Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sources of Democratic Regression are Linked Primarily to Forms of Corruption and/or Internal Conflict

Adam Prezeworski, author of democratic theory and political economy.
Roberto González argues that democratic regression is attributed to political corruption and/or internal conflict, and that economic decline or recession accelerates democratic regression (rather than being a principal force of regression.) The wealthier a corrupt democracy is, the more leverage the democracy will have in averting collapse. However, a severe economic downturn may be enough to collapse a corrupt democracy. The greater the corruption and/or internal conflict, the greater the risk for collapse; the lower the wealth and the more severe the economic conditions, the greater the risk for collapse.

Is Democracy Regressing in Response to the World Recession?

One of the fundamental principles of empirical democratic theory, contends that periods of depression or lapses in economic crisis are difficult to democratic regimes, particularly when they are weak or unconsolidated. Lipset underpins this assertion in his book Political Man, which states that democratic regimes lacking legitimacy intrinsic (or electoral historical)are directly dependent on effective performance in economic terms (effective performance). However, if this economic effect disappears, the political system is at risk, the cases of Austria, Germany and Spain in the 30's corroborate this trend.

One of the great authors in democratic theory (Przeworski) and solid empirical analysis argued for 40 years that the possibility that a democratic regime may perish during an upturn or economic growth are 1 in 135. On the other hand, if there is a recession or decline in the trend growth rates there is a 1 in 13 probability that a democratic regime may cease. It follows from the direct correlation that the lower the performance and economic efficiency, the greater the chances that the scheme succumb. However, the financial crisis has shown, empirically, that the economic factor is not necessarily the determining variable or factor that there is a trigger for change of government or a change in the political regime.

There are two fundamental reasons why the economic crisis has no direct impact on the world's democracies. The first is that most of the affected countries, severely hit by the international financial crisis are rich and with a broad democratic tradition, which has kept the intrinsic legitimacy of democracy [or semblance of it], not the government in turn. Second, those countries where democracy has succumbed, have a combination of factors leading up to the financial crisis and by which the political regime was overthrown or changed. A variable that Larry Diamond introduces as a determinant in the government or regime change is the political factor. In his analysis, the national political factors may become more important than economic. If the incumbent administration has an exercise of government incurring bad governance practices such as corruption, impunity, abuse of power and inequality, it is likely that this administration loses power or the political system is at risk. The economic variable is not ruled out, however trends since 1999 show that the majority of democratic regressions were not preceded by low economic growth. For example, rates of economic growth in countries like Pakistan, Fiji, Russia, Venezuela, Nepal and Nigeria (among a dozen more) have been positive, reaching even as high as 21% in the case of Nigeria and 18% in Venezuela. From the above we can group two clearly different trends. In countries where the democratic tradition predominates, 32 elections held from 2008 to 2010 (in the analysis of Larry Diamond) in 17 cases the ruling party has been punished. The penalty has ranged from a reduction of seats in midterm elections or change of party in power as in England and Spain. On the other hand, countries where democracy has had regressions are those where there are clearly identified five factors that have determined this result. These five characteristics are 1) Low range of governance, 2) politically unstable; 3) Abuse of power by the Executive; 4) ethnic, racial or class division and 5) countries with poor economic development. Note that most of the democracies that have fallen from 1999 were illiberal democracies (Zakaria) where the factor of bad governance was-presumably-the determinant.

By Roberto Mendoza González
Master in Public Policy and Governance (University of Sheffield) and Foundation for Democratic Advancement Research Associate.

Question for Readers:

Are special interest democracies which are buoyed by economic prosperity at risk of collapse the greater their decline in economic prosperity?

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