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DavidV

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In most of Eastern Europe and Latin America, the democratisation process (or rather re-democratisation) had been orderly and peaceful, although the success of those transitions remains uneven. On the other hand, in post-colonial Africa, there was much talk at the end of the Cold War of a "second liberation" which would bring a new era of multiparty democracy. As I mentioned in my thread on Central African Republic, the results of this have been mixed. Some ostensibly successful transitions were thwarted, yet others have either been seen as merely a cosmetic or nominal embrace of pluralism while the same regime remains in power. And yet more have had civil wars only after which some kind of pluralism emerges. Of course, I can comment on the failures of authoritarian republics of which there are many types in terms of their structures and style of government, and lessons to be learned below.

In that category, of course, are two countries whose transitions to multiparty democracy is unfinished. These being Guinea and Mauritania, both of whom are currently in crisis mode because of repeatedly delayed parliamentary elections.

Guinea was the first French colony in Africa to choose full independence in 1960. Sekou Toure famously said "we prefer freedom in poverty to riches in slavery". Could this be further from the truth? Toure's regime was one of the most radical and brutal in post-colonial Africa, not least its Camp Boiro detention centre, killing tends of thousands and driving out many more from the country. His foreign policy was likewise unpredictable as he seemingly bounced between the superpowers throughout his rule, and only food aid prevented starvation. When he died in a Cleveland hospital in 1984, it was followed by a military coup that brought Lansana Conte to power. The coup was welcomed as Conte promised liberalisation, and his regime was certainly far milder than Toure's. In 1993, a presidential election was finally held and Conte won just over 51%, with Alpha Conde as runner-up. Over the next decade, elections were held with questionable fairness as he kept hold of power, but speculation mounted through the 2000s as his health declined.

And so, when Conte died in December 2008, yet another military coup took place. The junta made promises of democratisation, amidst chaos and changes in leadership. After all this, finally a presidential election was held in 2010 - the first truly democratic election in Guinea's history. In it, four former prime ministers under the Conte regime were among the many contested, along with veteran opposition leaders like Conde. So the second round saw Alpha Conde and ex-PM Cellou Dalein Diallo contest, which Conde won by a fairly narrow margin. While it could be rightly hailed as the start of a new era and high hopes abounded, nearly two-and-a-half years in, Guinea is facing an impasse.

The last parliament was elected in 2002 under Lansana Conte and was dissolved in the 2008 coup. Parliamentary elections have been repeatedly postponed, much to the dismay of opposition parties. Ironically, Guinea's first democratically-elected president is now facing much opposition over the postponement of those elections. Finally, the elections are scheduled for June, but the opposition is not happy and protests have continued.

My question about the postponements is, what reason could it be: the necessity of preparing for these elections so they can be as free and fair as possible? Some fear there are plans to rig them. I'm not so sure. It is true that regardless of when these elections are held, it is distinctly unlikely that it would result in a parliament loyal to President Conde. Surely it would be easy to just hold them, allow international observers and journalists to do their job, allow all parties to take part, and be done with it.

Similarly in Mauritania, the process remains incomplete. From independence in 1960, the one-party state of Moktar Ould Dadah was overthrown in 1978, and a succession of coups followed before Sidi Ahmed Taya took power in 1984, and by the early 90s a nominal adoption of a multiparty system took place. Typically, allegations of rigging and boycotts followed and Taya was overthrown in 2005. The parliamentary election in 2006 and presidential election in 2007 heralded a new era and Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi was elected. He fell out with parliament, and a coup took place in 2008 that was widely condemned. In 2009, the coup leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was elected, having long been alleged to be the real power in the country. Among his opponents include Ahmed Ould Dadah, half-brother of Mauritania's first president and leader of the liberal opposition forces.

As in Guinea, the next parliamentary elections have been repeatedly postponed. Currently the assembly is dominated by a loyalists of President Abdel Aziz and there is no date set for the next election.

The incomplete transitions of Guinea and Mauritania illustrate the difficulties of transitioning from an authoritarian republic. Sure enough democratic transitions in most places have been orderly. Authoritarian republics are the most dangerous form of government to exist, to its own rulers and to the people, since there are none of the virtues that monarchy and democracy offer - none of the choice, certainty or clarity of matters. This is amply demonstrated in Guinea, where neither Sekou Toure nor Lansana Conte could find an heir capable of continuing the regime. Furthermore, in regimes that are explicitly based on an ideology, ideological purity becomes an issue. This will become an issue in Venezuela though while the Chavez socialist project is likely doomed, Chavismo may not be otherwise it too will fragment. Similarly Egypt demonstrates the problem of ideological purity and of succession - and Gamal Mubarak was clearly unacceptable to the military establishment.

Even in a non-democratic monarchy, there is far greater scope to accommodate popular demands, and elements of democratic participation can be introduced even without full democratisation, but making such a transition much easier. Constitutional monarchy offers vastly greater flexibility than any republican system can. We can see that Egypt, Tunisia and Libya fall into the "unfinished transition" category. In post-colonial Africa, not only do traditional monarchies work at a sub-national level, but traditional pre-colonial elites do remain a significant component in society and continue to do so.

To be able to formulate stronger arguments in our favour, it is necessary to study not just political systems but also party dynamics and elite dynamics and composition.
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