“In each case, the Obama administration’s … seeming indifference has infuriated human rights and democracy advocates, who are dismayed by the mismatch between the president’s occasional stirring speech and his everyday lack of action,” Foreign Affairs editor Jonathan Tepperman writes in the New York Times.
But experts say the likely impact of external pressure is hard to assess, because there is “no comprehensive social science research on whether pushing regimes to democratize or respect human rights,” he observes:
The first point these experts emphasize is that strong language — naming and shaming — doesn’t do much on its own. Rhetorical condemnation from Washington, like that aimed at the Soviet Union during the Cold War, can comfort local dissidents. And sometimes it changes a regime’s bad behavior in the short term….
According to Larry Diamond* (left), a Stanford professor and a renowned expert on democratization, these can include threatening to reduce or suspend aid, downgrade diplomatic ties, or cut back cooperation on things like military exercises.
These measures may work if several conditions are met.First, … the target country has to be small and poor, so that losing aid would cause it serious pain. …Diamond argues that it also helps to have lots of connections to the regime in question. …. The more contacts there are between the local government and the outside world, the more levers there are to pull or points on which to apply pressure.
Myanmar, meanwhile, which was finally convinced to liberalize by the promise of improved diplomatic and trade ties, shows the value of positive inducements: carrots as well as sticks.
“Yet the political scientists who study these questions hasten to point out that you can meet all of these conditions and still fail to effect change,” Tepperman notes.
“If the target regime is willing to withstand a lot of pain and wreck its country rather than yield (Zimbabwe), or if it’s rich, powerful and well entrenched (China, Russia, Venezuela), or if it knows that the United States needs it as much as it needs U.S. aid (Saudi Arabia) — then even the harshest forms of inducement are unlikely to accomplish anything.” RTWT
Or, he might have added, if the regime has alternative sources of assistance that minimizes or neutralizes the impact of pressure from the US, EU or other democratic states.
While many Western states are committed to promoting democracy, authoritarian regimes and other illiberal actors are increasingly engaged in defending autocracy or advancing anti-democratic agendas, from Chavista promotion of authoritarian populism to Gulf states and charities funding Islamist groups across the Middle East (and beyond).
An issue that also merits further research is the political impact of Chinese development assistance, not least in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is not obvious…that all of these activities were of benefit to the Zimbabwean people” she notes:
Media reports indicate that Chinese financing has enabled the Mugabe regime to construct a new presidential mansion, purchase equipment to censor independent radio and television stations, as well as monitor the political activities of opponent politicians and their constituents in the 2005 presidential election…. Many of these Chinese-financed infrastructure projects require the use of Chinese private sector companies or state-owned enterprises, some of which have attracted criticism for their poor treatment of local Zimbabwean employees.
The isolated Mugabe regime has certainly benefited from Chinese financing, but how does China gain from its investments in Zimbabwe’s development? China has cultivated an ally, as evidenced by President Mugabe’s public praise of the country in many of his international speeches. Moreover, the Chinese government has parlayed funding for development projects into securing licenses for Chinese companies to extract diamonds and other natural resources in high demand at home.
“China has provoked criticism for the scale of its assistance to regimes with poor human rights’ records, such as Mugabe’s Zimbabwe,” Will notes:
Human Rights Watch has accused China of “not only prop[ing] up some of the continent’s worst human rights abusers, but also weaken[ing] the leverage of others trying to promote greater respect for human rights.” Other NGOs and human rights groups have criticized China’s policy of “stadium diplomacy”.
“But few of these claims have been subjected to careful empirical scrutiny due to previous data limitations,” she states. “AidData’s database on Chinese official finance provides a unique opportunity to address these knowledge gaps by facilitating more granular analysis of the drivers and effects of Beijing’s overseas development activities.”
The conventional wisdom about China’s possible political futures is that the entrenched Chinese Communist Party (CCP), so determined to defend and perpetuate its political monopoly, has the means to survive for an extended period, says a leading China expert.
“A minority view, however, holds that the CCP’s days are numbered [and that] a transition to democracy in China in the next 10 to 15 years is a high probability event,” writes Minxin Pei.
Two principal causes of authoritarian decline emerge from decades of research and the accumulated experience of democratic transitions in roughly 80 countries over the past 40 years:
First, there is the logic of authoritarian decay. One-party regimes, however sophisticated, suffer from organizational ageing and decay. Leaders get progressively weaker (in terms of capabilities and ideological commitment)….. The result is escalating corruption, deteriorating governance, and growing alienation of the masses. Empirically, the organizational decay of one-party regime can be measured by the limited longevity of such regimes.
Second, the effects of socioeconomic change –rising literacy, income, and urbanization rates, along with the improvement of communications technologies — greatly reduce the costs of collective action, de-legitimize autocratic rule, and foster demands for greater democracy. ….. Few authoritarian regimes, unless they rule in oil-producing countries, can survive once per capita income hits more than $6,000 (PPP)…..China is well into this “zone of democratic transition”
China’s is “a robust regime surrounded by meta instability,” said Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, outlining three possible scenarios at a recent National Endowment for Democracy meeting (above): collapse, resilience or democratization.
“Happy ending” would be the most preferable mode of democratic transition for China. Typically, a peaceful exit from power managed by the ruling elites of the old regime goes through several stages. It starts with the emergence of a legitimacy crisis, which .. convinces some leaders of the regime that the days of authoritarian rule are numbered and they should start managing a graceful withdrawal from power….. At the moment, the transition in Burma is unfolding according to this script.
The paradox, however, is that regimes that are strong enough are unwilling to reform and regimes that are weak cannot reform. In the Chinese case, the odds of a soft landing are likely to be determined by what China’s new leadership does in the coming five years because the window of opportunity for a political soft landing will not remain open forever.
“Gorby comes to China” is a variation of the “happy ending” scenario with a nasty twist. …Hardliners are discredited and replaced by reformers who, like Gorbachev, start a Chinese version of glasnost and perestroika. But the regime by that time has lost total credibility and political support from key social groups. Liberalization triggers mass political mobilization and radicalism. …. Amid political chaos, the regime suffers another internal split, .,…….with the rise of a radical democratizer replacing a moderate reformer. …..Should such a scenario occur in China, it would be the most ironic. For the last twenty years, the Communist Party has tried everything to avert a Soviet-style collapse.
“Tiananmen redux” is a third possibility. Such a scenario can unfold when the party continues to resist reform even amid signs of political radicalization and polarization in society. The same factors that contribute to the “Gorby scenario” will be at play here, except that the trigger of the collapse is not a belated move toward liberalization by reformers inside the regime, but by an unanticipated mass revolt that mobilizes a wide range of social groups nationwide, as happened during Tiananmen in 1989. The manifestations of such a political revolution will be identical with those seen in the heady days of the pro-democracy Tiananmen protest and the “Jasmine Revolution” in the Middle East. ….
But even if the party should survive the immediate aftermath of a financial meltdown, the economic toll exacted on China will most likely damage its economic performance to such an extent as to generate knock-on effects that eventually delegitimize the party’s authority.
“Environmental collapse” is our last regime change scenario. Given the salience of environmental decay in China these days, the probability of a regime change induced by environmental collapse is not trivial [because] the economic costs of environmental collapse will be substantial, in terms of healthcare, lost productivity, water shortage, and physical damages. Growth could stall, undermining the CCP’s legitimacy and control. Environmental collapse in China has already started to alienate the urban middle-class from the regime and triggered growing social protest. Environmental activism can become a political force linking different social groups together in a common cause against a one-party regime seen as insensitive, unresponsive, and incompetent on environmental issues.
“To date, few have seriously thought about the probability and the various plausible scenarios of a regime transition in China,” Pei concludes, but “it should become blindingly clear that we need to start thinking about both the unthinkable and the inevitable.”
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s triumph is prompting debate over whether lifting sanctions will incentivize and accelerate the country’s tentative democratization process or provide a disproportionate reward for relatively anemic and reversible reforms.
Reports that the NLD won appreciable support from the ranks of army officers and military professionals appear to confirm cleavages between hardliners and reformers within the ruling elite.
“For a country that has experienced almost nothing but misery, abuses, and economic mismanagement since the army first took power in 1962, the scenes from Sunday’s by-elections in the new, civilian Burmese parliament seemed nothing short of miraculous,” writes Joshua Kurlantzick, an Asia analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations:
“The military’s favored party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), took a paltry handful of seats,” he notes. “As one man watching the street celebrations told the Irrawaddy, an exile publication focusing on Burma, ‘Now the world will know who is who, and what is what’ —meaning that now the world will know that the Burmese people still support Suu Kyi and the NLD, even after so many years of repression.”
Welcoming the by-elections as a significant step in Burma’s “democratic transformation,” the Obama administration said that it would “match every Burmese action” with a reciprocal gesture of support for the reform process, in an indication that sanctions against the civilian-led, military-backed regime could soon be lifted.
“Some hardliners will be angry,” said Win Min, a political scientist at Harvard University who expects Washington to lift some financial sanctions. “Moderates will be strengthened by the result, which would lead to the revoking of the main part of the sanctions,” he said.
But the country’s reform process is far from entrenched, analysts contend, and the regime’s authoritarian legacy is a serious constraint on democratization prospects.
“Difficulties certainly abound,” says the Carnegie Endowment’s Thomas Carothers,citing “a deeply entrenched, antidemocratic military internally divided over its commitment to reform, devastating legacies of political repression, atrocious governance, economic deprivation, and a politically challenging region.”
Many democracy advocates are similarly cautious about the obstacles to democratic transition, including the real threat of a resource curse afflicting the country’s peripheral ethnic regions.
“Burma’s transition to democracy will be long and difficult. There is virtually no sector that doesn’t require massive and essential investment,” writes Brian Joseph, senior director of the Asia and Global Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy:
Yet, one priority trumps all others — building a truly multi-ethnic state. For 50 years, the military has ensured the territorial integrity of the state through a combination of violence, repression, and political opportunism. As the military recedes from power and democracy begins to take hold, resolving the political divide between the ethnic nationality periphery and the ethnically Burman center will take on a new urgency.
But Sunday’s poll results verify President Thein Sein’s reformist credentials, says a presidential advisor, and demonstrate that it is time for the lifting of international sanctions on Burma.
“I think the Obama government, they are starting to believe that we are really changing, but we need to convince the other guys in Congress,” the adviser, Ko Ko Hlaing, says.
Regional leaders agree.
Thein Sein told ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan that he was encouraged by the manner in which Sunday’s poll was conducted.
“He said to me the process was more important than the result, which I think is the right attitude because the process is part of national reconciliation,” Surin told reporters. Thein Sein told him that “Myanmar would like to regain the confidence of the community here in ASEAN and Myanmar certainly would want to be integrated more effectively, efficiently into the international community.”
The regime’s call for the lifting of sanctions finds support from some independent analysts and observers.
“Myanmar stands at its most important moment since the beginning of army rule in 1962,” writes Thant Myint-U, author of Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia. The NLD’s landslide victory “is a decisive step forward from decades of dictatorship, and towards the country becoming Asia’s newest democracy.”
“But the future is still unpredictable and, at this critical time, the lifting of all western economic sanctions would do more than anything to lock in the momentum and energize those in the government pressing for reform,” he contends. “The impetus for change came not from western sanctions, which only reinforced isolation, but in spite of them…..A continuation of sanctions, even for a few more months, may spell disaster.”
There is unlikely to be a uniform response from western democracies to such demands, some analysts suggest.
“The Europeans are much more bullish about the situation and more willing to lift sanctions than the Americans, who are a bit more cautious,” Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Macquarie University in Sydney, tells Agence France Presse.
“But from both parties we’re likely to see some reaction. On the American side there will be some initiation of the lifting of some of the sanctions as a sign of goodwill and as an opportunity to support the reformers,” he adds.
“Burma’s economic problems don’t come from sanctions. The fact that the country never attracted much in the way of foreign investment except in extractive industries before wasn’t because of sanctions,” said Turnell. “The Thais, the Chinese, the Singaporeans could have been investing in more productive activities, and the fact that they didn’t had everything to do with the economic mismanagement that successive regimes had put in place.”
“If not now, when? That’s the question. It has been for some time an instrument to register protest. An instrument to try and influence events. Events are changing. and it’s very important to lock this process in,” he said. The international community needs to incentivize further democratization, he argues. “We need a democratic dividend in Myanmar. Things are happening. The international community must create a sense of inevitability, a sense of irreversibility. I think having these sanctions lifted would send a very powerful signal that things are changing,” says Natalegawa.
ASEAN’s response reflects regional leaders’ view that engagement rather than isolation stimulated the reform process, says Burma expert Larry Jagan.
“I think it’s very noticeable that the ASEAN leaders and foreign ministers were very smug after the election results. Many of them are saying ‘We actually pushed Burma towards democracy’. They’re taking credit for the changes that are taking place and the successful by-elections. I think to some extent, Burma has been an embarrassment in the past, and now it’s a shining success,” notes Jagan. “So I think, that as far as ASEAN is concerned, and as far as most of the countries of the region are concerned, this is great news.”
But many decision-makers in western capitals will be waiting to hear from Daw Suu Kyi and other Burmese democrats before deciding on the easing or removal of sanctions, and many activists oppose easing sanctions, citing what they see as largely cosmetic and reversible reforms, and continuing human rights violations by the military, notably in conflict-ridden ethnic minority regions.
“The United States and EU should not reward the regime simply because the NLD has some seats in the parliament,” said Aung Din, executive directive of the U.S. Campaign for Burma “They should wait until we see clearly how these newly elected MPs are treated,” he said.
Whatever the Obama administration’s inclinations, the U.S. Congress is likely to be more reserved about easing the penalties.
“For now, people on the Hill are open to giving small things that are reversible,” said one congressional aide. “I don’t think there’s any appetite yet for lifting the major sanctions.”
“Though Election Day itself was relatively free and fair,” he notes, “the military’s harassment and intimidation in the run-up to the polls—soldiers, bureaucrats, and other people connected to the government experienced pressure by the military to vote for the USDP—suggests that Burma remains a long way from a truly democratic culture of elections.”
It is premature for western democracies to lift sanctions, Kurlantzick argues.
Instead, they should wait at least until the end of 2012 or 2013 to see how the NLD and Suu Kyi are treated in parliament, what kind of freedom they have to criticize and push legislation, and whether the planned 2015 national elections are likely to go forward. writes Kurlantzick, a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, who blogs at “Asia Unbound.”
Sunday’s election was “the preliminary test for democratic transition and the general elections in 2015 will be the final exam,” he said.
But the ruling elites’ attitudes – at best paternalistic if not outright authoritarian – threaten to impede the emergence of a democratic political culture, as Democracy Lab’s Christian Caryl observes, citing an encounter witha USDP official contesting a parliamentary seat in Rangoon:
The government knows what’s best for people, she told me; the job of ordinary citizens is to obey the laws that it makes. When I asked her about her rivals in the NLD, her distaste was palpable: “There are many opposition people who are rude.” But surely, I said, it was their right as citizens to express their own views? “Clever children obey their parent’s rules,” she explains. “But the child who isn’t clever doesn’t listen to his parents. And then, as a result, he doesn’t like his parents, either.” (Guess which role the NLD played in this metaphor.) USDP strategy guidelines posted on the wall of her campaign headquarters included the following point: “Reduce and ultimately eliminate the area of the opposition parties.”
“[W]hat is especially daunting is that the country is confronting the profound challenge of moving away from fifty years of harsh, haphazard authoritarian rule while also grappling with the need to resolve the multiple aggravated ethnic conflicts that have festered for decades,” Carnegie analyst Carothers contends:
Trying to work simultaneously through two interrelated processes of the distribution of power—democratization at the core of the political system and greater regional autonomy in sizeable parts of the country—will be extremely difficult. ….But it’s not impossible. If handled well, the two processes could be complementary. When Indonesia moved suddenly away from authoritarian rule in the late 1990s, many people worried that it would not be able to handle democratization while dealing with the push for greater autonomy in some of its provinces. Indonesia arguably faced greater internal problems at the time than Burma confronts today, as some of its internal territorial struggles were about secession whereas in Burma the demands from the ethnic areas are more limited. But Indonesia did make it through, and the end of the authoritarian regime actually facilitated a peaceful resolution with Timor-Leste.
“Failure to address the question of the fundamental nature of the state (is it a Burmese-speaking Buddhist country with a large minority population, or a multi-ethnic country with equal claims to what it means to be Burmese?) will not only lead to more human rights violations in the ethnic areas, but will undermine efforts to a lasting and just democratic state,” the NED’s Joseph argues in Foreign Policy:
Politically, the international community should ensure that not only do all parties understand the centrality and importance of the issue, but that it includes ethnic nationality leaders as equal partners in all of its deliberations. Diplomatically, it should tie increased engagement and closer cooperation with the Burmese government to concrete initiatives and measurable outcomes to address the ongoing violence in the ethnic areas, in Kachin and Shan State in particular. And, through development assistance, it should work with the ethnic political leadership and emerging civil society to identify priorities and begin to address the yawning gap between the ethnic nationalities and the majority Burman in education, health, infrastructure, and economic prosperity.
Despite such challenges, Burmese democratization “is far from a lost cause,” Carothers concludes:
Few countries entering into a political opening do so with a vibrant, clearly pro-democratic opposition movement that has already proven its national appeal in prior elections, has a deeply respected leader of unquestionable national and international legitimacy, and has at least a certain amount of basic organizational capability.
Moreover, the reform wing in the power establishment contains some very credible figures, not the least of which is President Thein Sein himself. And although some countries in Burma’s neighborhood are not likely to be friends of the democratization process, a wide range of important international actors, including the United States, Europe, and various Asian democracies, are ready to help.
The democratic movement also has the benefit of a multigenerational cadre of experienced and committed activists, including many who will bring fresh reserves of expertise and organizational capacity from exile abroad.
“The winning NLD candidates included former political prisoners and activists and about 10 candidates who won office in the 1990 election — a victory the army refused to recognize,” AP reports:
“I became an activist basically because as a young person, I wanted to stand against injustice and unfairness,” he said during the campaign.
“I decided to become a politician when I realized that my actions as an activist could not bring about sufficient and effective results. I decided that if I want to seriously engage in politics, I should join a political party and then become a politician.”
Prospects for democratization are likely to take a cue from the Obama administration and pivot towards Asia, a leading analyst believes.
“If there is going to be a big new lift to global democratic prospects in this decade, the region from which it will emanate is most likely to be East Asia,” Stanford University’s Larry Diamond writes in the new issue of the Journal of Democracy.
And the world’s leading authoritarian power will not remain immune from the democratic contagion, observers suggest.
“The momentum for democratization in China will accelerate in the not-too-distant future,” two leading analysts contend, disputing the consensus that the ruling Communist party confidently presides over a resilient authoritarian regime.
Over the last year, China has witnessed “an unusually large group of independent citizens” contesting seats in local assemblies; an unprecedented ‘‘netizens’’ campaign in support of ‘barefoot lawyer’ Chen Guangcheng (right); and a wave of vocal anti-government criticism following the July 2011 train crash near Wenzhou.
“Although these are just three pieces of evidence, they represent a rising independent civil society and illustrate that China’s political regime is increasingly being challenged,” they write. Pressure for democratization is also being driven by “four interlinked mega-trends: economic development, cultural change, political leadership trends, and the global environment.”
To sum up, we do not argue that most ordinary Chinese are actively seeking democracy, but do suggest that recent economic trends are politically neutralizing important social classes, creating a reservoir of forces available for political mobilization. We believe that further economic growth in China is a force of democratization, and see rising inequality in China as facilitating rather than obstructing democratization.
The ruling Communist party’s “performance legitimacy” is inherently unstable, they argue, rejecting claims that the regime has successfully co-opted China’s entrepreneurial and aspiring middle classes through a docility-for-stability social compact.
China’s people are “increasingly dissatisfied with the ‘growth first’ model and are demanding more social justice and equality.”
The pro-democracy stance of leading celebrities and many intellectuals refutes claims of “Chinese exceptionalism,” or inherent cultural obstacles to democratization:
In recent years, a group of liberal opinion leaders has emerged in China, shifting the political views of more and more young and educated people. Han Han, a young writer as well as race-car driver, is the unofficial representative of these opinion leaders. He uses his blog to criticize political censorship and injustice in China, and he is so popular that the blog, with more than 500 million hits by the summer of 2011, enjoys the largest readership in China. Many mainstream celebrities are also becoming increasingly outspoken. This is worrying for the CCP because political liberalism is increasingly associated with glamorous figures, rather than marginalized political exiles or Falun Gong practitioners.
“Of course, cultural change takes time, but more and more netizens are detaching themselves from the authoritarian regime,” the analysts contend.
The emergence of a palpable “democracy discourse” within the ruling Communist party and in the wider civil society is a telling demonstration of the regime’s ideological bankruptcy.
Premier Wen Jiabao is perhaps the most prominent figure to articulate the case for rule of law, social equality, judicial independence, civil rights, and anti-corruption initiatives, but other voices are demanding “faster and deeper” reform, including Yu Keping, deputy director of the Central Committee’s Compilation and Translation Bureau and author of the hugely influential article , ‘‘Democracy is a good thing,” who advocates ‘‘incremental democracy’’ through growing citizen participation in politics.
“Despite such positive trends, one might wonder if all the talk about democracy has any real impact on political development in China,” Yu and Dingding concede. “We say it does, for several reasons:
First, even if the democratic discourse is just speechifying, it can provide a weapon for civil society to mobilize and hold the Party accountable….. Second, there is good reason to believe that some Party members are genuinely interested in promoting democracy in China. This is because they understand that the Party’s legitimacy cannot stem from economic performance alone but must be based upon multiple sources, including political legitimacy. Moreover, they probably understand that the Party will be able to hold on to power or protect its interests if it initiates the political reform and shapes the constitutional design rather than if it is driven out of power by others in a time of crisis.
“What’s equally important, if not more important, than the rhetorical incorporation of democracy into the Party’s discourse is, ironically, the CCP’s inability to come up with a coherent theoretical alternative to liberal democracy,” they note.
Last but not least, we want to emphasize that the pressure coming from the emerging civil society, which we discussed in the first two sections, will have its impact on elites. The CCP does not live in a vacuum. The rise of a contentious society will increase the cost of repression for China’s authoritarian rulers, and when the cost of repression is too high, as MIT Professor Daron Acemoglu has argued, democratic reform probably becomes a rational choice for the elites to avoid a revolution.
“Although the mega-trends identified in our assessment point to a clear outcome – the democratization of China – we believe that the process is neither linear nor deterministic. Our forecast is only probabilistic, though the probability is high,” they conclude:
The form of democracy which China will ultimately take is uncertain. There is good reason to believe that the U.S. model of democracy will not be accepted by Chinese people for historical, cultural, and social reasons. Policymakers in Washington should be careful not to impose their own values and views on the Chinese, as doing so is likely to cause a domestic backlash within China and could ultimately delay or derail the democratization process. In general, a democratizing China will be gentler, kinder, and more confident and peaceful in domestic and international affairs. This is good news for China and the rest of the world, as a large body of empirical evidence suggests that democratic states rarely, if ever, go to war with one another. It is in the mutual interests of the world and China, therefore, to see China entering the journey of democratization in the next two decades.
The fabrications of Russia’s sovereign democracy are undermining the Kremlin’s response to the newly-energized opposition, as fresh evidence emerges of the ruling party’s electoral fraud.
Some 46% of respondents to a December survey by the Levada Center polling group said they would support prime minister Vladimir Putin in the March 4 presidential elections.
But in a new poll by the state-run VTsIOM group, only 38 percent of Russians deemed Putin to be Politician of the Year— down 17 percent from a year ago – while other polls suggest that only 36 percent of voters will back him, half of the 71 percent he secured in the 2004 poll.
The latest data illustrates the fragility and emptiness of the Kremlin’s ersatz managed democracy, says Sam Greene, a political scientist at Moscow’s New Economic School.
“They created all these pseudo institutions, like United Russia, and all of a sudden they realize [they] do not have actually a power base,” he says. “They do not have links with constituencies that can come out and support them.”
Meanwhile, Dmitry Mezentsev, the governor of Irkutsk and a leading Putin ally “has been forced to deny underhand tactics after democracy activists filmed a group of people allegedly falsifying his registration documents,” The Guardian reports:
Activists from an NGO called Democratic Choice said they had caught scores of unidentified people in a room at a university in Moscow in the process of compiling false lists of Russian citizens supposedly endorsing Mezentsev’s candidacy. The NGO posted video evidence online (above).
“They were hand-copying names, addresses and passport numbers from a printed database on to official lists in support of Mezentsev, whose name was written at the top,” Igor Drandin, one of the Democratic Choice activists, told the Guardian. “The details of people on the lists were from various Russian regions. I’m sure it was a falsification.”
“Our strategy is to organize big, big actions,” said former Duma deputy and opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov. “Not often, but big actions, with real political effect.”
The opposition has been buoyed by calls for the Kremlin to enter a dialog with its critics by Putin’s former finance minister, Alexei Kudrin and the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill who described the regime’s refusal to engage dissidents as “a very bad sign, a sign of the authorities’ inability to adjust.”
Putin reportedly spent the holidays drafting his personal political program – evidence that he has absorbed the cautionary words of Kudrin and Kirill, and appreciates the need for change, according to Public Chamber member Iosif Diskin.
But Putin doesn’t understand that the middle class is no longer content with the status quo, said Alexei Makarkin, head of the Center for Political Technologies.
“It is not enough to talk about stability which many people now view as stagnation,” he said.
It is the middle class that will bring democracy to Russia, according to Sergei Guriev, dean of Moscow’s New Economic School, and Aleh Tsyvinski, professor of economics at Yale University.
“Ironically, the wave of protests …. is consistent with the ”modernization hypothesis” that Putin’s government has always used to justify the rollback of democracy in Russia: Democracy is sustainable only if society is sufficiently well-off and has a solid middle class; until then, centralized rule is needed,” they contend.
“Now, it seems, sufficient prosperity has arrived, calling forth a middle class solid enough to demand government accountability, the rule of law and a genuine fight against corruption.”
The lessons of Russia’s post-Soviet transition are that market competition, responsible macroeconomic policy and private enterprise do generate economic growth and wealth, but that’s not enough.
“A market economy needs strong political and legal institutions to protect property rights and competition,” they note. “Such institutions are difficult to build from scratch, and doing so is not merely a technocratic task. It requires political change.”
The third key lesson of Russia’s transition is that “state capitalism does not work, at least not without a strong meritocratic political party, as in China.”
The demands of Russia’s middle class will determine the country’s political trajectory, Guriev and Tsyvinski argue:
Its representatives understand that they must win the battle against corruption or leave the country, as they would, otherwise, have no future in Russia. That is why they have rallied around the young blogger Alexei Navalny, whose WikiLeaks-like anti-corruption campaign has brought forth evidence of billions of dollars stolen from state-owned companies, luxury limousines bought by officials and spectacular business careers by the ruling elite’s “wunderkinder” sons and daughters.
The evidence of corruption produced by Navalny and the nickname he gave to Putin’s political party, United Russia — “the party of crooks and thieves” — were perhaps the single most important factors behind United Russia’s large losses in December’s State Duma elections.
“Whatever happens in the March presidential election,” Guriev and Tsyvinski conclude, “the political mobilization of the middle class will eventually lead to democratization.”
The Chinese government warned today cautioned the United States against raising the cases of pro-democracy and rights activists detained during Beijing’s recent crackdown on dissent.
The warning came ahead of a two-day-long human rights dialogue with Michael Posner (left), U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and other U.S. officials.
The Communist authorities are willing to discuss appropriate issues “on a basis of equality and mutual respect,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, the regime would not tolerate Western pressure.
“We oppose any country using human rights issues as an excuse to interfere in China’s domestic affairs,” he said.
The Obama administration is “deeply concerned” about the clampdown, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month, launching the U.S. State Department‘s country reports on human rights. She noted the “negative trends,” cited in the report, including the arrest of world-renowned artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei.
Ai’s sister, Gao Ge, wants Washington to use the rights dialogue to help secure her brother’s release.
“Of course I really hope that Weiwei’s case is bought up, that he is supported,” she told Reuters “I think the whole world is paying attention.”
A delegation of U.S. Senators raised concerns about crackdown on dissent during a trip largely focused on economic and trade issues but made no breakthrough.
“While differences of opinion remain, both sides agreed to continue discussing this issue, an encouraging step that the delegation hopes will eventually lead China to protect the internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression, religion, and association,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the delegation’s head.
China’s growing authoritarianism has frustrated expectations that economic liberalization would prove to be incompatible with one-party rule and create a large middle class which would eventually demand political freedom to match new-found economic liberties.
So why isn’t China democratizing?
The answer is not that the Communist Party has forged a new “Beijing Model” of authoritarian capitalism, writes Dan Blumenthal. The problem is that despite its market mechanisms, China’s economy “is not really capitalist at all,” and so its citizens remain deprived of the individual autonomy essential to cultivating a democratic culture.
“Capitalism has been a successful training camp for self-government precisely because it has permitted citizens the liberty to pursue self-betterment and self-reliance tempered by virtues such as restraint and sympathy,” he writes. That is why entrepreneurs have played leading roles in democratic transitions.
Francis Fukuyama,* amongst others, has argued that the loyalty of China’s middle class has effectively been purchased by a regime which offers economic security in exchange for political passivity.
Yet this social compact is “increasingly unsatisfactory to many Chinese, who are searching for meaning beyond riches,” claims Blumenthal, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Premier Wen Jiabao has argued for Western-style political reforms, including a separation of powers and freedom of expression, to combat corruption and maintain the ruling party’s legitimacy. But there is more than one way to revise the social contract and the party’s New Left is advocating an alternative, illiberal approach political reform that is attracting the attention of senior party leaders.
“Proponents of the Chongqing model believe they have an answer that owes nothing to democratic models. Instead, they are drawing on the political thought of Mao (right),” they write:
Bo has commanded local party members to ‘reconnect’ with poor residents of their districts, including issuing regulations with specific instructions requiring village party secretaries to meet with residents at least once a week for at least half day. At these meetings, party workers are obliged to explain the work of the government, and listen patiently and attentively to their opinions. County leaders, meanwhile, must also visit rural areas at least once a month in order to open up channels for people’s petitions.
Xi has praised Bo’s “virtuous policy,” noting that the red culture initiatives had “gone deeply into the hearts of the people.” But the true extent of his influence will be apparent if he’s elected to the Politburo Standing Committee in next fall’s elections.
One is the “imminent collapse” school. Espoused by cold warriors, it predicted wholesale collapse of the country. The one-party political system was inherently incapable of managing the intensifying social and economic conflicts as the country went through its wrenching transformation from a poor agrarian economy to an industrialized and urban one. The Western alliance should seek to contain China, so the theory went, and thereby hasten the fall of a threatening power ruled by an illegitimate regime.
The other is the “peaceful evolution” school. These are the panda-hugging universalists who made the “they-will-become-just-like-us” prediction. As the country modernized its economy, China would inevitably accept market capitalism and democratize its political system, and proponents urged deploying an engagement policy to speed up this evolution.
After the Cold War, many were enamored by the material successes of the West and sought to emulate Western political and economic systems without regards to their own cultural roots and historical circumstances. Now, with a few exceptions, the vast majority of developing countries that have adopted electoral regimes and market capitalism remain mired in poverty and civil strife. In the developed world, political paralysis and economic stagnation reign.
“The hard fact is this: Democracy is failing from Washington to Cairo,” Li argues. “Even the most naïve panda huggers could not sustain the belief that China would follow such ‘shining’ examples.”
To begin a reassessment, it is useful to first recognize what China is not, he suggests, in a lecture to the Oxford Union:
It is not a revolutionary power, and it is not an expansionary power. It is not a revolutionary power because, unlike the West of late, it is a non-ideological actor on the world stage and not interested in exporting its values and ways to the outside world. Even as its interests expand far beyond its borders – and make no mistake, these interests will be vigorously defended – it will not seek to actively change the internal dynamics of other countries.
But Yasheng Huang, a Professor of Political Economy and International Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, questions Li’s advocacy of China’s ‘post-democratic future’ and his claim that democracies are less able to match its performance in terms of effective public services:
There is no evidence that countries pay an economic price for being democratic. (It is also important to note that there is no compelling global evidence that democracies necessarily outperform autocracies in economic growth either. Some do and some do not. The conclusion is case by case.) But in the areas of public services, the evidence is in favor of democracies. Two academics, David Lake and Matthew Baum, show that democracies are superior to authoritarian countries in providing public services, such as health and education. Not just established democracies do a better job; countries that transitioned to democracies experienced an immediate improvement in the provision of these public services, and countries that reverted back to authoritarianism typically suffered a setback.
China’s current model is unsustainable, says a leading analyst, and there is only one way to prevent a coming growth crunch – that is to shift from a construction-based economy to one based on innovation and white-collar work. But that cannot happen if the government continues to restrict personal freedom and to control the population and economy from above, says Jack Goldstone (right), a Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University.
The communique announcing Xi’s reforms, however, stated that the party “must consolidate Marxism’s leading position in the ideological sphere”, and “strengthen public opinion guidance” – hardly a recipe for greater personal freedom, he writes. There were no really bold reforms, such as extending voting for local officials to the county level, or creating independent courts to pursue corruption, or dropping internet censorship. Rather, Xi’s proposals consist of tweaks of existing policies that are designed to be eye-catching and sound impressive but that in fact reinforce the party’s grip on Chinese life.
In short, despite the reforms, the party will still stifle all other political voices, still control the major firms and banks, and still limit migration to the major metropolitan areas. This is timid change; hardly the reform China truly needs to change course and resolve its crises.
Why is it that some countries have been able to develop high-quality state administrations that deliver services to their populations with relative efficiency, while others are plagued by corruption, bloated or red-tape-ridden bureaucracies, and incompetence? And what is the relationship between the effectiveness of a state and democracy? Are the two mutually supportive, or is there a tension between good public administration and broad political participation?
In the latest episode of Democracy Ideas, Christopher Walker, director of the NED’s international Forum for Democratic Studies asks Stanford University’s Francis Fukuyama to explain and elaborate on “Democracy and the Quality of the State,” his article in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy.
Democracy is of course an intrinsic good that would be valued regardless of its effects on policy outcomes. But legitimacy (or its absence) can also spring from state performance. Thus if we care about the health of democracies around the world, we must also care about the performance of their governments—that is, the quality of their state bureaucracies.
Modernization: Theory and Reality
The experiences of the United States, Greece, and Italy suggest that the process of political development democratic expansion of the franchise, when it takes place in advance of state modernization, can lead to widespread clientelism. Conversely, authoritarian states that develop modern bureaucracies early on are often in a happier position once they democratize, since their states tend to be inoculated from the dangers of political colonization.
In looking across these cases, one is led to ask why middle-class reform coalitions appeared in Britain and the United States, but not in Greece and Italy. There would seem to be at least three reasons.
The first has to do with the nature of economic development. Britain and the United States experienced classic industrialization, with newly organized industries drawing huge numbers of workers out of agriculture and putting them into urban environments where social life and the division of labor were completely transformed. Greece and southern Italy, by contrast, experienced what is sometimes called “modernization without development”—that is, urbanization not based on the growth of a vigorous industrial market economy. Under these conditions, the old rural order gets transplanted to cities, and there is no mobilization of broad new groups like a middle class or proletariat. Instead of Gemeinschaft (community) being transformed into Gesellschaft (society), Gemeinschaft is simply transferred wholesale to the city, complete with its rural mores and habits of patronage.
A second reason for the difference is cultural. The rising middle classes in Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, and Prussia/Germany were largely Protestant, and often had highly moralistic views about personal integrity. … The Progressive movement in the United States was fueled by old-line Protestants resentful of the way that machine politicians were organizing newly arrived Catholic, Jewish, and Orthodox immigrants in rapidly growing U.S. cities.
Finally, factors of leadership probably had important effects. In the years following the end of the Cold War, Italy had a tremendous opportunity to create a clean, modern state. The Tangentopoli prosecutions in the early to mid-1990s of corrupt Christian Democratic and Socialist politicians and of the Mafia itself could take place only after the end of Cold War polarizations. Instead of getting a Roosevelt or a Wilson, however, Italy produced Silvio Berlusconi and Umberto Bossi. The electoral base of both Berlusconi’s center-right party (Forza Italia, today part of Popolo della Libertà) and Bossi’s Northern League included precisely those middle-class groups that were fed up with the corruption of the old system and wanted change. But instead of providing a path toward state modernization and structural reform of the Italian economy, both leaders pandered to populist causes and protected their own personal interests. Berlusconi in particular legitimated a new form of media-based corruption that will weigh on Italian politics for years to come.
The experiences of the United States, Greece, and Italy further suggest that in the process of political development all good things do not necessarily go together. Democratic expansion of the franchise, when it takes place in advance of state modernization, can lead to widespread clientelism. Conversely, authoritarian states that develop modern bureaucracies early on are often in a happier position once they democratize, since their states tend to be inoculated from the dangers of political colonization. Whether it is worth paying the cost of authoritarian tutelage and military conflict that this route to state modernization often entails is a different question.
Finally, we need to ask whether Weberian states, once achieved, are permanently self-sustaining or whether they are subject to political decay. The state bureaucracies in China, Germany, Japan, and other countries have been remarkably durable over long periods of time. All modern states, however, are subject to recapture by powerful groups in society.
It would appear that political development is not a one-way ratchet that keeps turning in a progressive direction. Political decay remains an ever-present possibility.
Francis Fukuyamais a senior fellow at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. This essay draws on themes in his forthcoming book, Political Order and Political Decay: From the French Revolution to the Present , to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2014.
This extract is taken from the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy. RTWT
Promoting successful transitions to democracy should be at the center of transatlantic strategy in the Middle East following the “Arab Revolutions,” and Egypt, the most important Arab country, should be the focus of this effort, analyst Amy Hawthorne writes in an analysis for the German Marshall Fund. Egypt cannot become a stable, moderating force in the region and a strong partner for the United States or Europe if it cannot democratize.
Democratization will be extremely difficult, and promoting democracy will be a long and frustrating task for outsiders. But the alternative — a failing Egypt left on its own — is worse for U.S. and European interests.
Amy Hawthorne is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East with extensive policy, analytical, and practical experience on Arab political reform and democracy promotion.
To ensure the portrayal was realistic, the production team sent 600 volunteers to Mao’s hometown inShaoshanin Hunan province and other places to gather anecdotes about him. One of the biggest challenges they faced was how to balance the exaggerated expressions thatcartoonsuse with the solemnity required when dealing with the founder of modern China, according to Lei’s husband, Zeng Xiangbao, who is the film’s general producer.
[…] President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream”, although not mentioned explicitly, was one of the film’s themes, she said. The campaign, which has been a personal project of Xi, seeks to promote the revitalisation of the nation. [Source]
Xi’s own rise to leadership is the focus of a short web cartoon of murky but, according to Austin Ramzy at The New York Times’ Sinosphere blog, likely official origins. The video emphasizes the role of campaign funding in becoming U.S. president and glances at the British leadership selection process, comparing both to reality TV shows. It then turns to China:
In the new cartoon on leadership selection, called “How to Become a President,” Mr. Xi jumps up the ranks of Chinese officialdom not unlike the protagonist of the video game Donkey Kong, minus the rolling barrels. […] The video ends with a subtle dig at critics who say China’s political system needs to democratize. “Many roads lead to national leadership, and every country has one for itself,” the narrator says. “Whether by a single ballot that gets the whole nation out to vote or by meritocratic screening that requires years of hard work like the making of a Kung Fu master, as long as people are satisfied and the country develops and progresses as a result, it’s working.”