Sadly, despite Iraq, despite China, despite the Arab uprisings, despite South Sudan, discussion about democracy has barely move in recent years. On March 11th my colleague Nik Gowing is chairing a BBC-Intelligence Squared debate in London One size doesn’t fit all; Democracy isn’t always the best form of government. Three years ago, just as Egypt was erupting, I took part in a similar debate with Intelligence Squared in Hong Kong. Even though much has unfolded in between, the promotional blurb attached to the upcoming debate is so disappointingly naive that its premise needs to be corrected.
Firstly, democracy is not a form of government, and because it is so often described as this laziness tends to set in as soon as elections are held. Democracy is an aspirational benchmark. The system of government is the really tricky part.
Second, Intelligence Squared falsely compares the democratic transitions in Japan and Germany to those in Iraq and Egypt. Germany was given ten years and Japan seven before sovereignty was returned by occupying forces. In Iraq, sovereignty was returned amid high violence just 15 months after the 2003 US invasion. In Egypt a slew of voting followed the February 2011 overthrow of Mubarak in , culminating in an ill-fated presidential election just 16 months later. Little wonder both have failed.
The issue that’s not been mooted is how to manage transition over the time needed to build democratic institutions. That doesn’t even appear to be on the edge of the agenda.