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Democratisation

Democratisation

Can you imagine living in a country where you aren't free to have your say? Where you can't vote? Where your voice may go unheard? These countries do exist and have been criticised by some for violating human rights. How? It can be argued that they prevent free speech and even deny their populations (basic) human rights. However, there is a recent trend of such countries adopting more democratic ideals as they develop. We call this transformation 'democratisation'. But what does democratisation entail, and how does this link to human rights and development? Read on to find out!

Democratisation Meaning

Democracy is a system of government that allows people to decide its leadership, laws, and policies. There are many examples of democracies worldwide - the UK is one of them! Democracies are often associated with positive development through listening to the needs and wants of the population. As such, it is desirable for many countries to adopt democratic policies.

Democratisation: Principles of democracy being introduced in a country's governmental system.

A country's citizens will pursue democratisation to topple dictatorships, as seen in the Arab Spring. Democratisation can come in many forms, varying extents and successes. Typically, it allows the introduction of rights such as free speech, expression of opinion, the acceptance and protection of the right to vote and ensuring fair elections are held. As we know, authoritarian governors often hold a lot of power, so democratisation can usually only happen when a large proportion of the population holds pro-democratic sentiment and unite together to fight (whether verbally or physically) for change.

It is important to consider that the process of democratisation is not always straightforward. It isn't always as easy as just deciding to be a democracy! There are many examples of countries becoming something between authoritarian and democratic, and many more examples of countries undergoing democratisation only to fall back into old authoritarian traditions.

Before reaching its current democratic status, South Korea was an authoritarian country. The democratisation process was not a quick and easy one for South Korea, but one that stretched out for many decades! Although democratic voting was introduced as early as 1948, it wasn't until the 1980s that South Korea turned from being a democracy in theory to being a democracy in practice. This came after a series of protests in 1987 that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, injuring and killing many people. Now, South Korea is a constitutional democracy (like the US).

Did you know: The democratisation of knowledge involves giving everybody access to information instead of a select few.

Democratisation and Development

As we mentioned earlier, democratisation is often strongly related to the development of a country. Why? Because democracies are associated with many features that can make development possible. You don't have to look very hard to see a clear relationship between democracies and economic development. It is unclear whether democracies influence economic development or whether economic development influences democratisation, but the general consensus is that it is a mixture of the two.

As countries grow into emerging powers or superpowers, their governance model can shift from an authoritarian government to a more democratic government with more freedoms. But why is this the case? Many factors can explain this pattern. Let's consider a few of them:

FactorExplanation
Increased economic developmentAs economic development occurs, there are often many changes within a country, such as industrialisation and urbanisation. This has historically been a key influence on democratisation because of the mobilisation of people. Not only is this more difficult for authoritarian figures to prevent, but it is also not beneficial for them if their creators of capital stop following them!
Increased educationIncreased development often coincides with increases in education, whether via upskilling or improving literacy rates. Usually, better education includes a better understanding of human rights and a stronger inclination to voice opinions. This emergence of pro-democratic values can coincide with democratisation movements.
Democracy creating developmentIt isn't just development that affects democracy. Democratic values can promote development because they are strongly tied with the improvement of education, healthcare, political stability and life expectancy. All of these factors are strongly linked with economic growth, which can facilitate other times of development (e.g. social and environmental) within a country.

An excellent way to see how all of this translates into the real world is to consider countries undergoing rapid development, namely, the world's Emerging Superpowers. While not all emerging superpowers are democratic, it is clear that all of them have adopted at least some democratic policies, like liberalising the economy, to help them gain power. Remember: democratisation is a process, so many countries we classify as 'non-democratic' can still be going through the process. It's not a coincidence that the fastest developing countries are those undergoing some form of democratisation.

The process of democratisation varies from country to country. A good comparison to look at to understand this is China and India, two countries that account for over half of all of Asia's GDP together.

Democratisation Of Countries

We've discussed the theory behind democratisation, but what about real life? Here are a few case studies showing how democratisation happens.

To get top marks in exams, it is essential for you to include a range of case studies. The more specific facts and figures you include in your answers, the better!

China

China is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a single-party authoritarian government. Although elections do take place on a local level, its democracy is not recognised because it is a single-party state consisting of the CCP, giving itself a total monopoly of political power. Let's explore what this means:

Political power is maintained only at the top level, with those closest to the president. China has a history of suppressing its people's rights to freedom of expression, speech, religion, association and the freedom of assembly. The Chinese government rejects some 'human rights' as they are regarded as Western ideas instead of human rights.

In 1989, protests against the government were held at Tiananmen Square. The protests were pro-democratic and against the corruption of the government. In response, the government massacred between hundreds and thousands of protestors.

As China's economy has grown and people's quality of life has gone up, the use of the Internet has been able to spread more information. Even with strict censorship in place, it is much harder to suppress information, leading to growing outcries for democratisation. However, areas such as Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang are being closely monitored to ensure political power remains firm in non-mainland China and enforces controversially harsh laws to keep the communist government in complete control of these areas. Unfortunately, horrific human rights abuses have been recorded, from the imprisonment of Hong Kong dissidents to concentration camps in Xinjiang1. Human rights organisations have called for an end to the mass arbitrary detention and torture without being tried or charged. Despite the well-documented denial of numerous human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, many countries voiced their support for the Chinese communist government. This reflects the power dynamic of authoritarian governments, whereby the party in power faces no competing ideologies and censors any expression of other ideologies to keep. Despite the growing pressure from areas such as Hong Kong to turn to a democratic government, China maintains its authoritarian government.

But does this mean that democratisation isn't happening at all? Absolutely not! Local elections are held, and the 'Open Door' policy that opened China's doors to foreign economic activity has continued the pattern of liberalising the economy. This not only opens China up to the influence of democratic powers but also implements some democratic policy within the country itself.

Democratisation, China Democracy Party, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The China Democracy Party promotes the country's democratisation despite being banned by the government

The Middle East

The Arab Spring was a string of pro-democracy uprisings and protests against Arab authoritarian governments from 2010 to 2011. It started with Tunisia and Egypt in North Africa, where dictatorships swiftly collapsed due to the uprisings. This spread to other Arab nations such as Syria, Libya and Yemen. However, these pro-democracy rebellions have led to severe political instability and civil wars. Syria cracked down on anti-government protests with military force, which exacerbated the situation to a deadly civil war still present today. The removal of Gaddafi's dictatorship has since left Libya in a civil war as rebel forces struggled to maintain authority.

Democratisation, Arab Spring Protest, StudySmarterFig. 2 - A pro-democracy Arab Spring protest in 2011

But it's not just protests from within a country that can spark democratisation movements. Sometimes, other countries with more influence can enforce democratisation. This has happened extensively in the Middle East, where Western powers like France and America have implemented democracies. Although democratisation is regularly encouraged to facilitate human rights improvements and development, this involuntary democratisation introduced by Western powers across the Middle East has been criticised extensively for its controversial political interference leading to the instability we see today.

Human Rights and Democratisation

In the same way that democratisation can encourage development, it has also been shown to encourage improvements in human rights. You can read all about human rights and why they are essential in our explanation of Human Rights.

Democratisation safeguards human rights because, by nature, it gives power to the people. This means that people are free to express their opinions and hold people accountable for mistreating people or violating human rights. Crucially, this means that all the power does not lie with decision-makers that have the potential to erode human rights. Let's think about this with a hypothetical example:

Imagine you have an authoritarian country (Country A) and a democratic country (Country B). Country A's leader has absolute power and the freedom to make nationwide decisions. Country B has been elected by the people and has to answer to democratic votes made by the population. Which leader do you think would be more likely to get away with violating human rights? The answer, statistically, is Country A. This is because the population of Country B has more power to invoke changes and hold their leader to account for this type of behaviour.

True democracy accepts and involves everybody, regardless of gender, race, sexuality and beliefs. Therefore, it is fair to say that the democratisation process can transform a place so that it is more conducive to supporting and safeguarding human rights for everybody.

Although there is a clear relationship between human rights and democratisation, this is not to say that democracies can't violate human rights. India is the world's largest democracy and yet has been criticised by the Human Rights Watch for discriminating against people of different religions and genders, thus violating their fundamental human rights. Similarly, the UK has received criticism for their treatment of refugees throughout the refugee crisis. Governmental decisions on this front amount to a few human rights violations. As such, although democratic nations tend to have better human rights, it doesn't mean that this is always the case or that there are never human rights violations.

Political Corruption

Politicians can manipulate policies and institutions to favour them and often help them stay in power. This manipulation of policies and institutions is usually at the detriment of somebody else and can cause significant socioeconomic problems. We call this corruption. Corruption arguably occurs more readily in authoritarian states when all political power is in the hands of a few at the top. This is because there is nobody or not enough people with sufficient power to stop it from happening. In the same way, corruption is less likely to be prevalent in democracy as the president or prime minister relies on people's votes to stay in power and so needs to stay on their good side.

Political corruption occurs when political authorities, such as governments and politicians abuse the power entrusted to them for private gain.

Russia's political and economic structure involves the president being kept in power through a handful of wealthy oligarchs who control Russia's industries, such as gas. The oligarchy works to support the president's power and further their agenda. In 2021, Transparency International (an NGO) ranked Russia's Corruption Perceptions Index as the lowest-rated European country, 136th out of 180 countries. This may be surprising considering the need of the Russian president for oligarch approval. Still, because of the role of oligarchs in supporting the president, corruption is actually far easier to achieve than in a democratic country.

Another country with political corruption prevalent is Lebanon, with a UN report finding at least 43% of Lebanese companies very frequently or always pay bribes. The country is also 123rd out of 180 on the Corruption Perceptions Index. Both public and private institutions are accused, and the parliament itself failed to hold a general election in 2013, leading the president to extend their term until 2017. The government subsequently faced protests, which they put down using excessive force.

But why is this the case? As well as simply just needing the approval of the population, democratic countries are often characterised by greater access to information, investigative journalism and freedom of speech. This means that, in many ways, it would be harder to hide corruption, deterring politicians. Contrastingly, censorships found in some authoritarian countries can create conditions where political corruption can occur easily.

As was the case with human rights, it is essential to acknowledge that while being democratic significantly reduces the probability of political corruption, it doesn't necessarily mean that political corruption can't occur in democratic nations. This is because it isn't just education and access to information that keeps corruption at bay. Corruption can also happen where there are elite groups in society that protect one another, 'weak' laws or even where there is widespread discrimination amongst the population. All of these factors can be found in democratic countries, which means that political corruption can be too, albeit less frequently.

Democratisation - Key Takeaways

  • Democratisation can be defined as the process by which principles of democracy are introduced into a country's governmental system.
  • There is a strong relationship between democracies and development because economic development creates mobilisation and education, and democracies create conditions conducive to economic growth.
  • There is a strong relationship between democracies and human rights because increased awareness can mean that people fight for human rights, and people have more power to hold violators of human rights accountable.
  • Political corruption is far less likely to occur in a country that has undergone democratisation.
  • Although there a clear relationships between democratisation and development, human rights and a lack of corruption, there are always exceptions to this generalisation.

References

  1. Fig. 1: China Democracy Party (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:China_Democracy_Party_%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E6%B0%91%E4%B8%BB%E5%85%9A_2.jpg) by CDP2006 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/CDP2006) licensed CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 2: Arab Spring protest (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protest_Aden_Arab_Spring_2011.jpg) by AlMahra67 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/AlMahra67) licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Democratisation

The process of democratic principles being introduced in a country's governmental system. 

To promote development and human rights, reduce political corruption and transition away from authoritarianism.

Democratisation works to increase human rights (e.g. freedom of speech; the right to vote), encourage development and reduce the repression that can arise from authoritarianism.

This is a system of government that allows people to decide its leadership, laws, and policies.

The democratisation of knowledge involves giving everybody access to information instead of a select few.

Final Democratisation Quiz

Question

What is democratisation?

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Answer

Principles of democracy are introduced in a country's governmental system.

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Question

True or false: one of the motives for democratisation can be to topple dictatorships

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Answer

True

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Question

Does India follow democracy?

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Answer

Yes

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Question

When were the Arab Springs?

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Answer

2010-11

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Question

What was the Arab Spring?

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Answer

A string of pro-democracy uprisings and protests against Arab authoritarian governments

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Question

Complete the sentence: democratisation is _______ a gradual process

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Answer

Sometimes

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Question

True or false: economic development influences democratisation, but democratisation does not influence economic development.

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Answer

True

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Question

How does democracy encourage development?

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Answer

Democratic values can promote development because they are strongly tied with the improvement of education, healthcare, political stability and life expectancy. All of these factors are strongly linked with economic growth, which can facilitate other times of development (e.g. social and environmental) within a country.

Show question

Question

What is Political Corruption?

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Answer

Political corruption is when political authorities such as governments and politicians abuse the power entrusted to them for private gain.

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Question

How is Russia politically corrupt?

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Answer

Russia's political and economic structure involves the president being kept in power through a select handful of wealthy oligarchs who control Russia's industries, such as gas. These people at the top benefit from the president's ability to manipulate resources and decide on policies to favour them.

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Question

According to the UN, how many companies in Lebanon have been found to frequently or consistently pay bribes? (as a %)

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Answer

43%

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Question

What is Russia's ranking in the Corruption Perception Index?

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Answer

136/180

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Question

What are some of the ways that democratisation varies between countries?

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Answer

- The extent to which democratic values are adopted.

- The speed at which democratisation occurs

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Question

True or false: democratisation is always caused by actions within a country.

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Answer

False

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Question

Why might corruption occur in democratic countries?

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Answer

- 'Weak' laws

- Elite clubs / groups

- Widespread discrimination throughout the population

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