Promoting Democracy in a Polycentric World: What Role for the Emerging Powers?

The rise of the “emerging powers” – encompassing the BRICS but also other states with regional and global leadership aspirations, such as Indonesia or Turkey – has been instrumental in the emergence of a more polycentric world. Based on their economic ascension and their growing integration into global value chains, these countries have gained greater clout in international trade negotiations and become part of global governance mechanisms such as the G-20. Building on these advances, the emerging powers are now vying for a commensurate role at all levels of international policymaking, including at the United Nations and in the discussions on a new development compact to replace the current Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). At the same time, they have been called upon to take greater responsibility for the delivery of a range of “global public goods”.

The rise of the emerging powers has challenged the dominant development model advocated by the OECD-DAC, but in fundamentally different ways. Countries such as China or Russia have been promoting authoritarian pathways to development, which seek to preserve limits on political expression and insulate top-down ways of political decision making from the increasing complexity of their growing economies. Countries such as India, Brazil, or Indonesia, by contrast, are relying on democratic governance to address fundamental development challenges and resolve resulting tensions and conflicts – including growing levels of inequality and domestic contestation.

The panel seeks to explore the current state of these democratic development models and their systemic rivalry with their authoritarian competitors, concentrating on three specific angles. One, the panel will look at levels of support for democracy in select democratic emerging powers, such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia or Turkey. Focusing on recent protest movements that have sprung up in response to shortcomings and deficiencies in democratic governance practices (e.g., in Brazil, India and Turkey), the panel will ask if and to what extent these developments reflect a growing sense of democratic citizenship. Two, the panel will examine the role of the middle classes in this context, to assess recent claims that middle-class support for democracy in these countries may be waning, and that middle-income groups are becoming an obstacle especially to attempts to redress growing inequality levels. Three, and against this background, the panel will examine what impact these domestic developments are having on the role of the democratic emerging powers as external democracy supporters, and on their ability to take greater responsibility in delivering global public goods more generally. Does an emphasis on domestic shortcomings and imperfections weaken their appeal as democratic models of development? If so, does this also reduce the democratic emerging powers’ leverage in their systemic competition with authoritarian powers, particularly China? And is a greater effort to address and rectify domestic shortcomings compatible with a pro-active, outward-looking foreign policy that puts a greater emphasis on responsible, global citizenship, or is this too taxing given existing resource levels?