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24-Dec-2017 19:10

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez narrowly lost a December 2 referendum that would have given him virtually unlimited power, but he still does not allow the sort of free and fair political process that could turn him out of office.Despite two decades of political scientists warning of "the fallacy of electoralism," the United States and many of its democratic allies have remained far too comfortable with this superficial form of democracy.And aspirations for democratic progress have been thwarted everywhere in the Arab world (except Morocco), whether by terrorism and political and religious violence (as in Iraq), externally manipulated societal divisions (as in Lebanon), or authoritarian regimes themselves (as in Egypt, Jordan, and some of the Persian Gulf monarchies, such as Bahrain).Before democracy can spread further, it must take deeper root where it has already sprouted.

Western leaders (particularly European ones) have too frequently blessed fraudulent or unfair elections and have been too reluctant to criticize more subtle degradations of democracy.If democracies do not more effectively contain crime and corruption, generate economic growth, relieve economic inequality, and secure freedom and the rule of law, people will eventually lose faith and turn to authoritarian alternatives.Struggling democracies must be consolidated so that all levels of society become enduringly committed to democracy as the best form of government and to their country's constitutional norms and constraints.Many observers fear that Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador may be headed down the same road as Chávez .

In Thailand, voters (especially in the countryside) have turned repeatedly to a softer autocrat by electing Thaksin Shinawatra, whom the military overthrew in September 2006 only to see his party reemerge triumphant in the December 2007 elections.With some prominent exceptions (such as Indonesia, Mexico, and Ukraine), the democratic gains of the past decade have come primarily in smaller and weaker states.In large, strategically important countries, such as Nigeria and Russia, the expansion of executive power, the intimidation of the opposition, and the rigging of the electoral process have extinguished even the most basic form of electoral democracy.By Larry Diamond Since 1974, more than 90 countries have made transitions to democracy, and by the turn of the century approximately 60 percent of the world's independent states were democratic.

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