Contrary to common belief, increased public participation does not lead to higher levels of democracy in countries that have been subject to conflicts. Instead, it is the role of the politicians and their ability to collaborate that determines the outcome.
International and national peacekeepers have long since assumed that countries recovering from war, countries transitioning from authoritarian rule and countries that have experienced severe institutional crises should be given a lift in the democratization process by allowing public citizens to participate in the building of the country's constitution.
In her thesis from Umeå University, Abrak Saati shows the contrary. An emphasis on politicians' roles and their ability to collaborate with each other is an important part in reaching democratization in these countries.
The first part of the thesis compared and analysed twenty countries in South America, Africa, Asia and Europe as regards to what level the public was allowed to participate in building the constitution.
The second part of the thesis compared these countries with countries where the constitution was solely created by political elites and lawyers. Democracy in each individual country was then compared by studying how it has developed from the time before the process completion with the time after. The result shows that public participation in building the constitution has had no impact on the development of democracy.
"As an example, levels of democracy have increased in Kosovo and East Timor although the public hardly had any influence at all. The same goes for a majority of countries where the constitution only included the political establishment. At the same time, levels of democracy have been reduced in countries where citizens were allowed to influence the constitution to a higher level," says Abrak Saati.
"It is also interesting to see how countries with a similar approach regarding the levels of influence from the public in the constitution building process show opposing results when it comes to the development of democracy after process completion. Kenya and Zimbabwe are two examples of such opposing results," says Abrak Saati.
In order to understand why levels of democracy increase in some countries and not in others, despite the countries having the same amount of public participation in their constitution building processes, Kenya and Zimbabwe were studied in-depth.
In Kenya, politicians have long since established ways of collaborating across party boundaries. New political parties and new party constellations are constantly created, which also results in many politicians having been colleagues on one or more occasions. History has taught politicians and their successors in which cases and regarding what matters collaborations work and when they do not.
"Politician's ability to collaborate was a highly contributory factor for the country's increased levels of democracy. In Zimbabwe, however, there is no history of collaboration between politicians from different parties. The situation is rather the opposite. The now reigning party, ZANU-PF, has since the country's independence had the country in a stranglehold and has treated the opposition with violence and harassment. There is no history or culture of collaboration; something which in turn has affected democracy in the country negatively," Abrak Saati establishes.
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