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The Crisis of Democratic Representation in the Andes (review)

From: Latin American Politics & Society
Volume 49, Number 4, Winter 2007
pp. 194-198 | 10.1353/lap.2007.0046

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Why the Andes? According to the editors and authors of this interesting compilation, recent political developments in the Andean region can also be discerned in other parts of the world; but the countries of this region have, more than other regions, a common historical trajectory and a sense of regional identity. These features have led to strong cross-national mutual influences in terms of the evolution of the relationship between the grassroots and the state, or as the authors would prefer to put it, between voters and votees.

Aside from the long-term historical trajectory, this regional identity is expressed in the countries' participation in pan-Andean institutions and commercial agreements. Before the 1980s, the authors argue, it would have made much less sense to put Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia under one regional heading from a political representation perspective, as these countries were facing different political challenges and suffering various levels of poverty (which are, in my view, still difference markers). A more recent regional identity, of course, depends on how broadly or how narrowly commonalities and differences are framed.

To assess another concept in the title of the compilation, the "crisis," the authors believe that they need to throw their geographical nets more widely. Comparing the Andean countries not only with each other but with other countries in Latin America and elsewhere (mainly Italy) is necessary, the editors argue, to measure what kind of crisis they are talking about, and how large it is. Only thus is it possible to create a heuristic concept: each case falls into place on a continuum according to the government's political responsiveness to the masses and how this response is organized; that is, how the relationship between voters and political parties or elected presidents is organized.

The Latinobarómetro is used as the proxy for responsiveness: voters are asked about their trust in political parties and national assemblies. The lower the trust, the higher the probability of party collapse; the higher the share of votes that continuously shifts from one party to another in every election; the higher the voters' preference to risk the unknown. So far, the authors argue, only Italy (1993), Peru (1995), and Venezuela (1998) have seen their party systems collapse, with the emergence of outsider presidential candidates. I would argue that the "independiente candidate" (read: the outsider) phenomenon started at the local level. Mayors and regional government representatives are elected outsiders well before the outsiders appear in the presidential palace. By all these measurements, Colombia comes out as the most decentralized system.

Democratic representation is narrowly defined in this compilation. It explicitly does not include neighborhood associations, social movements, and nongovernmental organizations. "Democratic representation occurs only between voters and their elected representatives in a democracy" (12), leaving out other forms of representation, without questioning what democratic representation means or encompasses. The contribution on Bolivia by Deborah Yashar, and somewhat the contribution by Kathleen O'Neill comparing the build-up and the effects of decentralization in Andean countries, are the only ones that analyze the connections between indigenous movements, indigenous leadership, and representation. Otherwise, the notion of political culture—that is, all that cannot be measured by electoral participation or the shifting formation of political parties—seems to have drifted away from the evaluation of political processes.

What are the volume's main conclusions? The authors agree that patterns of democratic representation have changed over the past 20 years or so; in some cases, such changes are explicitly related to varying intensities in decentralization efforts. Such changes, however, have not produced the expected political stability and have led to a crisis of democratic representation. The key question addressed, then, is, what caused this crisis, and what are the consequences?

On the cause side, for some contributors (Brian Crisp, Simón Pachano), the main culprits are institutional arrangements and rules, as political decisionmaking is either responding to district-level constituency demands (instead of national programmatic issues) or leading to the fragmentation of the party system (institutional approach). According to others (Mainwaring, René Antonio Mayorga), governance and state deficiencies are to blame, in political systems where citizens see increasing corruption and bad economic performance. Declining confidence in parties, spurred...



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