Democracy Promotion: Process or Outcome?


Martin in Margins has an excellent post regarding the tension between emphasizing process or, emphasizing outcome, in democracy promotion efforts. Some analysts and academics place an emphasis on process. Essentially, the result of the election is less important than the election itself being fair and transparent. If people are given a political choice and they choose radical religious candidates over moderate secular ones, who are we to determine their political decisions? For others, often policymakers, the emphasis is on outcome. Simply stated, the goal of democracy promotion is fostering states that acknowledge private property rights and the rule of law, majority rule and minority rights, provide the political space for the development of an independent civil society (media, unions, professional organizations, etc.), and so on and so forth.

There is a tension between these two competing perspectives than many refuse exists. Martin notes:

I’ve written before about the difficulties that arise when a newly-democratic country makes a democratic choice, the consequence of which is to exclude or oppress significant sections of the population. The example I discussed in these earlier posts is southern Iraq, where the democratic election of conservative religious parties threatens the rights and freedoms of religious and political minorities, women and homosexuals. Some blame may be attached to the Coalition Provisional Authority, for the way it encouraged a communalist politics in the south and lent credibility to sectarian forces such as the Sadrists. However, the popular vote for the religious parties in the 2005 election appears to have been overwhelming.

So is this democracy? And where does it leave the strategy of encouraging the development of democratic reform in the Middle East, if the result is to install Islamist regimes which then proceed to limit democratic freedoms? I remember seeing a quote from a liberal Saudi woman who was emphatically against democratic change in her country, since she feared it would mean the election of an even more oppressively Islamist government. But does this mean that the west should revert to its discredited strategy of shoring up corrupt Middle Eastern dictators, for fear that their removal would lead to something much worse?

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One response »

  1. Martin brings up an interesting point that all of us who do advocate for democracy have to consider: what if the people in country X vote for parties that are anything but democratic?

    It is why I feel it is vital to support democrats in both totalitarian states working to transform it, and those who actually live in technical democracies. Chavez and Hamas were both legally elected, but that does not make them democrats by any means and puts them on a collision coarse with their electoral systems when they start to do exactly what they say they were going to do: enshrine their groups in power.

    A democracy is so much more than voting, and why the support for a free press, freedom to organize, and the respect for the right’s of the individual are all as important as the defense of the democratic vote.

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