Kazakhstan and the principles of democracy

World News Article | Reuters.co.uk
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev won re-election by a landslide on Monday, official preliminary results showed, but the opposition in the former Soviet republic alleged vote-rigging.

The result means Nazarbayev will rule for another seven years in the vast Central Asian state, a reassuring signal to big oil investors in the United States, China and Russia who have negotiated billions of dollars of contracts with him.

Kazakhstan is my favorite example of a country that has very highly developed democratic constitutional documents and laws but still is not a democracy (although as dictatorships in Central Asia or anywhere go, it is fairly benign). In fact, on paper, it is much more democratic than the UK and may even have the edge on the US in some of the details of its constitutional arrangements. But the reason it is not a democracy we can recognize as such is because it has no established democratic institutions rooted in civil society. Elections are not a guarantee of democracy. In fact, universal suffrage (and it pains me to admit it) is not a sin a qua non for real democracy either - Britain was probably more democratic in the age of rotten boroughs than Kazakhstan is today (and it would not surprise me is the current rhetoric of democracy focusing on the 'empowerment of people' was more of a hindrance than a help).

Functioning institutions that pervade society on all levels do more for democracy than elaborate rules for representation. That's why America could withstand McCarthyism and will probably also survive the Patriot Act but Soviet Russia did not really survive Stalin. The human and social processes of collective suspicion and individual (in case of leaders often pathological) paranoia mixed with patriotism (true and pretended) were pretty much the same in both cases, yet the deathtoll cannot even beggin to get compared. Zygmudt Baumann even attributes (and I think probably correctly) the breakdown of certain civil structures to the holocaust. But what he adds (again correctly) is the bureaucratic institutions that could sustain such attrocities (that's why the Holocaust could be hidden so easily whereas Stalin's reprisals were much more public).

There are probably lessons for Iraq here. Going back to some of the traditional tribal structures (as I've seen suggested somewhere) might be more successful for building democracy in the long run than focusing on 'proper' elections. Democracy in the 'West' grew on the back of these structures and grafting it onto others has been proving difficult around the world ever since the times of the British Empire (back then it was called civilization). The role of public wealth and economic development in general should probably not be discounted either.

However, having said all that, the processes of social development are probably too complex for us to be able to manage their progress with any level of deliberation which is why I'm very tentative about any suggestions for practical action.