Foreign Affairs Friday: Democracy

In most (but not all) of the world, democracy is seen as the most legitimate system of government. This is the case to such an extent that dictators often cloak themselves in faux democracy in an attempt to gain legitimacy. A historic example is when East Germany was called the German Democratic Republic. If a country has "Democratic" or "Republic" in it's name, you can rest assured that it is neither democratic nor a republic.

Dictators will often attempt to cement their rule through democracy. This is what Hugo Chavez is doing in Venezuela. He recently got the constitution amended to eliminate presidential term limits, after failing the first time around. Now he just has to keep winning (or rigging) elections to stay in power as long as he wants. (Side note: Here's a great story about a pro-Chavez baseball player getting viciously booed.)

Ilham Aliyev is doing the same thing in Azerbaijan. He already has the vote-rigging thing down, so he doesn't have to worry about the outcome of the referendum. But he still feels the need to go through the democratic motions. Heck, even North Korea has elections.

Implementing democracy is hard work, and is susceptible to many challenges. But as time marches forward, hopefully the international community will demand more than democratic charades, and the norm of democracy will become more widespread and inexorable.


  1. I remember wondering about country names with those words in them as a kid, and my dad explaining that the more of those words there are, the worse the country actually is. That rule of thumb seems to work pretty well, considering the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

  2. Craig, first we have to make a distinction between democracy as a form or type of government versus a republic: http://www.lexrex.com/enlightened/AmericanIdeal/aspects/demrep.html

    To understand that is to understand why we cannot let mob rule take over so often happens in those countries.

  3. South Korea's actual name is the Republic of Korea, so there is one country that actually stands by it's name.

  4. Craig, Michael Bloomberg has done the same thing in NYC -- figured out a loophole that has allowed him to bully his way through overturning term limits, and will make a run for mayor for a 3rd term.

    And the horrifying thing is that many of my friends (of all political stripes) say, "I like him, he's a good mayor."

    Uh, that's not the point.

    Thanks for this post.


  5. You're right, Steph, there are a lot of countries called "Republic of _____," and they are generally legit. I guess it's the combination of Democratic and Republic that is bad.

    Good call on the Bloomberg example, A. He will have to face an honest election, though, if he wants to hang around.