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21/09/2015 07:56 BST | Updated 20/09/2016 06:12 BST

'Democratic Transitions' - Conversations With World Leaders

Democratic Transitions-Conversations with World Leaders

Abraham F. Lowenthal

Sergio Bitar

Book Review:

Dethroning dictators is only a first step in a much longer path toward making real change asserts former Tunisian President, Mohamed Moncef Marzouki, in his forward to the book.

Political leaders who played key roles in transitions to democratic governance reveal how these were accomplished in Brazil, Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, and Spain. It is an ambitious project which was commissioned by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. (IDEA)

In probing conversations with, Fernando Henrique Cardoso,Jerry Rawlings, Fidel V. Ramos, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, F. W. de Klerk, Thabo Mbeki, and others the editors focused on the obstacles each leader faced and their strategies to achieve their goals of ending authoritarian rule.

In this monumental book, we find context-setting contributor introductions by country experts who highlight each nation's unique experience as well as recurrent challenges all transitions face.

The interviews are the heart of the book. There are common themes that apply to all the examples but it is important to note that there is no "one-size fits all."

The experience of Poland is different from that of South Africa and the processes that took place in Chile are not the same as those in Ghana.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso (President of Brazil 1995-2003) noted that the transition would not take place via frontal assault on the regime's fortress but by laying siege to it. He spoke of building a coalition and a consensus for change, and to defeat the authoritarian system from within whilst making sure the armed forces are under civilian control. Following from this, are constitutional reforms, and social mobilisation. Such themes are common to most countries.

As for Chile a country that successfully introduced democracy after 25 years of Pinochet's brutal rule, tensions continued regarding the issue of human rights until the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The interview with Patricio Aylwin (President of Chile 1990-94) emphasizes the importance of working in teams and forging good human relationships, building trust among the opposition and building a coalition.

In Poland the transition from authoritarian communism to free market democracy was long, arduous, complex and gradual. In his interview with Bitar and Lowenthal, Aleksander Kwasniewski: (President of Poland 1995-2005) said: "You should have a strategy and a vision. The vision should be freedom, democracy, social justice and the rule of law".

Some 5 years ago the so-called Arab Spring erupted. There was euphoria, challenges, then failures, blood baths and refugees. Here, there are echoes of Koert Debeuf's book "Inside the Arab Revolution" which analyses the challenges, frustrations and failure of the Arab spring.

Bitar and Lowenthal stress that democracy cannot be imposed from outside. You must have strategic actors in the inside.

Lessons which are common to most countries seeking democracy include the need to move incrementally, build a hopeful vision by focusing on important issues and solutions. An essential component of the democratic process is the creation of political parties and linking them to social movements. Issues such as transitional justice, truth and reconciliation, role of women and mobilisation of social movements are essential for ending authoritarian regimes.

Chapter 10 by Georgina Waylen focuses on women activists in democratic transitions.

Some might find the book 'heavy reading' in that it requires a lot of concentration. Having said that it is a worthwhile, rewarding read and a treasure of rare and fascinating information. It will be valuable for political leaders, civil society activists, journalists, scholars, and all who want to support democratic transitions.

468 Pages. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press

Sergio Bitar, is president of Chile's Foundation for Democracy.

Abraham F. Lowenthal, is Professor emeritus of the University of Southern California.

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