Feb 10, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Fleeing from the Central African Republic

Source: MICHAEL ZUMSTEIN / Agence Le Monde

Source: MICHAEL ZUMSTEIN / Agence Le Monde

The Department of State has named Central African Republic’s current situation in a ‘pregenocidal’ state. Thousands of Muslims have and are currently fleeing CAR, indicating that an imminent crisis is taking place here over religious and political issues. Having President Michel Djotobia renounce last January, meant that the Muslim grip of power over politics disintegrated. The crisis was impending given that Djotobia had arrived to power by the support of Muslim rebels named “Séléka” who carried out attacks on Christian militias as well as on civilians. Payback from the Christian militias was to be expected once Muslim dominion over politics collapsed. Today, Bangui (the capital) is the nucleus of the conflict where Muslims are beheaded and mutilated. Numbers on the death toll are yet unknown, but the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that nearly 68,000 people have fled CAR and calculated 400,000 internal refugees. Even after having designated an interim president, the government is weakened to the extent that no security apparatus is extant. Not only does the situation seems difficult to contain but other countries like Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and even the unstable Sudan are now forced to receive CAR refugees. The vacuum of power in the country goes hand-in-hand with the lack of security. But to reestablish the power vacuum, security must be first reestablished.

On December 5, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution sponsored by France in order to restore peace. The UN decided to send to CAR the International Mission to Support CAR (Misca) that would replace the Multinational Force at Central Africa (Fomac). By itself, France decided to create operation “Sangaris” in order to informally support the UN mission –and also due to its previous colonial linkage. For the International Crisis Group, the most immediate and urgent needs at CAR are to “restore security and public order and to provide humanitarian aid,” which the UN is already carrying out. The group also recommends that a medium-term objective should be to create a political transition to last roughly 18 months, which implies holding elections. As a long-term objective, the group considers the reconstruction of the state.

In order to create a strong CAR state, social order is required. Without it, it would be impossible to reconstruct the state. Regarding political transition, it is important to question whether the current presidential system is able to reconcile the numerous social and political groups in the country. So far, the conflict has detonated over religious affairs and it seems that holding majoritarian power only worsened the situation. If the conflict is not contained and continues to exacerbate, struggle over ethnic issues could ensue given CAR’s multi-ethnic structure. Perhaps, a more appropriate model to address conflict between groups is a parliamentarian, consociational system. Unearthing Arend LIjphart’s analysis is apposite here. Since constructing a state implies redesigning the political system, we may pose several questions to help design a conflict-proof model: in the case of CAR, should the executive power be constituted by a coalition cabinet or by a winning party? Should the executive power be linked to the legislative power? Would multiparty system foster peaceful agreements or more conflict? How strong can the state become if the country adopts a federal and decentralized government? Proposing a system that allows the inclusion of the majority of societal groups is necessary. However, since a consociational system entails numerous trade-offs, it could only be feasible if willingness to share power exists.

It is particularly important to continue monitoring whether the ‘pre-genocidal’ situation is controlled. Once control is attained, it would be important to hold talks between the groups so as to reach peaceful consensus. So, how to proceed from here? The results of negotiations would help us to determine whether or not a consociational system could help prevent religious and ethnic conflicts. Only until then, until knowing whether there really exists a reconciliation spirit or not, we will unveil the possibilities. If the country continues an unstable trajectory, this could also influence stability in neighboring countries. Unfortunately, picking the most appropriate political system for the Central African Republic will be determined by how the actors end up playing their cards. So far, Muslims stand at a disadvantage given that they constitute 15% of the total population while Christians represent nearly 50%.

Feb 7, 2014

Robert A. Dahl

Robert A. Dahl (1915-2014; from Yale University).

Robert A. Dahl (1915-2014; from Yale University).

Robert Dahl, Sterling Professor in political science at Yale University, passed away on February 5 in New Haven, Connecticut.

Dahl was born in Iowa and his family moved to Alaska years later. He studied in the University of Washington and obtained a Ph.D. from Yale University. During World War II he worked on the War Production Board and enrolled in the Army, receiving a Bronze Star for his services. When the conflict was over he returned to Yale to teach and conduct research.

The blog in Yale Daily News retrieves a recent interview of Dahl in which he remembers that Yale’s political science department was small and not quite prestigious when he joined its staff. Seventy years later it is clearly the opposite. But Dahl’s work (along with that of other of his colleagues there, such as Juan Linz, who passed away last autumn) contributed to strengthen not only the university’s department, but political science in general. He tried to give this field its own identity, separate from constitutional, economic, or sociological studies, with its own concepts, methods, and ideas. In this sense, one of his first contributions was in The Concept of Power, where he defined power as the extent to which A can make B do something B would not do otherwise. Although this idea was later criticized, it put the finger on an essential feature of political science: it deals with the study of power, and this is largely given by interactions among individuals and group of individuals, as opposed to being solely defined by laws and other formal institutions. As well, the research published in the fifties was critical to promote and systematize the use of empirical approaches in political science.

In the field of democracy, arguably Dahl’s most noted contribution is in his book Polyarchy. This work had a double-faced reception. On the one hand, the concept he proposed to refer to systems which allowed competition and were inclusive, polyarchy, did not stick into the literature. When this piece was published in the early seventies, Dahl considered the term “democracy” was better suited to describe an ideal type of polity of which, by definition, no real world case existed. On the other hand, the essential features he identifies for a system to be identified as a polyarchy, competition and inclusion, are almost universally cited in articles, books, and policy documents related to democracy. Furthermore, other elements he notes to have an influence in the establishment of a democratic (or polyarchic) system received more elaboration in other parts of his bibliography and by other authors. These additional elements include the cost-benefit analysis of political leaders in repressing the opposition, the importance of sub-culture or cleavages to maintain the unity of a polity, or the relationship between economic and political inequality.

Throughout his life, Dahl not only worked on democracy-related topics from a theoretical point of view, but also in the environment in which he lived. There are many stories telling  he was essential to improve democratic governance in Yale University, supporting that students have a say in professors receiving tenure or in promoting gender equality among the staff of professors. With his passing there is an unsurmountable loss in the field of political science and in the Department of Politics at Yale. With his life there was an incomparable contribution to the field of political science without which we would be able to understand democracy as we now see it.

Feb 6, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Carlos Moedas in Georgetown

The Politics and Economics of an Adjustment Program – The Case of Portugal

By Carlos Moedas
Secretary of State to the Prime Minister of Portugal

Carlos Moedas is an engineer, economist, banker and politician who is currently the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister of Portugal. In this capacity he oversees ESAME, the agency created to implement and control the program of structural reforms to which Portugal agreed to pursue with the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Friday February 7, 2014
McGhee Library
3rd floor of the ICC
Georgetown University

  Organized by: Department of Government; BMW Center for German & European Studies; MA in Democracy & Governance ; Luso-American Development Foundation


Feb 6, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Evaluating Civil Society or a State? The Catholic Church

Monseigneur Silvano Maria Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN Office in Geneva. Source: Jean-Marc Ferre, AFP

Monseigneur Silvano Maria Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN Office in Geneva. Source: Jean-Marc Ferre, AFP

This Wednesday, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child made its final recommendations to the Catholic Church’s report regarding its work on prevention and punishment of child abuse. On January16, the Holy See had introduced this report in a six-hour presentation to the committee members, followed by lengthy interrogations by the committee members. In this occasion, the committee recognized that there had been a great deal of progress in that the Holy See had finally submitted the report –after Pope Francis came to power– but that such report had unfortunately taken six years to deliver. In general, the report takes on the Catholic Church in an aim to quell pressure from civil society groups and public opinion worldwide as well as to push transparency forward. Could these pressures for internal accountability really trickle down within the Church? The Catholic Church’s equivocal nature leads the international community to proffer recommendations that do not necessarily identify its double character: the church is both, a civil society organization and a state. In this regard, how can the international community force a state to comply if this can infringe the Holy See’s sovereignty? There are several ways to identify both of the church’s modus operandi. If the international community is aware of this, then further democratization within the Catholic Church could be possible.

As a civil society organization, it is widely known that the church has intervened to –mostly– defend human rights abuses and to aid in democratization processes worldwide. As a part of the third wave of democratization, such interventions took place in El Salvador, Chile, Brazil, Poland, the Philippines, among other countries. But it is also known that the church has not intervened despite dismal abuses. Perhaps, the church behaved as a state actor and not like civil society, when it avoided to intervene in Argentina where the military regime engaged in mass disappearances during the 1980s. Some preliminary research results of a research project that Prof. Eusebio Mujal-Leon and I are currently carrying out show that the Catholic Church was able to intervene in these countries when certain hierarchical levels consented. If the UN and other members of the international community would like the church to comply, it is necessary that they recognize the church’s hybrid nature in that state and non-state policies could better address the problem.

Some of the demands that the UN Committee is asking are: to gather and reveal all data concerning offences to children; to reveal all circumstances where children were removed from mothers who were raped by priests; to harmonize all norms and regulations in line with the UN’s Optional Protocol and to make sure that such law is respected in the Vatican and foreign circumscriptions where the church works; to further prevent child abuse and to become a paragon that respects children’s rights; and, to remedy victims and redress all offences. The list is not long but thorough. What is complicated about it is the extent to which the Holy See is capable of reaching lower levels. This is not to signal the lack of state capacity. But it is to recognize that the church’s intricate structure worldwide will probably not allow a thorough assessment. It is quite possible that Pope Francis will have to “pick-and-choose” the most salient cases of child abuse such as those abuses in Irish parishes.

Since Pope Francis was chosen to lead the Holy See, he has led with a highly social-Jesuit rhetoric. When touring Brazil, Francis forewent the bulletproff popemobile because he said he wanted to be close to the people. He has also denounced the great social and economic inequality in the world. He has refused to use luxury items created especially for the Pope to wear and use. He has also amended part of the criminal codes dealing with child abuse, issued a Motu Propio and created a pastoral Commission for the Protection of the Minors. It is quite possible that the Vatican has been aware of the crimes committed in some regions of the world. But it is also quite possible that, the internal local system of poor accountability will probably make it very hard to collect all abuses data, not to mention the fear of implicating previously cherished priests. The Pope can only do his best he can to clean the house. However, it will probably take considerable digging before we see results. Additionally, this collective action effort will require the consent of most hierarchical levels. Even if Pope Francis is prepared, this does not mean that the rest of the Catholic Church members are. Finally, how may Pope Francis reconcile his innovative yet peaceful character with these accountability demands? Let’s hope that his justice compass leads the church to a better and renovated faith. One that does not discriminate, protects children and engages in peaceful behavior worldwide.



Feb 5, 2014

Democracy and elections in Thailand

Protests in Bangkok against Prime Minister Yingluck Sharawara, widely seen as a corrupt leader (from Al Jazeera)

Protests in Bangkok against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, widely seen as a corrupt leader (from Al Jazeera).

On Sunday, Thailand held legislative elections. This was the response of Yingluck Shinawatra´s government to the protests against her rule that began in November. Back then, Thais went out to the streets repudiating a draft proposal (which was ultimately rejected within the legislative process) that would allow the Prime Minister’s brother, Thaskin (former Prime Minister himself), return to the country acquitted of all corruption charges against him. Protestors argued that the Shinawatras were damaging the country and had to leave office and be punished. Putting pressure on the government, all opposition members of parliament resigned their positions. Attending this gap, the Prime Minister called for the election. But the opposing Democratic Party boycotted the contest, for which the resulting elected parliament has insufficient quorum to be convened, even less to form a government. Elections were supposed to calm down upheavals in Thailand, but clearly they did not. Even more, with this stalemate the democratic future of the country is taking a step towards uncertainty.

Since Thaskin Shinawatra first came to power in 2001 the country has experienced notable instability. He and his sister have received accusations of corruption, attacks against the media, and abuses against human rights, and there have been some episodes of violence related to the fight against organized crime and insurgencies. Furthermore, Thaskin was ousted out of power by a military coup, contributing even more to the undermining of political processes in Thailand. Now, Freedom House rates the country as being party free, with a score of four.

In spite of this political brouhaha, it is reasonable to say that the elections that brought Yingluck to power and those of last Sunday were carried out under “normal” conditions. No fraud or vote rigging was observed and no major episodes of violence took place, for instance. Yet in this occasion the opposition boycotted the exercise. From one point of view, it is not uncommon that opposition parties refuse participate in a game with a player, the government, which they do not trust. The Democratic Party argues that the exception state declared in December to try to facilitate the control of protests offers no adequate environment for people to go out to vote, that the government is buying off voters in rural areas with low-priced rice, that voting would just serve to perpetuate the Shinawatras in power, and that elections are just a sham to temporarily appease unconformities without performing any real policy or institutional change. To a very large extent the opposition succeeded in its goal. They did not register candidates, mobilized its supporters for not going to the polls, and had some clashes with government supporters resulting in the suspension of activities of some polling stations. As a consequence, a number of individual district elections were declared null, for which the parliament turned out to have an insufficient quorum and cannot be convened. The government will allow more days throughout the course of this month so voters that could not attend the polls do so.

This could be a seen as a successful strategy in de-legitimating a corrupt, yet not necessarily authoritarian, political system. However, what the opposition proposes does not seem to point towards more democracy, but to a wide uncertainty. They plan to challenge the election on the courts, demand that the Prime Minister is removed from her position, and an unelected council undertakes the necessary reforms to alleviate the economic and political problems of the country. Their leaders have failed to elaborate on how his council would act, who would be its members or how it would exercise its authority.

In the meantime, an unpopular Prime Minister will remain in office facing increasing opposition to her rule. Where this will lead is an open question. Expectedly, PM Yingluck will refuse to leave her position unless she is voted out, arguing a respect for democratic procedures. In parallel, the opposition will refuse to participate in any election, arguing the system does not work and that it must be renewed. It will be up to the political actors in Thailand to decide whether these elections lead to the strengthening of their democratic institutions or to the deepening of turmoil in their country.

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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