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Developing Representative Democracy—10 Factors that Complicate the Immediate Democratization of a Nation

Government by the People for the People

Socio-political change is a long and arduous process. History has demonstrated that the shift from government by autocratic authoritarian rule to government by participative democracy is a complicated affair that takes decades if not generations to work out. This article discusses 10 factors that complicate and hinder the movement towards the democratization of any given nation.

Hindrances to Democracy - A Brief Overview

The 10 factors that can complicate and even hinder the shift from government by the few to government by the many include:

  • The personal pride of the ruler or ruling class
  • The power of the rulers entourage (political supporters)
  • The command and respect of military and police
  • The general education of the people
  • The general welfare of the people
  • The interest level of the people regarding the political process
  • Cultural perspectives of leadership and power
  • The history of self-rule (either on a national, provincial, or local level)
  • Perceived interference from outside meddlers
  • Lack of good models

These 10 factors are not meant to be exhaustive.

The Rulers Perspective of Personal Honor and Power

The first factor complicating the movement from authoritarianism to democratization is the established ruler's perspective of personal honor and power. Many heads of state are megalomaniacs who believe they are smarter than every member of the citizenry. They claim a divine right to rule and count themselves as more than mere mortals. Or, as in the case of some despotic monarchs, the ruler may feel the burden to protect the family fought hard to win or feel insecure and afraid to share power. Their personal sense of honor and power is too strong to share power with the people.

The Relative Power of the Ruler's Entourage

A second factor hindering movement towards representative democracy is the relative power of the current ruler's entourage (or supporters). The current head of state may not be the final authority. He may in fact be only a figurehead, a puppet for a group of named or unnamed supporters. Those supporters may not want to share power with the masses. If an authoritarian despot believes democracy is ultimately the best way to forward for his people and nation, he may be hindered from doing so until he persuades his backers that such a movement would be beneficial to them in both the short and long-run. If this head of state moves ahead to initiate change without the backing of his supporters, he could find himself outside looking in.

The Relative Loyalty of the Military and Police

The relative loyalty of the military and police is a third factor that can complicate socio-political change. In places like, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Egypt, and Syria the state military played significant roles in either protecting the power of the current ruler or forcing the transfer of power. How set are military officials on the current form of government? How loyal are the military and police to the head of state? Is the military prone to be neutral or biased? How much respect does the leader of the opposition party command among the military and police? These are all important questions to consider when attempting to move a society from one form of government to another form.

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The Education of the People

The Education level of the people is another factor involved in the development of representative democracy. Thomas Jefferson observed that "an educated citizenry was a vital requisite for survival as a free people." The opportunity to be informed and make informed decisions will be linked to the overall literacy rate of the general populous.

The General Welfare of the People during the Transition Period

A fifth factor that complicates socio-political change from an authoritarian coercive restrictive political landscape to participative free and fair society is the general welfare of the ordinary citizens during the transition period. The two Russian experiments into representative democracy from 1905 to 1917 and 1991 to 2010 resulted in massive corruption and a short-term denigration of already horrid living conditions. Democracy did not deliver on its promises to bring greater welfare to the people. The people themselves became impatient with the process and called for a return to the old ways (even though those ways were bad at best). Moreover, who can blame an able bodied leader who loves his homeland and his people from wanting to wrest back the reins in order to relieve their undue sufferings.

The General Interest Level of the People

A sixth factor that can hinder movement to representative democracy is the general interest level of the general population. The citizens of some countries have lived for centuries as wards of the state. As long as their basic needs are being met, the people are fine with leaving the governing to the rich and powerful. The bottom line is they are comfortable and relatively carefree and complacent with the status quo. They do not want the responsibility of the entire nation resting on their shoulders.

The Lack of a History of Self-Rule

A similar but somewhat different factor that may hinder socio-political change from despotic to government by the people is the lack of a history of self-rule. The people may come to think they want to share power but they do not know all that is involved in the process of governing. For generations they have been oppressed and blocked from the political process and thus lack the knowledge and skills of how to run a locality and or nation. A lack of knowledge and skill can lead to uncertainty and indecision that makes the represented feeling insecure and may embolden those prone to devious action to advantage of others.

The Size of the National Population

The relative population size can be an eighth factor that complicates a decisive shift from authoritarian rule to democratization of a nation. The large the population the more difficult it will be to make the transition in an orderly manner. Obviously, a ruling class governing over a populous of 200,000 from the same ethnic and language group would likely have an easier time making the transition than a country like China with a populous of 1.3 million from 56 ethnic groups that speak over 292 languages or dialects. In order to keep the country together, the governing officials would have to make the changes in small incremental steps which will take much time.

Cultural Perspectives of Leadership and Power

Cultural perspectives of leadership and power is a ninth and very important factor that may hinder a move from rule by one to rule by the many. Cultural comparative studies by Geert Hofstede of IBM and colleagues and Project GLOBE codified sets of cultural dimensions including one dimension labeled "Power Distance." The power distance dimension measures the degree to which members of a given society tolerate separation from their leaders. Some national cultures want strong leaders who are decisive and act on their behalf without full representation. Concerning politics in Southeast Asia, one observer wrote, "In Asia one does not gain power only to give it up four or eight years later."

The Lack of Quality Models around the Globe

The lack of quality models around the globe is the 10th factor that can hinder the move from authoritarian despotic rule to fully developed representative democracy. Yes, there are places around the world that do exemplify the superior benefits of representative government by the people and for the people. However, there are also plenty of bad examples that could give pause to those not yet sure that sharing power is the best path for establishing a free and fair society. Fist fights on the parliamentary floors of South Korea (2010) and Thailand (2010) and gridlock in Washington, D.C. (2013) are only a few of many examples that representative democracy around the world is less than perfect and often inefficient.

Perceived Interference from Outside Nations

One other hindering factor to the shift from autocratic rule to shared rule is perceived interference from the outside. This factor may be related to the first factor regarding the rulers (or ruling classes) personal sense of honor. Those cultures where leaders attempt to maintain a high sense of honor may become less interested in making a change in political structure if there is too much prodding or interference from the outside. These rulers believe they must stand strong before their people and not appear weak and too easily manipulated by other heads of state or diplomatic officials from other nations.

Hindrances to Democracy - Your View

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