In the last three decades, after replacing the authoritarian regimes in Latin America and the collapse of communism in Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, democracy gained greater appeal throughout the world as the best governmental form. Following this worldwide trend, many developing countries (20 from 1974 – 1989 according to political scientist Samuel Huntington) attempted to establish democratic governments, some through conflicts and war; some through negotiations between the involved parties, all with various levels of success.
This movement is referred to as “third wave” of democracy, and started in 1974-75 with Spain, Portugal and Greece. At minimum, democracy is a political system that regularly holds free and fair elections (electoral democracy). In full (liberal) democracy, the entire population (with exception of excusable groups, i. e. convicts) has the right to vote, elections are fair and free of fraud, the majority of the leading officials are elected, all candidates have the equal chance of being elected, and civil liberties, freedom of speech and media and minority rights are respected.
In addition to this, substantive democracy requires “fair and just government policy outcomes”. 1 Just as there is no universal definition of democracy, there is no universal recipe that could be applied to democratize the Third world; however, modern theories agree that some conditions have to be met for the successful implementation of democracy. This article will attempt to describe some of the specifics involved in the democratization process in the diverse world of developing countries.
Developing countries, also referred to as less developed, underdeveloped or Third world countries can be identified by three main indicators: economic underdevelopment, expressed in low Gross Domestic Product (GDP), unequal distribution of income, poor infrastructure and low energy consumption; social underdevelopment expressed as low Human Development Index (HDI, composite index including life expectancy, adult literacy and income) and political underdevelopment, expressed as the lack of legitimate, accountable, credible and fair government.
In many developing countries, high levels of development are achieved in some of those areas: South Korea, Argentina and Cuba are not far behind the US and Canada in social development measurements, Singapore has GDP greater than developed Italy2, and India has had a democratic government for decades, however, for the country to be considered developed, key measurements in all three areas have to meet required levels. The democratization process occurs through two phases, transition and consolidation.
The transition period is usually initiated with some sort of political or economical crisis, and is generally followed by some popular movement for democracy. Pro-democratic forces that lead such movements differ from country to country. In Philippines, for example, the military along with the Catholic Church supported Corazon Aquino, in Poland, the leading force were labor unions. Democratic movement in Thailand, initiated by students, was supported by the business class, whereas professional classes such as intellectuals and writers carried the majority of democratic changes in Central Europe.
Although the principal forces that initiate democratic movements are internal, international trends play a role also. With the end of the cold war, world powers such as the United States support democratization more openly. Global economic trends, reflected in Washington consensus, see democracy “as useful because it can generate the marketizing and commercializing changes that are necessary for the world economy”. 3 “Consolidation is a process through which democratic norms become accepted by all powerful groups in society. ” 4 Democratic transition is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty.