Second International Conference on Elections and Democracy
Good Governance and Delivering Democracy:
Elections are not enough!
Learnings from the situations after Rose Revolution, Arab spring and anti-corruption movements in India
With the passage of time, connotations of concepts change, without much of a change in the core of the idea. What was luxury yesterday has become comfort today and comfort, almost necessity. Individualism today also connotes yearning for personal space while the concept of Human Rights in modern times, has covered recognition for personal choices as well. Similarly, due to the wider realisation that changing traditional male mindset is a pre-requisite for real gender equality, the issue has gained prominence in the entire gamut of issues concerning gender, today.
On the one hand while concepts are becoming more and more broad, wide enough to accommodate multiple shades of meanings they are also acquiring a more practical dimension. Modern day popular thinking has shaped a trend to abhor anything that is just theoretical. To day, unless concepts manifest in practise, their impact remains limited and relevance, questionable at least in the eyes of the younger generation.
All this compels one to have a relook at the traditional vision of democracy. While the talk about deepening and widening of democracy continues to dominate democratic discourse, the reasons for the lack of ability to deliver on the part of democracy gets lesser attention than it deserves.
True, democracy is widening. There is absolutely no doubt that the global community has marched towards making democracy a universally accepted model of governance. Nobody disputes that of all the available options, democracy is the ‘available best’ model .As pointed out by many, liberal representative democracy has emerged as the dominant system of national rule across the globe - at least in a formal sense. And yet, the gap between reasonable popular expectations from democratic governance and the actual performance of elected rulers seems to be widening more and more. Professor of International Relations at the University of Southampton Anthony McGrew is right in observing “While public disenchantment with elected politicians and the capacity of democratic governments to deal with many of the enduring problems - from inequality to pollution- confronted by modern societies suggest that all is not well within the old democracies.”
When it comes to concepts like democracy and good governance, things become all the more complicated. This is because at least at the conceptual level, the idea of Good Governance was rightly considered as is inherent to the concept of Democracy. “When elected representatives of the people, supported by a majority are at the helm of affairs; the governance will naturally be people oriented and hence ‘Good’ ’’; was the simple logic behind this consideration. But in the last century, all over the world, while the acceptability and preference for democracy has increased manifold, efficacy of democracy in the specific context of making the lives of the principal stakeholders; -- i.e. the people-- easier and qualitatively better has largely remained a chimera. It would not be an exaggeration to say that democracies have sustained not because of the overwhelming popular support, much less because they have developed a strong conviction about democratic values. Democracies have sustained because – regardless of the fact whether they are sham democracies or genuine--- simply because they seemingly provide at least some window of opportunity for the people to have some say in selecting their rulers.
This certainly is a potentially dangerous situation! It does not effectively negate the possibility of any autocratic regime providing Good Governance being seen as acceptable to the people, who are fed up of a democracy that has failed to deliver. The most significant factor in such a scenario is the all-pervading cynicism. When people appear to be more than convinced about the inability of democratic governance to deliver anything significant, the atmosphere of cynicism deepens further. The only way to effectively overrule emergence of this situation is to make democracies—both established, as well as emerging or recently reformed—deliver!
Democracy and State Building
But, for democracy to deliver, first of all it must take a proper birth where it is non-existent, must be groomed and cultivated where it is a new-born infant and must undergo a process of structured overhaul where people perceive it as ineffective on governance count. In all the three categories what is essential is the consideration of what Pippa Norris calls as the Unified Theory where liberal democracy has to go hand in hand with State building. This Unified Theory has been elaborately explained later in this paper.
Rose revolution in Georgia, Arab Spring in Egypt and Jantar Mantar upsurge in India present before us three distinct cases. In Georgia, State Building was stressed to such an extent that democratic liberalism itself came under a dark cloud. In Egypt, neither liberal democracy could found its roots nor State building was paid any proper attention. In India, the recent popular upsurges remained extempore and short-lived besides being highly unstructured. In effect, the full-blown popular upsurge did reflect relatively strong credentials of liberal democracy, making political establishment sound irrelevant. However, in the process the objective of ensuring reforms in State apparatus bringing greater accountability and transparency just remained unachieved. In a way, all the three examples offer us great learnings. In all the three cases, the outer structure of representative democracy was present all along, but the mandate failed in articulating, much less translating into reality; the popular yearning for bettering their lives.
In a way recent happenings in all the three countries provide copybook lessons on two distinct counts. Firstly, they tell us how not to handle popular upsurges and cause shaking of popular confidence in mass movements. Secondly, they also tell us that mere conduct of elections—even if truly free and fair --- is far from enough for responding to democratic aspirations of the people as the generation next expects democracies to go beyond elections. In a way, the upcoming generations of all the democratic countries are looking for the second-generation democracy.
The experience of Rose Revolution in Georgia presents before the world an example of how lack of deepening of democracy may eventually allow a democratic upsurge manifesting a yearning for corruption-free good governance; go simply waste.
On the one hand it is true that Rose Revolution seemed to have aggressively and assertively implemented certain very noteworthy and purposeful reforms in multiple sectors. True, few of them have yielded results and brought in significant change in the lives of the people. No wonder, in its report on Fighting Corruption in Public Services: Chronicling Georgia’s Reforms; the World Bank also rightly emphasised that “Georgia has proven that success can be achieved in a relatively short period of time given strong political will and concerted action by the government. By no means is this fight over—much remains to be done, especially with respect to strengthening institutions (the best safe- guard against a relapse of corruption) and ensuring an adequate system of checks and balances. Although every country has a unique set of initial conditions and the nature of the corruption problem and the type of political economy differ, many elements of Georgia’s story can be replicated in other countries. Georgia’s success destroys the myth that corruption is cultural and gives hope to reformers everywhere who aspire to clean up their public services.”
The Economist too commended the Georgian reforms, saying, “The fight took place on many fronts simultaneously. Ideological purpose lent clarity to the government’s efforts. Driving out corruption became part of a broader, libertarian effort to roll back the state; a smaller government would give fewer opportunities for graft. …. They adopted other countries’ practices with enthusiasm, such as Italian anti-Mafia legislation and German police training techniques. Keeping public opinion onside was critical, although it was an area where the authorities could have done better.”
However, the fact remains that even after having introduced an array of reforms, Mikhail Saakashvili’s party lost the elections in late 2012.
Before we go to the reasons behind Saakashvili defeat, it is important to understand the nature of such reforms. First and foremost, these reforms have noticeably improved the management of public affairs in key areas. But they were all majorly dealing with technical institutions like Central Electoral Commission or the much maligned traffic police. Secondly due to lack of any structured efforts for public education and participation towards durable legal institutions, the reforms remained half way. A glance at the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitiveness Report helps one understand the strength and limitations of Georgian reforms. In the organization’s latest report Georgia is ranked second out of 144 countries for the number of days required to open a business and ninth when it comes to “burden of government regulation.” However it comes in 95th place with regard to “judicial independence,” a lowly 131st place when it comes to “property rights,” and in 141st place with regard to “effectiveness of anti-monopoly policy.”
Under Saakashvili rule, in the name of enforcing the rule of law and weeding out corruption, three kinds of excesses happened. These excesses were of three categories. The first involved physical crimes, second comprised crime against privacy and personhood and the third involved economic issues.
On this backdrop, it was almost expected that in spite of the fact that Saakashvili regime brought significant changes and people’s lives were better than earlier, in general; they could not help him win the hearts of the people at large. What was more appalling was the fact that principal players during the Saakashvili regime were convinced about the harsh measures they were taking. Many believed that almost any social and humanitarian costs should be borne in the name of transforming Georgia into “a country of the future.” Many will suffer, they argued, but those who weather the change will live in a fundamentally different state. However, there were not many buyers to this logic. People wanted reforms but were not in favour of the mannerism in which they were imposed. In the ultimate analysis it was a case of misreading the public mind and squandering the mandate given by the people, who while overthrowing the previous regime had pinned huge hopes on Saakashvili. Sadly, Saakashvili failed in giving, what people were looking for that is Governance with a Human Face.
The Arab spring has a multi-dimensional message. The popular unrest has served a notice to all those elements failing in ensuring a secured future. Secure, both politically as well as economically. The three main factors behind the Arab spring were –
1. A very corrupt or weak government
2.Unhappy wealthy and military classes of people and
3. A desire for change supported and acted upon by different political and popular groups.
At the backdrop of these factors is the fact that most of the countries witnessing extempore popular uprising were governments working under a façade of democracy.
Governments in Egypt and Tunisia were corrupt and more importantly weak on delivery count as well. Autocrats in both countries did not have genuine popular mandate and hence they severely lacked in legitimacy. The abysmal lack of good public administration added to the restlessness not only amongst the poor and disadvantaged sections but also the affluent and powerful sections of the society. Military, too had no reason to not to support and revolt against the corrupt heads of governments. In a situation of this kind, a desire for change got further fillip and people took to streets, without caring so much for the immediate consequences.
What has happened recently in Egypt is a reminder of the fact that while popular mandate could be earned through massive supporter base, as was in the case of Mohammad Morsi; running an administration without giving in to the populist pressures is an altogether different ball game. It is educative, therefore to understand as to how Egypt’s first freely elected president found himself isolated, abandoned by allies and no one in the army or police willing to support him.
It was a fact that during his last days, Morsi and all major institutions together (like judiciary, the armed forces, police and even the intelligence) were at loggerheads with each other. Mutual trust had ceased to exist. Political opponents of the Morsi regime had successfully fuelled popular anger that Morsi was giving too much power to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, and had failed to tackle Egypt's mounting economic problems. Morsi, like many others; habitually took shelter in the fact that he had won popular mandate in the June 2012. Although that certainly was an undeniable fact, students of democracy must now understand that when people are restive, such mandates become evaporative. Even independent observers in Egypt had mentioned that during his last days, Morsi wouldn't address the mass protests; mainly due to lack of moral courage as he had utterly failed in addressing any of the country's most pressing problems – tenuous security, rising prices, unemployment, power cuts and traffic congestion.
Were the uprisings in the Arab countries merely for democratic rights? To consider that replacing sham democratic structures by genuine one will leave the people happy thereafter is denying the hard reality. Democracy is essential, but perhaps no more enough. Along with democracy, people are now aspiring for State building where quality public administration as a part of overall good governance is delivered. If democracy fails in delivering this the specter of people preferring a dictator to a democratically elected government may not be all that remote. In history, there are several examples indicating that benevolent dictators are preferred to failed democracies especially when there is a guarantee on the delivery count.
It is a fact that strengthening institutions that facilitate the expression of democratic demands is extremely important. Introducing elections is an essential ingredient of this process, but that alone is perhaps not enough. If this process eventually fails in enhancing governance capacity in managing the delivery of basic public goods and services, it will ultimately end up promoting greater public disenchantment. Hence, the future of Arab spring movement is pregnant with the grave challenge of establishing State mechanisms that are open, participative and democratic and at the same time efficient and productive while making democracy deliver.
All in all, the lessons one learns from the Georgian and Egyptian experience is all about –
Strong implementation mechanisms and mutuality of institutions.
Multi-sectoral and sustained nature of reforms
Genuine commitment to democratic rights
Greater Public Participation
In a way, all the five aspects are intertwined. Without a strong political will on the part of the rulers or leaders of popular upsurge, nothing can happen. It is only this strong will that would generate a courage of conviction required for twin post-regime change developments: putting strong implementation mechanism in place and ensuring that institutions of democratic governance evolve a mutuality and commonality of purpose. This, of course calls for highly dexterous and visionary political leadership spearheading the movements. Only such leadership, with strategic thinking at its command; can moot multi-sectoral and structured reforms, being introduced one after the other. While doing all this, nobody can ride roughshod. Dictatorial ways are of no use in deepening democratic governance. Hence, rulers ought to give due consideration to and betray their commitment to democracy. For that, involving people at every possible level becomes highly critical.
Here, we can also take recent happenings in Brazil into consideration. Recently, Brazilians in some parts were up in arms against their own Government headed by popular leader Dilma Rousseff. In an outburst of anger against politicians of all stripes, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in June to protest against corruption, mismanagement of government money, the high cost of living and poor public services.
Rousseff had to scramble to improve public transportation, health and education services, immediately and push for reforms to make the country's political establishment more accountable. When people are not ready to believe politicians, much less the ruling party; they become permanently restive and even an incident or two work as a trigger, powerful enough to bring about change of regime. In Georgia this was prevented at least till the elections were held by the semi-authoritarian regime of Saakashvili, in Egypt Morsi could not prevent it, in Brazil Rousseff could escape narrowly and in India the Govt survived because of unstructured popular movement and its leadership that miserably lacked creative imagination and decisiveness.
When Arab countries were witnessing this democratic upsurge, in India there was Lokpal movement. Two years after the series of protests had begun with fasts undertaken by Anna Hazare, the movement started by him is nowhere on the scene. True however, is the fact that the challenge of finding answers to some issues thrown by the movement, continues.
There are at least four clear reasons that have contributed to the marginal success of movements led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, the famous Yoga Guru. First and foremost, their fight appeared to be against the amorphous challenge of wiping out corruption where the end product (i.e. bringing a strong Lok Pal or an ombudsman to take care of complaints about corruption in high places) was largely technical and difficult to understand with limited capacity to catch the popular imagination in a sustained manner. Secondly, the movements failed in aligning with the opposition parties and groups as they painted the entire political class with the same brush inviting the wrath—overtly or covertly---of the entire political spectrum. Thirdly, they lacked in intellectual as well as organisational prowess due to incoherence and non-coordination. Fourthly and most importantly, the movement could not carry home the point that every citizen is equally responsible for the spread of corruption and hence if it is to be really wiped off; at least all the participants of the movement – if not every citizen-- need to demonstrably adopt a code of conduct and adhere to some key ethical values to add to the credibility of the leading lights of the movement. Thanks to all these reasons; leaders of the anti-corruption movements in India seem to have wasted a golden opportunity and may end up, perhaps; pushing the citizenry further in the morass of cynicism.
In the Indian context, it would be misleading to get unduly impressed by the increased percentage of voting in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections of 2012. Winning elections has already become a technique and with flawed electoral system, rarely it turns out to be a genuine popular mandate. The sooner people in India stop relishing in being the largest democracy of the world and start introducing reforms to wipe off the wide spread disparagement and frustration about the political system, the better.
Happily, the atmosphere created by the movements has encouraged some state governments take some concrete actions in the form of bringing new legislations aimed at greater transparency and accountability in governance.
Responsive and Effective
From Georgia to Egypt and Brazil to India, events underscore the importance of what has been effectively theorised by Pippa Norris Norris as the combination of democratic responsiveness and state effectiveness. According to her, regardless of whatever the theory suggests, in practice, liberal democracies often prove imperfect on the count of accountability and good governance related procedures “particularly where party competition is limited, electoral systems are manipulated, or channels of participation are skewed towards money votes over people votes.” Norris further argues that “The institutions in liberal democracy can limit the abuse of power, but curbing Leviathan does not ensure that leaders will necessarily have the capability to implement effective public policies addressing social needs.”
Norris further points out that “Moreover the initial move from autocracy, and the rhetorical promises commonly made by leaders during transitional elections, often encourages rising expectations among ordinary citizens. If these cannot be met by elected officials, due to limited state capacity, this can be a recipe for frustration.”
The Arab Spring brings to the fore the fault lines of as well as recent anti-corruption movements in India makes us keep our fingers crossed as nothing could be conclusively stated about the success or otherwise of these movements. Although some measures by the governments in some Arab countries as well as India and some of its State governments leave a scope for hope, popular turbulence in both these countries leave a lot to be desired.
Senior American journalist and political commentator David Broder once pointed out that there is a widening gap between acceptance and effectiveness of democracy. Analysing the reasons for the same, he says that death of ideology, decline of state, decline of religion, low esteem of politics as a profession, and the irresponsible role of media in general, are the causes behind democracy becoming less effective.
On the performance count, new and emerging democratic governments all over the world have more often than not, met with failures. Even countries where democracy was supposed to be already well established, such as Venezuela and Columbia, became “destabilized and seriously threatened in the past decade by economic mismanagement, corruption, and state decay as established parties and politicians grew complacent and distant from popular concerns.” Many countries in South America, suffered a deep crisis of governance that inevitably resulted in sharp erosion in the authority and capacity of the state as also public confidence in democratic institutions. Similar is the case with some of the former Soviet countries. Even after a decade of democratisation, here, power is wielded with the same old style that smacks of authoritarianism, elections are still less fair and rule of law continues to be fragile.
What Pippa Norris has analysed is significant in the context of India and Brazil too. Venomous statements of the likes of civil society leaders Arvind Kejriwal in India will come always under flack, and perhaps rightly. But the emergence of the likes of Kejriwal in India and Marina Silva, also a non-traditional politician in Brazil has a lesson for all those traditional politicians. People are increasingly saying it from the rooftops that they are now sick of the established and routine politics. They want a decisive leader who is strong yet sensitive, resolute yet responsive. In the absence of any such leader, non-traditional political players may spoil the show.
Continuously widening gap between the electors and the elected is a pointer to the grave situation. When in India we have 78% of the Lok Sabha members today winning the election despite the fact that 50% of the electors in respective constituencies have voted against them, legitimacy of the representative democracy itself has become questionable. Should this continue for long, world may witness democratic governments offering neither good governance nor genuine democracy.
While describing the huge popular response to Lokpal movement, media had compared Jantar –Mantar in Delhi to Tahrir Square. Comparisons like these have limited meaning. But, like those who were spearheading the Tahrir Square upsurge, Lokpal movement also lost its way and failed in unveiling a larger agenda for political and institutional reforms for an effective democracy. In fact, this failure has given a new set of reasons to the people to be more cynical about the system, of which civil society has become an integral part.
Like Brazil, India will be facing general elections in 2014. Elections will establish which of the available alternatives people prefer. However, electoral choice is conditioned by several factors. Through impromptu and unstructured demonstrations, people are expressing what a laity cannot articulate in a cogent manner. It is the restlessness within. It is their pet up anger against the cluelessness all around. The apparent choice that democracy as a theory offers has been negated by the principal vehicles of given democratic system; parties, electoral systems, media and now even the civil society. This has given rise to the feeling of having been trapped. Interestingly, the liberators in the form of democratic system have themselves apparently become chains. One must develop an insight to understand the meaning of popular risings – whether in Latin America, Middle East, Eastern Europe or South Asia. The strong but simple message of the popular unrest in parts of the democratic world that students of democracy need to understand is very clear: Elections are just not enough for a democracy to succeed. Even the democratic world is appearing flat. Factors like strong visionary leadership with organisational skills; strategic thinking and ability to balance strong capacity to enforce reforms while ensuring greater public participation in a strategic manner after all are in short supply on the banks of all, Kura (on the banks of which Tbilisi is located), Acari in Brazil or Nile in Egypt and Yamuna in India. Time will only tell us whether leadership will shape the nature of things to unfold or the situation will throw new kind of leaders, who are sensitive and still strong.
To a great extent, the democratic deficit in most parts of the world is a product of failed institutions. Political parties, Parliaments and Electoral Systems; all need a re-look at their functionality.
Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, Mumbai
Diamond, Larry et al (Ed.): Consolidation of the Third World Democracies (Baltimore, John Hopkins Press, 1997)
Uncertain World: Saakashvili’s Election Defeat is His Main Achievement by Fyodor Lukyanov (http://en.rian.ru/columnists/20121005/176418276.html)