Mar 15, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Democrats vs. Dictators: The Democrats

Update, 3/15/12: The official results of the first four games are in! We’d love to hear your thoughts on how FP is determining winners and losers.

Fans of workday procrastination everywhere should celebrate the return of Foreign Policy‘s Democrats vs. Dictators March Madness brackets. Go ahead, make your picks. We’ll wait. The deadline for submissions is noon EST on Thursday, March 15th, and the top 10 scorers will win a one-year subscription to the magazine.

We’re not quite sure how FP judges these matchups–the rules, even last year, were never quite fleshed out publicly–but they certainly seem to be pitting democrat-ness against stereotypical authoritarian behavior. This might seem cut-and-dry, but you can’t just refer to the latest Freedom House ratings to predict the outcomes of these contests. Timing matters, and salient events can change things in the next days and weeks.

FP did an excellent job of pairing leaders; it’s truly a tough choice in many cases because they are dealing with similar domestic and international crises. However, Democracy and Society has made our picks for the Democrats category. Because the decisions are ultimately up to the whims of FP editors, they’re not really predictions. Here’s the rundown of who we think should win… and why.


1st Round: Democrats

Game 1: Barack Obama vs. Nicolas Sarkozy
Our winner: Barack Obama
Unlike the American president’s reelection campaign, which at this time is mostly taking a backseat to a grotesque Republican intraparty slap-fight, Sarkozy is fighting for his life in France’s upcoming vote. The New York Times has called his recent attempts at xenophobic and racist pandering “desperate.” Despite Obama’s recent PR and morale crisis in Afghanistan, he edges out Sarkozy by not yet taking the “low road.”

Game 2: Benjamin Netanyahu vs. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Our winner: Benjamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu is a bully to Obama, the American political system, and essentially the entire world by threatening air and missile strikes against Iran. But I agree with Jeffrey Goldberg that “Netanyahu is much better at talking than doing.” Erdogan on the other hand has taken concrete steps away from democracy, imprisoning hundreds of military officers and a handful of journalists who opposed him. Displays of Israel’s questionable human rights record have taken a backseat during the Syria/Iran drama, so if all Netanyahu does is quack loudly in the next few days, I say the match is likely his.

Game 3: Julia Gillard vs. Felipe Calderon
Our winner: Julia Gillard
The current government of Mexico has made headlines for ending one-party rule and instituting democratic reforms. But like it or not, we essentially have a failed state directly to our south. With the upcoming July presidential elections bringing up accusations of corruption and vote-rigging, Calderon is not in a powerful position to defend his supposed democratic credentials. This round goes to Australia’s Gillard.

Game 4: Lucas Papademos vs. Angela Merkel
Our winner: Lucas Papademos
Nine months ago, pitting the sitting Greek PM against Merkel would yield a very different result. But the brand-new Papademos has succeeded in forging a rescue loan agreement within the “notoriously fractious” Greek Parliament–not an easy task, to be certain. Merkel, on the other hand, has been unable to facilitate similar democratic agreements within her own government and has even been supportive of Nicolas Sarkozy, pledging to campaign for him despite his questionable tactics. A difficult decision with a definite possibility for upset, this round goes to Papademos.

Game 9: Mario Monti vs. Moncef Marzouki
Our winner: Moncef Marzouki
By most (read: all) democracy indicators, economic liberalization is a good thing. And that is just what Mario Monti is attempting to do in Italy. But sometimes a compelling story makes for a more powerful pick. Marzouki, a human rights dissident-turned-president, has the feel-good aspect spectators want to see succeed; if crowd support counts for anything, this is his time to cash in. Sorry, Mario–keep those reforms up, and maybe you’ll get your chance next year.

Game 10: Manmohan Singh vs. Dilma Rousseff
Our winner: Dilma Rousseff
The Indian government under Manmohan Singh is not only “entangled in corruption scandals” but increasingly feckless. Despite coming into power as an outsider, he has made up for his lacking support base through patron relations. In Brazil, climbing inflation and economic stagnation have made the political climate tough, but nothing Ms. Rosseff is up to is quite anti-democratic. She wins this round, but not because she necessarily wants it.

Game 11: David Cameron vs. Cristina de Kirchner
Our winner: David Cameron
What a match, especially considering the row between Kirchner and Cameron over the Falklands. But my gut feeling is that political dynasties do not democratic governments make. And Kirchner, wife of former president and longtime political player Nestor Kirchner, has certainly not behaved with decorum regarding the islands dispute, recently vowing to reclaim them and now using Argentine trade resources to blockade ships. If Cameron can spin his in-progress U.S. visit and incessant Obama-snuggling into a positive for his government, I don’t see how he can lose this round.

Game 12: Christine Lagarde vs. Ban Ki-Moon
Our winner: Ban Ki-Moon
A questionable inclusion on the part of FP. Statement-making? Perhaps. But whatever the reasons for including the IMF and UN leaders instead of actual heads of state, this is certainly a difficult and hard-to-call matchup. Lagarde is at the center of the fight to save the eurozone, and she is pledging to avert another financial crisis. But doing so would require an iron fist. The United Nations, on the other hand, has been (not surprisingly) ineffective with Syrian peace talks. But ineffectiveness, unfortunately, is not necessarily a sign of democratic failure–just ask the framers of the U.S. constitution. The UN takes this round by a nose.


We’ll be back on Thursday with our thoughts on the Dictators.



  • Well done, Geneve! I agree with almost everything you wrote. I also dislike the IMF versus UN choice. Were there no other democratically-elected leaders from which they could choose? I am also disappointed that only have one country in Asia and none from Africa in the tournament. That’s a serious slap in the face to these regions.

  • […] Miss yesterday’s write-up of the Democrats? You can see it here. […]

  • For a moment I thought some joke was intended by listing David Cameron as victor twice, all around a fun read though Geneve!

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