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A. Authoritarian and semiauthoritarian regimes Authoritarian regimes are those in which a single individual or group (e.g., a single party or the military) wields unshakable power. There may be greater or lesser subordinate powers, even some with a democratic façade (e.g., elected but pliant legislatures, subordinate parties with no chance of acquiring power), but there is no question where ultimate decision-making power resides and that authority faces no effective checks or accountability. Under such conditions, as long as the authoritarian regime has sufficient resources and elite support, only incremental progress toward building the foundations of democracy is possible. The scholars suggested that useful actions could include promoting transparency in government finance, fighting corruption, and promoting human rights. The goal of these actions is to seek to open a space in which the 0 IMPROVING DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE absolute authority of the leadership can be subjected to scrutiny or criticism. Engagement in international relations, including trade, educational exchange, diplomatic relations, and information/broadcasting, is useful for providing leverage and openings for these causes, which are almost impossible to advance solely from outside in the absence of any relations with the country.
Many scholars insisted on a further distinction between “hard” authoritarian regimes, also called “full autocracies,” in which all opposition is ruthlessly crushed and dissent is not tolerated (as in Saddam’s Iraq or Stalin’s Soviet Union), and “semiauthoritarian regimes” (also called “partial autocracies”). In these latter regimes, power is still monopolized by a single person or group. However, there are also limited openings for opposition to appear. There may be some press or media outlets that are independent of the regime; there may be opposition parties that, while small and ineffective, are not co-opted or repressed by the ruler; there may be professional organizations or even some elements of government—certain judges or commissions—that operate autonomously and have some respect and authority apart from their support of the regime.
Examples include the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos, Nicaragua under the Somozas, and Ukraine under Kuchma. Several studies—both using case studies (McFaul 2005) and large N statistical analysis (Epstein et al 2006)—have argued that such partial autocracies are more likely to make the move to democratic politics than are full autocracies.
In the authoritarian context, major advances toward democracy are usually dependent on crisis events that weaken the regime but that democracy assistance donors cannot create or control. Typically, such crises include war, fiscal or monetary collapse, a looming succession, exposure of corruption, a major repressive overstep by the regime, natural disasters, or an electoral surprise (e.g., unexpected results in an election that would normally be fully controlled by the regime). Such events create a window of opportunity in which democracy assistance has the chance to be more powerful. In the wake of such events, democracy assistance that would be infeasible or ineffective under a firm authoritarian regime, such as support for opposition organizations, support for independent media, or support for election monitors/commissions, may help local democratic forces use the opportunity to press for major reforms.
peaceful and effective electoral choice of leaders and the secure institutionalization of civil and political freedoms. In this context, a relatively long-term commitment to the support and improvement of democratic behavior and institutions may promote democratic stability.
The scholars cited one major problem of democracy assistance in this context: External assistance often is increased in authoritarian contexts, or at the time of transition, but then swiftly reduced after the initial transition to democracy. They argued that instead a steady flow of assistance through a substantial posttransition period is often needed to help stabilize the new democracy and avoid backsliding or to head off subsequent crises.
The list of actions needed to support democratic stabilization is lengthy, for during this period many aspects of democratic institutions may need nurturing or protection, and the society is relatively open to receiving such support. Areas that might benefit from assistance in this phase include assuring the competitiveness of multiple political parties that are inclusive and able to compromise; consolidating free, fair, and inclusive electoral procedures; developing legislatures that are effective in writing and passing needed legislation; improving the accountability of government at national and local levels; supporting varied media; promoting transparency, human rights, and fighting corruption; building a fair and effective criminal and civil justice system (police and judiciary);
establishing a professional military that is subordinate to civilian control;
improving social services (health, education, sanitation); and improving economic performance. Careful assessment is needed to determine which donors and agencies are best suited to assist in these varied areas, which areas require the most help, and whether such commitments can be sustained.
C. Postconflict regimes Postconflict regimes are those in which recent conflict has left either an absence of central political authority or a weak central authority unable to control violence and crime or unable to control local warlords or suppress regional rebellions. There may be an authoritarian or democratic regime trying to acquire power over the society or the country may be divided, with various regions held by conflicting groups, warlords, or rebels.
For postconflict regimes several of the scholars at the conference pointed to a smaller number of key tasks that are imperative to complete if further actions to help achieve democracy are to have a chance of success. These were (1) reduce factional conflicts by building elite cooperation and agreements; (2) create security by establishing military and policy protection of civilians by the central regime and undertaking disIMPROVING DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE armament of rebels, warlords, or other competing authorities; (3) design and secure agreement on constitutional and electoral processes that will promote inclusion, participation, and legitimacy for the regime; (4) create effective processes for the integration of combatant and extremist groups into civilian society; and (5) create truth and reconciliation processes that will blunt the drive for personal and arbitrary vengeance. If these steps are not successfully completed, other steps—such as building political parties or holding elections—are unlikely to bear fruit, and conflict is likely to recur. One of the problems of democracy assistance programs in places such as Iraq or other postconflict contexts has been a tendency by donors to jump to the activities listed under B above without first achieving the five items listed here for postconflict regimes. Yet without making substantial progress on most or all of these five items, efforts on the activities listed under B are not likely to be effective in helping to achieve democracy in postconflict settings.
It is crucial to realize that the above comments represent rather sweeping but preliminary generalizations from current academic research on democracy. There are, in fact, a variety of kinds of authoritarian and semiauthoritarian regimes, ranging from hereditary monarchies and military dictatorships to one-party states, and similarly a variety of postconflict conditions depending on the nature, severity, and extent of the conflict.
The broad goals cited above for various contexts also still leave as highly problematic whether, and which, specific actions have significant effects in advancing those goals. Thus the only true conclusion at this point is that context matters greatly, both for designing policy and for planning future research on democratization and democracy assistance.
v. Popular protest and mobilization are a double-edged sword.
Democracy assistance donors often face very difficult choices regarding popular protest and mobilization. Should change be pursued by encouraging popular protest or only through formal and institutional means? Should one work mainly through elites, or is it better to pressure or outflank elites through popular movements? If popular movements are currently mobilizing or a protest wave is starting in a currently authoritarian state or transition state, should it be encouraged, viewed as an opportunity to push further change, or blunted as a potential threat to creating dangerous disorder?
The scholars at the Stanford conference suggested that popular protest is often an important factor in encouraging democratic transitions but noted that mobilization needs to be diverted into electoral activity and civil society organizations—rather than militias, populist movements, or competing factions—if democratic consolidation is to occur.
Popular protests have frequently played a crucial role in turning crises of opportunity into democratic transitions. Protest—or fear of proLEARNING FROM THE PAST test—often forces weak leaders to abandon office and forces elites to enter into pacting agreements. These are positive elements in the development of democracy from authoritarian regimes.
However, it is imperative that inclusive and effective political parties emerge to channel popular mobilization into peaceful political competition. Otherwise, popular groups may be mobilized into support for ethnic or regional groups, individual populist leaders, or even militias that become major security threats. In such cases, popular mobilization promotes further unrest and conflict. Assistance in building inclusive political parties that bridge social cleavages (class, regions, ethnic groups) and are capable of leading their supporters and engaging in effective political negotiations should thus become a priority wherever political protest has played a major role in democratic transitions. Institutions that can mediate conflicts—such as supreme courts, national election commissions, or representative parliaments—are also vital factors in stemming the violent confrontation between popular groups and unpopular authorities.
vI. There is no magic bullet or golden pathway to democracy and democratic consolidation.
Finally, although it no doubt makes the job of policymakers more difficult (which they readily acknowledge), the scholars at the Stanford conference noted that there are many different paths that have led to democracy and democratic consolidation. Yet none of these are assured, as all of these paths have also failed to have the desired results. Pacts, protests, or combinations of the two, peaceful transitions and postconflict transitions, on aerage show similar rates of success in building stable democracies. Presidential and parliamentary and federal and centralized systems of government have been both successful and unsuccessful in different times and places.
The scholars noted that what matters is not so much the specific path or sequence of events leading to a transition, or the form of regime adopted, but whether the appropriate combination of factors is brought together to secure that transition, given attention to the specific context.
Thus, resources should not be spent too freely in stable authoritarian contexts where change is unlikely; in postconflict states the basic conditions for progress must be secured before the transition and posttransition steps can be effective; and for countries in transition and posttransition their progress must not be neglected or starved of support in the aftermath of a transition. In addition, when opportunities arise, appropriate reactions to support change are needed in a timely fashion, and where popular mobilization is believed to be the key to change, such mobilization needs to be channeled into organizations that promote rather than undermine a peaceful and diverse civil society.