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Democracy timeline: a rocky road

This map shows some of the countries which have featured in the democracy story, from its earliest beginnings in Mesopotamia in 4000BC, through advances like the Magna Carta and universal suffrage, and including some setbacks like Hitler's Germany and the crushing of pro-democracy campaigns, and ending with multi-party elections in Iraq in 2005.

Details of the key events are listed below. They have been divided into three time periods, early democracy (4000-27BC), representative democracy (1215-mid 20th century) and modern democracy (mid-20th century-).

Map showing approximate locations of key events in the history of democracy
"Early Democracy" 4000BC-27BC
Early democracy began in small societies, like city states. Discussions were held in public assemblies and decisions were made by consensus. Participation in the democratic process was intense but numbers involved were limited. It was male dominated; women, slaves and foreigners were excluded.
Carving from Mesopotamia
4000-2500BC - Mesopotamia (Iraq)
Evidence of early democracies established in self-sufficient, autonomous Sumerian city-states, based on citizen's assemblies with presiding members and agreement by consensus.
508BC - Greece
The Greeks evolve a system of government based on "rule by the people" which they call democracy from the Greek for demos (people) and kratein (rule). All male citizens are members of the assembly and can vote, women and slaves are excluded.
Roman mosaic
510-27BC - Roman Italy
Nobles are represented in the Senate and commoners in the Assembly and governmental power is divided between them. The extent of the empire abroad, and conflict at home, leads to the decline of democracy in favour of strong dictators.

"Representative Democracy" 1215 mid-20th century
This period saw the growth of greater representation of the people and the freedom to vote within nation states. Political parties were born and competitive elections and suffrage for women became increasingly common. Increasingly, democracy became based on written laws which ensured fixed terms and secret ballots, backed by independent judiciaries.
Drawing of King John signing Magna Carta
1215 - England
Nobles force King John to sign the Magna Carta establishing written law as a higher power than the rights of the king. The transfer of some power from the king to the nobles introduces basic freedom and property rights to "free men".
Aztec statue
1248 - Mexico
The Aztecs ruled a vast empire from the Valley of Mexico using a system of government based on city-states paying tributes to the emperor. The emperor was chosen from a royal family by a high-ranking council of nobles which he had to consult before taking decisions.
Simon de Montfort
1295 - England
Edward I adopts the idea of an elected body or "Model Parliament". It includes clergy and aristocracy, as well as representatives of boroughs and counties. A similar system was used by Simon de Montfort - but Edward is the first king to call a parliament.
Oliver Cromwell
1642-51 - England
Charles I attempts to arrest five MPs sparking a war between parliamentary and Royalist supporters. In 1649 Charles is beheaded and England becomes first a commonwealth and then a protectorate under Oliver Cromwell from 1653. The monarchy is restored in 1660.
Wormwood Scrubs jail
1679 - England
Habeas Corpus Act is passed which enshrines in law the rights of the individual to legally challenge their imprisonment by the authorities.
William Pitt the Younger, one of first Tory leaders
1689 - England
The Bill of Rights legally establishes the civil and political rights that an English citizen living within a constitutional monarchy ought to have. The Tory faction, later the Conservatives, emerges in this period, heralding the birth of the party system.
Drawing of US constitution being signed
1787 - US
The US constitution, arguably the oldest written democratic constitution, establishes a federal system of government. Separating the powers, of president, Congress and judiciary is intended to stop the abuse of power. Slaves and women cannot vote.
Drawing of Louis XVI being executed
1789-99 - France
French Revolution, a period of political upheaval which sees the removal of King Louis XVI who is later executed. Power is transferred from an absolute monarchy to a republic based on citizenship and the rights of the people, although women cannot vote.
Picture of Geneva
1847 - Switzerland
A brief civil war leads to a national referendum, one of the first recorded uses in modern history, on a new federal constitution. Switzerland still holds more referendums than any other country.
Ballot box)
1856 - Australia
The first secret ballot is reportedly held in the former Australian colony, now state, of Tasmania on 7 February 1856. Ballot papers with the names of those standing are printed at public expense. Secret balloting subsequently spreads to other countries.
Drawing of men going to vote
1867 - Britain
Second Reform Act virtually doubles the size of the electorate by increasing the number of men who can vote. All male householders are given the right to vote and lodgers paying £10 a year rent.
Woman holding poster saying 'use your vote'
1893 - New Zealand
Reputedly one of the first countries to achieve universal suffrage for women. But women did not achieve the right to stand for parliament until 1919 for the lower house and 1941 for the upper house. The first women politicians are, in fact, elected in 1933.
Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested
1906 - Finland
Women achieve the right to vote and to stand for election. Suffragettes in Britain adopt disruptive tactics in their bid for enfranchisement. Women's work in World War I munitions factories proves a turning point and in 1918 women over 30 gain the vote.
Vladimir Lenin
1917 - Russia
A series of social and political upheavals leads to the overthrow of the Tsarist autocracy. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, seize power in the October Revolution and establish the world's first communist government ushering in totalitarian rule for the next seven decades.
Adolf Hitler
1933 - Germany
Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor after Reichstag elections. His Nazi party passes the Enabling Bill giving him absolute power and Germany becomes a one-party state. The triumph of fascism and communism leads to a dark age for democracy in many European countries.

"Modern Democracy" mid-20th century
While decolonisation led to the birth of the world's largest democracy (India), national independence movements led to many one-party states and military regimes. The end of the century saw democracy flourishing in Eastern Europe and Latin America after decades of totalitarianism and military rule.
Scene from Indian independence
1947 - India
Indian independence marks the beginning of the end of the British Empire as anti-colonial nationalist movements challenge the imperialist power. Three years later India becomes a republic and the largest democracy in the world.
Sharpeville massacre
1948 - South Africa
Apartheid is a system of racial segregation in South Africa developed by Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, where blacks are disenfranchised in "white" South Africa and only allowed to vote in the homelands, which are very poor economically.
Mao Zedong
1949 - China
Chiang Kai-shek resigns as president after steadily losing ground to the Communists and Mao Zedong's million-strong Red Army. He flees to Taiwan. Mao establishes the People's Republic of China, which is ruled by the Communist party to this day.
Rosa Parks leads the bus boycott
1955-68 - US
Combining civil disobedience with direct legal action, the African-American Civil Rights Movement reverses 19th century racist legislation and denial of votes in many southern states. The Montgomery bus boycott, led by Martin Luther King, proves a turning point.
Soviet tanks in Budapest
1956 - Hungary
Soviet tanks crush pro-democracy protests. More than 3,000 are killed in the violence and hundreds of thousands flee.
1957 Wind of change
1957 - Africa
The end of British Empire in Africa begins with Ghana's independence. Like many of the newly-established democracies, it becomes a socialist autocracy. Many French colonies also gain independence, including Algeria in 1962 where Ben Bella is elected in an uncontested ballot.
Soviet tanks in Prague
1968 - Czechoslovakia
The "Prague Spring" of political reforms is crushed by Soviet tanks. Dozens are killed and many thousands flee the country which remains under Soviet control until 1989.
Salvador Allende
1970 - Chile
Salvador Allende of Chile becomes the first democratically elected Marxist president and begins an extensive programme of nationalisation and radical social reform. Three years later he is overthrown and dies in a military coup. General Augusto Pinochet replaces him.
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Soviet leader, and launches "perestroika" (reconstruction) reforms, but living standards plummet. In 1991, as some Soviet republics push for independence, hardliners stage a coup. It fails, the Soviet Union disintegrates and Gorbachev is swept aside by Boris Yeltsin.
Tiananmen Square protest
1989 - China
Pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square are brutally suppressed by the authorities. Hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed by the army. While the Communist party remains in control, far-reaching economic reforms are introduced by Deng Xiaoping.
Fall of Berlin Wall
1989 - Germany
Hungary opens its border with Austria, allowing thousands of East Germans to escape to the West. After the Berlin Wall falls, largely-peaceful demonstrations in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania lead to the dismantling of one-party systems.
Lech Walesa
1990 - Poland
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa becomes the first democratically-elected president, marking the end of Soviet control. The Solidarity party won parliamentary elections in 1989.
Nelson Mandela
1994 - South Africa
South Africa - Nelson Mandela becomes the first democratically-elected president of a multi-racial South Africa. The beginning of the end of apartheid came with his release from prison in 1990.
Bridge in Mostar
1995 - Yugoslavia
The Dayton Accord sets Bosnia on the road to independent statehood after a bloody civil war. Six independent countries have emerged out of the ruins of Yugoslavia, with Slovenia and Croatia the first to declare their independence in 1991.
Women voting in Qatar
1999 - Qatar
Qatar becomes first Gulf state to allow women to vote and stand for election. Bahrain and Kuwait have since followed suit.
Vicente Fox
2000 - Mexico
Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) wins the presidential elections, ending 71 years of one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Mohammed Karzai
2004 - Afghanistan
After the overthrow of the Taleban, Mohammed Karzai becomes the country's first directly elected president. Parliamentary and provincial elections take place in 2005, for the first time in more than 30 years.
Jalal Talabani
2005 - Iraq
Iraqis vote in first multi-party elections for half a century, following the 2003 US-led invasion and amid an escalating insurgency, which many describe as civil war, the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani becomes president.


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