Democratic Transitions

Conversations with World Leaders
This publication is only available in electronic format
1 October 2015
978-14-2141-760-8 (Print)
Sergio Bitar, Abraham F. Lowenthal (co-editors)
Johns Hopkins University Press

Published by Johns Hopkins University Press, Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders is a unique exploration of how countries become democracies, and the first volume in any language that focuses on learning lessons from political leaders about promoting and managing democratic transitions.

An initiative of International IDEA, the book presents personal reflections on ending authoritarian rule and building democracy by 13 former presidents who have played key roles in democratic transitions over the past 30 years. In probing interviews, the editors focus on each leader’s principal challenges and goals as well as their strategies to end authoritarian rule and construct democratic governance.

Context-setting introductions by country experts highlight each nation’s unique experiences and challenges; a chapter by Georgina Waylen analyses women’s often underestimated roles as leaders; and a foreword by Tunisia’s former president, Mohamed Moncef Marzouki, underlines the book’s relevance in North Africa, West Asia and beyond.

The editors’ conclusion distills lessons about how democratic transitions have been and can be carried out in a changing world, emphasizing the importance of political leadership. This unique book will be valuable for political leaders, civil society activists, journalists, scholars and all who want to support democratic transitions.

To order a printed copy, please visit John Hopkins University Press at the following link: <



Foreword - Mohamed Moncef Marzouki, Former President of the Republic of Tunisia

Preface - Yves Leterme, Secretary General, International IDEA

Introduction - Sergio Bitar and Abraham F. Lowenthal

1. Brazil’s Transition: From Constrained Liberalization to Vibrant Democracy - Frances Hagopian 
Interview with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, President of Brazil 1995–2003

2. Chile’s Successful Transition: From Intense Polarization to Stable Democracy - Genaro Arriagada 
Interview with Patricio Aylwin, President of Chile 1990–94  
Interview with Ricardo Lagos, President of Chile 2000–2006

3. Ghana’s Winding Path toward Democracy - Kwame A. Ninsin
Interview with John Agyekum Kufuor, President of Ghana 2001–9
Interview with Jerry John Rawlings, President of Ghana 1993–2001

4. Indonesia’s Democratic Venture: Problems, Prospects, and Remaining Challenges - Bahtiar Effendy and Mutiara Pertiwi
Interview with B. J. Habibie, President of Indonesia 1998–99

5. Mexico’s Gradual Democratization: From Above and from Below - Soledad Loaeza
Interview with Ernesto Zedillo, President of Mexico 1994–2000 

6. The Philippines: “People Power”, a Troubled Transition and “Good Governance” - Mark R. Thompson
Interview with Fidel V. Ramos, President of the Philippines 1992–98

7. Poland’s Great Experiment: Creating Democracy through Protests, Repression, Negotiation, Elections and the Politics of Zigzag - Jane L. Curry
Interview with Aleksander Kwasniewski, President of Poland 1995–2005
Interview with Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Prime Minister of Poland 1989–91

8. Democracy as By-Product: South Africa’s Negotiated Transition - Steven Friedman
Interview with F. W. de Klerk, President of South Africa 1989–94
Interview with Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa 1999–2008

9. Spain: Transition by Transaction - Charles Powell
Interview with Felipe González, President of the Government of Spain 1982–96

10. Women Activists in Democratic Transitions - Georgina Waylen

11. Conclusion: From Authoritarian Rule toward Democratic Governance - Abraham F. Lowenthal and Sergio Bitar 

About the editors and contributors
Select bibliography

"What makes countries become successful democracies? There is much theoretical literature on the topic, but this book is different and special. It answers the question through interviews with the key players in some of the most important transitions to democracy in recent decades. The result is a fascinating empirical exploration of a vital issue, rich with detail and insights. "
Fareed Zakaria
"Democratic Transitions accomplishes a remarkable feat, providing a readable and engaging history of the Third Wave of democratization for general readers and students, while filling in countless important details that specialists will appreciate. The lessons the editors draw from the unique individuals they interviewed provide critical guidelines for future political leaders and for those who want to help build democracies. "
Francis Fukuyama
Stanford University
"Timely and ambitious, this unique hybrid project combines practical insights for struggling proponents of democratization with important original research geared toward promoting inclusive democratic governance. "
Philip Oxhorn
McGill University
"The pragmatic wisdom and unique outlook of the experienced political leaders interviewed in Democratic Transitions are critical to the global dialogue on building open, democratic, and sustainable societies. The lessons of their failures and successes can help others to overcome tenacious global challenges, and support democratic transitions of political power."
Kofi Annan,
former Secretary-General of the United Nation s, and founder and chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation for better global governance
"This book provides impressive insights on how political leaders helped their countries navigate from dictatorships toward democracy. A must-read for future transitions."
Michelle Bachelet
President of Chile
"No one is more qualified to provide lessons about how dictatorships have been ended, and democracies constructed in their place, than the political leaders who have actually shaped successful transitions over the past 3 decades. This timely and valuable book shares the experiences, reflections and political learning of 13 such leaders from around the world. It is a 'must read' for anyone who wants to understand the complex processes of democratic transitions or to participate in them effectively."
Moisés Naím
Distinguished Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for I nternational Peace and Contributing Editor, Atlantic and El Pais
"[Democratic Transitions] will be valuable for political leaders, civil society activists, journalists, scholars, and all who want to support democratic transitions."
Nehad Ismail
"Sergio Bitar and Abraham Lowenthal have done a great job in eliciting from leaders who played crucial roles in the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule in different continents the practical lessons to be drawn from their experience. They emphasize not ‘ great men’ or charismatic leaders, but rather the importance of teamwork, inclusivity, coalition-building, and patient persuasion rather than a peremptory maximalism. The leaders and authors are at one in seeing a willingness to compromise, far from being an abandonment of principle, as fundamental to the construction of genuine democracy."
Archie Brown
author of The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age
"It is a sobering truth that most attempts at democratic transition fail, with disappointment and reversal their unhappy lot. Sergio Bitar and Abraham Lowenthal refuse to take this as a counsel of despair, however. Instead, they see it as all the more reason to study the cases of democratization that did work, in hopes of learning how they beat the odds and managed to implant government by consent and the rule of law in places where these had been absent and indeed denied."
Alfred Stepan
Journal of Democracy , January 2016
"In Democratic Transitions, Bitar and Lowenthal have documented masterfully the immense change required for a successful transition from entrenched authoritarianism to consolidated democracy. They demonstrate that, even in the most propitious of cases, the process is long and difficult. It involves strategic patience, prolonged negotiations and courageous action."
Adrian A. Basora
former US Ambassador to Prague and Seni or Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute

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