers can also play a vital role in creating shared opportunity by enabling struggling families to invest in health and education-simultaneously cushioning the hardships of the present and laying the foundation for future economic prosperity by developing human capital.
5. Double Down on Rule of Law.
Should I believe in this new government, or not? That is the question confronting someone in a new and often shaky democracy. To answer that question, a new democracy needs to show its citizens that it can protect their core rights and establish fair economic and political rules. If people believe that legal systems and public institutions work for them, rather than against them, it gives them a stake in the system and a greater willingness to tolerate the inevitable turbulence of a transition
The establishment of transparent auctions to privatize public assets is critical. So too is the reform of laws constraining civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). (This is why Egypt’s new, even more repressive NGO law, is so worrying.)
6. Spread Out the Power.
Spreading power out to local regions has strong benefits. It helps dilute the dangerous concentration of central authority often inherited from authoritarian regimes; it also increases accountability by bringing administration closer to the people.
7. Lean on Good Neighbors and Compensate for Bad Ones.
Good neighbors can help fragile democracies succeed through tough times by providing critical economic and technical assistance and exerting constructive political pressure. Conversely, bad neighbors can undermine transitions by fostering power-grabbing and corruption — or simply by failing to provide support for democratic consolidation. Neighborhoods are not merely geographic, although shared borders are an important element of interdependence between countries.
This extract is taken from a longer article for Foreign Policy’s Democracy lab. RTWT
Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and director of CFR’s Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy program. Terra Lawson-Remer is a CFR fellow in that program. Both are co-authors of Pathways to Freedom: Political and Economic Lessons from Democratic Transitions.