Institutions of Participatory Governance

Guatemala 118

Latin America is in the midst of revolutionizing its political systems. As traditional channels of citizen engagement fail the average citizen, national governments are designing institutions that engage citizens in more direct and participatory ways. In the face of high levels of distrust in parties, policy-makers, intellectuals, and activists have undertaken radical experiments to engage everyday citizens in political decision-making. These institutions—called “institutions of participatory governance,” or IPGs—currently exist in almost every country in Latin America.

There is a large and growing scholarly literature on these participatory experiences, which is beyond the scope of this article. It is important to note, however, that IPGs—defined as state-sanctioned institutional processes that allow citizens to exercise voice and vote in public policy decisions—are different from other kinds of direct democracy mechanisms (Wampler and McNulty 2011). Unlike deliberative polling, recall voting, referendums, and town hall meetings, IPGs provides opportunity for both voice and vote in a sustained and ongoing way (Wampler and McNulty 2011). This article focuses on IPGs that are “top-down” in nature—meaning they are designed and mandated by the national government to improve the nature of participation in a variety of political contexts.

To what extent are IPGs serving citizens’ needs? This article explores the rise of nationally mandated participatory institutions in Latin America as a partial response to the failures of the party system to engage citizens and channel their interests in the policy making process. The evidence provided through two case studies demonstrates that, like the political party systems in several countries, many IPGs do not effectively represent the diversity of interests of Latin American citizens. Nor are they engaging a wide array of constituents. In the two cases that are discussed—Bolivia and Guatemala—this failure is partly due to the same problems that plague political parties, such as clientelism, discrimination, and corruption.

There are some important caveats to this analysis. First, while Latin American political parties have many problems, the state of political parties in the region varies widely from country to country. Second, the emergence of a top-down IPG in any given country is also linked to several other important factors that are not discussed in this piece. Furthermore, these events have not taken place in a linear or orderly process. Rather, these are complex historical processes that have taken place in varied, intersecting, and labyrinthine ways.

This article unfolds in five sections. First, the failure of many political parties in the region is outlined. Second, the response—a growing number of IPGs designed by national governments—is presented. The third and fourth sections describe two cases of top-down, nationally mandated IPGs: a development council system in Guatemala, and the Law of Popular Participation in Bolivia. The case studies demonstrate that, in general terms, the IPGs are no more effective at engaging citizens and channeling demands than their representative counterparts. The conclusion discusses why and what this means for political parties in Latin America. 

The Context: Failing Parties

In 2008, the Latin American Public Opinion Poll (LAPOP) asked more than 36,000 people from twenty-two countries around Latin America if they believe that political parties effectively represent them (Corral 2010). In no country did a majority of the respondents say yes. Of course, in some countries more respondents expressed confidence in parties than in others. In Mexico and Chile, approximately 44% of the population had faith in the party system; while in Brazil and Paraguay, less than one-third of the respondents felt that parties represent their voices (Corral 2010).

Observers of Latin America commonly refer to a crisis in the political party system in the region (Shifter 2013, Coppedge 2007, for example). In describing state-society relations in the Andean countries, Drake and Hershberg (2006: 17) write that “political parties…are brittle, frequently having served historically to co-opt rather than represent significant sectors of the population.” This crisis has been especially acute in countries like Peru, Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador.

Why have so many political parties in the region failed to engage citizens and represent their interests? The reasons are multifaceted. Citizens around the region do not feel included in the party structures. In many cases, such as Ecuador, Venezuela, and Peru, the historically predominant political parties were viewed as corrupt, ineffective, and out-of-touch with the average citizens’ needs. In others, such as Bolivia, poor economic management and subsequent economic crises pushed people to lose faith in the traditional party structure. Finally, problems of clientelism and patronage politics continue to plague many political parties in the region (Stokes 2005, Szwarcberg 2012). These and other factors have led to the deep distrust of political parties that is clearly illustrated in the LAPOP survey data.

In sum, Latin American parties do not effectively represent citizens. Instead, they are vehicles for clientelism, patronage politics, and exclusion. While the extent of these problems vary and their origins are complex, this article focuses on one particular policy response that has emerged in the context of these problems: the top-down establishment of new institutional channels to engage citizens in decision-making and policy discussions.  The next section explores these institutions in more depth.


Institutions of Participatory Governance

scarica pdf
Commenti disabilitati

Numero 09 POLITICAL PARTIES novembre, 2013 - Autore:  Condividi


Tags: , , , ,

porno porno izle porno porno film izle