Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

South Africa and Democratic Development

If you study young democracies, one of the consistent patterns is a tendency for one-party rule to develop for a period of time. Sometimes it is said that it is easy to have one free election, but the subsequent election is rarer and harder. Even where subsequent elections take place, a period of one-party rule can take emerge. This does not always happen, of course, with primary exceptions being seen in former British settler colonies (Canada, Australia, NZ) where "independence" took place peacefully after much internal political development.

In the USA, we had such a period called the "era of good feelings" and resulted in almost uncontested control by what was then the Democratic-Republican party for about 20 years (roughly 1815-1835) including most notably Monroe's presidency where his vote in the electoral college was not unanimous only for the decision by one elector to ensure that honor was reserved to Washington alone. In fact, this understates it. After the Federalists won the first 3 presidential elections (1788-1796), the D-R party won in 1800 and did not lose again until 1841. The Democratic-Republican party ultimately was renamed the "Democratic Party" by Andrew Jackson, and it began to factionalize. Those factions within the party were the only real democratic processes at the federal level until the Whig party made some headway in the 1840s, then the Republican party was founded in 1856 to revive Whiggism and combat the extension of slavery into the western territories.

We can look at Austria and Japan as countries with similar models (both ruled by more or less the same party or coalition since Democracy was established after WWII). India was ruled by the Congress party for half a century. Israel was ruled by its Labor party from 1949-1977, only then did the problems emerge of tiny right-wing religious parties holding the balance of power in coalitions. RBR can probably name other examples. Many former East Bloc or former Soviet states are either dominated by one party or still have a pro-communist/anti-communist political divide.

In a broad sense, this pattern emerges for two reasons. First, a new democracy is often a result of a political struggle against a pre-existing order. The initial party setup is the "pro-democracy" and "anti-democracy" forces, and that pro-democracy coalition can be dominant for a while after its victory. Second, democracy can begin as a result of a stable coalition or consensus after a period of political unrest, then that coalition remains dominant for a while.

In the USA, as described above, the situation was somewhat different, but really you have to count that the date of "democracy" to understand. Universal (white) manhood suffrage was only haltingly established during the 1800-1830 period (before then, many states had property requirements for voting). Where it existed, universal (white male) suffrage favored the D-R party, and soon gave the D-R party a monopoly on power for 20-40 years.

(This is, by the way, part of why I am hopeful about Russia's current status. I know I am totally alone in this, and I don't want to start a "thing." We can at least agree that a period of dramatic one-party control in a new democracy is not, by itself, evidence of undemocratic tendencies. The argument really is that much more is going on in Russia. And, indeed, more is.)

So here's to South Africa: South Africa's ruling ANC may finally be splitting over ideological issues, and this may lead to real multiparty Democracy in South Africa for the first time. The ANC rule under Winnie Mandela and Thabo Mbeki (Mr. Aids is Caused by Poverty, not HIV) has not been a model of democratic participation. Real contested elections may be on their way there.

5 comments:

Raised By Republicans said...

You left out an important alternative model...Mexico and the PRI. It could well be that the ANC was/is headed down the road the PRI took in 20th Century Mexico. The PRI had factions within it too but that never stopped them from dividing up the spoils of office amongst themselves. Much like the Japanese LDP for most of the last 60 years.

As for Russia, your optimism presupposes that Putin actually has set up a party that can survive his retirement from politics (as the Democratic party survived Jackson's retirement). If what we see in Russia is more personalistic than party driven, then your assessment may not hold up in that case.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm not talking about Russia anymore. I tried to bracket that.

I omitted Mexico because I think democracy either never started in 1910 after the revolution, or totally failed immediately thereafter. But yes, one could say that one-party rule in democracies does not always turn out happy.

USwest said...

I agree that periods of one party rule are normal for any new state, democratic or otherwise. People want stability and they will lean toward that regardless of whether the coalition in power is democratic or not. Otherwise, the whole reverts back to instability. And whoever rises has to have some support from the people to stay there. My experience in the world is that most people are "sheep" at heart. They want a shepherd. And they aren't real discerning, as is evidenced by the number of dictators who have come to power through fair elections.

There are Iraqi's that hated Saddam, but they aren't really loving their new "democracy" either. At least under Saddam, they knew the rules, who was in charge, and who to watch out for.

Let's not forget that parties evolve over time. ANC is in an evolutionary stage. In fact, all parties are dynamic in that way. But that doesn't mean they will evolve into something nice. Think Republicans and far right Christianity or, as LTG points out, the Ultra Orthodox in Israel.

I find it ironic that the Republican party of Lincoln opposed slavery. Yet today, it is the Democratic party that is the most open and diverse. So party platforms can flip around over time based on political necessity, new voter composition, and new realities.

Spotted Handfish said...

I think you might be right, LTG. The ANC could not continue being the dominant party when the main issue forming the party has disappeared. It could be a wild ride as the splinters sort themselves out.

You also touched on Japan, which is probably as equally interesting. They are on their third prime minister in two years without elections. There is an opposition party there that seems ineffective. Is there a chance of reshaping of the political landscape in Japan?

The Law Talking Guy said...

I don't know about Japan. It strikes me that the level of political development is actually rather low in Japan. I don't get the impression that there is a large amount of civic involvement in Japan that would translate into political fights. I get the sense that politics is almost all about a handful of business elites. But I don't know all that much about it. If I am right, it means it will take a while for ideological splits to become political forces.