Founding elections are, therefore, moments of great drama.
(O'Donnell and Schmitter)
This chapter proposes an interpretative framework for the comparative analysis of democratic transitions. It argues that the complex dynamics, shifting agendas, and multiple interactions that characterize all such processes can be integrated and brought into focus by the construction of an analogy with theatre and drama. Every democratic transition obeys the logic of a public dramatic performance. This is not the only possible analogy. Multiple chess games have been proposed as another interpretative framework, for example. Alternative metaphors include 'elite pacts', 'crafting institutional design', and even the flow of ocean waves. All these images have been proposed as ways of ordering the confusing and contingent multiplicity of events and initiatives that seem to concatenate without much apparent structure during the compressed interval between the disintegration of an authoritarian system of rule and the emergence of a democratic alternative. The comparative study of democratic transitions focuses on this limited period of chronological time, during which an apparently almost unlimited range of experiments may be attempted by an indeterminate variety of often hitherto unknown or marginal political actors.
At least in retrospect, some democratic transitions can be viewed as relatively orderly processes kept within predictable limits through the tacit or explicit collaboration of the major power contenders, whose identities and resources were apparent from the outset. But even such 'negotiated' transitions carry a charge of dramatic tension while they are in process. Like a high wire act in the circus, it may all be carefully rehearsed and predictably successful, but the audience is riveted by the possibilities of mishap,