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Critiquing the “Bare Minimum Requirements” of Democracy to Contextualize the 2015 Parliamentary Election of Ethiopia

Critiquing the “Bare Minimum Requirements” of Democracy to Contextualize the 2015 Parliamentary Election of Ethiopia

 

Adal Isaw

adalisaw@yahoo.com

May 23, 2015

 

The socially constructed concepts of “bare minimum requirements” of democracy engender great discourse in academic circles and beyond.  The discourse is not prompted to reject the “bare minimum requirements” of what democracy should bear.   But rather, it is prompted to criticize and then to enhance the socially constructed concepts of democracy into a tangible utility of democratic rule.  In other words, the end result of the discourse is to buttress and/or amend the current and prevailing understanding of what democracy is.

The current and prevailing understanding of democracy is premised on near universal suffrage, competitive multi-party system, free and non-corrupt elections and, an effective framework of civil liberties and/or human rights.  These procedural requirements are also what scholars call the “bare minimums”—the metrics in use to label nations as democratic or otherwise.  But some scholars disagree, claiming that they are seasonal political protocols, which often compel us to mistake democratic rule as undemocratic and vice versa.

For instance, to Chaoi Jang-Jip, a renowned political scientist, the “bare minimum requirements” are part of a “procedural democracy [that] marks an essentially unimportant or substantially empty political change.”  Jang-Jip explains this very point in his book, titled Democracy after Democratization: The Korean Experience, as the following:  “… half a century since the adoption of democracy in South Korea, the Korean people's high hopes for popular governance have not been met…,” Jang-Jip argues.  This is to say that, short of a popular governance as the end result of democracy, adherence to near universal suffrage, competitive multi-party system, free and non-corrupt elections and, an effective framework of civil liberties and/or human rights is an empty political exercise.

A slightly different criticism comes from another renowned political scientist, Charles Tilly, who defines democracy as “ongoing, often non-linear process” that the procedural “mini-mums” fail to describe, express or, consider.  This is to say that democracy is not born out of a uniform set of protocols under a uniform instance of events.  Because real world examples of conceptualization and practices of democracy denote, contextualize, and fuse ideas, traditions, and cultures of different regions and people than what the “bare mini-mum requirements” suggest.  In other fundamental words, democracy is more than a Euro-centric understanding of civilization.

For a nation to be deemed democratic, we’re told, the “bare minimum” conditions of near universal suffrage, competitive multi-party system, free and non-corrupt elections and, an effective framework of civil liberties and/or human rights must be satisfied.  And this is irrespective of the distinct political, social, and economic conditions of the subject nation. 

As Chaoi Jang-Jip presumes, however, the “bare minimum requirements” may be are necessary, but they are not at all sufficient reasons to deem a nation democratic or otherwise.  The perfect example that illustrates this presumption is America—a country that many call the beacon of democracy.  America adheres to the “bare minimum requirements,” to a greater or lesser degree, depending on one’s own take.  For many people America is a democracy.  But for a number of influential academics, America is other than a democracy.  Robert Dahl, in his book titled, How Democratic Is the American Constitution? illuminates this very point.

According to Dahl, democracy is “government by the people”—the institutionalization of people power.  Dahl also realizes that democracy in contemporary context requires universal suffrage, free, fair and regular election. Even if America adheres to this contemporary context and also to the closest meaning of what democracy is (“government by the people”), the American Constitution of 1787, Dahl presumes, was not democratic.  The U.S. Constitution emerged as undemocratic, if not as suppressing a means, to build a union of states as the Framers saw it fit, Dahl argues.

The U.S. Constitution has given the American people asymmetric federalism through which small states stand grand to dwarf grand states in the Senate—the upper chamber of Congress—where the principle of democracy has been dealt with less than a total defeat.  The Constitution’s assault on democracy, specific to majority rule, rudely comes via Electoral College for one obvious reason: The Framers merely“…wanted to remove popular majorities and to place the responsibility in the hands of a select body of wise, outstanding and virtuous citizens—as they clearly saw themselves a cynic might add” Dahl (2003:76).

Therefore, a nation cannot necessarily be democratic for merely fulfilling the “bare minimum requirements” of near universal suffrage, competitive multi-party system, free and non-corrupt elections and, an effective framework of civil liberties and/or human rights.  A nation has to do more—the work of which requires more digging than what the “bare minimum requirements” require.  Equally, not fulfilling the “bare minimum requirements” is not a sufficient condition to deem a nation undemocratic.  Because failing on one or two requirements, or for that matter, complying with all “bare minimum requirements” may be is a necessary matter to consider, but it is not at all a sufficient condition for a nation to be deemed democratic or otherwise.

In light of this, therefore, the 2015 Parliamentary Election of Ethiopia is not only about near universal suffrage, competitive multi-party system, free and non-corrupt elections and, an effective framework of civil liberties and/or human rights.  It is more than that.  It is about sovereignty, stability, development, prosperity and peace.  In a nutshell, it is about accepting or rejecting the fundamental policies of EPRDF.   And come this Sunday, I presume, great many Ethiopians will decisively vote for EPRDF.  That is; in order to guard their laudable achievements and not wanting to vote against their own economic and political interest. 

The unending democratization of Ethiopia continues!!!

 

 

 


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