Posted: March 24th, 2023



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Research interest on transition and consolidation has culminated in loads of controversies, among them the conditions indispensable for a country to transition towards democracy. Schedler presents a conventional understanding of democratic consolidation, indicating that the process of ensuring new democracies are secure, greater life expectancies for the people, and immune against any form of resistance by an authoritarian regime.[1] Success democracy, thus, means that there is no possibility of the country going back to the authoritarian rule since there are in place favorable behaviors, attitudes, and constitutions.[2] At this point, where an understanding of democratic consolidation is achieved, it is necessary to follow up the debate surrounding the preconditions of the process, particularly the role played by political institutions. In fact, for most some political scholars, development of political institutions is a critical factor in the process of transitioning and consolidation of democracy, especially from the Western concept.

Democratic Consolidation

Democratic consolidation has serious connotations when looking at the western perception of democracy. Larry presents the point of view of the movement from Sultanism, totalitarianism, post-totalitarianism, and eventually to democracy.[3] In this case, the term indicates the development of strong democratic systems such that there is no threat of authoritarian degeneration.[4] Scholars, including Schedler and Linz and Stepan, introduce the concept of democracy being the only game in town.[5] However, Schedler suggests that the paradigm is a more conventional one since from a contemporary viewpoint, the concept suggests different things depending on the difference in the context of use. However, regardless of the standpoint assumed in defining the concept, Stepan and Linz looked at a point of absolute transition towards democracy. The authors suggest the place where the transition is complete and where there is a democratic administration governing using democratic ideals.[6] With such understanding, it is possible to establish whether or not political institutions are key preconditions for consolidated democracy, and if not, what factors play out in the process.

Political Institutions and Democratic Consolidation

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Using the case of European democracies and those in Latin America, scholars present the case that democratic consolidation does not occur in a vacuum. While scholars will not agree on all the factors, the majority contends that political institutions play out in the process.[7][8] In fact, political institutions have a critical role to play in democratization. At the heart of success or failure of political institutions is the strategic and the cardinal function of their importance as a fundamental organ in the process of democratization. Using secondary data and with the support of analytical strategies, the authors have established the importance of an institution such as political parties in consolidation. O’Donnell specifically looks at the role played by the rule of law in ensuring stable democracy.[9] Democratic rule is the genesis of political rights, civil liberties, and accountability, the actual indicators of democracy in a country.

Different authors argue for different political institutions as critical enablers for democratic rule to abound. Stepan and Linz posit that consolidation is possible, but some conditions must be met, including free and fair elections and a democratic rule.[10] From the point of view assumed by Fish, political institutions have a major influence on democratization, but not in the same way for all democratic regimes. The author concentrates on the influence of a strong legislature in advancing democracy.[11] Using N cross-national statistical analysis, the author provides evidence for the claims that the system is necessary for the development of political party systems, which in turn plays out in creating and maintaining unwavering democracies. The legislative arm of governance also allows for the checks and balances necessary for the successful democratic rule.[12] In essence, allowing a system to develop the norms and rules by which disputes will be resolved in critical for the success of democracy.

Consolidation Only an Illusion

The opponents of the influence of political institutions being suitable for triumphant democracy do not appear to disagree with the statement. Instead, they argue that such preconditions are impossible to achieve in real life. Linz and Stepan concur on the importance of political institutions in achievement of democracy but points out to the challenges inherent in transition and consolidation.[13] Looking at the post-communist European transitions as they differ from southern European and Latin American transition, the authors aver that there are myriad factors, besides political institutions, which influence transition and consolidation. The factors are both internal and external, where the most evident case being that of East European democracies, which emerged in response to the international reality.

O’Donnell argues for the importance of establishing the form of democracy in question before deciding on the factors that play out in its formation. In the argument, he conceptualizes a new form of delegative democracy.[14] The author suggests that prevailing literature has a focus on representative democracy, which fails to apply to the newly democratized nations amid the prevailing social and economic realities globally. O’Donnell further counters the claims made by Linz and Stepan by suggesting that the problem is not in the absence of institutions but a lack of two significant institutions in polyarchies, including formalized but irregular elections and informal, enduring and all-encompassing clientelism or particularism.[15] While political parties play an important role in the process of democratization, Schmitter suggests that they are no longer what they used to be.[16] Therefore, in support of the claims by O’Donnell, the new democracies cannot be viewed in the same lens as the traditional ones, especially regarding the role of political institutions.

Political Systems Necessary but not Sufficient

The argument that appears to bear the greatest weight in debating the role of political institution consolidation is that political systems are necessary but not sufficient for democratic consolidation. The idea is that while the institutions, including political parties are necessary for democratization, they are not enough and not the only factors responsible for consolidation.[17] Stokes uses the case of Argentina in arguing for the interplay of formal and informal institutions in the achievement of democracy.[18] In reality, the conditions necessary for democratization go beyond the formal institutions such as political parties, legislature, and elections among other branches. According to Stokes, the case of Argentina is a typical model of how the formal systems might not operate sufficiently until there are in place working informal rules. Following this model, it is only with the informal rules and expectations of social sanctions that democratic accountability could be achieved.

From the perspective of democratic system being the only game in town, most of the reviewed authors concur that political systems are necessary, but they are not sufficient for democratic consolidation or in sustaining democracy. As such, it is true that the democratization process necessitates the creation of the institutions as well as the institutionalization of political practices in the country, but such are not the only conditions for the stability of the democratic system that is created. Levitsky and Way bring out support for the claim by suggesting that these factors are just the minimum conditions for democratic consolidation. While the conditions are met by both delegative and collusive democracies, some of the factors such as regular elections are also evident within competitive authoritarian.[19] Hence, while the factors could be evident in the country, they are not sufficient to make the country a democratic system. Besides the stable political institutions, other social and financial resources are fundamental for the achievement of actual transition and consolidation.


Some political scholars appear to liken the connection between political systems and democratic consolidation to the connection between the fetus and the umbilical cord. However, the evidence from a review of the literature shows a reality contrary to this. In fact, the reality from empirical literature and real life cases suggest that while political institutions are necessary for consolidation, they are not sufficient. Therefore, the consolidation of democracy is not attestation of strong political institutions such as political parties. In other words, speaking about consolidation of democracy does not necessarily suggest strong political institutions in the country. Such an argument is simplistic and unfounded, especially looking at the new democracies such as in Latin America. Democratization has proven to be a complex process that should be understood from a perspective far beyond looking at the political systems of a country. In essence, among aspects, economic and social realities of a country also need to be considered since it is only with the right environment that the political institutions will work towards stable democracy.

[1] Andreas Schedler. “What is democratic consolidation?.” Journal of Democracy, 9, no. 2 (1998), 91

[2] Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan. Problems of democratic transition and consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and post-communist Europe. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 55

[3] Larry, Diamond, Developing democracy: Toward consolidation. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 8


[4] Andreas Schedler. “What is democratic consolidation?” Journal of Democracy, 9, no. 2 (1998), 91


[5] Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan. Problems of democratic transition and consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and post-communist Europe. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 56

[6] Alfred C. Stepan, and Linz Juan José. “Toward consolidated democracies.” Journal of democracy 7, no. 2 (1996), 14

[7] Ibid, 15

[8] Guillermo A. O’Donnell, “Why the rule of law matters.” Journal of Democracy15, no. 4 (2004), 32

[9] Ibid, 33


[10] Alfred C. Stepan and Juan José Linz. “Toward consolidated democracies.”Journal of democracy 7, no. 2 (1996), 16

[11] Fish, M. Steven, Stronger Legislatures, Stronger Democracies, Journal of Democracy 17 no. 1 (2006), 5


[12] Ibid, 8

[13] Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan. Problems of democratic transition and consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and post-communist Europe. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 57

[14] Guillermo A. O’Donnell, “Delegative democracy.” Journal of democracy 5, no. 1 (1994), 55.


[15] Guillermo A. O’Donnell, “Illusions about consolidation.” Journal of democracy 7, no. 2 (1996), 35.


[16] Philippe C. Schmitter, Parties Are Not What They Once Were, in Larry Diamond & Richard Gunther (eds.), Political Parties and Democracy, (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001), pp. 67- 89


[17] Scott, Mainwaring & Timothy R. Scully, Introduction: Party Systems in Latin America, In Scott Mainwaring & Timothy R. Scully (eds.), Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), 3.


[18] Susan C. Stokes, Do Informal Rules Make Democracy Work? Accounting for Accountability in Argentina, In G. Helmke & S. Levitsky (eds.), Informal Institutions and Democracy: Lessons from Latin America, (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 125


[19] Steven, Levitsky & Lucan A. Way, Elections without Democracy: The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism, Journal of Democracy, 13 no. 2, (2002), 51


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