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.


Leaders also for democracies: an analysis of Dean Williams’ concept of ‘real leadership’


What is leadership? If you look up in a dictionary, you will find that the first meaning is simply “the action of leading a group of people or an organization”. Then you will have explanation of different styles, synonyms, derivatives, etc. But this is the core meaning according to the common knowledge. In reality leadership is much more than that. There are many forms, shades and styles of leadership: from the most evil to the most noble. The differences often depend on who is making the measurement and when the measurement is made. There was a time when the vast majority of the German people believed Hitler was their great leader and there was a time when the Western world shunned Mandela. So the identification of leaders, both in autocracies and democracies, is relative to time and space. But in the general terms of today, leadership is often measured by its success in ‘improving the condition of its adherents’. This is what leadership can be considered nowadays. However, to go deeper in the analysis of what leadership entails, I will take into account the definition of two types of leadership given by Dr. Dean Williams, Professor at Harvard University: “real Leadership” and “counterfeit Leadership”(1) . The ‘real leadership’ is the leadership that is based on facing the challenges lived by a group of people, be it a family, a club, a company, a village or a nation, in an efficient and effective manner. The “counterfeit leadership” is when the leader just try to sidestep the sometimes harsh truth of reality to make his success easier. So a ‘real leader’ is not one who says “follow me and all shall be well”, but one who first of all inform the members of the group that they are facing a certain ‘challenge’ that needs to be addressed. The challenge of maintaining the sustainability of the success achieved or the challenge of find the success that the group is not able to achieve yet; the challenge of facing a critical condition that risks destroying the group or the challenge that has already destroyed or weakened the group who now needs now to revive; the challenge of facing disturbances from internal or external elements or the challenge to rebuild the group after a manmade or natural disaster. Adopting this “reality challenges” is the first step that the leader can help to do. After that it is easier to determine who to follow and how to lead when an occasion calls on to do so.



There is a of course a flow in considering the success of a leadership often merely in term of achieving economic development for a community. Take Singapore for example, the pet case of Dean Williams. He points out that Lee Kuan Yew, long time Prime Minister of Singapore, has brought his country from a “third world” status into one of the most prosperous “first world” nations. Therefore this is his main success and he had to be a great visionary to do so, someone who had been thinking of the future of his people long before he got into power. But is it really so? Is it just about economic development the real leadership? Or in reality was Lee Kuan Yew able to shift the values, habits and practices of his people? We have to analyze history and geography to understand better. Most countries in Southeast Asia gained their independence after  World War II and of course their memory, their ‘geography of pain’, was about colonization, oppression and deprivation. Autocratic leaders in this region were the product of post colonization: Soekarno, General Aung San, Ho Chi Minh and many others of their contemporaries. So the leaders during that era had been shaped by their vision of independence, the pride of nationhood for their people and their strong ideology. Most of these leaders were great achievers, even if often they were not equipped to maintain their achievements, but became great leaders because all of them had given back the pride to their countries. So in the case of Singapore we can say that Lee Kuan Yew attained the title “father of the nation”, not only because he had achieved great economic benefits for his people, but also for building the overseas pride of Chinese in Singapore, who were once regarded as second class migrant citizens no matter how rich they had become. But besides this, leaders, as every human being, have phases and times: to stay great they have to know how long they should stay in power and when to step down. Williams names this capacity as ‘adaptive leadership’, that is a required quality for a ‘real leader’ as he plays the role of providing checks and balances in maintaining power. Lee Kuan Yew for example stepped down at the right time and this also made him a real leader. All the real leaders with such clear view in the “driving seat”, like him or Deng Xiaoping (Lee Kuan Yew had been a mentor to Deng, who later modernized China and turned it into what is today not by chance) can only lead in a particular phase and time frame: they are not supermen who can stay in power forever. Other younger leaders who are more in tune with the current reality and the conditions of the new situation have to be allowed to take over and leaders who failed to do this are not ‘real leaders’, and will definitely succumb to failure, being relegated from “hero” to “villain”, like Mugabe and Soeharto, or Mubarak and Gheddafi.



So to conclude the point to make in understanding “Real” and “Counterfeit” leadership, in the terms of Dr. Williams, is the need to have a guidance, when one is called to make a crucial decision, based on informed challenges. And this happens in both autocracies and democracies. Take the example of Berlusconi and Renzi in Italy. The first ruled the country for many years saying that there were no problems, he didn’t see any economic crisis, never, and he just kept selling the dream of the “Neverland” to dumb Italians that didn’t want to hear about any problem. The second, a mayor of a town in constant troubles like Florence, said on the opposite: “either we change Italy and we go out of the crisis or is our end”. He pushed for the institutional reforms and the change of mentality of Italians, saying that they had to start to pay taxes and stop corruption, fight for meritocracy and not for keeping the positions of power by the elders, and work on their values and faith for their future and not playing ‘poor me’ in front of the challenges. This is a clear example of real versus counterfeit leadership. Or take the current presidential candidates for next week elections in Indonesia, one of the largest democracy in the world. The two contestants are excellent example of opposite leadership styles too: one, Prabowo Subianto, has born in a family of traditional leaders and was raised to be a leader; the other, Joko Widodo, is a grassroots leader. The first says on every occasion: “follow me, I will save this country and lead it to prosperity”, without specifying what is the danger that the country is facing and how he wants to save it. His sale pitch is: “trust me, I know how to do this”. The other instead tells the people what exactly is wrong with the country, what the problems are and how serious they are, and the need for the people to work hard to solve them.


So applying the ‘Real’ and ‘Counterfeit’ guidance of Dr Williams it becomes easy to determine, which one is the real leader and which is the fake one. And this guidance is applicable also in everyday life, whether one is a leader or a follower. One faces leadership challenges constantly as an ordinary person: how to lead one’s family without resorting to threat and force that makes everyone unhappy, how to make a rebellious son or daughter sees the logic of learning from older people who has faced similar situation etc. Leadership is always about facing challenges to achieve progress. And the first thing to do in order to face them is to know them. This is one of the most powerful truisms to behold.

(1) Dean Williams, Real Leadership: Helping People and Organizations Face Their Toughest Challenges (Berrett-Koehler, 2005)

Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight

The blog of a friend, ODU alumni, Will Patterson

Good Will Blogging

Before I get into the heart of this post I want to make one thing clear.  I’m not opposed to gun ownership.  I’m in favor of certain gun controls, which I’ll mention later, but I am against outright bans.  I’m also opposed to bad arguments, and there are many used by pro-gun advocates.  One of these arguments that I hear frequently is that if guns were unavailable, or harder to access, it would just mean that another type of weapon would be used which would be equally deadly.  Usually knives or clubs are mentioned.

The common phrase of “bringing a knife to a gun fight” points to the lie in this claim.  It’s so obvious that a firearm is a superior weapon to a knife that it has become an idiom!  Another way to easily demonstrate the disingenuousness of this claim is to simply say to the person making it…

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The migrant children of the “global south”: citizens of nowhere

which way home

Abandoned by their families, because they left already for the US or because they don’t have enough money to support them, or abandoned by their states, who leave them in poverty and in the insecurity of criminality, the children of Latin America, like the children of the other continents of the so called “global south,” have been forgotten for long time. Sometimes they get to the news because of some NGOs reporting the level of human poverty among them, or because of some international event, like the World Cup in Brazil, exposing the prostitution and the drug-addiction to which they are relegated. But for the most part they are the forgotten citizens of our modern world. They don’t have voice, no right to vote, no income or revenue, no tax payment and no possibility to defend themselves from the violence and the power of the adults. Pedophilia, increased since some decades also through globalization, is not only a phenomenon of the Catholic Church, it is a symbol of the defenselessness and the violence in which the children, in particular of the “global south”, are living in our modern times.
This violence and insecurity of young ages is an emblem of our modern global inequality and discrimination, because when there is exploitation by the powerful to the powerless the first to be caught in the net are the most powerless among the powerless, not only and probably not so much women and elderly today, but more and more the children. Either as soldiers, prostitutes, workers or street beggars the children of the poor countries of the world are living aberrant lives. Lives of animals, not human beings. While they should be our most precious human beings, they are abandoned by our societies, which are too busy to deal with the patriarchal values of power and money to think about protection of the vulnerables.


The children of Central American poor countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, are arriving to the border of the US in thousands recently. In the past years many of them were caught at the border with Mexico, or inside the Mexican state, but with Mexico struggling more and more with drug war nowadays the children have more possibilities now to reach the US using the famous “death trains”.  Recently John Kerry said that the US feel co-responsible of the poverty and insecurity that the children in Central America are living and that force them to leave towards the north. Since last October over 47,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the border into the US, suffering from mistreatment and mental health issues before to be send back to their countries to live again the same miserable lives and waiting to escape again. This rising in numbers respect to former years is caused also by the long term rumors that the future Obama immigration policy would have allowed sooner or later the unauthorized migrants to be regularized in the US, in particular the children. But one year after the US Senate passed the bipartisan comprehensive reform bill today the House of Congress, dominated by Republican party, doesn’t seem interested in approving the bill (see on this the article on CNN, with also an interesting documentary: )


After the increasing of these numbers in the last period may be the US Congress will start to talk about this issue again or may be the US government will start to think about how to help to change the situation from where these children escape and do something  regarding the drug wars, the criminality and the poverty in those countries in the American backyard. But citizenship remains the fundamental discriminatory tool of our modern times of the North versus the South, not only in the Western Hemisphere. Migrations have always existed but only after decolonization rich states started to defend their borders with more stricter rules, afraid of the invasion of the poor people. But migration are natural movements of humankind and cannot be stopped. Besides this, the modern migrations are caused by the conflicts and suffering lived by the poor countries, facilitated, if not produced, by the rich countries. So it is time to think differently, with new perspectives and more just global policies, if we want to address this problem not with fortresses but with bridges, this is also democracy. We need to review the concept of citizenship as we are building a planetary human being that at the same time is often not considered a citizen of a country. We need to look at human citizenship more then state citizenship for our future democracies. This not only in the US but also in Europe, where after the deaths of so many people, including children, in the Mediterranean Sea during last years, may be Europe will start to think on how to deal with the conflicts, the poverty and the insecurity of the populations of North Africa and Middle East. We need to help those countries to overcome poverty and insecurity but at the same time we need to build real policies for asylum seekers instead of thinking on how to defend ourselves from the ‘barbaric invasions’. We have to stop to accept the illegal immigration as useful to our economic interests because undocumented immigrant cannot be protected by the labor laws.
The only hope we have is that our leaders will start to think more wisely, with longer vision strategies for the international migrations in particular of the youth from the “global south”. Because a democracy that doesn’t consider citizens its immigrants just because they are undocumented is not a real democracy, as the power is not anymore ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. And a society that abandon its children is not an healthy society but a society that seeds its own devastation. And a civilization that steel the childhood to its children is not a long lasting civilization but a civilization that seeds its own decline. So if we don’t want to see enormous and increasing problems and suffering in our planetary future we need to act in the right direction and act quickly. To think to our future generations means to think to our children today. To their education, empowerment and realization. There is no more urgent issue, neither climate change or terrorism, that is more imperative than build a good and dignified life for our youth in this world. Otherwise the sufferings of today will become the hell of tomorrow. There is no space for indifference: ‘I care’ not ‘mind your business’ has to be the motto of the policies in our Western countries. Like Niemoller taught us during Nazism, if we don’t care today there will be nobody, tomorrow, to take care about us. And if we don’t care about our children today, there will be no adult children tomorrow, to take care about humankind.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
(Marin Niemoller)


Recent Data on the issue:

Documentary “Which way home” (it shows how Central American children use the “death trains” in long exhausting trips to reach the ‘paradise’ of the north) :


From a ‘democratic Florentine’ a question on the state of democracy in the “West “

Today I want to remember an historic figure to who I look up to as a champion of democracy and humanism, another ‘democratic Florentine’ who emigrated, like me, from Florence to Virginia at his middle age, in order to reflect on the state of democracy in the US and the Western world nowadays.
Filippo Mazzei born near Florence the 25 of December 1730 and died in Pisa the 19 of March 1816, but he didn’t spend all his life in Tuscany. He was an Enlightenment thinker and a philanthropist who after many years abroad, as a physician in the Middle East and a businessman in the UK, at the age of 43 moved to Virginia and became a close friend of Tomas Jefferson. He bought an estate near Monticello and named it Colle, “Hill”, as it remembered him his dear hills of Tuscany. There he cultivated oil, wine and other Tuscan products but he also started to ‘cultivate his spirit’, influencing the spirit of Jefferson too and at the same time the spirit of his old fellow citizens in Florence and his new fellow citizens in Charlottesville. He started to write for a Florentine and a Virginian Gazette about the new values of freedom and democracy that were generating in the British Colonies, with him as an active contributor to that ‘new humanism’.
It is known that Mazzei influenced the future President Thomas Jefferson in the draft of the Declaration of Independence and in shaping some principles of the new Constitution. As some letters to Jefferson conserved in the Archives of Monticello show and also President JFK remembered (Kennedy, John F. A Nation of Immigrants, pp. 15-16) he played a role in shaping the American democratic values with his knowledge of tolerance, freedom and respect of diversity. Besides this fundamental contribution he also spread and publicized the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution in Europe (with translations and presentations) becoming one of the most famous Italo-american patriot. In 1779 he went to Florence and Paris, where for some years he worked as a secret diplomatic agent to purchase arms for the state of Virginia and in 1785 he left Virginia for good, going to France, where he participated to the fervors of the French Revolution and also to Poland, where he became a privy councilor at the court of King Stanislaus II. He wrote a political history of the American Revolution, the “Recherches historiques et politiques sur les Etats-Unis de l’Amerique septentrionale”, and at the end of the century he returned to his country, where he went back to cultivate the land in Tuscany, this time in a small vegetable garden, and write his memories.

Mazzei is remembered as an Italo-American patriot and a fighter for democracy and tolerance wherever he went. This ‘cultural mediator’ had the lucky and the leadership talent to become an active participant to the main political events of the end of XVIII century that would have shape the future of democracy and of the western world as we know it today. But in his memory, and in the memory of all who participated to the building of those ideals it worth to ask today how is the health of those high human democratic principles, both in the US and in general in the Western world: do we currently follow and put in practice those canons of civil life and citizen empowerment today? Or it is needed to go back to those values that shaped American and French constitutions in this period of our history as the Renaissance did with the Roman classics times in order to come out from Middle Age? I think that to help our ‘mature democracies’ to overcome current critical moments we really need to return to the core of the values of democracy, freedom and tolerance, more than two centuries after the draft of those enlightened texts and see how to improve their application. Some scholars in the US, from both left and right political spectrum, are actually calling since some years for a Second Constitutional Convention towards a substantive effort to reform politics in this country. I don’t know if this is what the US need to do right now but for sure the US and the West in general have to reflect on the challenges that its democracies are living today.

Democratic transitions are never fast. The American democracy for example took almost 100 years before the values of the American Constitution would start to be applied to everyone with the abolition of slavery and political equality for African-Americans took another hundred years (with the Civil Rights Act). And a real economic equality still has to happen in our countries, actually today we are experiencing a trend of reduction of it with an increasing gap between rich and poor in the US as well as in other Western democracies. So democracies can also draw back and regress, as the challenges of our ‘mature democracies’ today demonstrates. The rights of freedom, equality and justice are threatened nowadays in the US (from the NSA surveillance to the Guantanamo prison to the block to immigration reforms by the polarized political parties) as well as in Europe (look for example at the citizens exclusion from the decision making on austerity politics that are destroying the economies and the social fabric of countries like Italy, Spain or Greece). So democracy today need to reflect on a more direct participation of the citizens in the Res-publica, the “public thing”, and even if participatory democracy seems a ‘natural law’ of the politics in the future, the path to go towards more grassroots and individual participation without falling in populism or inefficiency seems still long and full of obstacles. We know that democracy is a never ending process, and even if political parties corruption, crony capitalism or economic inequality are often blocking the path of world communities towards better life and more just societies, we also see improvements in the transparency of information and the empowerment of civil society actions.


So from the Virginian motto Sic semper tyrannis come to us today a call, a call for a step forward on the path of democracy, not only to fight against the tyrants but to fight in favor of the citizens, toward a tipping point in which empowered citizens can participate in the construction of better political and social systems in their country, from the West to the East, from the North to the South. Remembering how Filippo Mazzei did, with his Florentine spirit of Enlightenment and his planetary attitude of Humanism.

For an interesting analysis on current democracies around the world:

An unfamiliar political geography of a 'democratic and modern' world from the perspective of a Florentine man living in Virginia