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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


The Politics of Regime Transitions
Ronald A. Francisco

Oxford: Westview Press, 2000
177pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 50.00; ISBN 0-8133-8851-1.



This carefully written volume attempts to examine democratic transition in the context of internal dynamics, and how these condition the relative 'success' or otherwise of a transition. The author is healthily critical of the inevitability of transitional missions towards democratic polities. He chooses a diverse array of 40 countries that reflects a wide variety of cultural, social and political contexts, and with it, political traditions. He attempts to demonstrate what factors determine the nature of a successor regime and through this the book is organized into sections on regime collapse, transition, the challenges of creating democracy, economic restructuring, and external factors - particularly the attempts of other countries to affect the direction of regime transition. The strength of the book comes in identifying the variables that condition the nature and results of transition: the level of economic and industrial development, the relative strengths of organized interests - such as the church, the military - international forces, and existence of conflict, and the coherence of society.

Francisco expresses caution at the euphoria of a new wave of democracy: "the trend throughout the last two centuries is strongly toward greatly autocracy, not democracy" (p.15), and is wary of celebrating on the basis of recent experience. Founding his analysis upon historical perspective, he identifies typology of transition - regime collapse; protest and revolution; structural vulnerability; civil war; coup; and international war - and observes that popular uprising and revolutions are becoming a markedly more common phenomenon.

In transitional situations, what institutions and structures are conducive to peaceful societies, in particular in communities divided by ethnicity, religion, language, or ideology? This focus - albeit rather small - is particularly pertinent given the increasingly significant role of democracy promotion in international politics. Francisco suggests that majority rule may be inappropriate, but consociationalism is less stable than majority rule, and subcultural disputes are not amenable to federal solutions. He favours regional solutions; governments can cultivate regional development and manage autonomy issues. Similarly, language disputes have increased since 1945, and the trend is to monolingual states - and this is a factor in fragmentation. His findings are rather grim: partition seems to be the more likely, rather than accommodation, in many of the divisive issues he examines.

The chapter on international dimensions could have benefited from more attention on UN assistance, and the section on reconciliation - how democratizing societies confront the dilemmas of 'transitional justice' in dealing with a history of human rights abuse - may not satisfy some readers. Nevertheless, this is a solid volume that does much for its slim size. He central conclusion is that transition does not automatically give way to stable plural democracies. On the contrary, it gives rise to contention, and sometimes violence and uncertainty - which can often undermine democracy! The management of this conflict is not addressed in depth.


Edward Newman, United Nations University, Tokyo



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