Carothers begins the article by naming 7 important changes taking place in the last few decades;
1) The fall of right-wing authoritarian regimes in Southern Europe in the mid-1970s.
2) The replacement of military dictatorships by elected civilian governments across Latin America from the late 1970s through the late 1980s.
3) The decline of authoritarian rule in parts of East and South Asia starting in the mid-1980s.
4) The collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s.
5) The breakup of the Soviet Union and the establishment of 15 post-Soviet republics in 1991.
6) The decline of one-party regimes in many parts of Africa in the first half of the 1990s.
7) A weak but recognizable liberalizing trend in some Middle Eastern countries in the 1990s.
Carothers thinks that although these changes varied greatly, they had one common characteristic: they all aimed make a shift from dictatorial rule toward more liberal and often more democratic governance. Furthermore, these developments influenced each other and some writers like Samuel Huntington conceptualized them as the third wave of democracy. USA was the primary actor in this global change. USA aimed to make “"the worldwide democratic revolution” and they used governmental, quasi-governmental, and nongovernmental organizations to promote democracy around the world. The change in the regimes of these countries required a transitional model to analyze the transformation and provide a theoretical framework. So, the U.S. democracy community rapidly embraced an analytic model of democratic transition which was derived principally from their own interpretation of the patterns of democratic change, but also to a lesser extent from the early works of the emergent academic field of "transitology," with the works Guillermo O'Donnell and Philippe Schmitter. With the expansion of the third wave, this model became a universal paradigm for democratic transitions. Carothers believes that although the transition paradigm has been somewhat useful during a time of momentous, it is increasingly clear that reality is no longer conforming to the model. Many countries that policy makers persist in calling "transitional" are not in transition to democracy, and of the democratic transitions that are under way, more than a few are not following the model. So, he says that the transition paradigm lost its usefulness and a new perspective is needed in comparative works.
Five core assumptions define the transition paradigm;
1-) Any country moving away from dictatorial rule can be considered a country in transition toward democracy. With this approach, even Democratic Republic of Congo is accepted as a transitional country. Nearly half of the world is considered as transitional countries which make us difficult to make generalizations. In fact, many of these countries have taken on a smattering of democratic features but show few signs of democratizing much further and are certainly not following any predictable democratization script.
2-) Democratization is realized through stages. First there occurs the opening, a period of democratic enthusiasm and political liberalization in which conflicts appear between hardliners and softliners. There follows the breakthrough--the collapse of the old regime and the rapid emergence of a new, democratic system, with the coming to power of a new government through national elections and the establishment of a democratic institutional structure, often through the promulgation of a new constitution. After the transition comes consolidation, a slow but purposeful process in which democratic forms are transformed into democratic substance through the reform of state institutions, the regularization of elections, the strengthening of civil society, and the overall habituation of the society to the new democratic "rules of the game". In short, consolidation continues until the democracy becomes “the only game in the town”. However, this may not be the path in transitional countries. Transitional countries can also stagnate or go backwards. Moreover, pre-accepted sequence of democratization turned out to be wrong in many cases. Some of the most encouraging cases of democratization in recent years--such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Mexico-- did not go through the paradigmatic process of democratic breakthrough followed rapidly by national elections and a new democratic institutional framework. Their political evolutions were defined by an almost opposite phenomenon--extremely gradual, incremental processes of liberalization with an organized political opposition pushing for change across successive elections and finally winning.
3-) The belief in the determinative importance of elections. It has been assumed that in attempted transitions to democracy, elections will be not just a foundation stone but a key generator over time of further democratic reforms. However, it may not be the case. Too much emphasis given to elections may restrict democracy’s qualities and provide legitimacy for anti-democratic regimes. Moreover, elections do not guarantee a shrinking of the wide gulf between political elites and citizens. In many countries, it is related to structural conditions, such as the concentration of wealth or certain sociocultural traditions rather than elections.
4-) The underlying conditions in transitional countries--their economic level, political history, institutional legacies, ethnic make-up, sociocultural traditions, or other "structural" features-- will not be major factors in either the onset or the outcome of the transition process. Some of the early works in transitology also reflected the "no preconditions" view of democratization, a shift within the academic literature that had begun in 1970 with Dankwart Rustow's seminal article, "Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model". Transitional theories starting from Rustow’s work were too much elite based and no emphasis was given to structural-historical conditions (Remember Haggard and Kaufman’s article). During the 1990s, a number of scholars began challenging the "no preconditions" line, with analyses of the roles that economic wealth, institutional legacies, social class, and other structural factors play in attempted democratic transitions
5-) Fifth, the transition paradigm rests on the assumption that the democratic transitions making up the third wave are being built on coherent, functioning states. The process of democratization is assumed to include some redesign of state institutions--such as the creation of new electoral institutions, parliamentary reform, and judicial reform--but as a modification of already functioning states. However, in many transitional countries, the democratic transition not only required the creation of democratic institutions and procedures but also the very creation of state mechanisms that are non-existent or weak (Remember Stephen Holmes’ article about weak states). Approximately 20 countries in the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia have had to build national state institutions where none existed before. Throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, the liberalizing political wave of the 1990s ran squarely into the sobering reality of devastatingly weak states. In many parts of Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, political change was carried out in the context of stable state structures, but the erratic performance of those states complicated every step.
GRAY ZONE: Of the nearly 100 countries considered as "transitional" in recent years, only a relatively small number--probably fewer than 20--are clearly en route to becoming successful, well-functioning democracies or at least have made some democratic progress and still enjoy a positive dynamic of democratization. However, the very majority of third wave countries enter into the gray zone. They have some attributes of democratic political life, including at least limited political space for opposition parties and independent civil society, as well as regular elections and democratic constitutions. Yet they suffer from serious democratic deficits, often including poor representation of citizens' interests, low levels of political participation beyond voting, frequent abuse of the law by government officials, elections of uncertain legitimacy, very low levels of public confidence in state institutions, and persistently poor institutional performance by the state. As the number of countries falling in between outright dictatorship and well-established liberal democracy has swollen, political analysts created different terms characterizing these regimes including semi-democracy, formal democracy, electoral democracy, façade democracy, pseudo-democracy, weak democracy, partial democracy, illiberal democracy, delegative democracy and virtual democracy. By describing countries in the gray zone as types of democracies, analysts are in effect trying to apply the transition paradigm to the very countries whose political evolution is calling that paradigm into question. As a first analytic step, two broad political syndromes can be seen to be common in the gray zone.
1-) Feckless (irresponsible) pluralism especially in Latin American countries. Although these countries possess many qualities of democratic governance, the politics is highly polarized, corrupt and anti-system parties are powerful. No democratic culture is settled among citizens.
2-) Dominant-power politics. We see the blurring of the line between the state and the ruling party. No tolerance is shown towards the opposition. Generally it is like one party dominant system although there are elections which may not be free and fair. Dominant-power systems are found in the former Soviet Union countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan as well as some African countries.
Thomas Carothers proposes us to get rid of transition paradigm. All these assumptions are refuted;
· that most of these countries are actually in a transition to democracy;
· that countries moving away from authoritarianism tend to follow a three-part process of democratization consisting of opening, break-through, and consolidation;
· that the establishment of regular, genuine elections will not only give new governments democratic legitimacy but foster a longer term deepening of democratic participation and accountability;
· that a country's chances for successfully democratizing depend primarily on the political intentions and actions of its political elites without significant influence from underlying economic, social, and institutional conditions and legacies;
· that state-building is a secondary challenge to democracy-building and largely compatible with it.
It does not mean denying that important democratic reforms have occurred in many countries in the past two decades. It does not mean that countries in the gray zone are doomed never to achieve well-functioning liberal democracy. It does not mean that free and fair elections in "transitional countries" are futile or not worth supporting. It does not mean that the United States and other international actors should abandon efforts to promote democracy in the world.
It does mean, however, that democracy promoters should approach their work with some very different assumptions. Surprise and disappointment that Western political analysts express over the very frequent falling short of democracy in "transitional countries" should be replaced with realistic expectations about the likely patterns of political life in these countries. Analysts and policy makers looking at politics in a country that has recently moved away from authoritarianism should not start by asking, "How is its democratic transition going". They should instead formulate a more open-ended query, "What is happening politically". All democratic aid and works were made previously according to the transitional paradigm but they mostly failed.
Where feckless pluralism reigns, this means giving concentrated attention to two interrelated issues: how to improve the variety and quality of the main political actors in the society and how to begin to bridge the gulf between the citizenry and the formal political system.
In dominant-power systems, democracy promoters should devote significant attention to the challenge of helping to encourage the growth of alternative centers of power. Merely helping finance the proliferation of nongovernmental organizations is an inadequate approach to this challenge.
The core point, however, is plain: The transition paradigm was a product of a certain time--the heady early days of the third wave--and that time has now passed. It is necessary for democracy activists to move on to new frameworks, new debates, and perhaps eventually a new paradigm of political change--one suited to the landscape of today, not the lingering hopes of an earlier era.