It is becoming increasingly evident that Nicaragua is not merely a nation in crisis, as portrayed in the press, but a nation caught in a downward spiral into chaos.' The chaos stems from the inability of the state to resolve political instability and reactivate the economy. The legitimacy of the state is being undermined by a stalemated political process that seems incapable of devising policies needed to direct the state. This scenario has in turn polarized and fragmented political actors and groups making them incapable of halting state disintegration. In light of the present situation, two outcomes are possible (Schmitter, 1999). First, out of the seemingly endless squabbling of the various parties, some form of a functioning democratic process could develop. The second, and more likely outcome, is the reemergence of authoritarian rule.
Analysis of Dahl's three conditional elements and role they serve within a competitive regime
Dahl's A Preface to Democratic Theory is an effort to identify the central deficiencies of what he takes to be the two major traditions of "classical" democratic theory, the "Madisonian" and the "Populist," and to substitute his more coherent and realistic theory of polyarchal democracy (Dahl, 1971). In the Preface, Dahl identifies two major ways of theorizing about politics, his "method of maximization" and his "descriptive method." The method of maximization prescribes a goal to be maximized-democracy for example-and the political and socioeconomic institutions and practices necessary and sufficient to maximize attainment of that goal. The descriptive method considers as a single class of phenomena all those political systems and social organization called (for example) democratic in everyday language and then discovers, first, their common distinguishing characteristic and, second, the necessary and sufficient conditions for polities and social organizations possessing those characteristics (Schedler & Diamond, 1999).
Dahl begins by employing is method of maximization. He extracts from "populist" theory three characteristics of democracy that might be made operationally meaningful: (1) popular sovereignty, (2) political equality, and (3) majority rule. He then specifies eight stringent conditions that would be necessary and sufficient to maximize attainment of these objectives in the real world.5 Together, these eight observable conditions provide an operational definition of democracy. Dahl is quick to add that maximum realization of these eight conditions is a utopian objective-"unattained" and "quite probably unattainable" in the real world. But this is not, for Dahl, cause for following Mosca and other elite theorists in denying the possibility of democratic rule.
Dahl argues that elections combined with continuous political competition between individuals or parties or both are the two critical methods of social control distinguishing polyarchal democracy from dictatorship. Neither leads to the majority rule demanded by maximizing modes of democratic theory, but taken together they do nevertheless promote popular sovereignty and political equality by increasing the "size, number, and variety of minorities whose preferences must be taken into account by leaders." It is here, Dahl argues, that we find the key contrast between polyarchal democracy and dictatorship which "is not discoverable in the ...