In the second half of the twentieth century, more than 60 countries moved from authoritarian to democratic or semi-democratic systems in what had come to be known as the “third wave” of democratization. In the transition period many of these democracies were facing growing challenges in establishing a secure democracy that does not let the enclaves of old authoritarian regimes to pose any threat to toppling the democratic system. To strengthening democratic sustainability, political scientists have come with a new term called “democratic consolidation”.
Democratic consolidation can be defined as a process to securing new established democracies and to make them protected against threats pose by authoritarian regression. For a democracy to be consolidated, new democratic systems should work on gaining popular legitimization, dispersal of democratic values, neutralization of anti-system actors, civilian supremacy over the military, elimination of authoritarian enclaves, building pluralism, stabilization of electoral rules, routinization of politics, decentralization, judicial reform, alleviation of poverty and economic stabilization.
Before talking about consolidation, a democratic system must be in place. Scholars categorize the political systems into four, all the nondemocratic systems considered authoritarian regimes and the three others are democracies: electoral democracy, there is fair and competitive elections but lack liberal components such as individual freedom, liberal democracy and advanced democracy. Andreas Schedler introduces a theory of how those democracies can be consolidated, gradually. Schedler states electoral democracies should mainly focus on avoiding system breakdown then should work on completing the other elements of democracy to become a liberal one. Later liberal democracy should prevent democratic erosion so not to lose the liberal components and finally deepening it to become an advanced democracy.
The consolidation process faces two major obstacles that are posed by internal conflicts in the multiethnic countries and weak economic performance that may lead to popular disappointment of the system. Since democracy supports building nation-states, multi-ethnicity in various countries stance as a major obstacle that the only choice here would be voluntary cultural assimilation, either voluntary exit or voluntary acceptance of territorial boundaries. In the multiethnic states, the government must work on equal citizenship for all and creation of multiple identities rather than one.
The judiciary system can be also considered on of the major elements of liberal democracy that can hugely contribute to strengthening democratic and liberal values. The problem with many of the judicial systems in the new democracies is that they are the type of judiciary system that called jurisprudence executive supremacy, which is state-centered. While in the advanced democracies, there is jurisprudence constitutionalism that is more individual-oriented and sticks more to the constitution than the common laws.
Consolidation is a contested concept; many scholars believe that the term is not an appropriate one to be used with democracy; Guillermo O’Donnell is one of them. O’Donnell argues that there is little analytical gain in attaching the term consolidated to something that will probably though not certainly endure therefore democracy and consolidation are terms too polysomic to make a good pair. He also argues that supporters of consolidation prevent us from seeing an informal institution: clientelism or particularism, which is an informal institution that scholars of consolidation do not touch.
To sum up, democratic consolidation is a systematic process to move beyond democratic fragility and reach the goal of democratic continuity. I believe supporters of democratic consolidation have valid points, but those who believe otherwise have also some points that should be taken into consideration since the concept, consolidation is a changing term.
* This mini-essay written in early November 2013 as part of my weekly assignments at the University of Kurdistan Hewler.