Global Democratic Governance: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

By Janzekovic, John | Social Alternatives, Second Quarter 2010 | Go to article overview

Global Democratic Governance: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


Janzekovic, John, Social Alternatives


The overall levels of global democratic governance today are under considerable pressure. Despite some improvements, democracy promotion remains a major challenge for many states and regions. Although states in the South Asian region have achieved selective improvements in good governance, these are fragile and mostly localised. The international variations of democratic and non-democratic governmental systems make determining the current state of global democratic governance complex and challenging. To add to this complexity, democratic governance is not just about structures and the machinery of government-optimistic proclamations about the levels of democracy promotion must be compared to on-the-ground, grass roots realities. Democratic promotion is regressing and not only in developing countries; even the most powerful of democratic states are becoming more insular, more disproportionate in their response to extremist acts, and more responsive to the politics of fear.

Governments worldwide are introducing ever more draconian security measures on their own citizens in response to real or perceived threats to security and stability. The reasons for democratic regression are many and varied including secular interests and ambitions, religious and cultural intolerance, ideological differences, and the politics of fear. All of these dynamics challenge the fundamentals of democratic governance and the democratic ideal. This article presents empirical research relating to the national and regional levels of democratic governance to support the claim that for every small step towards democracy promotion there are frequently much larger steps in the opposite direction. An analysis of the Freedom in the World 2008 report by Freedom House, the Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI) by Transparency International, the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), and research by Daniel Kaufmann, Aart Kraay and Massimo Mastruzzi (2008) indicates that the current global state of democratic governance and the level of democratic promotion is in decline. This article presents the argument that democratic governance and democracy promotion are under severe stress despite selective improvements by some states and in some regions. The core indicators of the research relate to: leadership, systems and structures of government, the level of engagement of citizens within the public and private sphere, and external perceptions about the limits or otherwise of democracy promotion within states.

Conceptualising the notion of democratic governance has always been contentious. Democracy itself may be defined in many different ways depending on the influence of many factors including culture, tradition, ideology and politics. What is much less contentious is that citizens would like to have at least some meaningful say in how they are represented by their governments. The most widely employed scholarly definitions of democracy focus on institutional structures, and the processes and procedures of representative government. Multiparty competition, majority rule, free and fair elections, and the separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary are deemed to be important foundations of a democracy (Alexander 2005, 49; Beetham 2002, 2-5; Lijphart 1991, 72-73). Capacity to respond to constitutional reforms, independent election monitoring, and public policy education programs are reflective of the level of democratic governance. These sorts of definitions focus essentially on the structural and the political but citizens in democratic societies require more than institutions and structures. The past decade has witnessed an increasing recognition of complementarity and convergence between human rights and democracy. David Beetham (2002, 1) proposes that this recognition finds expression in the ideas of substantive (versus procedural) democracy, inclusive democracy, and humanrights based démocratisation. Human rights require governments for their implementation and it cannot be a matter of indifference what kind of governments they are. …

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Global Democratic Governance: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
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