Faculty Advisory Committee Meeting
March 5, 2003


Theme: Comparative Democratic Institutions

The Seminar was co-chaired by Dr. Robert A. Paster, Director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management, and Dean William LeoGrande. Several AU faculty attended including Professor Emeritus Richard Smolka, Professors Jeffrey Reiman, Peter Lewis, and Robert Kramer.

Professor Peter Lewis delivered a presentation on the drawbacks on an emerging body of literature on comparative democratic institutions that attempted to make general conclusions about which types of institutions where most appropriate for countries at different stages of democratic development. The fundamental problem with these efforts was that the determinant of democratic success was often not the institutions themselves but whether the institutions met public expectations. As public expectations were shaped by the specificity of national experiences, it was therefore unhelpful to surmise that one institutional model could be duplicated and implemented in another country. To better ensure the satisfaction of public expectations, it was important to ensure that the constitutional drafting procedures were inclusive and transparent during the transition to democracy. An open constitutional process helped to explain why South Africa's transition was successful and Nigeria's unsuccessful.

Other factors that need to be taken into account to satisfy public expectations were an appropriate degree of centralization, the type of electoral system and party system. In making these decisions, it was important to ensure that the new institutions reflected a reasonable balance between the major groups of a country while also securing the protection of minority rights. In new or post-conflict democratic institutions, it was vital that a new institutional frameworks permit democratic competition, avoid the use past structures that may have been responsible for conflict while at the same time incorporate any structures that retain public confidence.

The discussion covered a broad range of issues beginning with the question of when a country is "ready" for democracy and whether a checklist of technical and social standards such as independent judiciary, electoral commission, freedom of the press and the freedom of speech could be reasonable test. According to Lewis, it was difficult to determine a minimum threshold for democracy. A recent study of 60 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) illustrated that not all of these conditions necessarily had to be met for democracy to succeed. Another problem with using such a checklist was that undemocratic regimes could misuse it to delay and prolong the transition to democracy. Lewis suggested that the most basic requirement for democracy was a common public stake that was most often realized through the existence of a market economy.

One participant raised the question of whether new democracies should continue to rely heavily on the assistance of outside experts. Lewis acknowledged that continued outside assistance was vital for the success of democracy, it was necessary to avoid the advice of those who advocated the duplication of another institution model without giving due consideration for domestic expectations.

The discussion also focused on the problem of corruption and how it undercuts even the most well constructed institutions. To address the challenge of corruption, Lewis suggested that it was necessary to implement a culture of voluntary self-restraint among public officials as well as measures to forcibly sanction acts of corruption. Dr. Pastor noted while there has been a great deal of attention focused on the corruption problems in transition democracies, it was necessary to take into account that corruption had fallen in those countries since the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.

Dr. Pastor concluded the meeting with a summary of the discussion and thanked the participants for their attendance.