Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Democracy: Development and ethnicity/Democratie : Developpement et Ethnicite

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Democracy: Development and ethnicity/Democratie : Developpement et Ethnicite

Article excerpt

Let me begin with a brief comment about the history of democracies, their sustainability, and the drivers of their existence. Then I shall comment on some of the questions posed to the panel. I will end with some commentary about the role of social sciences in the development of democracies and the role that government and agencies such as the World Bank play in the process.

For me it seems like yesterday, but for many of you, it is so old you can't even remember it. However, it was early in 1974 that the stunning wave of the new democratic expansion in the world began. It was then that Portugal became a democracy. At that time, there were only forty democracies in the world, and they were mainly in the advanced industrial countries (Diamond 2003). There were a few other democracies scattered around the world, e.g., India, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Venezuela --but only a few.

Since that time, democracy has expanded dramatically. By 1992 over half of all the countries in the world were democracies, and by 1995 just under two-thirds of the countries could be considered democracies. However, in the last decade and a half, the number has remained remarkably stable, so that today, as in 1995, only about 120 countries in the world are democratic in nature. During the same period (1974-2007) only fourteen nations became authoritarian, including countries such as Peru, Zambia, Russia, and Pakistan, and during this same period, some of these reverted to democracies, e.g., Turkey, India, Thailand (Freedom House 2003).

For purposes of this paper, I define a democracy as "a system of government in which the people choose their leaders at regular intervals through free, fair, and competitive elections." Certainly this definition can be viewed as a continuum from those which are clearly democratic to those which are lacking in certain elements. In other words, it is not an "either-or" situation. It is also the case that electoral democracies can exist in countries with significant violations of human rights, massive corruption, and a weak rule of law. As such, this definition is the minimal criteria that I would suggest characterizes a democratic society. A truly, ideal democratic system requires three components:

1. democratic: enabling citizens to choose their rules in free and fair elections and to participate and express themselves in other political processes;

2. liberal: limiting the power of the state to encroach on the basic rights of the person and affirming civil liberties and minority rights; it is important to note that the treatment of minority groups is a "litmus" test for the extent to which government meets the criteria of democracy;

3. republican: providing a rule of law and good government through institutions of horizontal accountability that check and balance executive power, while holding all actors, public and private, equal before the law. This issue of accountability is universal. However, "accountability" takes on different meanings as one moves from culture to culture. In a general sense, accountability refers to the idea that individuals, groups, and organizations are responsible for their actions and how these impact upon people within their state and, more recently, people outside the political boundaries of the state. However, the condition of responsibility takes on very different meanings. The question is, to whom are you responsible? These issues need to be clarified, codified, and communicated to all constituents in society so that it is clear to everyone what their responsibility is (Rosenberg 2002).

Democracy is, I would argue, a necessity for societies to survive. Amartya Sen (2001) showed that people in economic need also need a political voice. However, democracy is not a luxury that can await the arrival of general prosperity. With economic prosperity for all members of the society (not just the elite or the foreign investors), democracy tends to follow. …

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