Sunday, August 18, 2013

Racing to Democracy

There is an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times by Charles Kupchan about democracy in Egypt. He does not try to make the case for or against democracy in Egypt. Instead, he raises some interesting questions about the pursuit of democracy either in Egypt or wherever. His basic point is that rushing to democracy may actually “[do] more harm than good.” We have seen in the past couple decades that one measure of democracy is the election metric. States are initially determined as democratic when they hold a successful election. That then opens the door for their acceptance into the international club of democratic states, and it grants easier access to aid. I think there are problems with that singular measure, but I can understand its political temptation. He suggests the track record of states that rush to elections is actually worse than those that incrementally become democratic.

He offers several examples, beginning with Bosnia, of states having failed in that attempt. Although I have a slight bit of reservation about his examples, he does highlight a recent liberal trend to zealously promote democracy. At the core of this hopeful democratic peace is a fundamental question of how to structure a state for democracy. Should a state democratize before it liberalizes, or should a state liberalize before it democratizes?

In the coming month or two I am going to attempt to analyze that question by looking at the constitutions of Afghanistan and Somalia. Both countries are supposedly emerging democracies. Both countries are, I think, in different conditions of liberalization relative to their democratization. Both countries have recently undergone fundamental shifts in their governing structures. However, I think the way their fundamental shifts occurred differs, and that difference may be evident in their constitutions. My hypothesis is that Afghanistan’s framework is being rushed before a foundational polity exists to fulfill that framework, similar to what Kupchan suggests. Somalia, on the other hand, may not be quite as rushed to become democratic and is therefore on a different path to establish a foundational polity that can fulfill its constitutional framework.

I welcome any thoughts on the matter regarding my initial hypothesis or the potentials for democracy in either country. What I am interested in seeing are the similarities and differences in each constitution and how their particularities might or might not work to establish a democratic state.