Introduction There is a view that democracy is increasingly seen as an “emerging right” 1 in international law, a right of peoples to manage their

own affairs, overcoming a world history darkened by dictatorships and oppression. The purpose of this essay is not to look at whether or not this “right” exists, but to look more fundamentally at the intellectual underpinning of the concept of democracy that forms the basis of this “right”. Generally speaking, what exactly is being referred to when global – particularly Western – political leaders refer to “democracy”? This essay analyses the background to the suggestion that a right to democratic governance exists, or is beginning to exist in international law. Then, in order to establish what citizens are theoretically entitled to under this emerging right, it looks at the value of democracy, the quality of democracy in key Western states, and finally the very real problems that globalisation presents to the rights of countries to manage their own affairs. Throughout the essay, the question is asked, to what extent the “emerging right” is about narrow, electoral issues rather than a fundamental right and ability of the demos to have a full participatory role in their democracy? Emerging Rights The case for optimism appears, at first glance, to be bright. In the second half of the 20th century, there was a surge of democratic governments overturning various types of dictatorship, with over 110 governments 2 in 1991 committed to democracy and “people almost everywhere now demanding that government be validated by western-style parliamentary, democratic process”3, a demand that is reinforced by an increasing need of governments for validation. Democracy is almost universally seen as the way of producing this legitimacy. This legitimacy is built on the cornerstones self-determination, freedom of expression and electoral rights. Self-determination has a long pedigree in international law, with US President Woodrow Wilson making this a central plank of the post-war redrawing of the map of Europe and elsewhere. This principle was further strengthened after the Second World War with Article 1.2 of the United Nations Charter giving self-determination the status of a fundamental right. Freedom of expression, argues Franck4, has become a customary rule of state obligation due to the overwhelming support and prestige that the Universal

Franck, Thomas M, “The Emerging Right to Democratic Governance”, The American Journal of International Law, Vol 86, pp 46-91 2 Ibid, P 47 3 Ibid, P 48 4 Ibid, P 61


Declaration on Human Rights5 (article 19) has accrued and this customary law has been underpinned by the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights6. Building on these rights, Franck sees an emerging normative requirement for participatory electoral processes, with over two thirds of states now bound by the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A substantial new majority of states now practice a “reasonably credible version of electoral democracy”7 and a variety of international instruments underlining this right, including the Charter of the Organization of American States8 and the European Convention on Human Rights9. This legitimacy is further strengthened by the work of the United Nations in election monitoring. With self-determination, electoral monitoring and freedom of expression now anchored in customary international law, as well as in a variety of international legal instruments, the argument is that “international law now recognises only one legitimate way to ensure that a people’s right to self-determination and free expression have been respected: through genuine and periodic elections’10. Indeed, the rights and obligations of democratic governance have become so clear that Fox argues that “what constitutes a ‘free and fair’ election is now a rather mundane question, one virtually devoid of serious interpretative ambiguities”11. Is the situation really that clear? Is democracy a commodity that one can either have or not have? The UNDP explains that “no society is ever completely democratic or fully developed”12, so what degree of imperfection is permitted before the international community decides that the right to democratic governance is not enjoyed by citizens of a particular country? International lawyers and academics arguing the existence of a right to democratic governance risk making a questionable assumption that the Western approach to liberal democracy has “won” the battle of ideologies and that Western liberal democracy is “democracy”. As McDonald13 suggests, “through the work in this area of international law, one can detect a celebratory tone that posits a ‘we’, who have reached our goal, and a ‘they’, who still have some distance to travel”.

Universal Declaration on Human Rights, General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948 6 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, General Assembly resolution 2200A of 16 December 1966 7 Op cit, P 64 8 Charter of the Organization of American States, 9th International Conference of American States, 1948 9 European Convention on Human Rights, Council of Europe, 1950 10 Macdonald, Euan, “International Law, Democratic Governance and September the 11th”, German Law Journal Vol. 3No 9, 1 September 2002. Section I. Online version available from as at 05 January 2004 (no page numbers in HTML version) 11 Ibid, quoting Fox, "The Right to Political Participation in International Law", in Fox and Roth (eds.) Democratic Governance and International Law (2000), pp 48-49 12 United Nations Development Project, “Human Development Report 2002”, UNDP, 2002, P 61 13 Macdonald, Ewan, Op cit, Section IV


This suggests both worrying intellectual flaws in the understanding of the putative “right” to democratic governance and a lack of the self awareness needed for any system to evolve. As the etymology suggests, democracy is about the people (demos) having power (kratos) to choose how they are governed. Choice cannot exist effectively without voters knowing what their choices are and for the rights of all parts of the demos to be adequately assured. When we contemplate that the West views as democratic, regimes that have no requirement, for example for decisions to be taken at the closest possible level to the citizen14, no minimum level of voter awareness, no minimum level of press independence, no minimum level of welfare or representation of the poorest or weakest in society, no minimum level of voter turnout nor indeed any requirement that the winning party be the one that gets the most votes, the case can be made that the real-world practice of “democracy” diverges considerably from the black and white world of “democratic” and “undemocratic”. This, in turn, raises absolutely fundamental questions about the foundations on which the concept of a right to “democratic” governance could possibly be built. The value of real democracy The management benefits of democracy are beyond doubt. In any organisation, individuals lower-down the management structure are closer to day-to-day management issues, have more experience of them, and consequently are more likely to have more detailed and relevant experience. Decentralising some power to lower levels of management can produce not just more efficient management, but the increased power and responsibility of individuals can increase their motivation and loyalty. However, in governance, as indeed in business, Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy”15 is an ever-present but rarely considered threat. Essentially, the iron law argues that political parties and other membership organisations inevitably tend towards increasing bureaucracy and oligarchy – a theory developed by Michels through watching the grass-roots democratic ideals of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany evaporate as the party grew in the early 1900s. Ultimately, the greater the level of centralisation in government, the further the distance between the citizen and the elected representative and the less significant each voter is to the elected representative (i.e. a decreasing voice in shaping increasingly complex and remote policy decisions). This inevitably leads to a corresponding loss in the ability of the citizen to have a significant voice, undermining the very essence of democracy. When we consider that the most significant level at which democracy is administered in the western world is

The European Union’s Maastricht Treaty establishes subsidiarity as a principle, although no serious effort has been made to enforce this at a sub-state level. 15 Michels, Robert, “Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie. Untersuchungen über die oligarchischen Tendenzen des Gruppenlebens” Kröner (reprint) 1985 – original 1911)


at the level of the “imagined community”16 of the nation, rather than automatically at the lowest level, we can see the roots of some of the problems of the western concept of democracy. Decentralisation is fundamental to true democracy, as this enables more informed decisions to be taken by voters – as more decisions are taken locally on local issues that the citizen knows best. It also enables minorities more rights to control their own destiny, the Croatian national and local government protection safeguards for minorities being an interesting example17. If decentralisation is undertaken properly, it can also have significant benefits to citizens, as shown by the 20% increase in literacy rates in two Indian states after reform of the panchayati raj18 in the early 1990s in India and the reduction in administrative costs and improved economic well-being of Denmark19, (contrasting strongly with Ireland, which had a similar starting point but no decentralisation) through its decentralisation process in the 1970s. Numerous European countries have seen a move towards more sub-national democratic structures in countries such as Denmark, the United Kingdom and even in France, a country that had previously been heavily centralised for its entire history as a nation state. Strikingly, such positive steps towards the creation of local democracy are hardly mentioned by lawyers or academics discussing the alleged right to democratic governance. As important as free and fair elections are to democracy, the administrative system must lend itself to real empowerment for individuals for the system to be democratic. There is no fundamental logic that suggests that the comparatively new structure of nation state is an efficient level for management of communities within that state – as shown by the high level of decentralisation in countries such as Denmark. Furthermore, the “nation-state” concept of democracy is coming under increasing strain, as globalisation means that ever-more decisions are taken at an international level, whether in quasi-democratic forums such at the European Union, or in international bodies such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. The UNDP points out the decreasing strength of the nation state very clearly: “In an era of rapid globalization, markets and political liberalisation – not government planning – are often the main drivers of economic and social change”20. This leaves national governments increasingly having to “square the circle” of blaming problems on international issues such as the world economy, while taking credit for positive developments and insisting on the power of the national government. However, this insistence on the power and supremacy of national government

Anderson, Benedict, “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism”, Verso, 1991 17 Regional Herald for the promotion of culture of minority rights and interethnic intolerance, “Political Representation of National Minorities, Issue 8, 25 November, 2004 18 UNDP Op cit, P 54 19 Kearney, R (ed), “Across the Frontiers”, Dublin, 1988 PP 39-40 20 UNDP, Op cit, P 54


continues to stand in the way of effective discussion on adapting democracy to a new global environment. Democratic Peace The proponents of the right to democratic governance point towards further benefits of the western version of democracy, such as the fact that no two liberal democracies have ever gone to war with each other21. Even without looking at the question marks over the methodology22 used to make this assertion, it is also worth pointing out that at least 83% of global exports of conventional weapons in the period 1996-2001 came from liberal democracies and that 53 major armed conflicts in the 1990s resulted in 3.6 million, mainly civilian, deaths23. The value of the conventional weapons trade to the economies of liberal democracies was at least $101 billion – a statistic which casts the notion of “democratic peace” in a new light. Furthermore, one study even suggests that more acts of terrorism are committed in stable democracies than anywhere else24. These points undermine, but do not fully negate the argument that, domestically and often internationally, democratic accountability is likely to limit violent action by states. How Democratic is “democratic” The Western conception of the value of their own “democracy” is such that the United States and Great Britain feel empowered to unashamedly proselytise on a global level for their version of “people power”. It is, however, informative to look at the basic building blocks of democratic governance in order to get a view of the quality of democracy in these unquestioned liberal democracies. It is particularly important in this context to consider the limitations of the view that free and fair elections and the freedom of expression (meaning free speech and lack of state media control) is enough to constitute “democracy”. Voter Awareness It can be argued that the most fundamental aspect of democracy is not the right to choose, but rather the right to know what the choices are. This means that the press has a hugely significant role in supporting a healthy democracy. Media in the USA In the United States, detailed opinion polls by PIPA/Knowledge Network25 established that “a very strong majority” (70%) of those Americans polled had at least one “key misperception” (i.e. a significant lack of understanding of a major
21 22

UNDP, Op cit P 85 See Mcdonald, Euan, Op cit 23 UNDP, Op cit P 85 24 See Mcdonald, Euan, Op cit 25 PIPA / Knowledge Networks Poll, “Misconceptions, the Media and the Iraq War”


point26) regarding the facts of the war on Iraq. Furthermore, 60% had two major misconceptions. A clear correlation between the TV news media watched by voters and the level of misperceptions was also demonstrated – with the average rate of misperception of Fox and CBS (representing over 25% of viewers using only one source of news) running at over 400% and 300% respectively of misperceptions among listeners/viewers of public radio and public television (representing only 3% of viewers/listeners of only one source of news). While this lack of awareness appears to strike at the very core of American voters’ ability to cast an informed vote, the situation is rendered even more alarming when we consider that support for the Iraq war was directly related to the level of misperceptions (voters with no misperceptions had only 23% support for the war compared with 86% support among voters with all three misperceptions that were polled 27). With just six groups controlling most of the media in the US28, options for access to independent media (not owned by international conglomerates) for ordinary voters are more theoretical than real. These misperceptions are likely to have had a clear effect on the result of the 2004 Presidential election, with Bush voters having almost three times the level of misperceptions than his opponent. With the UNDP describing the existence of informed debate as “the lifeblood of democracies”, this statistic is of major significance to any analysis of the health of the US democracy. A recent poll 29 by Cornell University showing that high proportions of Americans supporting severe restrictions on civil liberties for Muslims – as well as the correlation between such support and reliance on television as a source of news – further underlines this. Media in the United Kingdom In the United Kingdom, the situation in the broadcast media is less likely to produce such situations, due to the comparatively high viewing/listening figures of public broadcasters. However, Rupert Murdock, the owner of Fox – whose viewers were by far the most likely to have misperceptions of the facts surrounding the Iraq war - is also the owner of two of the biggest newspapers in the United Kingdom, The Times and The Sun. This puts the boast of The Sun in the 1992 and 1997 general elections that it was the “Sun wot won it”30 into a worrying context. It represents the unashamed admission of the power without responsibility of foreign-owned media in the UK and its ability to skew the democratic process.

These misperceptions were that there was generally worldwide support for the war against Iraq, that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq and that a credible link had been made between Iraq and Al Qa’ida 27 Ibid P 11 28 AOL Time Warner, General Electric, Viacom, Disney, Bertelsmann and News Corporation 29 Media and Research Group of Cornell University, “Restrictions on Civil Liberties, Views of Islam, & Muslim Americans”, December, 2004. 30 The Sun, 10 April 1992, for example


The Labour government in the United Kingdom has created a science of media management. “Citizens in Britain’s media democracy have become politically attuned to phrases such as agenda setting, news management, soundbites, image promotion and ‘staying on message’, and incorporated some of these processes into their political decision-making”31. This news management has taken the form not just of employing large numbers of media managers, double the numbers under the previous government32 (paid for from the public purse), but also in a new and more aggressive approach to dealing with journalists. “Journalists are bullied, harangued, isolated from government news sources and told that their editors will be contacted and advised to sack them”33. Even where attempts at opening government are made, such as the Freedom of Information Act (2000), the instinct of the UK government for news management is too strong to stop abuses. Not alone did the amount of official documents being shredded by the Department of Defence increase by almost 200% in 2003/2004 (in advance of the entry into force of the Act) compared with 1999/2000, and by 100% in the Department of Trade and Industry in the same period34, but the government acted to minimise the amount of press investigation under the Act by insisting on publishing immediately any information uncovered by newspaper investigations – thereby acting as a disincentive for newspapers to undertake time-consuming and expensive research35. Such efforts to restrict voter awareness appear perfectly acceptable in the Western approach to democracy despite striking at the heart of voters’ ability to make an informed choice. Electoral integrity Both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, the electoral system does not ensure that the party or individual that wins the most votes actually wins the election. Indeed, the electoral college system in the United States does not even place a legal requirement for there to be any relationship at all between the number of votes cast and who actually becomes president. It has happened once, in 2000, that a President was elected after “losing” the election. The electoral system in the United Kingdom can produce similar results. It has happened twice in the United Kingdom that a party that gained the most votes did not win the most seats36.

Franklin, B, “Tough on Soundbites, Tough on the Causes of Soundbites: New Labour and News Management”, Catalyst, 1998. 32 United Kingdom Hansard, 25 November 1997, Line 14806 33 Franklin, B, Op cit, P 6 (of online version) 34 Woolf, M, “Shredded: Tens of Thousands of Government Documents” The Independent, 23 December, 2004. 35 Travis, A and Evans, R, “Falconer rejects risk to information act”, The Guardian, 1 January, 2005 36 In Britain, in 1951, Labour polled the most votes and won 26 fewer seats than the Conservatives, while in 1974, the Conservatives won 4 fewer seats than Labour with 140,000 more votes. In 2000, according to the US Federal Election Commission, George W. Bush


Real Choice Democracy is fundamentally about the right of peoples to have a real choice in the way that they are governed. However, even in the most developed and apparently irreproachably democratic countries, there is considerable evidence that choices are more restricted than would be optimal. The UNDP37 stresses that democracy requires a legislature that represents the people and a judiciary that upholds the rule of law. The United Kingdom Parliament is dominated by a very centralised Labour Party, which commands 62% of the seats in the lower house of Parliament after winning the votes of 24.1% of the electorate and 40.68% of voters. This means that, in the absence of a democratically credible upper house of Parliament, the Labour Party can rule with little concern for Parliament. However, the way in which Labour formulates policy is even more problematic from a democratic perspective. As a traditionally left-wing party, Labour has repeatedly been able to outmanoeuvre their right-wing opponents by adopting conservative policies. “The Blair doctrine has been to leave no room on his right: if the Tories propose tightening up or cracking down, new Labour has been right behind them”38. With no room on the right and no credible electoral challenge on the left (the Independent newspaper calculated that an approximate three-way tie at the upcoming UK elections would leave the Liberal Democrats with only 11.6% of the seats in Parliament, with Labour as by far the biggest party in a hung parliament39), the choices of British electors are more theoretical than real. Practical choice in the US is restricted in different ways. The UNDP40 makes the observation that the spiralling costs of effective participation in election campaigns makes it “almost impossible” for an under-funded candidate to enter an election. This increases the risks of the sources of such funding having a negative impact on the ability of “democratic” governments to rule independently of the influence of special interest groups – particularly corporate interests. The gravity of the problem is illustrated by a study quoted by the UNDP 41 showed that candidates challenging incumbent members of Congress won, on average, one percentage point of votes for every extra $10,000 spent, and that corporations in the US contributed $1.2 billion in donations during the 2000 elections. With two main parties holding generally similar views in the US and huge funding from corporations making a challenge almost impossible, to what extent can it be said that the choices facing US electors are real rather than simply theoretical? The
received 50,456,002 votes compared with 50,999,897 votes for Al Gore, with Bush being declared the winner. 37 UNDP Op cit P 54 38 Freedland, J, “Hovering in mid air”, The Guardian, 15 December, 2004 39 Grice, A, “Even without Tory revival, Blair can lose out”, The Independent, 08 November, 2004 40 UNDP Op cit P 67 41 Ibid, P 67


situation is further worsened by the perceived need to vote for the “lesser of two evils”, which led to the campaign to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot in as many US states as possible in 2004. Contradictions in Western practice Perhaps due to lack of awareness of the faults of Western democracy, or perhaps due to expediency, there are significant gaps in the way in which “democracy” is installed in other countries, such as Iraq. The electoral system being imposed in Iraq, despite the ethnic tensions in the country, treats the whole country as one constituency, meaning that the areas with the greatest unrest will have the least representation, a situation unlikely to improve tensions in those communities. As moderate Sunni politician Adnan Pachachi said, the risk is “a non-inclusive election that leaves parts of the country unrepresented and millions of Iraqis disenfranchised”42. Furthermore, numerous decisions were taken prior to the nominal handover of sovereignty in 2004 which could have been left to the democratic will of the Iraqi people, but were instead made by the US authorities. For example, the privatisation of Iraqi state businesses and the introduction of a new copyright law43 were undertaken without the democratic consent of the Iraqi people. Further examples of the lack of coherence in the Western approach to democracy can be seen in the lack of effective criticism of Israel’s wilful restrictions on the Palestinian elections where one hundred thousand Palestinians will have to leave their home city of Jerusalem to vote. The chief electoral officer in the Palestinian elections stated that only five thousand voters were allowed to register in East Jerusalem, out of a total estimated electorate of 120,00044. The attitude of the West towards patently undemocratic regimes also does not serve to strengthen the argument of a right to democracy anchored in international law. Even before the terrorist attacks of September, 2001, Saudi Arabia was one of the biggest US allies in the Middle East, despite the fact that it is not alone undemocratic but has a “criminal justice system that is shrouded in secrecy and systematically violates the rights of all those trapped in its web”45 – an alliance which is incomprehensible when compared with the demands for democracy and human rights frequently made by the United States as part of its Middle East policy. Similarly, the US welcomed the undemocratic Musharaff regime in Pakistan into the international coalition against terrorism. As Ewan McDonald points out, “such active support of plainly illiberal regimes must have
42 43

Allard, T, “Iraq a candidate for civil war”, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 December, 2004 Coalition Provisional Order Number 83, 29 April 2003. 44 Urquhart, C, “Israel stops Palestinians voting in Jerusalem”, The Guardian, 30 December, 2005 45 Amnesty International, “Saudi Arabia: A system without justice”, 10 May, 2000


serious consequences for the legitimacy of any such ‘right’ [of democratic governance]”. It appears entirely conceivable that future generations will look back on these clear limitations on the current understanding of “democracy” with the same critical eye that current thinkers look back on the “democracies” of the nineteenth century. Transnational Democracy? International forces, both formal and informal, have a significant impact on the ability of national governments to have control over their economies and, therefore, the welfare of their citizens. For example, it is hardly the fault of governments, elected or otherwise, in developing countries that industrial country tariffs on imports are four times higher that those on imports from other industrialised countries, or that the agricultural sector in developing countries has to compete with farmers in developing countries receiving subsidies from their governments six times higher than those countries’ global aid budget. These external forces are completely outside the democratic reach of the voters in these countries. Sandel’s argument46 that “governments have lost the capacity to manage transnational forces in accordance with the expressed wishes of their citizens”, thereby losing “the very essence of democracy”, is compelling and poses the obvious question as to what, if anything, can be done to democratise these forces. Choice being the very essence of democracy, instances such as the IMF requesting both candidates in the 1997 South Korean election to sign a confidential declaration to abide by the conditions of a proposed rescue package, shows the level of the problems posed. From the perspective of a developing country, real choice for citizens seems like a remote possibility indeed. Developing countries rely heavily on bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Seven countries (USA, Japan, France, UK, Saudi Arabia, Germany and the Russian Federation) control 48% of the voting power in the IMF and 46% in the World Bank. In the case of both bodies, the heads are chosen by the United States and Europe – a clearly undemocratic practice propagated by the two leading “democratic” blocs in the world. Both the IMF and World Bank impose an ever-increasing (up from 6-10 in the eighties to 26 in the nineties) range of performance criteria on indebted nations – criteria which are imposed on the strong by the weak, by democracies on countries where the demos has no opportunity to influence these policies. An emerging right to democratic governance would give the voters in such countries the right to vote (supported by Western powers) but not the right to choose (removed, in practice, by these same Western powers).

As described in McGrew, A, “From Global Governance to good governance” in Ougaard, M, and Higgott, R, “Towards a Global Polity”, Warwick Studies in Globalisation, Routledge, 2002, P 209


Democracy without a demos? The basic problem in a transnational environment is that there is no coherent demos with shared experience of democracy, shared needs, shared levels of education or any other basis on which democratic rights could be based. Furthermore, the global scale of the issues dealt with by organisations at the level of transnational institutions makes it very difficult for ordinary individuals to be able to make informed decisions regarding the activities of such organisations. Indeed, the habit of governments of EU Member States of blaming unpopular policies on “Europe”, shows just how difficult democratic accountability would be to create in even more remote bodies like the IMF, World Bank and the UN. The increasing proliferation of “non governmental organisations” (NGOs) that have frequently acted as a brake on the excesses of globalisation is seen by some as a cause for hope for the creation of quasi-democratic checks and balances on the activities of inter-governmental agencies and corporations. The UNDP for example argues NGOs are developing “new and collaborative forms of decision-making”47. This is indeed true and their role cannot be underestimated, as can be seen in the fight for access to cheaper HIV/AIDS drugs in South Africa. However, the fact that the successful campaign in South Africa was morally just does not mean that it must have been democratic. The UNDP, which devotes considerable amounts of text48 to the Jubilee 2000, landmines and HIV/AIDs campaigns as examples of transnational democracy in action, makes no effort whatsoever to explain why they can be considered as such – except the assumption that, because what they are doing is “good” means that it must be democratic. At best, one can hope that NGOs honestly endeavour to represent what appears to be democratic, as neither we nor they have any way of knowing for sure. NGOs rely for significant portions of their funds on national aid budgets and the realisation is emerging in Western governments that this aid can be used to further national interests. On 21st May, 2003, the head of the USAID, the government agency for distribution of the US government aid funds as reported as having threatened to “personally tear up” the contracts of NGOs that did not make it clear that they were an “arm of the US government”49, undermining the possibilities for a “vibrant civil society”50 that the UNDP and the European Parliament51 describe as “required” by a healthy democracy.

47 48

UNDP, Op cit, P 5 UNDP, Op cit, PP 102-106 49 Klein, N, “Now Bush wants to buy the complicity of aid workers”, The Guardian, 23 June, 2003. 50 UNDP Op cit P55 51 European Parliament resolution on Turkey's application for membership of the European Union (COM(2002) 700)


It is also worth pointing out that NGOs have had significant power without significant responsibility, as shown by the Greenpeace campaign against the dumping of the Shell Brent Spar oil rig, which was based on seriously flawed analysis. Such incidents also raise significant doubts as to the viability of NGOs being able to play the role of democratic “watchdogs”. Less developed countries have their opportunities for the introduction of democracy restricted much more severely by international organisations than more developed countries. On the one hand, they are much more at the mercy of organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and, on the other, they are much less well represented in such organisations than developed countries. There are considerable question marks over the extent to which democratisation of transnational organisations is either possible or, even, desirable. Economic globalisation, together with a growth in the practices of western “democracy” at the nation-state level, create a logic pointing towards democratisation in a system that seems to render it impossible. At the most basic level, it is clear that “might trumps right” in the international environment52. Consequently, it seems unlikely that countries like the USA, whose antipathy to international obligations of any sort, ranging from the International Criminal Court to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are well known, would be likely to pool sovereignty to create greater democracy in the global environment – despite its proclaimed support for democracy in the Middle East and beyond. Conclusions It seems clear that a right in international law to democratic governance exists to the extent that “democratic governance” is considered to be procedurally “free and fair” elections and freedom of expression. However, it appears clear that this analysis is focussed far too much on these two factors, on the concept of the nation state and on theoretical opportunities for voters rather than realities. Local communities and regions are better able to manage their own affairs than remote bureaucrats in national capitals. On the other extreme, globalisation is causing power to be ceded by national governments to formal and informal international forces – a fact often ignored or even denied by national politicians, making democracy in the globalised world even more difficult to create. Citizens in countries such as the USA have a theoretically free press, but the fact is that the media, and particularly the broadcast media, are dominated by a small number of international corporations. The fact that diligent voters could find independent news sources does not negate the fact that most do not. Similarly, US politics is dominated by two very similar political parties heavily funded by generally the same corporate donors. The fact that an independent candidate

McGrew, A, Op cit P 207


could in theory enter the race does not negate the fact that it is highly unlikely that one would be able in practice – certainly not without the blessing of the same corporate donors. In the absence of a feasible definition of what constitutes a properly functioning “democracy”, the concept of an emerging right to democratic governance can only be seen as a very basic framework within which democracy may be built. Finally, on an international level, the world’s leading democracies’ attitudes towards democracy within organisations such as the IMF and World Bank and their alliances with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan hardly suggests that the depth of belief of the West in democracy is as strong as often proclaimed.

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Urquhart, C, “Israel stops Palestinians voting in Jerusalem”, The Guardian, 30 December, 2005 Younge, G, “The Ouster of Democracy”, The Guardian, 08 March, 2004


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