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Twisted Democracies of Latin America: Why reforms intended to enhance democracy have achieved just the opposite?

Summary:
Prof Andres Velasco of LSE in this Proj Synd article discuss how democracy in Latin America is just namesake: In many democracies, particularly in Latin America, well-meaning reforms intended to enhance democracy have achieved just the opposite, with governments that are strong on paper but weak in practice. And with each election cycle, citizen rage is brought ever-closer to the boiling point. …. The decline of parties throughout the region is partly the result of well-meaning reforms. It was thought that making the electoral system more proportional would better reflect society’s increasing diversity; instead, it produced myriad tiny parties that represent no one. Introducing primaries was supposed to make parties more democratic internally; it did, but at the risk of making them

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Prof Andres Velasco of LSE in this Proj Synd article discuss how democracy in Latin America is just namesake:

In many democracies, particularly in Latin America, well-meaning reforms intended to enhance democracy have achieved just the opposite, with governments that are strong on paper but weak in practice. And with each election cycle, citizen rage is brought ever-closer to the boiling point.

….

The decline of parties throughout the region is partly the result of well-meaning reforms. It was thought that making the electoral system more proportional would better reflect society’s increasing diversity; instead, it produced myriad tiny parties that represent no one. Introducing primaries was supposed to make parties more democratic internally; it did, but at the risk of making them vulnerable to being taken over by media-savvy celebrities. The gain in transparency that came with campaign finance reform also caused a collapse in party discipline, as party bosses lost leverage over publicity-seeking parliamentarians. Greater use of plebiscites has allowed small groups of activists to hijack the policy agenda.

The problem is not uniquely Latin American. Yale political scientists Frances McCall Rosenbluth and Ian Shapiro argue that similar “decentralizing reforms” in the United States and Europe, meant to “return power to the people,” weakened parties and led to “policies that are self-defeating for most voters.” Paradoxically, the closer to the grassroots political power moves, the more disenchanted the grassroots become.

So, Peru and Ecuador, like Brazil and Chile before them, will have leaders that are strong on paper but weak in practice. They will promise much and be able to deliver little. Soon enough, voters will grow frustrated and vow to “throw the rascals out” and replace them with someone who truly takes popular interests to heart. Scholars and activists will propose further reforms meant to empower voters. And then the cycle will repeat, enraging citizens further. It is not a pattern that will end well.

Amol Agrawal
I am currently pursuing my PhD in economics. I have work-ex of nearly 10 years with most of those years spent figuring economic research in Mumbai’s financial sector.

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