Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Russia, India, and More

by Isobel Coleman
September 30, 2011

Russia's President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin walk at the residence in Zavidovo in the Tver region, September 24, 2011 (Sergei Karpukhin/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow presents another wide range of stories in this week’s edition of Missing Pieces. I look forward to your views. Enjoy!

  • Russia’s Presidential Maneuvers: Analysis and commentary have been flowing since the announcement last Saturday that Russian president Dmitri Medvedev and prime minister Vladimir Putin would switch jobs next year. An editorial in the Guardian advances the widespread view that the move “confirms a country slipping from democracy back towards autocracy.” CFR’s Stephen Sestanovich says in a CFR.org interview that Medvedev may continue his efforts to modernize the Russian state, though Putin might limit his prime minister’s visibility. Sestanovich also raises the prospect that Alexei Kudrin, fired as finance minister on Monday after clashing with Medvedev, could join the opposition. Chrystia Freeland of Reuters argues that Putin’s “ruling clique” has failed to develop an institutional structure that could perpetuate their regime, as China’s Communist Party has done. Instead Putin has built a “sultanistic” government based solely on him, a construction with deep vulnerabilities. Finally, Matthew Rojansky writes in the International Herald Tribune that Putin is unlikely to “undo the most important accomplishments of the U.S.-Russia ‘reset.’”
  • Identity in India: A New Yorker article this week profiles Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder and former CEO of Infosys, one of India’s leading technology firms. The piece focuses on Nilekani’s current role as head of the Unique Identity Authority of India, a government agency established to give India’s 1.2 billion people something that many currently lack: a reliable form of ID. Currently, according to the article, “Hundreds of millions of Indians are barely visible to the state: they have either no ID at all or a weak form of it, issued by local authorities.” Nilekani’s effort is meant to help these people access government and private services–public assistance, say, or bank accounts–by allowing them to easily and securely establish their identity. It is a fascinating story that pits India’s world-class technological savvy against poverty, corruption, bureaucracy, and technophobia.
  • Mining in the DRC: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to a frightening mix of ills. It ranks second-to-last in the UN Human Development Index, with a lower score in 2010 than 30 years before. Rates of sexual violence are sky-high (see here and here for recent perspectives), and conflict continues to simmer. Could the U.S. Congress be making all this worse? The eastern DRC is filled with valuable minerals. And as the Economist reports this week, last year’s Dodd-Frank act “forces companies listed in America to disclose the exact source of metals procured from Congo.” The idea is to make buyers use legitimate suppliers so that militias and army commanders do not benefit. But the buyers–which include the likes of Apple and Motorola–apparently find it easier to avoid Congolese minerals altogether, devastating the economy and the locals who scratch their living from the mines. An op-ed by David Aronson from August makes this same point more forcefully. But a brief from Global Witness defends Dodd-Frank and says companies should be able to comply.
  • The Singapore Model: Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s iconic leader, is well-known for his views on democracy and development. During 31 years as prime minister, and many more as an éminence grise, Lee prioritized growth and stability over liberties and rights. “Political reform need not go hand in hand with economic liberalization,” he said in 2004. This week on ForeignAffairs.com, Amitav Acharya writes that many Singaporeans are challenging Lee’s legacy and pushing for democracy, too. Acharya analyzes two recent elections–a parliamentary poll in May that gave Lee’s ruling party its worst result since independence, and a presidential race in August in which the candidate closest to the government won by only a whisker. These outcomes do not guarantee that Singapore will become a full democracy, Acharya concludes. But they clearly show that many Singaporeans “are interested in finding out whether democratic politics can sustain the development and relatively good governance they already enjoy.”
  • Democratic Disillusionment: A different perspective comes in a New York Times article by Nicholas Kulish this week. It chronicles a troubling phenomenon: citizens in many democracies are fed up with their elected leaders and are taking their grievances to the streets. From Britain and Spain to Israel and India, Kulish writes, many people believe that politicians no longer represent them. This produces a view that “only an assault on the system itself can bring about real change.” The internet also plays a crucial role, both in inspiring a decentralized, participatory ethos and in providing tools, such as social networking, that protesters can use. CFR’s Josh Kurlantzick took up a similar theme–democratic frustrations among the middle class–in pieces in the New Republic in June and the National in July. Clearly, neither established democracies nor younger ones are immune from the need to maintain legitimacy.

 

 

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