Opinion: Has West Overrated Democracy? Has democracy failed in the Developing Nations?

Hello Everyone!

We had a great discussion in the #JSGS880 on the democracy and developing nations. Some argued that western countries have overrated democracy and imposed their version of democracy on developing nations and these lead to the administrative and governance failure.

Some argue that prior to the Arab Spring in 2010, the Middle East was relatively stable and peaceful place. Autocratic regimes of the Middle East had their iron fist on the extremist elements like ISIS and Al-Qaida. People were happy. There were peace and development under the iron fist of the autocratic dictators like Assad, Saddam, Hoshni Mubarak and Colonel Gaddafi. Today if we look at the Middle East, the only stable countries that have autocratic regimes are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Iran. (State of Israel is an obvious exception to the list!)

The problem started when Western countries tried to spread their version of democracy in the Middle East by supporting the Pro- Democracy actors and that resulted in a failure of those nations.

Remove Assad because he is a dictator and now we have today’s Syria! Remove Gaddafi and the result is the Muslim Brotherhood. Remove Saddam and the result is ISIS in Levant.

Is this a policy failure?

So the question is – has the concept of democracy failed in the Developing Nations? The western hemisphere must not interfere in the internal affairs of developing nations and let them deal with it by themselves?

When we compare democracy of developing nations with the autocratic countries, it seems that autocratic countries are doing better in terms of peace and stability. If so, how come more than 25% of Saudi Arabia’s population is living below the poverty line when the government has budget surplus every year? Also, KSA’s human rights and human development indicators are even worse than some underdeveloped African countries according to a US department of human rights report!

What is a Democracy by the way?

Let’s review Aristotle on the forms of government.

Good Government. Bad Government. Monarchy. Tyranny. decays into. (Best) (Worst) Rule by One Rule for One. Aristocracy. decays into. Oligarchy. (Good) (Worse) Rule for the Few. Rule by the Best Democracy. (Mob Rule) Democracy. decays into. (Poor) (Bad) Everyone for themselves. Rule by the Many


An ideal state of democracy has four major components. If there is any component missing we can’t call it a democracy.

When Hosni Mubarak holds elections and wins by 99% that is not a democracy. A single party state Iran cannot claim that it is a democratic republic. It will be not wise to take such examples and conclude that democracy is not working in the developing nations.

Why democracy is not working in some of the developing nations?


Most of the Middle Eastern, African and developing countries inherited a governance system that was established to deprive indigenous population and finance the British Empire.

As a result of World War II, in the post-war era, the British Empire was forced to leave colonies. However, the colonies were not ready to transform its governance mechanism into a democracy friendly one. You cannot impose democracy on an empire friendly mechanism. What we see today is the result of the incorrect practice.

After World War II, the Labour Party government in the Great Britain (the only country that uses an adjective in front of its name which should be credited to its biggest colony India) was politically bound to grant the independence to the colonies but the newly born countries of the colonies lacked in the understanding of the democratic system. That is the reason we see that the concept of democracy has failed in Africa and other developing countries.

The countries that were not a part of the British Empire like Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia somehow managed to establish relatively better democracy.

The Story of the Republic of India: An ex-colony, cash cow of the British Empire.

When we talk about democracy how can we avoid India? Today India claims that it is world’s largest democracy. In spite of its racial, cultural and religious differences along with 22 official languages and its hundreds of dialects, it emerged as a democracy. It is because of India’s democratic and liberal genetic structure. In ancient India, there were “गण “ – a state representative and “गणराज्य“ – a state. The Hindu god Lord Krishna was an elected prime minister of the republic named as Dwarika. The coastal city of Dwarika still exists as a modern city in western province of Gujarat in India; where ancient palace of Lord Krishna can be found submerged in the sea. Democracy was at the grass root level in small villages and urban cities of ancient India.

The British Empire tried to abolish the “tribal councils” but it remained as a de-facto mode of governance in rural “ungoverned” India.

After the Independence, the founding fathers of India gave the Supreme Authority to the Constitution of India. Some salient features of the Indian constitution are:

➢   The Constitution is Supreme: The book has the Supreme authority above all even the President is forced to obey the procedures of the Constitution.

➢   Equality: Irrespective of your race, religion, cast or creed, language, skin colour and sex – in the eyes of the Government all citizens are equal.

➢   Power Sharing: Except sensitive matters like National Defense and Foreign Policies, provinces have their own way of governance and usually federal government does not interfere with it.

➢   Procedures: To control the freedom and to discipline the citizens, each and every transaction is defined by various government procedures. This had reduced the administrative efficiency for almost five decades.

So, a developing country like India which was a victim of colonial oppressions has been able to recover and correct the democratic course of governance, I believe that there are challenges for sure but a true form of democracy – if it is executed properly can work in developing countries as good as western countries, if not better.

The solution is to impose various layers of procedures to prepare the citizens till they are actually ready for the democracy. India had to do it for more than 50 years but when it came back, it came back as a strong democracy.

We must admit that democracy flourished in India, because of its size and core value of respecting diversity. The Army cannot do a military coup to overthrow the government, as the country itself is so huge. You cannot regain control of all five commands of army overnight. This factor also contributed in the stability of democracy over the decades.

Respecting Diversity is the key – The author of this article grew up in Western India, is a religious minority and never faced any kind of discrimination from the state.

Conflict of Interest: These are my personal viewpoints to share, to discuss and to think upon only for the JSGS 880 class only.


  • Dahl, Robert (August 11, 2000). On Democracy (1 ed.). Yale University Press. p. 37. ISBN 0300084552.
  • http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/13/the-dictators-dilemma-to-win-with-95-percent-or-99/
  • Shashi Tharoor – An Era of Darkness
  • Walter Reed – Keeping the Jewel in the Crown: The British Betrayal of India
  • Roy Moxham The Theft of India: The European Conquests of India, 1498-1765


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