Transition Report 2013 Stuck in transition?

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Facts at a glance

70% Global proportion of countries which had democratic institutions in 2012, compared with 30 to 40 per cent from 1960 to 1990.

INCOME IN 1992 is correlated with levels of democracy in 2012 in a global sample.

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94% of countries with average per capita income above US$ 10,000 held free and competitive elections in 1999.

BY 2000 all constituent democracies of the former Yugoslavia had become full democracies.

Markets and democracy

Underlying democratic beliefs

At the core of a democratic system lie regular, free and fair elections. By definition, fair democratic elections are uncertain events: before they are held, their outcome is unknown. After they have taken place, there is no guarantee that the winners will not exploit their victory to extract resources from their opponents, and perhaps even suspend future polls ‒ or that the losers will not reject the results and rebel against the winners.

Democracy and the undisrupted holding of elections will only come about if both winners and losers are willing to comply with the outcomes of the periodic elections that form the core of this system of governance, accepting the possibility of losing and deferring to the will of the majority – and in the case of the winners, resisting the temptation to permanently prevent the losers from gaining power.

One important strand of the literature contends that a democratic outcome will only be possible if voters think of democratic institutions, including free elections, as the most legitimate means of governance. If a sufficient majority of the population sees democracy as the most appropriate political regime, winners will not exploit their political advantage and losers will not challenge the electoral outcome. Given the proper democratic convictions, everyone will embrace democracy permanently.1

While beliefs may influence the intensity of individual support for democracy, the theory of democracy as a function of democratic convictions is problematic. From a conceptual point of view, beliefs do not seem to provide very strong foundations for complying with fair elections and other democratic practices. A belief that democracy is the best form of government will not necessarily deter individuals who stand to obtain significant economic or status-related benefits as a result of undermining the rule of law and behaving undemocratically.

Once they have been tempted to distort or oppose democracy, even those individuals who hold strong convictions about democracy may not be willing to uphold their principles if that implies losing an election. From an empirical point of view, democratic beliefs (aggregated at the country level) do not seem to have a particularly strong impact on the transition to – or consolidation of – democracy.

See Welzel and Inglehart (2006). For the first generation of studies on modernisation and belief change, see Lipset (1959) and Almond and Verba (1965). [back]