Category Archives: Asia

Trump and the return of Pax Sinica with the end of Pax Americana

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Will the year of 2017 be remembered in history as the year in which the US, willing or not, passed the baton as the world leader to China, exactly one century after it took it entering the First World War? Actually, whether we like it or not, the baton as first world economy was already going to be passed soon. But the US officially withdrawal from the 21st century world order, abdicating from the role of cornerstone of that order, with Trump “America first” exceptionalism and retrenchment, could make space for a new leader in the 21st century: China. From the leadership of a thalassocracy (sea power) like the US it seems we are passing to the leadership (or at least co-leadership) of a tellurocracy (land power) like China (if in the future together with another tellurocracy, the EU). Two events could have marked this passage in the last days: the launch in Pekin on May 14 of One belt one road initiative, in which no Western high leadership accepted to participate (most of the countries sent low level representatives) apart the Italian Prime Minister (being Venice, from Marco Polo Silk Road remembrance, included in the project), and the American withdraw from Paris Agreement on Climate Change on June first, an agreement made after many years of discussions by the UN, and especially suited for the US. But already with the US retreat from TPP and the EU new defense projects the cards started to be reshuffled.

The first event is especially important because represent a development strategy proposed by China based on cooperation between 68 Eurasian countries for the creation of the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the oceans-based “Maritime Silk Road”. It is a major plan for the next decades and is not only referred to infrastructures in order to make countries growth before to trade with them. It is also an attempt to alleviate the poverty and insecurity of these countries all together, because global challenges require global response. As Xi Jinping said: “the world must unite like a flock of geese”.

The second event, is especially important because independently from the fact that in 4 years a new President could change again the decision (this is the blessing and curse of democracy) the US lost the most important element of a leadership: the credibility. Actually, the European allies said already that the agreement will not be renegotiated after the American withdraw. A similar thing will happen also when Trump, in all likelihood, will withdraw from the Iranian agreement, making it clear that international agreements for global challenges are what they are: multinational, and so one part, even if is the strongest one, cannot decide for all the rest. These two events also cast a light on the understanding of the current losing of appeal by democracies all over the world, being two very different expressions of the actions of a democracy and an autocracy: short term and long-term policies. But this is another story.

These two events, even if they will not have a tremendous impact at international level as it happens with total wars (like the world wars) or at domestic level with a revolution (like the Russian revolution in 1917) or the implosion of an empire (like the end of Soviet Union in 1991), represent two major symbolic political moments that future historians will probably remember as the start of 21st century, even more than 9/11. Because 9/11 represented rather the end of the unipolar moment, while the 2017, with the formalization of Brexit, the Trump policies of retreat from TPP and Climate agreements and China’s full step in globalization, marks the start of a multipolar century, with a new realignment: the moving of the pendulum back to Asia.

Nevertheless, there are two good news for all the nations of the planet, including America: the first is that the new world order, that will be organized more by China, will be based on economic means, not military ones. Security at international level will not see a policeman like it has been during the short unipolar moment, for the good and for the bad. The hope here is that with shared economic growth there will be less need of conflicts, at least interstate ones (unfortunately, the intrastate ones will probably continue for the time being). The second good news is that all the world, that is Eurasia, Africa and America, including the US, is welcome to participate in a new world order, in a convergent way. The world order coming from Asia, even if with some imperialist elements (at the end of the day the infrastructures will be paid by each countries with loans from China, so all countries will be in debt with China) will not be conflictual with the rest (as the Western world order has often be, from the colonial times to the neocolonial ones). All the major experts on China agree on a peaceful and benevolent rise of China. At one condition: that we trust China as possible ally and not on the contrary suspect her as a sure rival and enemy of the old liberal Western order. Otherwise the self-fulfilling prophecy of creating our own enemy will be realized. The Chinese domestic issues, including democratic practices, will take time to be dealt with, as culture matter. All this doesn’t mean that China will be always going up without problems, as in the humankind issues there are always trends and countertrends, and China will have its own internal social and political crisis and economic decline too…but not for some time yet.

The multipolar world already started and we are at a crossroads: we, the so called “West”, meaning the EU and the US (the UK for its own decision will not count much in the future world arena) must decide, if to accept the challenge of growing together, or trying to cling to an old order that is no more. Nothing is eternal, no empires are exempt from decline and no country or sets of countries can last more than a while as world leaders (we saw it through history). The West doesn’t need to give up the military superiority (even if always balanced by Russia) but it needs to accept that all major nations will want spheres of influence in their regions. We cannot cast our presence all over the world anymore, not only because of the imperial overstretching but because of the facts on the ground: there is a moment for everything and for everyone.

So what will be the future? There are two famous theories in International Relations theory regarding conflict or cooperation that can help us to try to foresee the future: the Thucydides trap and the Prisoner dilemma. If we will follow the path of the Thucydides Trap (with the typical Western mistrust) we could go to war with China[1]. If instead we will follow the path of the Iterated Prisoner Dilemma (with an atypical Western will to cooperate instead of dominating) we will go towards world prosperity with the return of Pax Sinica after two millennia[2] (and possibly with the inclusion of Islamic ethical values on brotherhood and the Indian and aboriginal ones on protection of mother nature). The first one is a path to disaster and despair, based on individual and national interests instead of global ones. The second one is a shared and consensual path, based on covenants and agreements, on diplomacy and trust between the American thalassocracy, that will still probably be in control of the seas, being in the middle of the oceans, and the Chinese tellurocracy, that will be the land based hegemon of the Eurasian mass, together with the other super power on the other end of the big continent, the EU. It is the convergence of civilizations (instead of the ill-fated clash) that we can build for this century and even may be millennia. Posterity (if there will be one before colonizing other planets) will judge.

SOME OTHER ARTICLES ON THE TOPIC

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/reimagining-liberal-international-order-by-javier-solana-2017-06?referrer=/f3zIEXEtsY

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/life-after-american-hegemony-by-ian-buruma-2017-06

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2011-05-01/future-liberal-world-order

NOTES

[1] See on this John Pilger documentary: The coming war on China. http://thecomingwarmovie.com/ See also here:

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/how-america-could-end-unexpected-war-china-20831

[2] When China Rules the World: The Rise Of The Middle Kingdom And The End Of The Western World, Martin Jacques, Penguin, 2012.

 

“Democratic ideals and reality”, Halford J. Mackinder, 1919. Is this text still actual?

Map of the "Heartland Theory", as published by Mackinder in 1904.

Map of the “Geographical Pivot of History”, in the article of Mackinder published by Royal Geographical Society in 1904 (15 years before his book “Democratic ideals and reality”)

Mackinder, English geographer and one of the founding fathers of geopolitics and geostrategy, wrote his milestone book almost one century ago, between the two WWs, like Carr’s “Twenty years crisis”. “Democratic ideals and reality” is a product of the concepts of political geography and environmental determinism, and has played an important influence on American strategic and international studies until today. Two decades before Carr’s distinction between realist and utopian ideas, Mackinder’s realism is based on geopolitical analysis and on opposite concepts of ‘organizer’ (realist) and ‘idealist’ foreign policy.
The author argues that idealism is the ‘salt of the earth’, to move societies and civilizations, but in 1919 it had lost its social momentum, its hold on reality. The WWI had just ended and Wilson 14 points, as well as the Versailles treaty, were not convincing Mackinder. The British academic made an excursion since the end of the 18th century with the French principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, to the 19th century with the principle of nationality to the 20th century with the creation of the League of Nations and its democratic ideals (for a world community and a fair division of wealth). He argued that in reality productive power and social organization are more important in the modern civilization and that the great organizer is the great realist, because his imagination turns to ‘ways and means’ instead of ‘elusive ends’. Therefore he tried to define the geographical and economic ‘realities’ of modern world in order to help the organizer to balance the world, speaking about the ‘seaman’ and ‘landman’ points of views and considering the land power superior to the sea power.
The core geopolitical message of his book, passed through generations, is that “who rules East Europe commands the so called Heartland, who rules the Heartland commands the world-island (or great continent, that is the Euroasianafrican continent) and who rule the world-island commands the world”. Mackinder defines the Heartland as the internal part of the Euro-Asian continent, which goes from the Arctic coast to central deserts on the east, and from the Baltic to the Black Seas on the west. Mackinder believed that the power in the world was shifting from the sea-borne empires to countries that included the great land masses and who had both could have dominated the world. So if either Germany or Russia (that could have access to the sea) were able to conquer the heartland they would have conquer the world. Actually the rivalry of empires on this issue started already when Russia, as the Heartland, was the rival of England, the sea power, in the 19th century and also Germany took the lead to dominate East Europe in WWI for the same reason.
But Mackinder speaks also about other elements apart the geographical approach to international relations. In particular he dedicates two chapters to the freedom of the nations and the freedom of men, arguing that both need the same thing: a balanced and complete life. The first has to be based on equality of resources and so on external control of the economic growth with a balanced development of each nation (in order not to get out of hand and clash). The second should be based more on balanced life of provinces than on class organization. This is a very interesting point as the author remembers how the independent cities of Athens or Florence were foundational of our civilizations because they had complete and balanced microcosms, in which human beings could put in practice their ideals, remembering a sentence of Bernard Shaw: “he who can does, he who cannot teaches”. For Mackinder therefore we should go back to human scale provinces, and the national organization should be based on provincial communities. This is very actual also today with the trends of globalization counteracted with the localization, in a ‘glocalization’ process, in particular when he speaks about the demand for ‘home rule’ in Ireland or Scotland, to recuperate the values of local life against the nation-wide class organization. One hundred years after we had a referendum for autonomy in Scotland, exactly to recuperate this connection with locality, destroyed by modernization, international capitalism, and globalization.

The influence of this famous book is still discussed but has been said to have affected Hitler ideas (through the German geo-politician Karl Haushofer, who supported an alliance between Germany and the USSR in order to defeat the maritime powers). We don’t know for sure but the Hitler idea of Eastern expansion is similar to the idea of Mackinder. The book has influenced also the US, given that US grand strategy cannot allow domination of either end of Eurasia by a potentially hostile power (that today could be China ).
I would argue that Middle East, more than Eastern Europe, is the pivot region of the world today. May be the XX century saw the three world wars (the third being the Cold War) fought around Eastern Europe (and even today it is crucial as we can see on the “battle for Ukraine”) but at the time of Mackinder the energy resources of the Middle East were not discovered yet. And resources are more important than land in our modern world: who controlled them, more than who controlled Eastern Europe, won the WWI and II (UK and France, with the support of the US and URSS) and the Cold War becoming the world hegemon (the US). Also the superiority of the land countries respect to the sea-born countries is disputable today, one hundred years after Mackinder book, as again the US is a maritime power in the world. In the future actually, as George Friedman argues(1), US will retain its power thanks to this and Mexico will become an important force on the geopolitical stage. To be surrounded by oceans became the foundation of American security and wealth, economic and military power, and in the globalization era to control the sea seems more important than to control an “impregnable fortress” like the Heartland, as we can see from the naval presence of the US in East Asia and Southwest Asia (or Middle East) that allow the US to avoid the domination of either end of Eurasia by a potentially hostile power.

(1)George Friedman. The Next 100 Years. A Forecast for the 21st Century. Anchor, 2010

How two important Muslim countries, Turkey and Indonesia, can contribute for more peace, tolerance and economic growth in post-Western world?

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The so called “Alliance of Civilizations” was launched in 2005 by the Prime Minister of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan and Spain Jose Rodriguez Zapatero. The atmosphere of mutual distrust, fear and polarization prevalent in recent years in particular between the Islamic World and the West are the reason for this coalition to start reaching out and foster greater cultural tolerance and understanding. The role of Islam in the study in civilization is quite known. In fact, it was Ibn Khaldun who was established a new science on the study of civilization. This was six centuries ago. Today, the term “civilization” has become one of the most popular units of analysis in social science and media. Later on “Alliance of Civilization” became UNAOC as it was adopted by the secretary general of the United Nations to become a UN initiatives and the Alliance became the forefront in promoting dialogue and also Regional strategy in reducing extremism including interactions with civil society organizations. The recent meeting was held in Bali, Indonesia on August 29-30 with this year theme “Unity in Diversity” which is also the official National motto of Indonesia as celebrating diversities for common and shared values.
In current capacity, Indonesia and Turkey are member of G-20 and both countries are showing a tremendous economic growth for the last 10 years, regional emerging market and rapidly growing private sector plus play an important economic role in their respective region. Indonesia is also the largest Muslim country in the world and fourth most populous nation, and since the era of “reformasi” in 1998 Indonesia has moved smoothly from dictatorship and military rule to democracy, compared to many other Muslim countries in the Arab world, such as Egypt and Syria, that have failed in their post Arab spring democratic development. Today, both Turkey and Indonesia have risen economically and democratically in a similar way although they had started differently. The history of modern Turkey begins with the foundation of the Republic on October 29, 1923 after the fall of Ottoman Empire when the World War I ended. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced a new Turkey as a secular western country through his massive reform movement. Going from changing Ottoman Turkish alphabet to Latin, to adopting women’s rights and the abolition of Islamic law in favor of the European legal system. The process of western secularization had brought Turkey to some extend on a par with her European neighbors.
Indonesia on the other hand, started as a Republic on August 17, 1945 driven by nationalist independence movement and anti-colonial sentiment led by Soekarno who was well known for his determination and struggle against any form of colonization in Asia. He was similar to other great Third World leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, and Gamal Abdel Nasser. His most known work is the establishment of nonaligned movement (since the Bandung Conference in 1955) that stated to promote Afro-Asian economic cooperation to oppose colonialism and neocolonialism by any nation. While Turkey started as a potential “imperial world power”, Indonesia embarked exactly on the opposite as an anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist.

Although both cultures are rooted in Islam they have managed to pass a period of unique secularization and democratization process that is now being known as “Turkish model” or “Indonesian model” of Islam. Albeit Indonesia has not experienced the so called “secularization enforcement” process like Turkey, Indonesia have been always secular and progressive in mobilizing the people towards education. The Islamic school in Indonesia, for example, use Islam as a foundation but mostly combined with nationalism, self-sufficient fund and support for development and progress. Indonesian strength in organizing a moderate Islamic education even before the independence has proven successful in creating many Islamic thinkers that are also accepting western education, values and ethics. Many of those visionary Islamic leaders are also anti-colonial activist and play a significant role in the movement at least in the educational sphere.
Most Turkish intellectuals at the time when new Turkey was established were the product of Ottoman madrasas and interaction with the west, rather than of the Arab world. The Ottoman Empire was the most extensive and most influential state system in the entire Muslim world during at least six centuries and quite possibly for any time since the rise of Islam itself. Therefore Turkey have more experience and education in skills such as law, writing, documenting, arithmetic, art and literature compare to Indonesia. These mountain of knowledge also have positioned Turkey differently in learning and sharing with Islamic Muslim scholars in particular from the Arab world. Turkish Islamic scholars are not eager to study from the Arabs because they consider themselves able to do it better.
On the opposite side, Indonesia struggle to search for knowledge, wisdom and spiritual influence from the Arabian Peninsula and yet still find it difficult to be part of their Arabs peer and seek recognition for their work in the Islamic world. The element of knowledge in Indonesian religiosity is always been the spiritual center as the core of the teaching. When many of religious scholars from Indonesia travel to Mecca for the first time they return home and start correcting Islam and reform them towards an “Arabization” of the Islamic belief and practice in accordance to what they witnessed in the Middle east. As many Indonesian Islamic scholars are eager to be at the same level with the Arabs, many of their teaching were also contested at home and give rise to various forms of cultural resistance. Indonesia is known for the tradition of syncretic esoteric in Islam after a long tradition of Hindu in Java, for example until today we can still see a very strong Hindu elements mixing with Islamic practices and rituals.

In the political arena, being the largest Muslim country in the world Indonesia hardly play any role in the Arab world. The answer lies not only on the geographical distance and so no direct impact is possible from Indonesia or Southeast Asia in general, but is due to the mere fact of Western intervention in the Middle East, therefore non-Arab Muslim countries have no room to pursue their interest and many of them are only becoming spectators. According to PEW Research Center in 2010 62% of world’s Muslim population lived in South and Southeast Asia. Indonesia holds the largest moderate Sunni Muslim around 205 million people and the second largest non-Arab Muslim are in India, followed by Turkey and Iran. The growing understanding in the west that Islam is identical with the Arabs has created confusion among many countries which are operating based on multi civilization such as Asia. Nevertheless, Asians in part also contributed in misunderstanding of the West about Islam. Why such reflection never appear before? Asians Islamic scholar because of their limitation in knowledge and also lack of legitimacy are not seen relevant to be involved in solving conflict in the Middle East for example, and this power notion also is nurtured by the West to maintain their strength in the region. The lack of legitimacy of Islam in Asia also shows in the exchange of learning in major universities in the West that are mostly dominated by Arab scholars. Many books from the Arab Islamic scholars are studied in France and the US and even translated into various languages such as Urdu, Malay, Hindi and Chinese. Many great Asian Islamic scholars and thinkers have not written any book that can be used as reference to understand Islam in Asia. The Indian Islamic scholars for example have a unique relation with the Arabs through trade, especially in Kerala or Tamil Nadu, who owes much to the Indian Ocean trade with merchants from Arabia, Persia and China. Islam and expansion of Islamic studies were introduced through trade, mix marriages and cultural exchanges. Many of these stories were documented by Western scholars during their travels across the Indian Ocean and until today we could find traces of this marvelous exchange. Another valid reason why there is less written Islamic studies such as books and literature in Asia is due to the nature of the scholars. They are mostly “travelers’ scholars” unlike in the Arab world where many of them are great writers, in established University, library and developed a volume of Islamic and political thought. Many of the Arab Islamic scholars found themselves as an Icon and references in Islamic teaching or movement throughout the world.

Looking back at Indonesia, it inability to play a meaningful role in the global Islamic world indeed raise a question mark, considering relevancy of education and unique cultural of tolerance in this country. Martin Van Bruinessen (Indonesia Rising, 2011) an anthropologist from the University of Utrecht wrote that the Arab world has shown a remarkable lack of interest in Asia in general, let alone in the social and cultural forms of Islam in Southeast Asia. Though more outward looking, other Muslim regions of Asia have not taken a serious interest in their Southeast Asian co-religionist either. Bruinnesen also said that the reluctance of Indonesian Muslim to seek the international limelight, their modesty (or lack of confidence?) and their conviction that they have more to learn from, than to teach to, others. Indonesia has produced many remarkable Muslim thinker such as Tan Malaka, Tjokroaminoto, Agus Salim, Nurcholis Majid and even the late former president of Indonesia Abdurrahman Wahid. But we haven’t seen any of their books and teachings are being translated into Arabic, French or even English. Indonesians Islamic scholars only talks among themselves and with less interest from the Arab world due to lack of international impact when it comes to Islamic thoughts, because many of the Muslim thinkers in Indonesia are activists. They have not been writing a great sensitizing work but rather numerous shorter pieces and it seems to be inherently local not something that the International Muslim scholars can learn. Therefore this lack of confidence of Muslim in Southeast Asia, in particular in Indonesia, to share their ideas and values, has also resulted in a huge impact in Western understanding about Islam.

Since the time of independence, Turkey and Indonesia faces many challenges upon their journey towards democracy and development, from secessionist movement to economic crisis but they have been showing gradual improvement by also actively solving their own internal conflict through peace dialogue, economic development through decentralization and free and fair elections. Mediation and inter-cultural, inter-faith dialogue are the most important agenda besides showing legitimacy and existence through trade in their region by also asserting and increasing their diplomatic capacity through softer approach such as cultural power, historical appreciation and education. In the realm of religion, though Indonesia face a difficult journey to rise and play a role in the global Islamic world, now it seems changing, opportunities are coming, more possibility are clear, there are crucial demands from Muslim across the globe and also Western countries for Indonesia to mediate in conflict areas especially when the conflict relats to ethnic and religious tensions. The United States for example sees Indonesia as a true partner in countering extremism and bridging the differences between Islam and the West.
Indonesian Islam is characterized by a vibrant intellectual discourse, a remarkable openness to alternative views and broad acceptance of religious pluralism. On the other side liberal and progressive trends, like the Indonesia’s Muslim feminist movement, are the most dynamics and diverse. It is also been admired elsewhere in the Muslim world for its work on building a loose coalition of women’s groups and individual activist taking up various gender related and women’s issues from grass roots to the legislative level. Unlike than in most Muslim majority countries where the Muslim feminist movement are “elite” oriented.

Turkey on the other side, seems to reduce its ties with the West as it is no longer concentrating too much to be included in the European Union, instead spreading her wings towards Asia. Some political analyst might see this as a result of a “look east” policy of Recep Tayyip Erdogan but many also believe that Turkey will never be accepted to be part of the European Union. As Angela Merkel stated Turkey is “unfit” to join the EU for many reasons. Some of the debated issues are Turkey’s failure to recognized Armenian genocide, repression of the Kurdish minority, invasion and occupation in North Cyprus back in 1974 and in general Turkey’s poor human rights record. Turkish also admitted that Turkey will never be part of the European Union because of stiff opinion and “prejudices” among the EU member states. There are many arguments over the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union including the most controversial one that came from the Dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Kishore Mahbubani. He stated that EU can’t be a role model of regional integration. The first fundamental weakness of EU is a mono-civilization entity that it has failed to extend the region to a single non-Christian country like Turkey. Mahbubani noted that model of regional cooperation within one civilization creates a huge defect in the multi civilization world. Compare to Asia for example, a regional body such as ASEAN is consisting of 10 diverse countries with different cultural, ethnic and religious background. Despite many weaknesses in Asia, its capacity to cooperate across civilization boundaries is a huge strength. Looking at this development Turkey realized her role in Asia would be more relevant rather than being part of EU. Economically while many European countries are struggling with financial crisis, Turkey is experiencing a tremendous growth of almost 8% since 2011 with unemployment rate in 2014 around 10.15%. If she keeps growing like this Turkey soon will be no longer known as a “sick man of Europe” but instead a “China of Europe”.

The idea of creation the Alliance of Civilization is again to form a path of modern Islamic civilization, embracing development and technology, increase in economic middle class among Muslim countries in Asia to be actively play a meaningful role in the global world. Turkey and Indonesia are not only counting at the measurement of economic growth and prosperity but also seeking to play role in the region as one of the most dynamic and active country. Few of many that has been pioneered through the member states of the Alliance of Civilization are the promotion of inter-cultural dialogue, peace and mediation, defusing tension between the west and the Islamic world and counter extremism and radicalization.
Hopes are high, as both countries will see a better future through emerging economics but also will face many great challenges ahead in democracy and Islam as a whole. Turkey and Indonesia realized that to develop their role in their regions they need strong alliance, unity and more cooperation with the Western world, also by creating and showing a different face of Islam. Both acknowledge that this effort is not to compete with the West but instead will create a fair balance between Islam and the West for a better future.
Chitra Ananda

References
Indonesia Rising, The Repositioning of Asia’s Third Giant (Reid, Anthony)
Imperial Legacy, The Ottoman Imprint on the Balkans and the Middle East (Brown, Carl.L)
http://www.adbi.org/event/3645.mahbubani.distinguished.speaker/
The Great Convergence, Asia, the West and the logic of one world (Mahbubani, Kishore)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_Khaldun
http://www.mfa.gov.tr/the-alliance-of-civilizations-initiative.en.mfa

Are democracies and autocracies around the world experiencing a rapprochement in terms of length of governments?

jokowi modi

Indonesian and Indian most populated democracies, Russian and Chinese widest autocracies, European and American oldest democracies: is the ‘shadow of the future’ making them more similar in terms of duration of government?

I have been working as researcher at the Carter Center in Atlanta for almost two months now, during my summer program, on issues regarding democracy in Latin America, and in specific about the electoral reforms in 11 Latin American countries. But besides Latin America other continents new experiments with democracy are also worth to be analyzed, in particular in the Asian continent. In Asia there are the two biggest democracies of the world, India and Indonesia, but also two of the three biggest countries of the planet, Russia and China. So it worth to have some periodic reflections on democracy looking not only to the so called “Western” hemisphere but also to the “Eastern” one (even if as I wrote in the page “Geographical and mental maps” all is relative and we should start to call the “emerged land surface” with different words to overcome our ethnocentrism, so let’s call them “American hemisphere” and “Asian hemisphere”).

 

To briefly analyze some recent news about the two biggest world democracies we have to say first of all that there have been elections recently in both of them. India voted between April and May this year with the largest-ever election (more than 800 million people eligible to vote with a turnout of 2/3). The first party was the Bharatiya Janata Party, the right-wing and Hindu nationalist party, social conservative and economic neoliberal, with Narendra Modi nominated as the new Prime Minister (after ten years of Manmohan Singh with the Indian National Congress, the other traditional big party in India). Indonesia few days ago, the 9th of July, went to vote for its third presidential election since the birth of democracy with the fall of Suharto in 1998. Joko Widodo, the ‘young’ ex-mayor of Jakarta, seems to have won, even if his opponent, the ex-general Prabowo Subianto, declared also victory. If the results will be confirmed in few weeks (the count is long for such a big population living in 17 thousand islands!) the Indonesian Democratic Party, the party of the ex-Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, will go back to power after ten years of government of the Democratic Party of Indonesia (with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono). So the democratic need for the turnover will be guaranteed.

 

But here more than the turnover I want to take a look at the duration of the governments in these two democracies and in general in the democracies around the world. Democratic governments have always had the problem of not enough long  policies, because of short duration of governments, or not enough efficient policies, because of the need of being reelected. But taking these two countries and many others as example it seems that all over the planet big or old democracies and big or old autocracies appear to get closer to each other with respect to the duration of their leaders (and may be not only in that). In fact if in China the president, that is also the secretary of the communist party, last 10 years, in democratic countries like India, Indonesia, but also the US and in many European countries(1), more and more in the last decades the Presidents or Prime Ministers managed to win two or three mandates, lasting also at least a decade (or 8 year in the case of the US). And after that usually there is the alternation of power with the opposite party. This might be a contingency but it could also mean that democracies and autocracies likewise might see the importance of political stability, in particular in the continuous changing world of our globalization era, knowing that to have effective policies with lasting outcomes we need more than just 4 or 5 years. Differently from each other obviously the democracies have after a period the change of the party in power while the autocracies change the person but not the party (like in China) or just shift the leadership between presidency and head of government (like in Russia). But still the similarity in a ‘stability need’ could be a real presence. Obviously in democracies you still have to respond to your constituencies but the people seem to understand this need of longer governments and seem to give a second support and chance to their leaders. The biggest risk for the democracies though, in the case when the governments manage to remain in power around a decade, is if the leaders push for indefinite reelections and so indefinite governments. In this case, in particular if there is not an efficient system of check and balances that guarantee a real democratic competition, the risk is to get closer to autocracies than remain real democracies. This is what seems to happen actually in countries like Venezuela or Nicaragua for example, that created recently the possibility of infinite reelection and don’t have a system that guarantee free and fair elections and an inclusive democratic system.

 

Let’s see what the future will bring us but for the time being this is the reflection we can do regarding the length of governments around the world. Besides the fact that Asian democracies may be new but appear already quite strong, if we consider that they seems to overcome two of the major risks of other fledgling democracies: sectarianism and totalitarianism. The first is related with the desire of mixing religion and politics, as happened in some of the Arab countries after revolutions. In this sense both India and Indonesia give some example of more maturity: India, even if has the Hindu nationalist party in power now, has no state religion and has in the constitution the division between state and religion. And Indonesia, even if is the biggest Muslim country in the world, never had the idea of Islamic parties in the government, as the constitution guarantee the freedom of religion (with six official faiths) and also the division between state and religion. The second risk, totalitarianism, starts often with the desire to mix the need for strong and stable governments with the craving for despotic or political-military leadership (like the desire of caudillismo in some Latin American countries is showing). And also here India and Indonesia have better scores, even if Indonesia still struggle on this, being Subianto an ex general. But if Jokowi will bring home the victory Indonesia will have given a good record of a quite healthy system, just 15 years since the beginning of his democratization process.

 

So for now we can say W India and Indonesia. At least their example is giving us hope for the future of democracy in the world. And may be could also help old democracies to renew their identity with new perspectives, in particular on how to deal and manage campaigns, money and media (but we will talk about this in future posts).

 

(1) Just to cite few examples: Angela Merkel is German chancellor since 2005, Silvio Berlusconi has been Italian Prime Minister since 2001 to 2011 (with an interruption between 2006 and 2008), Jacques Chirac was president of France since 1995 to 2007 and Mitterand since 1981 to 1995, Gonzalez was Spanish Prime Minister between 1982 and 1996 and Jean-Claude Juncker has been the longest-serving head of government of any European Union country, being Prime Minister of Luxembourg since 1995 to 2013.