[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Sunday, March 16, 2008

[Transitions to democracy]
The following is based on Samuel P. Huntington's work and it is a very interesting. I have never attempted to discuss true blue stuff that I learn but I am compelled to share this.

Before explaining the three types of transitions, it is important to know the various actors involved. There are three groups in the government - standpatters, liberals and democratisers. Standpatters are strongly against transitions to democracy, liberals are somewhat open to democracy and democratisers are fully supportive of democracy.

Conversely, in the opposition camp there are two groups - radicals and the moderates. Radicals are against democracy but they expouse their own ideals. Moderates on the other hand are for democracy.

The power play is as such: radicals and moderates are at odds against the government. Moderates and liberals are for democracy but argue who to govern and have different views on how to govern. Standpatters and radicals, being the extremes, are against each other.

Now that the actors have been defined, here are the three transitions to democracy: transformation, replacement and transplacement.

Transformation is when the decision to be democratic or more democratic is decided by the government. Replacement is when the opposition overthrows the government. Transplacement happens when the government and opposition engage in discussion and have common ground.

Transformation happens because of several factors. The emergence of a strong group that strongly believes in having a more democratic rule plays an important role. These are usually from the people in power i.e. the government. In transformation, the stronger group is the government than the opposition. These groups of people (sometimes the leader) often realise this when they begin to see the opposition gainig power. In order to maintain their status, the ruling party allows for more opposition. This can be seen in South African politics during the Nelson Mandela era.

A leader would allow transformation to safeguard his/her position - leaders who allow transformation usually stay in power as compared to replacement.

In replacement, the opposite is true - opposing forces are usually stronger than the forces in power (government). There are three key stages - before the fall, the fall, and after the fall.

One clear example of replacement is in the form of military coups which overthrow governments in power. A recent example would be how the government in Thailand was overthrown by the military - and it's many other coups in hte past. In such cases, countries usually resume democracy afterwards (like the present Thai government). The military only steps in when it feels that the current government is ineffective or corrupt but temoporary rulers usually maintain that they would return the country to democracy. In such cases, military rule is merely a transitional stage. One counter example is the case of Myanmar, where the military has held on to power for more than a decade.

There have been cases where labour activists and students tried to influence and overthrow governments. In 1989, there was the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Protestors were against the corruption in the Chinese Communist Party that called for democratic reforms within the structure of the government. There was not much of an impact and the demonstration did not have the power to change society.

Another factor that plays a part in replacement is the death of a leader. When a leader passes on, there is loss of direction and this would allow the opposition to capitalise on the death and bring about change to the country.

Lastly, transplacement. I transplacement, both the government and the opposition have to realise that they need to work together. This happens when the costs of suppression of the opposition gets too high. Both sides have to have certain beliefs - the opposition has to believe that they have the power to overthrow the government and the government has to in turn believe that they can suppress the opposition. Tensions escalate when force and violence is used.

South African politics is a good example of this. The ANC had demonstrated against the President and had fought strongly for the equality of blacks in South Africa. They wanted a "one man one vote" system.

Transplacement ensued when the last State President of apartheid-era South Africa Frederik Willem de Klerk had the intention to allow the blacks to have more freedom of expression. He (de Klerk) worked closely with ANC activist Nelson Mandela to bring about democracy in South Africa. This is an example of transplacement.

So how do these three theories of transition to democracy apply to Singapore? More in my next post.

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