I have completed the initial report on the future of democracy in South Asia, and submitted it to the Pardee Center. It will be reviewed by analysts and then discussed at a conference planned for the fall. Meanwhile, let me update you with highlights of the forecast. (And thank you for your earlier feedback; you are acknowledged in the report.)
I followed a four-step political risk forecasting process:
- Define baseline: What is the current state of democracy in South Asia?
- Detect first-order trends: What factors influence (drawing from theory) the strengthening of democracy in general?
- Identify certainties and uncertainties: Which of these factors are relatively certain to exist in fifty years? Which of these are uncertain?
- Construct scenarios: What are the likely combinations of the main certainties and uncertainties? What are the risks and implications?
In this post, I will highlight some aspects of the baseline that I constructed for the report. Later posts will discuss subsequent steps.
Baseline for Political Forecast
Democracy is common and understood well as a system. In the past fifty years, the common platform across South Asia has been a Westminster-style parliamentary system. Challenges to this, either presidential (in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives), or military-autocratic (Bangladesh and Pakistan), or one-party rule (India and Maldives) have been temporary, which eventually gave way. Even monarchies (Nepal and Bhutan) have begun to move toward greater parliamentary legislation.
Governance is weak; political risks are high. The violation of civil and political liberties is widespread across the region. Corruption is common: South Asian countries have consistently ranked in the bottom half in the world’s corruption indices. Insurgency is significant: Af-Pak frontiers, Kashmir, Nepal, Sri Lanka (until recently), Bangladesh’s southeast, the Indian northeast, and more than a third of the rest of India. Terrorism has increased since the late 1990s. The states of South Asia have built large security forces, which makes civilian political leadership uncomfortable.
Political organization varies greatly. Political parties are organized to varying degrees of success, and often fall prey to cults of personality. Dynastic influence is high across the region. Most political parties are run in an authoritarian fashion. Some major parties are affiliated, directly or indirectly, with armed cadres to enforce strikes and carry out political violence.
Mass support for democracy is strong. Despite weak performance, citizens across South Asia voice strong support for democracy, according to most surveys conducted in the last two decades. The most recent region-wide survey shows that South Asians overwhelmingly favor the rule of “leaders elected by the people.” It reported that “For every one South Asian response that endorses dictatorship, there are six South Asian responses that prefer democracy” (deSouza et al 2008, 86). However, South Asians want to modify their democracy with stronger leadership, greater discipline, and greater respect for traditional values. This is an important point we will come back to at the end of the forecast.
Stay tuned for the next installment: first-order trends.
Cited reference: deSouza, Peter R., Suhas Palshikar, and Yogendra Yadav. “The Democracy Barometers: Surveying South Asia.” Journal of Democracy 19/1 (January 2008): 84-96. This paper summarizes the results of a large-N survey across South Asia.