Jun 9, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Popular Europhobics. EU’s Parliamentarian Elections

Successful campaign by the National Front in France.  Source: ANDRIEU / AFP / Getty Images.

Successful campaign by the National Front in France. Source: ANDRIEU / AFP / Getty Images.

Any democratic government needs to have opposition in order to fully represent people’s interests. This fosters political balance, helps keep policy expenditures under control and assists citizens in reaching an ideological compromise. But when the opposition engages in promoting exclusionary political platforms, this challenges democratic advancement while instilling authoritarian features. According to provisional results by the Wall Street Journal, it is estimated that the right won 297 seats out of the 751 total seats in the European parliament. WSJ also calculates that left-wing parties only won 232 seats. Right-wing parties in this region blame European bureaucracy and immigration for the sluggish economy. However, it is precisely international cooperation that can help European nations rise from the chronic economic depression. Despite the fact that the EU increased to 28 members last year, voter turnout remains low –barely a 43.1%. This reveals that left-wing supporters are discouraged to vote and some might have made a switch to the right. So far, left-wing parties have not built up a strong enough nor convincing platform to get the EU out of its depression. More importantly, where have the supporters of the EU model gone?

The electoral results are remarkably discouraging. Conservative parties have had an impressive advance in people’s hearts. These parties have strong supporters in several countries now: the UK, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Latvia and Ireland. Although some of them like France’s Front National and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang have had to tone down their anti-immigration sentiments, their rhetoric remains discriminatory. In Germany, the right took 34 seats of the EU parliament and is represented by the CDU/CSU alliance. This collation rejects Turkey’s membership to the European Union although Germany is Turkey’s greatest trading partner and has the largest Turkish diaspora. In Denmark, the right took 5 seats of the 13 EU seats that the country can take. It is mainly represented by the Danish Popular Party (DF), which opposes immigration and proposes to re-establish border controls but is not anti-Semitist as France’s National Front is. The DF doubled its number of seats since 2009. In France, the far-right National Front (FN) gained a large amount of votes –26% or 4.1 million votes. With its anti-immigration and anti-EU party discourse, it won 25 out of the 74 seats in the EU parliament that correspond to France. The FN “earthquake” not only has had an effect in its home country but it has also had an effect in its European neighbors. Thus, the trend is spreading.

But the reasoning behind the Europhobia is the economic depression.  The highest economic growth in the EU area during this last decade was 3.4% in 2006. The financial crisis hit hard the zone by having the GDP contract 4.5%. In 2013, the GDP growth rate stood at 0.1%. Unemployment has been strikingly high and only narrowly reduced in 2008. In the EU-28 area, unemployment was at 9.3% in 2004; 7% in 2008; and, jumped to 10.8% in 2013. A sluggish economy in the EU is a clear indicator of uneasiness among European countries that feel having contributed more than received. Such is the discourse of the right-wing in Germany and France. This is precisely one of the complaints that parties like the FN have been able to use as a leverage for their campaign. Certainly, the more economic strain, the more the perceptions exists that money needs to be preserved even at the cost of liberal values. Clearly, the economic downturn inhibited EU lovers from voting as the economic crisis appears not to end.

The emerging right-wing European parties are exclusionary. For the most part, they do not intend to continue embracing the EU project as there exist perceptions of economic abuse by states in Southern Europe. But despite their views favoring segregation, these parties should not be precluded from participating in the democratic project. Rather, they should be included. However, these parties need to realize that the EU compromise cannot be undone. Instead, they need to seek alternative solutions to the economic crisis. They should create more realistic platforms to help nations cope with their deficits. The solution is not diminished cooperation but rather an increased one. One that is fostered through debate, bringing to the table the brightest ideas by inviting the smartest political scientists, economists, respected financial leaders, among others, able to envision and craft a better and brighter EU.

May 31, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Egypt: A New Hybrid Regime?


El-Sisi supporters. Source: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

El-Sisi supporters. Source: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Presidential elections in Egypt finalized this Thursday with a voter turnout of 46% – a slightly lower turnout than the 2012 presidential elections with a 51.85% turnout. It is not surprising that the volatile situation and fear of retribution could have played an influential role on this. Not only was voting extended to a third day but substantial propaganda was used by the government. Today, it is clear that Egypt’s military is not a purely professionalized institution as army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi accepted to become presidential candidate for this year’s elections. What is astounding is that, his charismatic character appears to be fusing already with militarism. In the following years, it is highly probable to see that Egypt’s regime becomes a hybrid regime like Pinochet’s Chile –a military-personalist one.

Voter turnout was so low for presidential elections that voting was extended to a third day. The government tried first to allure citizens through declaring a last-minute holiday. It then tried to coax citizens by threatening to fine those who did not vote. It is quite possible that this strategy was aimed at convincing the international community about the support that el-Sisi has as well as to demonstrate an alleged disapproval for the Muslim Brotherhood. However, all this has demonstrated to political analysts is Egyptians’ discomfort with the current political situation. It is obvious that a large percent of the population supporting the Brotherhood did not vote and also considering that one million ballots were casted blank. El-Sisi’s left-wing rival, Hamdin Sabbahi, obtained less than 4% of the votes. Moreover, social inequality does not appear to have played an important role. Despite perceptions that a strong inequality might have driven revolutionary spirits, a study by the World Bank showed that, in fact, inequality had decreased. However, according to the World Values Survey, expectations for a better living surpassed the moderate economic gains.

The new regime type that is being brewed is a hybrid regime because it has several authoritarian traits while apparently holding free –albeit not so fair– elections. For starters, el-Sisi announced on May 16 that the Muslim Brotherhood would be finished. Second, he and his supporters have already been blamed for the deaths of several of the Brotherhood’s supporters in August of 2013. In an aim to continue modernizing Egypt à la Nasser, the military is excluding a relevant societal sector. Without inclusiveness –a necessary condition for democracy to flourish as per Robert Dahl– Egypt’s democratization will be doomed to failure. Egypt’s regime has the initial features of the hybrid “military-personalist” regime. For Geddes (2002), under this kind of rule the military remains professionalized but the dictator makes most decisions, such as Chile under Augusto Pinochet’s rule. For this researcher, the combination of such features can make regimes last significantly more than if they only were pure militarism. If we were to use Geddes theory on the length of military-personalist regimes, we could expect an approximate duration of el-Sisi’s rule of 10.3 years (average), holding constant economic and other political factors.

Egypt’s elections low voter turnout must be considered as a red flag. Transition periods are usually characterized by large numbers of citizens wanting to participate in the political process, depicted by a high voter turnout. Nevertheless, the recent repressive tactics have intimidated voters from supporting the Muslim Brotherhood as no representatives from the Brotherhood were allowed to participate in elections. Indeed, many were unsatisfied with their rule but ignoring their presence only increases resentment that can accumulate as a pressure cooker. The following weeks will reveal whether such type of regime is possible and if it will possess the durability that Pinochet’s regime had. Indeed, time will tell. So far, we can already observe that personalism is a tool that the new polity is to employ.

May 28, 2014
Erika Hernandez

A Coca Leaf of Peace? First Round of Presidential Elections in Colombia.


Anti-FARC protest. Source: The Economist

Anti-FARC protest. Source: The Economist

This Sunday, the first round of presidential elections in Colombia revealed the citizens’ exhaustion with the guerrilla warfare. President Juan Manuel Santos launched a poor PR strategy while committing the country to an idealized peace process that would divide the society into two poles –the left and the right. Interestingly, having the former Finance Minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga win the first round of elections with an incendiary discourse demonstrated a deep resentment and will to punish, mercylessly, all those responsible for advancing the warfare –the FARC members. A polarized society can be viewed while looking at voters’ tendencies during this round. Zuluaga captured the right voters by 29.26%, and Marta Lucia Ramirez 15.53%. Similarly, Santos seized the left-wing vote with 25.68%; while Clara Lopez with 15.23%. Former Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who is a liberal, obtained 8.2%. These numbers reflect the lack of coordination within the left wing voters whose trend is likely to remain uncoordinated for the second round. But as voter behavior is oftentimes unpredictable, a window of opportunity for collaboration in the left is yet possible.

If voter turnout in Colombia has been typically low compared to other Latin American countries, this round hit its lowest peak since 2002 with a 40% turnout. The average voter turnout in the region during presidential elections from 1945-2013 has been 64.77%. Although this high turnout may be explained due to mandatory voting in 14 countries, nonvoting it is hardly penalized. There are three possible explanations for low voter turnout in Colombia: fear of retribution by guerrilla fighters; fear of Cubanization; and, lack of political parties and unions able to articulate voter preferences of the lower strata. The first interpretation relates to a longtime guerrilla warfare since 1964 that has alienated the right from the left and the left itself: those against the guerrilla and those quietly favoring it. The second assessment is related to concerns about Colombia becoming another Venezuela in that, through Cubanization, the country could undergo scarcity of basic goods. The third statement refers to the Meltzer-Richard (MR) model. This model indicates that in countries where the median voter is underneath the average income, their numbers will drive them to favor distributive policies like higher taxation. Over the time, theorists like Scheve and Stasavage (2009) have added that left-wing parties and unions are necessary in order to neatly articulate such inclinations. This socio-political behavior oftentimes takes place in countries where there is great income inequality. Given that Colombia is a country with high inequality, the country may conform to this model. Since 1980 up until 2010, inequality was only reduced by 3.19 according to World Bank estimates.

Despite the fact that inequality is still high in the country, it is considered an upper middle income country. During this decade, GDP growth remained steady except for 2009 when it was affected by the economic crisis. For the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, the upper income strata was mobilized and managed to push forward the signing of the cherished agreement, bringing hopes of further economic development. On the one hand, the upper strata has later been mobilized by former President Alvaro Uribe for which the urbismo movement was created and was later brought together to create the party Colombia First. The Democratic Center –Zuluaga’s current party– is currently managing to coordinate conservative interests. On the other hand, President Santos created the Social Party of National Unity in 2005 with the aim of catering to the interests of liberals. However, its organization efforts have not been as efficient as the ones under urbismo. Today, the first round of elections are an evidence of this. But more importantly, we can see that the FARC has been unable to unify the interests of the left, as a union can.

Colombian voters have an immense challenge on June 15. For the second round, the left and right tendencies seem to have an equal weight, with the only difference that the discourse of avengement has united the right. Although Peñalosa has already mentioned that he will not back Zuluaga, such statement will not automatically transfer his votes to Santos. The second round is likely to further divide his followers. In order to gain votes, Santos needs to convey a clear message explaining the importance of integrating FARC segregated groups and why a forgiveness is essential for the country’s future without defaulting into full impunity. Indeed, Santos will need to make a compromise that might lose some guerrilla supporters. But failing to do this, can make him lose the election and make the country to continue undergoing war. This scenario could taint Colombia’s history with more blood than necessary.

May 25, 2014
Erika Hernandez

The Thai Military: A Control Freak?

Source: Getty Images / BBC

Crowds protest democratic return. Source: Getty Images / BBC

Thailand’s military announced that it would take over the country’s politically unstable situation this Thursday. It initially denied that it was a coup d’état. Over the weekend, the military dissolved the Senate signaling that a coup d’état was indeed being orchestrated. But to what extent is the situation in Thailand really that volatile? To begin with, Thailand’s socioeconomic has been improving. Income inequality has been extraordinarily reduced over the last two decades from a Gini Index of 45.22 in 1981 to 39.37 in 2010. Despite being hit by the world economic downturn, Thailand is now the largest vehicle producer in Southeast Asia. It is often referred to as a “tiger cub economy” as it has followed Asian Tiger economies’ path of economic progress. However, the development of political institutions has not reached the same level of economic advancement. So far, Thai society remains divided between two main groups: royalists and urban middle classes; and, the rural masses. The power struggle that has come into sight is an indication of the current vacuum of power of having an aging king unable to make decisions, the uncertainty concerning his succession and the possibility of democratization.

In order to understand the current situation, two aspects are pertinent. First, the Thai military has had great importance throughout the country’s history. Not only has it participated in nearly 20 putsches and coups since 1932, but it is a figure that has gained respect sometimes even more than the king. This may be so because the military strongman, Field Marshal PlaekPhibunsongkhram, managed to construct Thai national identity out of its diverse population during the 1930s-1940s. Second, all of the pro-establishment groups received positive incentives which have enabled them to maintain cohesion. These groups were supported by the United States as they offered air bases to bomb Indochina during the Vietnam War. These two aspects have strengthened the military’s prowess vis-à-vis challengers of the establishment, which are left-wing, rural and often segregated groups.

Thailand’s socioeconomic division has always been present. In spite of an improved income equality, such division is most visible than ever due to the corrosive sense of power vacuum and the fact that once excluded groups are now economically empowered. Since the 1960s, its GDP growth has not been impressive but its economy has grown a little less than the Asian Tigers. During this period it achieved growth rates of 3-5 percent. The country maintained these rates during most of the 2000s until 2009, when the global financial crisis hit the tiger cub. Today, its economy has barely grown (0.1% in 2011), which suggests that the current situation might have helped to fuel unrest. Using Huntington’s terms, Thailand has undergone a “Green Uprising” by which lower classes have expanded their voices through voting for left-wing representatives. The left-wing movement has been supported by the former elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who pursued populist welfare policies. Pro-establishment groups, including the military, ousted Thaksin in 2006. However, the powerful elite miscalculated that Thaksin had already managed to assemble some grassroots groups that are now protesting against the military takeover. Nevertheless, these groups remain uncoordinated. Accordingly, the minority (pro-establishment) still controls the judiciary and the military and it has used variegated strategies to rid of democratically elected leaders since 2001.

The lack of certainty about succession and the coup worries the international community. Nevertheless, the situation should be seen as both a threat and an opportunity for democratization. Although Thaksin remains in exile, he is a figure that has been able to articulate political preferences of the lower strata through populist policies amidst a monarchy. The royalty has remained silent and has humbly accepted the military coup. Some potential factors that could help untangle the situation are world powers like the United States and China, exit of foreign direct investment and increased coordination by the minority or the majority. Whether a politician, supported by Thaksin, rises with a more coherent and credible argument able to solve the impasse, allure members of the middle class, lower and middle income strata might be able to function unanimously. Yes, the power of the numbers matters. But it only does when its goals are articulated into a specific set of achievable actions. So far, the military is trying its best to weaken such efforts.

Apr 28, 2014

40 Years, 11 Years, and 7 Years

Portuguese Military during the 1974 Carnation Revolution (from Ghiasi.org).

Portuguese Military during the 1974 Carnation Revolution (from Ghiasi.org).

Four decades ago, on April 25, 1974, a military coup overthrew the Portuguese military regime, inaugurating the set of transitions from authoritarianisms known as the third wave of democratization. In 2003, the Department of Government in Georgetown University opened the Center for the Third Sector, later renamed the Center for Democracy and Civil Society (CDACS). Its objective was to carry out original research and advocate for domestic and international policies to better understand and promote democratization processes. In 2007, the CDACS program of Master of Arts in Democracy and Governance received its first class, forming political scientists and policy makers specialized in democratic change. To celebrate these anniversaries, CDACS organized on April 24 the panel discussion “The State of Democracy and Democracy Studies”, with the participation of Thomas Carothers, Steven Heydemann, and Sharon Wolchik.

Thomas Carothers noticed the presence of “disappointments” with democracy in several regions of the world. In many countries, as in the post-Soviet area, or Africa, democracy has not taken root. But, as noticed earlier by himself and other authors, something else, not between, but different to democracy and authoritarianism, has emerged. And in other places, as the U.S. or Europe, democracy is facing performance crises and major social protests, as citizens perceive political parties are nor responsive to their demands or interests. Yet, Carothers observed, these problems have confirmed the central importance for democratization of an agreement on national identity and of a civil society with a democratic culture. For some time, these concepts were thought of as being given in all countries or as fads in the literature. But empirical evidence has shown otherwise.

Steven Haydemann questioned the extent to which uprisings with the intent to democratize have challenged authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. The answer relates to the institutionalization of authoritarianism in the countries of these regions. There, generals in positions of power tend to operate elections as military campaigns, pushing towards the outcome that will be the most beneficial or less damaging to them. Furthermore, authoritarian regimes have adapted (or “upgraded”, following Haydemann’s terms) their exclusionary techniques. Now, they have to try to control civil society, manage contestation, or capture economic resources, as opposed to using blatant and open coercion. In the end, social protesting in the region have brought about changes; not for democracy, as demanded, but to strengthen authoritarian tools.

Sharon Wolchik discussed problems for democratic consolidation in post-Communist Europe. She commented that it was thought that constitutional reform would be more difficult to undertake than political culture reform. While this was true, constitutional reform was still very complicated. There is a noticeable party volatility in many countries in the region. Some parties, even those which have been in office, sometimes disappear after being voted out, and new incumbents make radical changes to the constitution, diminishing its democratic features. Without a transformation in political culture both in society and in elites, democracy will not only be at problems to take root, but can also be reverted, as in Hungary. Additionally, Wolchik commented that the international community should not forget how important it was to foster change immediately after the fall of Communism. By giving money, organizational help, or sharing experiences it was essential to give a democratic breath to the changes in the early nineties. There is no reason to believe that its help is less necessary now.

These presentations seem to have ended in a rather gloomy tone on democracy. It appears that this system of governance is failing in one of its essential components: linking governors with governed. Are politicians behaving in ways unacceptable for democratic norms, or are theories and their derived institutions challenged by reality? What is needed: new mechanisms to facilitate interactions between authorities and citizens, or the enhancement of the existing tools? What are the chances for democracy in countries suffering from major social unrest? Forty years after the beginning of the third wave of democratization, Georgetown University’s CDACS and its MA program in Democracy and Governance will continue to address these questions in an attempt to improve the world state of democracy.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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