Can Procedural and Substantive Democracy Move in Opposition Directions?

It is possible for the electoral dimensions of democracy to become stronger at the same time that the substantive dimensions of democracy weaken or erode?

Some background:

1. Next Thursday, I’m participating in a Brown Bag discussion at Columbia with Joseph Liow, Duncan McCargo, and Ann Marie Murphy. Our collective task is to think about prospects for democratic backsliding and democratic progress in Southeast Asia. (Come on by!) My individual task is to do this in the context of Indonesia’s new Jokowi administration.

2. Separately, I recently participated in a USAID-funded project on democratic backsliding. As part of that, I put together a short memo in which I tried to lay out a typology of varieties of democratic change. Borrowing the distinction between procedural versus substantive democracy, I produced this nine-fold typology of varieties of democratic change—assuming, of course, that this is change within a democracy rather than a discrete shift to authoritarianism.
Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.13.19 AM
The typology is defined by possibilities of change. For example, if the latent probability that executive authority is allocated in competitive elections between political parties decreases (the procedural dimension), and rights and liberties are curtailed (a short-hand for the substantive dimension), then I want to call that “democratic degradation.” If rights remain the same but procedures corrode, I term that “authoritarian creep.”

And as originally written, the typology had no term for 2 out of the 9 categories. Those are the combinations of “more procedure less substance” and “less procedure more substance.” At the time that I developed the typology, I hypothesized that those are not logically possible, what Colin Elman terms “logical compression.”

But I am now reevaluating this in light of the new Jokowi administration. It strikes me that it’s entirely possible that Indonesia has become more procedurally democratic in the past year, but that we could nevertheless see further deterioration in the substantive dimensions of Indonesian democracy.

But looking comparatively this would be rare, so my best guess is that it is possible, but not probable. As a hopelessly imperfect exercise, let’s just examine how frequently—in the cross-national context—we observe a decrease in civil liberties (as defined by Freedom House) alongside an increase in political rights (also defined by Freedom House). Here is a jittered scatterplot.
PR vs CL
Out of 6668 country-years around the world, we observe only 32 country-years (< 0.5%) where civil liberties decrease while political rights increase. But of course, if you don't share my evaluation that Indonesia's procedural democracy was strengthened over the past year, then you might consider deterioration in substantive democracy more likely (and in fact, 333 country-years around the world show civil liberties decreasing while political rights stay the same). But it's still relatively rare. But then again, it happened in Indonesia last year.

In all, food for thought as we read the tea leaves of the new Jokowi administration, and as we conceptualize possible trajectories for Indonesian democracy over the coming years.

Posted in Indonesia, Politics, Research
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