Democratic divergence

By Laura Ombelet

North Korea is notorious for being a totalitarian dictatorship. However just south of the border sits South Korea, a full fledged democracy. The drastic divergence in regime change since 1945 begs the question; how did this happen?

Mahoney’s article ‘Path-dependent Explanations of Regime Change’ centre’s on the idea that divergent regimes in Central America can partially be explained by the choice of ‘reform’ or ‘radical’ policy at the liberal policy choice critical juncture. I wanted to see if it was possible to apply the same concept to North and South Korea. Following World War II and Japan's departure, North and South Korea’s leaders faced a critical juncture; what type of state structure to adopt in the aftermath of independence. If we follow Mahoney’s argument one would assume that South Korea chose reform type characteristics; less state coercion, smaller land estates and less land privatisation. It’s these reform policy options that Mahoney claims led to liberal democracies in Central America. However South Korea’s strong anti-communist agenda led to the implementation of a highly coercive autocratic dictatorship. It wasn’t reformist policies that enforced democratic institutions but the endogenous growth of the democratisation movement in opposition to authoritarian rule that eventually led to South Korea’s transition to democracy in 1987. The adoption of radical institutions did not reinforce themselves and consequently it was possible to switch institutional tracks to democracy. 

In North Korea a communist state was imposed and although conditions were harsh, North Koreans were better off than their southern counterparts. Therefore, there was no development of a democratisation movement in response to autocracy and endogenous change did not occur.

Although Mahoney’s theory of ‘reform’ versus ‘radicalisation’ is applicable to Central America, the same cannot be said for North and South Korea. The growth of the democratic movement is only one part of South Korea’s democratic growth story, however it is possible to see that regime divergence often has many causes. 



Rightful resistance in India

By Lisa Day

Rightful resistance is a form of peaceful protest against the state, by popular contention, in which citizens make use of their own state’s law and judicial system to legitimately challenge rights violations by the government itself. Although rightful resistance tends to be seen as a Chinese social and legal phenomenon, these forms of protest can also be seen in other parts of the world where governments have failed to deliver their own promises. A particular case in India, which involved rightful resisters fighting for basic infrastructure to be provided in all government-run schools, was legitimized and eventually implemented by the success of resisters framing their protest around India’s Right to Education Act.

India’s Right to Education Act involves the governmental obligation to ensure that all children have access to free and compulsory education. The Environment and Consumer Protection Foundation (ECPF) had been fighting for a legislation which would ensure that governments must provide basic infrastructure in schools. These included properly functioning and separate toilet facilities for boys and girls and appropriate drinking water facilities. Around 800,000 schools were concerned to have improper infrastructure. The ECPF argued that because of this parents would not allow their children to attend these schools if they were without basic toilet and water facilities. Therefore they contended, “The right to education cannot be enjoyed unless basic infrastructure is provided by the state”. Eventually the court issued an interim order stating: "it is imperative that all schools must provide toilet facilities. Empirical researches have indicated that wherever toilet facilities are not provided in schools, parents do not send their children (particularly girls) to schools. It clearly violates the right to free and compulsory education of children guaranteed under Article 21A of the Constitution”. By 2012 it was issued that all state governments must provide “toilet facilities for boys and girls, drinking water facilities, sufficient classrooms, appointment of teaching and non-teaching staff etcetera”.

The judgement passed shows a successful use of rightful resistance. This movement was employed to actively seek the attention of the Indian authorities in order to legitimize a set of specific infrastructural requirements in schools. Therefore ensuring that all children would now rightfully have access to education.

Rightful resistance

By Lexi Rowland

Rightful resistance in rural China, as presented by O'Brien in his paper on the movement, has been extremely successful in creating a degree of democracy in a country where the communist party has so long been the rule of law. The type and success rate of the resistance practiced by China's rural population, as well as the many other examples of such a resistance in other countries, poses the question for whether this resistance would not be a non-violent way of creating meaningful change in all countries. Are revolutions and rightful resistance movements mutually exclusive?

Rightful resistance, in the form that it is practiced in rural China, is based on a few factors which O'Brien claims to be fundamental to its creation. Among these, the use of the existing institutional framework, allegiance of the resistors with political elites and the disavowal of violent protest are the most important for creating grass roots support for the movement. The use of an existing framework has been especially useful to the resistance movement because it leaves no room for political elites to claim that the resistors are illegitimate. This fact as well as the use of non-violence often creates the widespread support of both political elites and the community as a whole. In trying to make such a framework work for movements against the system however, this fact becomes problematic. 

The toss up lies in the fact that a revolution arguably cannot be simultaneously legitimate and revolutionary. The absence of violence may be achieved, and support at a grass roots level may be easily obtained, but working within the system of institutions in order to change such a system is something that is not easily achieved. Perhaps a movement may start this way but generally, in order to change the system it would need to discard of the system or become violent. Thus, this would not fall within O'Brien's analysis of what a rightful resistance should be.

Other definitions, which may offer more room for a movement to be defined as both revolutionary and rightful, are described in the Qu'ran. Here, the rightful resistance movement is one in which those who are resisting should be in a state of oppression. As an addition, violence should not be used without violence first being used by the aggressor. Due to the fact that an oppressed community is often the case with revolutionary environments, many of these revolutions could then be deemed rightful.

The use of violence would not be the deciding factor as to whether a movement should be deemed rightful or not. The decision lays with the political elites which are opposing such a resistance and therefore it would seem that rightful resistance and revolutionary resistance would remain mutually exclusive. 

Women's right to vote in Saudi Arabia

By Josh Treacher

The recent policy change in Saudi Arabia, allowing women to vote and run in municipal elections, has been easily compared to women's suffrage across the rest of the world. However, these rights have been rightfully won by women today due to reasons completely unique to the cultural, religious and technological conditions of Saudi Arabia that have developed through history. The only similarity in fact that can be clearly drawn, is that women had to campaign at great lengths to win this right.

According to Sven Steinmo, historical institutionalists focus on how institutions affect political action based on their historical context. In the case of Saudi Arabia, which has been a strongly Muslim country since the 7th century, conservative interpretations of the Qur'an have led to a patriarchal culture of 'protecting' women. It could be argued that religion in the context of Saudi Arabia has played a very strong role in delaying women's right to vote, as both the government and the monarchy continue to intertwine traditional religious values with both formal (political rights) and informal institutions (e.g. cultural allowances). 

Social media as a tool for communicating the realities of Saudi women to the rest of the world alongside pressure for societal change- brought about by the recent Arab Spring- may also have strongly influenced the decision to allow women to vote. And as the monarchy's opinion of Saudi affairs heavily influences government policy, the fact that women's suffrage has only been supported by the monarchy in the last few years adds weight to the list of institutional changes that have influenced this recent political action.

This change could simply be a result of a sociological institutionalist's perspective- being that the decision to allow women to enter the political stage may have simply been a perception that Saudi women are satisficers- acting habitually rather than to maximize self-interest. However whether this is an appropriate response to outcries for social change or not will be proven by how far Saudi women will continue to demand it now that they finally have the traditional, political means to do so.