Democracy: the most successful form of government there is

A woman helped by an election worker posts her ballot in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Democracy is the political form of humanity.
Tomáš G. Masaryk, Czech philosopher, politician and writer

Democracy is the only political system that guarantees people political and civil liberties and the right to political participation. No other form of government has proved to be so successful, so humane and so conducive to development. Not only are consolidated democracies less likely to engage in armed conflict, it becomes more difficult for governments to violate human rights or abuse their authority if their power is democratically controlled by the people over whom they rule.

Many developing countries are democracies in formal terms but they still include elements of an authoritarian state. Often, for example, specific sections of the population are excluded from the political decision-making process. Or it is made very difficult for the opposition to participate in elections.

Democratic developments

The Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI 2016) classifies 74 of the 129 countries evaluated as democracies. Only 19 of those are rated as consolidated. 40 are considered defective and 15 highly defective.

According to the "Freedom in the World 2015" report by non-governmental organisation Freedom House, fundamental human rights and political liberties are respected in 89 of the 195 countries examined. In 55 countries Freedom House deems this to be only partially true and it considers 51 countries "not free".

The Fragile States Index 2015 compiled by the Fund for Peace research institute declared alert, high alert or very high alert status for a total of 38 countries. Most of the fragile states it lists are located in Africa, with Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Somalia having been assigned to the very high alert category as a sign of the dramatic situation there.

Approaches to promoting democracy

For a democracy to function properly, democratic principles must be firmly rooted in society. Much more than merely ensuring a formal election process, democratisation is a far-reaching, long-term undertaking. It must be supported by internal forces, not imposed externally. This is why development work to promote democratisation processes cannot provide a quick-fix solution for success.

Moreover, there is some dispute among scholars as to the most promising strategy to pursue. The assumption behind what is known as the "sequencing approach" is that democratisation should always occur in a particular sequence. The sequencing concept dictates that functioning governmental institutions must first be installed, followed by an effective administration and the rule of law. Once these are in place, the work of the various political parties and professional media can commence. Democratic elections cannot be held until the rest of the sequence has been completed.  

The gradualism approach, on the other hand, is based on the assumption that democratisation is one part of political, economic and social change. The phases described above often run parallel to one another, which means development measures to support them can also be implemented in parallel.

Since there are positive and negative examples for both approaches, the first step should be an in-depth analysis of the situation in the country concerned, which can then be used to tailor democracy promotion projects accordingly.

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