Democratic Transitions and Political Elites
Nancy Bermeo (1997) explored the issue of democratization and the difficult transitions undergone by political systems previously controlled by authoritarian regimes. In Bermeo’s article, she highlighted the importance of the choices, compromises, and the decisions made by the political elites in political systems. Particularly, she explored ways through which these political elites may be led to accept democracy instead of any other kind of political system available.
Bermeo’s paper looked at the period of transition that starts from the moment that the dictatorship of a country is toppled down until the first national free elections are held successfully. Particularly, she focuses on what she called the moderation argument, which posits that radical organizations enjoying the popular support of the people in the country may threaten the transition of the country to democracy if they cannot moderate these demands when by the time that the political elite make the important choices that will determine the direction of the political system of the country under consideration. She explored several examples from Iberia, Latin America and Asia.
Her discourse explores the nature of popular political organization in countries where dictatorship used to hold sway. She noted that most literature in the field emphasize the role of political elites and discount the role of political organizations. She also noticed the confusion in the usage of political organizations and their role in the democratic transitions. Some authors have argued that only if popular mobilizations have succeeded in the country will the democratic transition gain the much needed momentum to succeed. Nonetheless, there are two arguments that make up the moderation argument that Bermeo is criticizing: this argument says that the democratic transition is undermined if there is too much mobilization of people and if there is too much pressure from below.
By providing examples from the political experiences of countries in Latin America and Asia, she demolished this argument. In the first place, it is the participation of people who are considered those who are below that makes democracy a form of governance by the people. Yet, those authors and theorists who espouse the moderation theory argue for greater participation and better set of choices for political elite instead of amassing popular support from the grassroots.
Bermeo cited the experience of third world countries that were put under the control of dictatorships and the way that they protected their own interests even in the face of choosing between their interests and the public goods. She also recognizes the difficulties in which the pressure from below and the movement from the grassroots can be institutionalized for the purpose of stabilizing the political and social system. She also concedes that there are instances where such kind of pressures and mobilizations may not work.
Yet, she goes back to the bases of democracy and argues for the role of the populace in deciding about their political system since they will be the ones that will be affected greatly by these choices. The arguments of Bermeo were made largely for developing countries. In addition to this, she does not explore fully well the situations in which the dictatorships appear to be well accepted by people. She also does not trace the process of consolidation of the power of those who seized the reins of power from the dictatorship regime. Nonetheless, her counter-arguments to the moderation argument help shed light on the process of democratization and transition.
Bermeo, N. (1997). Myths of Moderation: Confrontation and Conflict during Democratic Transitions. Comparative Politics 29(3), 305-322