Democracy, in this simple sense, is a term any one should really be wary of using. Most view democracy as simply meaning where officials are elected and/or laws are passed by popular vote. As in most public spheres, there is much more to what makes a democracy a democracy that just voting. In prior times, a country first had some governing system in place where the authority eventually transfered to the democratic government. A prime example of this case is Great Britain. Move forward a couple hundred years to today -- most democracies become democracies in only this simple sense; there are no institutions (beuracracies, courts, legislators) that are developed enough to effectively manage a democratic system in ways which Americans, Britains, and other developed countries would expect. Lapses, failures, and loopholes easily become a sort of currency in such situations -- elected officials are more opportunists than idealists. Progress is difficult to come by if institutions have to beg the public for support and money, or have no oversight to prevent them from abusing it. Yet most institutions have to do so in such a government in order to survive -- classic game theory. So, democracies in the modern world tend to develop BACKWARDS from the way they developed at first, and we're still not completely sure how that works.
In the case of Venezeula, if you payed attention to the national referendum on the constitution, in a somewhat rigged election the referendum FAILED. The next day the President is assuring his citizens that the country is not a dictatorship, which is very admirable, considering the history of such affairs throughout the world.
In South Korea, up until 1989, most presidents were dictators and used the KCIA (Korean CIA) the same way the USSR used the KGB. Student protests were common and commonly someone died and many were teargassed and beaten. Stuff happened to politicians you wouldn't expect to read anywhere but out of a Robert Ludlum book (spy thrillers). Yet, after many years of hardship, public pressure and certain scandals finally got the right people into office. Yet you still face many challenges in South Korea -- particularly the sensationalist media and getting rid of the tradition of bribery at the upper levels.
In Russia... between two presidents, the Russian Federation cannot really be called a federation in anything but the most literal sense, and the legislator is little more than a joke. 70+ years of Communism and how the system was manipulated on all levels has taught Putin how to run a democratic system like he owns it. Politics is a chess game to him. He manipulates party politics to maintain a single party system, and then trains the reps in his party how to think and act when it comes time to vote. Any dangerous person, while he can't necessarily eliminate them, he enshrines them as advisors... who he won't listen to, but they don't know that. He has effectively, through several different policies, pocketed both levels of congress, while maintaining the image of authenticity by creating new public forums for unimportant people to express their ideas. The office of president has become soemthing more of Super President.
When it comes to Russia, the next year is going to be very interesting. President Putin has declared his intention to step down, but through the devices he has set up, to become Prime Minister after the new President has taken office. Putin has already chosen a little known lawyer to be his successor (there is still a vote to be had, but as was the case with Putin, who came to power in a similar manner, it is likely that he will win). However, this little known lawyer has almost no affiliation with the agencies and institutions that have effectively gained control fot eh government under Putin -- they will still remain loyal to Putin, and Putin will retain his power unofficially using this manner. There is hope, however, that some constitutional reform might occur under this President, which might give some power back to the parliament (which in turn, studies show, creates a more free society), but as long as Putin can easily strong arm him, it is unlikely.
There is something to be said, though. For all his centralizing of power, Russian people love Putin -- he has brought stability back into their lives, after the last generation had almost nothing -- between the collapse of the Soviet Union, and brutal and stupid system run under Yeltsin's Presidency (and supported by the US) called "shock therapy", which only essentially bankrupted the entire population. Stability, even amidst the lack of freedom, means hope to the Russian people.
There is an argument about what comes first -- freedom or stability? It is my beleif that stability has to come first. Atrocities in third world countries wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't some farce legitmacy to their governments. If you give people hope for salvation, for prosperity, for freedom from horrible things -- they will follow you first, even if they must give up the right to say a few things. And this is how bad people have made it to the top of some African governments. They give them hope, that AIDS can be cured by drinking syrup. They take power, and can run with it, until the people have had their fill of hope and either dispair or rebel.
<center>The secret's in the wings...