NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 21, 2005

Ousting an authoritarian regime is often far easier than sustaining freedom afterward. Indeed, the best way to achieve freedom is to use "people power," rather than top-down reform or armed revolt, says Freedom House.

A study of 67 transitions from authoritarian rule over the past 33 years found that there are four key characteristics of political transitions: the societal forces driving it, the strength of nonviolent civic resistance, the level of violence and the sources of that violence. These determine how successful transitions to democracy are achieved, says Freedom House.

According to researchers:

  • Regime changes generated by nonviolent civic resistance are more likely to be "free" or "partly free" today than countries in which political elites have launched the transition or opposition groups have used violence to topple the government.
  • About five of the 47 countries that experienced generally peaceful transitions are currently rated "not free," compared with four of the 20 countries in which the opposition employed violence.
  • Policy makers should offer support to nascent civic resistance movements in order to foster democratic change.

Furthermore, in Iraq's case, the study offers no guide; only three of the transitions - Panama, who is rated "free," Bosnia "partly free" and Cambodia, who is "not free" - were driven by external interventions, says Freedom House.

Source: Adrian Karatnycky and Peter Ackerman., "How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy," Freedom House, 2005.


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