Posted on August 07, 2012
By: Christina Brown
It seems intuitive that democracy should lead to economic growth: when leaders are held accountable to the public they are forced to make decisions that increase the economic well-being on the entire country. However there were many nations which are democracies, though some lacking some of the essential criteria for a truly free and fair democracy, which have performed poorly economically. Just holding elections is not enough.
Research from countries all over the world shows that the true goal is good governance: strong institutions and an accountable government. Free and fair elections can be a proxy for good governance, but simply holding elections is not enough to guarantee that the will of the public is realized and the government will be effective in responding to the economic well-being of the people. In a recent article by economists Lisa Chauvet and Paul Collier, they argue, “Badly conducted elections have no structural efficacy for policy improvement. A reasonable interpretation of our results is that honest elections increase accountability and thereby discipline governments to improve economic policy and governance, but that if candidates can win by fraud this chain is broken.”
Mali is an apt example of a country with fairly transparent elections and moderately growth in the last twenty years. Though there is still discontent in the country over representation of certain geographic regions, Mali has had considerable success building a representative democracy up until the recent coup in March 2012. During the last two decades the government has held increasingly transparent elections. Two new agencies were created for the 2002 presidential election to monitor transparency and all twenty four candidates were given equal time on state radio. The 2009 elections were also seen as free and fair with minor flaws by international observers.
During this same time, the incidence of poverty (measured as the proportion of the population defined as poor) in Mali fell from 55.6% in 2001 to 47.4% in 2006 and to 43.6% in 2010. Mali was able to continue its economic growth in the last few years despite the international recession. Another important aspect of growth to recognize is the stability since a democratic government took power. Since 1995, Mali has seen positive GDP per capita growth in every year but 2004 (see graph). This consistency did not exist during the previous military regime and one party state. During those years there was tremendous instability with many years of significantly negative GDP growth.
Looking at the data during the period of democracy, we can see that there has been growth for the overall economy as well as a reduction in poverty. Despite the positive growth, there are still areas, especially in northern Mali, that have not felt included in this growth. In addition, through the elections have been mostly fair, some of the governmental institutions are still weak and unable to provide basic public goods and legal infrastructure. Though the growth has been better and more consistent under democratic rule, better institutions beyond just elections are necessary to see a large decrease in poverty throughout the country. In addition, a reason the recent coup has seen some popular support is because not all groups felt the growth had not been equally spread around the country. Rural Malians, especially, did not feel represented by the government. This shows that to have a representative democracy, elections alone are not enough to continually hold the government accountable to the people.
Sources: Mali: Poverty Reduction and Strategy Paper, Mali: Transparency at the core of presidential elections, Compulsory, but meaningful event, Elections and economic policy in developing countries