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It appears that in nation-building there are two schools of thought: one that advocates holding elections as soon as possible, and one that advocates that nations must reach a certain level before they are able to hold elections (e.g.)

Is there any evidence which strongly supports one approach over the other?

If organizations oppose holding elections, on what basis do they base the that conclusion? Don't human-rights fundamentally depend on the power of people to choose their own governments? What alternative mechanism do they propose for creating a government that has the best interests of is people in mind?

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    This has not what has been mentioned in the article - HRW doesn't opposes elections in Libya , what it says is that it's difficult to conduct elections in Libya as a result of huge problems - one of the biggest problem is that Judiciary is under constant armed attack and if Judiciary isn't working then there's no chance a democracy could survive - For a democracy you need a strong judiciary – user17709 Mar 21 '18 at 16:49
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    Re human-rights fundamentally depending on the power of people to choose their own governments, what if the elected government wants to kill off or otherwise oppress unpopular minorities? There are numerous examples, from Nazi Germany & the Rwandan genocide down to the historic treatment of homosexuals in "enlightened" western democracies. – jamesqf Mar 21 '18 at 18:27
  • @jamesqf Ah, the "what if" game. You can use that on anything. Having children is a human right? Pfft, hardly, what if your child ends up murdering someone? There are literally millions of examples. – Clay07g Mar 22 '18 at 1:56
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    @Clay07g: It's a serious question. Suppose you have a kid, and you discover that the kid is a psychopath? Do you let the kid go out and kill people? Or do you take measures to keep him/her under control? – jamesqf Mar 22 '18 at 5:09
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    This question is misleading. The question suggests that HRW is against ALL elections, while the article makes clear that this is not the case. If that is not the case, I suggest that the OP edit the question to make this clear. – Joe C Mar 22 '18 at 7:09
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Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:

  1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
  2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.
  3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

If you want to hold a vote for a legitimate government, then you need to be able to guarantee a few things:

  • Everyone who wants to run for government is able to do so
  • All eligible voters must have equal access to voting
  • Nobody is able to vote more than once
  • Nobody is able to suppress voters or coerce them to vote in a specific way
  • You are able to prevent election fraud (deliberate miscounting, ballot stuffing/destruction, etc.)

The prerequisite for all of this is that you have an effective bureaucracy and a law enforcement system which is able and willing to provide all of these guarantees. In countries which are recovering from a civil war (or like Libya is still in the middle of one), this is often not the case.

In the chaos of civil war, civil registers will have gone out of date, so you wouldn't know who is eligible for voting.

Some areas of the country might not yet be under the control of a non-corrupt law enforcement system. So you can not prevent voter suppression, voter coercion or election fraud from taking place. You might also be unable to protect candidates from violence or politically motivated legal harassment.

Some areas might not even have the necessary communication infrastructure to even inform people that there is an election, yet alone give them enough information about the candidates to enable them to make an informed decision.

When you can not guarantee that an election is fair, then you don't need to have an election in the first place, because whoever wins won't be the faction which actually represents the true interests of the people. It will be the faction which is best at election manipulation.

Now you could argue: "The perfect is the enemy of the good. Better to have unfair elections than no elections at all". But the problem is that the people you put into power that way will then be in charge of organizing the next election. And whatever fraudulent actions they had to use to win this election, they will make sure they can use the same methods in the next one.

That means it can sometimes be better to wait a few years and make sure you create a proper democracy than have an election now and install a regime which will prevent fair and equal elections for decades.

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    Unfair elections also tarnish the credibility of any future elections, which could corrupt the results of later legitimate elections – user70585 Mar 21 '18 at 18:56
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If organizations oppose holding elections, on what basis do they base the that conclusion? Don't human-rights fundamentally depend on the power of people to choose their own governments? What alternative mechanism do they propose for creating a government that has the best interests of is people in mind?

Experience is a hard teacher.

With a handful of exceptions, mostly British influenced (e.g. East Timor, India, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Israel) where there is a long tradition of representative democratic self-rule and/or a lot of hand holding from the outside world, almost every country that gains self-government, either from monarchy or colonial rule or some other non-democratic government, and immediately adopts a Western style multiparty democratic system for the first time swiftly degenerates into a coup, military rule, a dictatorship, or one party rule (see e.g. with most notable the years of democratic or pro-Western regime collapse into non-democracy or tyranny following attempted democratic rule: England (1648), France (1792), Venezuela (1812, 1830), Mexico (1823, 1910), Russia (1917), Germany (1919, 1933), Japan (1932), China (1949), Vietnam (1954), Pakistan (1958, 1971, 1977), Sudan (1958), Syria (1961), Zaire (1965), Nigeria (1966), Iraq (1968), Cambodia (1970), Ethiopia (1974), Iran (1979), Ivory Coast (ca. 1980; 1999); Egypt (1981; 2014), South Sudan (2013)).

Several of the few countries that didn't have a collapse of representative self-government the first time it was attempted, had, at a minimum, civil wars or insurgencies instead (see e.g. starting on the dates noted New Zealand (1845), the United States (1861), India (1947), Israel (1950s)).

These successor non-democratic governments, civil wars and insurgencies almost uniformly resulted in massive disregard for civil rights and gross human rights abuses.

Ultimately, representative democratic government is a means to an end, which is to get policies and government administration that meet the needs of the governed. After all, nobody has a personal, individual right to have their government operated to their liking, only a collectively shared process right to participate in democratic self-governance.

And, sometimes a country with strong democratic traditions using the democratic decisions of its own people as a proxy for wishes local residents to establish good policies and government administration (e.g. in Hong Kong) can produce better outcomes more of the time than the likely alternative of a failed attempt at democratic self-government, until such time as the local residents have a corps of senior civil servants and a sufficiently civically trained population to succeed at self-government without outside support or hand holding - ideally with a gradual transition of local control in some respects.

Similarly, there have been times in history when a benevolent monarch or dynasty of monarchs, or even brief rule by a military junta provides better tangible respect for human rights than the failed regime that would have arisen in an immediate transition to a Western style representative democracy.

The idea, typically, is to have a highly competent sovereign government or coalitions of sovereign governments serve as trustees of non-democratically governed countries until the country is in a position to transition to a sovereign representative democracy. Sometimes a few last strings of outside control (like Privy Council review of highest court decisions in a number of British Commonwealth countries) and continuation of the former symbolic monarchy, continue for a very long time even when a country is de facto independent.

Of course, when a government put in a position of trust is not democratic and well governed itself (e.g. Russia with respect to North Korea and East Germany, Indonesia in East Timor, and Morocco with respect to Western Sahara), the outcome may be rather dismal in the image of the country's imperfect overlord who is even less competent as a trustee for another country.

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