Newly founded democracies face many challenges. It is unreasonable to think that a democratic institution, such as the one found in the United States, could promptly and smoothly be implemented in another country. After all, the United States has taken over 200 years to develop and consolidate its government. All countries that now have deep democratic roots have gone through many hardships over the years. Just as Rome was not built in a day, neither was democracy. The tough times that those countries have gone through are currently being experienced by new democracies.
Linz and Stepan describe three minimal characteristics for democracy to exist. They say there must first be a defined state, a democratic transition, and dignified leaders (Linz and Stephan 1996, 14-15). Many young democratic regimes have problems fulfilling even these most fundamental requirements for democracy. Without defined borders and boundaries of the state, it is not possible to enforce legitimate rule. The inhabitants of the country do not have a sense that they are enclosed in and belong to a nation, thus they are not obliged to abide by those at rule. Also, the government cannot know who is included in the nation in order to serve and protect them. A democratic transition is needed to implement free, fair, and competitive elections (Linz and Stephan 1996, 15). New democracies usually do not have problems implementing elections, but do often have trouble making sure they are clean elections. Lastly, even if fair elections are implemented, those who are being elected must be honest and working towards the good of the people. All too often in democratizing countries, the people who are elected will violate the constitutions set before them, neglecting individuals, and thus in actuality not enforcing democracy.
Aside from the minimal values needed for democracy, those democracies should then want to consolidate, or better organize and improve their conditions. A democracy can be considered consolidated only if it behaviorally, attitudinally, and constitutionally becomes the “only game in town” (Linz and Stephan 1996, 15). New democracies often have trouble meeting these three criteria. When they do not have the support of their people, they neither behaviorally nor attitudinally can become the only game in town. When the leaders do not follow the constitution and established rules, it also makes it impossible for democracy to become consolidated.
It can be difficult for young democracies to gain the support of their peoples, for various reasons. One of the biggest reasons is because democracy itself does not fix economic and social problems (Carothers 2004, 25-26). Democracy simply provides political values, choices, and processes. It is up to those in charge to improve life for their peoples. The implementation of democracy typically entails an economic downswing. During this time, it can be difficult for a new democracy to keep the support of its people. It is only human nature to want to immediate gratification as a result of the switch to democracy. Economic crisis can lead to political instability. In the long run, the economy will straighten out, but it is difficult for the people to keep faith in democracy during early growing pains. Authoritarian rule on the other hand is typically effective at increasing economic development (Carothers 2004, 26). Over the long run, the peoples will suffer in almost all aspects of life, but in the short term they may favor authoritarian rule simply for the economic benefits. This makes it difficult for previously authoritarian countries to implement democracy.
Another difficulty in gaining the support of the people is when a country is socially divided (Zakaria 1997, 14). Many times a country will be comprised of ethnic groups with different values and interests. This creates conflict when implementing democracy because people will instinctly be in disagreement about values the government preaches. This leads to unjust officials that run for leadership roles on the behalf of their respective ethnic groups, rather than for the country itself. Violence is often the result of this competition for power. Zakaria mentions that two scholars in the 1960’s concluded that democracy “is simply not viable in an environment of intense ethnic preferences” (Zakaria 1997, 15). This problem has been evidenced in the case of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, where a split of countries was inevitable.
Even when civil and political society are organized and in harmony, there is still the lingering problem of possible unjust leaders (Ottaway 2003, 28). These new democracies are actually semi-authoritarian in nature. The elected officials will campaign saying they are for the people, but then abuse their power. Often former communist or authoritarian leaders are the ones running for the new “democratic” offices, but their techniques of ruling do not change. Those leaders are also pretty much guaranteed to stay in office, because although multiparty elections are run, the same party wins every election. This façade built around “free” elections, makes it seem like democracy is in place when it really is not.
Once all those previous factors are addressed, there is still the problem of simply maintaining a high level of democracy (Schedler 1998, 91). It is said that sustaining democracy is just as hard as establishing it. After democracy is set up, there must be a sense of urge to keep it in place. Democracy can be undermined by small groups of people, such as guerrillas, violent street protestors, and corrupt officials (Schedler 1998, 95-96). It is necessary for young democracies to stay on top of these possibly troublesome peoples to prevent a breakdown of all that has been accomplished. These peoples’ negative views can be swayed in a positive direction if the country is succeeding. Economic progress and political stability will typically lead towards nation and state building, and ultimately, the legitimacy of democracy among the peoples (Schedler 1998, 100-101). This task of consolidating democracy is much easier said than done and is a continual process, even for established democracies.
Overall, trying to establish democracy in often former authoritarian and communist states is a very daunting task. There are overwhelming odds against these new regimes. The former governments must typically be uprooted and started anew, which usually brings a time of despair and uncertainty among the peoples. This critical time in the birth of a democracy can be an indicator of how successful it will become. Simply implementing democracy is not enough; there must be a common mindset between a majority of the people that want democracy to succeed. The building of democracy must be a joined effort, and all too often the movement does not come to fabrication.