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Viewpoint: Sought after democracy

By Kaan Avdan, Editorial Board Member
Published December 3, 2012

While the developed world struggles economically, the so-called emerging economies — roughly identified as Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia and Turkey — breezed through the global financial crisis of 2008 and rapidly went back to the track of fast economic growth. The political dynamics of these countries are often disregarded as long as there’s stability; however, three of these countries especially demonstrate a new political and economic occurrence.

All of the identified countries have had trouble developing the democratic processes within their systems, but China, Russia and Turkey have a common pattern that sets them apart. Historically, these countries and their predecessors have almost always possessed regional power and then rose to the international scene once conflicts escalated. They shared an autocratic form of government until the early 20th century, and have had trouble transitioning into democracies ever since. Today, these countries are similar in that they share political stability, economic progress and corruption.

Each case must be looked at separately to elucidate how these three developing countries and their benchmark characteristics may lead to capitalism and democracy in the future. Growth in democracy doesn’t parallel growth in the economy. Democratic progress is far more convoluted and harder to achieve. However, as the developed world staggers economically, confidence in the global market is lost while respect in its institutions and democratic values are marred. Therefore, it’s more likely that the course of democratic progress for the underdeveloped countries will follow that of China, Russia and Turkey.

China has never historically been a multi-party democracy, and today’s People’s Republic of China can be regarded as the least democratic among the trio. The PRC has had solid political stability since its foundation, which allows the government to act freely without worrying about losing power. Given the country’s communist background, its presidents and premiers act as benevolent social and economic planners who vigorously engage the state in an open market environment.

The Russian Federation, the successor of the Soviet Union, has been harshly criticized in regards to civil rights. In May 2012, Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia for the third time in a highly-fraudulent election. Massive protests followed the elections, and NGOs called for a recount. The protesters’ calls were futile, and Putin became the president once again.

The opposition in Russia argues that Putin has created a system of barons, similar to landlords, who control massive businesses among both rural parts and commercial hubs of Russia thanks to investment stimuli and privileges given to them. In return, these barons — in effect, businessmen — remain loyal to Putin and support him when necessary. Putin now enjoys his 12th year in power as a one-man leader, dominating not only the political scene, but also the social.

Turkey, a Republic since 1923 and a multiparty democracy since 1945, has had its fair share of political instability. The country has gone through two coup d’états and many short lived, unproductive coalition governments. In 2002, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister and continues to hold that position today. Since his rise to power, he has been criticized for diminishing the state’s secularity and imprisoning unprecedented numbers of elected politicians, activists, journalists and army generals. Brutal and excessive police force against demonstrators and protesters is another major concern.

The political freedom the governments enjoy as well as the subsequent disappearance of checks and balances systems has resulted in a surge of corruption in all three of these countries. The politburo of China rhetorically acknowledges corruption but doesn’t fight the corrupted factions within itself because it’s often the high officials themselves who are part of the problem. The situation is similar in Russia and Turkey. Their politburos are in the phase of establishment, and Putin and Erdogan’s parties chronically control the state’s politics. The people considered close to the government enjoy more and more business opportunities, making both government officials and themselves richer.

In spite of all of this, in the past 10 to 15 years the countries have liberalized their economies and started on the path of rapid economic progress. All of the countries have achieved over five years of consecutive growth, stabilized inflation and decreased unemployment. As a result, real incomes have increased. Since people have become more able to obtain their goals through economic improvement, they tend to disregard the flaws in their democracies.

Fast economic growth makes it easy for political leaders to stay in power. If the economic boom in the developing world continues, the democratic process is likely to worsen or stay as it is like in China, but rapid growth has an end. The countries will have risen above a certain threshold of wealth. Growth will slow down, recessions will occur, politburos will be questioned and doubted, and political parties will lose dominance. Finally, true democracy will be sought.

Kaan Avdan is an LSA sophomore.


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