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Façade or Democracy in Kiribati, Vanuatu and São Tomé & Príncipe?

Research project The purpose of this research project is to analyze the political systems of small states, i.e. states with a population size below 500 000. Three island states constitute the empirical focus of this project: Kiribati, Vanuatu and São Tomé & Príncipe which have 100 000, 300 000 and 200 000 residents respectively. Are these states democracies, as the most frequently employed democracy indices in political science research would have us believe, or are they rather façade democracies?

Research on political systems often excludes the study of small states. This despite the fact that small states are democratic to a remarkable degree. Hence, there is a statistical correlation between smallness and democracy. This finding must, however, be verified by means of qualitative methods. This project analyses the political system of three small states. Two research questions guide the inquiry: 1) Is the statistical correlation between smallness and democracy borne out in political practice? 2) Which factors explain democratic performance, or the lack thereof, in these small states?

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2021-01-01 2023-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Political Science

Research area

Political science

External funding

Swedish Research Council

Project description

The three islands states of Kiribati, Vanuatu and São Tomé & Príncipe constitute the empirical focus of our inquiry. We set out to conduct fieldwork in each of these locations and will interview politicians in the governing party/coalition, politicians in the opposition as well as journalists who reside and work in these countries. This course of action will give us important insights as to the political system of these states in their everyday practice which will, by extent, allow us to discuss and draw conclusions as to whether these states are in fact practicing democracy or if they are rather window-dressing as democracies, i.e. if they are façade democracies.

The research that will be produced in this project is significant in mainly three different respects. To begin with, to better understand the functioning’s of the political system and the drivers of democratization (or lack thereof) in São Tomé & Príncipe, Vanuatu and Kiribati, will be of value for the people who reside in these countries as well as for national/international organizations that work with democracy promotion. Secondly, the research conducted in this project will also make an important contribution to the democratization literature. Indeed, to continuously exclude small states from empirical analysis is, in effect a huge problem as it, in fact, precludes generalizations. Thirdly, we believe that the results of this research project have the potential to spur an academic debate in regards to the statistical databases that political scientists often employ in their work. If qualitative studies, as our research, indicates something rather diametrically different from what such statistical databases imply about the same phenomenon – what does this say about their validity? To be sure, this is a pertinent question that ought to be discussed in the research community.

External funding

Latest update: 2020-12-17