Journal of Democracy
and political freedoms necessary for political debate and electoral cam-paigning.Even if we agree to apply a minimalist, electoral standard for democ-racy, vexing questions remain. If, following Samuel Huntington, a systemis democratic when “its most powerful collective decision makers areselected through fair, honest, and periodic elections in which candidatesfreely compete for votes,”
what constitutes “fair, honest, and free” elec-tions? How can we know that parties have had a fair chance to campaignand that voters around the country (especially countries as large and di-verse as Russia, Nigeria, and Indonesia) have been able to exercise their will freely? How—especially where elections do not benefit from paral-lel vote tabulations
—can we know that the reported results accuratelyreflect the votes that were cast? And how do we know that the officialselected are really the “most powerful decision makers,” that there arenot significant “reserved domains” of military, bureaucratic, or oligar-chical power?
These questions have taken on a heightened relevance in recent yearsfor several reasons. First, more regimes than ever before are adoptingthe
of electoral democracy, with regular, competitive, multipartyelections. Second, many of these regimes—indeed, an unprecedentedproportion of the world’s countries—have the form of electoral democ-racy but fail to meet the substantive test, or do so only ambiguously. Andthird, with heightened international expectations and standards for elec-toral democracy, including the rise of international election observing,there is closer international scrutiny of individual countries’ democraticpractices than ever before.Yet even with this closer scrutiny, independent observers do not agreeon how to classify regimes. Freedom House classifies all six regimesmentioned at the beginning of this essay as democracies. Yet by the logicof the three articles that follow, they are all (or mostly) something lessthan electoral democracies: competitive authoritarian systems, hege-monic-party systems, or hybrid regimes of some kind. At best, Ukraine,Nigeria, and Venezuela are
cases. We may not have enoughinformation now to know whether electoral administration will be suffi-ciently autonomous and professional, and whether contending parties andcandidates will be sufficiently free to campaign, so as to give the politi-cal opposition a fair chance to defeat the government in the next elections.Regime classification must, in part, assess the previous election, but itmust also assess the intentions and capacities of ambiguously democraticruling elites, something that is very hard to do. Increasingly, indepen-dent observers view Russia as an electoral authoritarian regime. Manyso view Nigeria as well, given the massive (and quite characteristic) fraudin the 1999 elections. Indonesia’s constitutional assignment of someparliamentary seats to unelected military representatives contradicts abasic principle of democracy. But even if that provision were removed,