Democracy: 10 simple rules for successful transition from authoritarian to democratic rule

As we are deposing dictators (or aspiring to do so) all across the Middle-East, the Caucasus and Central Asia, the day after the party can make one feel a bit hung-over, and even despairing when looking at the daunting task ahead. Don’t worry, it has been done many times before you. In Africa, in Latin-America, and in Europe. Lessons have been learned. And trust me: transforming societies doesn’t have to be rocket science.

The benefits of democracy and the rule of law are not as universally accepted and self-explanatory anymore as twenty to thirty years ago. But the bad reputation these concepts have gained in recent years often stem from them having been implemented incompletely. In addition to that, the idea that a democracy governed by the rule of law is somehow at odds with, say, religion or culture, is utterly false. In the long run, truly democratic countries with a fair legal and judicial system, open society and open economy stand a much better chance of becoming stable, secure, prosperous nations with something to gain for everyone, than any other system.

Without any claim to infallibility, my years in international democracy, governance and media development have taught me these 10 simple rules for successful transition from authoritarian to democratic rule.

1. Take your time. Have all major political forces sign off on a technical government of non-political, authoritative experts that run the country for 3-4 years without parliamentary or other interference.

2. Clean up all legislation to ensure open, transparent, fair, non-discriminatory, inclusive, governmental, economic, social and legal processes. Incorporate human rights treaties and agreements.

3. Reform the bureaucracy, military, police and judiciary. Clear out obviously criminal and/or corrupt and inefficient officials from the very top on downwards. But leave everyone else in place, regardless of affiliation. They know how to run things.

4. Reform and retrain the judiciary and correctional system to restore trust in court independence.

5. Introduce unbiased and true education in all schools and in public campaigns about the country’s history, past faults and achievements, and integrate universal human rights and concepts of equality, non-violence and non-discrimination.

6. Reform the economy. Eradicate monopolies and oligarchies. Undo the close ties between government branches, officials and business enterprises, economic sectors. Create level playing field, access to economic activities for previously disenfranchised, non-connected individuals and groups.

7. Facilitate independent, pluralist media. Boost professional journalism colleges and trainings. Always remain responsive and accountable to journalists, even if they ask uneasy questions.

8. Facilitate a wide variety of civil society organizations. But fund only consortia of diverse, state-independent, non-ideological NGO’s.

9. Design an electoral system that ensures access to and participation in decision-making for all social groups, classes. Make sure that minorities, also those formerly in power, win something and feel they remain part of the process. Enforce a clean, free and fair voting process and result, pre- and post-election, even in the smallest and remotest of areas.

10. Invest in political party building. Facilitate effective campaigns that connect all parties and their ideas to the public. Train high quality future politicians that understand democracy is about trust, compromise, open communication and transparent decisions, sharing benefits between majorities and minorities, and long term gains for your constituency rather than short term ones.

Now, and only now: vote.

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