Tag Archives: Delegative Democracy

DELEGATIVE DEMOCRACY

DELEGATIVE DEMOCRACY

G.A. O’Donell

Journal of Democracy, Vol. 5 No. 1, (Jan., 1994) pp. 55-69

A Summary 

In a Nutshell

Although democracies in the then recently transitioned Latin American states was representative (based on popular elections) they were “delegative” rather than truly democratic. This was largely because of crisis both social and economic that they inherited from the authoritarian governments before them which gave rise to certain practices and conceptions about the proper exercise of power.

 The transition to democracy opens up the possibility of a second transition from government to democratic regime. Nothing guarantees that this will happen, but in order for it to do so a set of institutions needs to be built which enable the social and economic problems inherited to be dealt with in a regularized way. Delegative democracies lack these institutions and governmental effectiveness.

 [This argument is very much related to the executive isolation argument examined by Schamis as well as Armijo & Faucher in as much as it posits a policy/reform process characterised by a lack of horizontal accountability, a large electoral mandate and subsequent belief by the president that he has the authority to rule the country by decree at whim.]

 The Importance of Institutions

Institutions are regularized patterns of interaction that are known and accepted by social actors who consider that they will continue to act in the same way for an indefinite time period. The characteristics of a functioning institutional setting include:

  1. Institutions that incorporate and exclude – they determine the basis upon which resources, claims etc. are accepted as valid participants in the decision-making and implementation process.
  2. Institutions shape the probabilities of outcomes – certain rules fix the range of feasible outcomes and their likelihood within that range e.g. democracy precludes the use of force.
  3. Institutions aggregate – the rules lead individuals to make decisions about which level of aggregation of preferences is optimal for them.
  4. Institutions induce representation – following on from 3 the aggregation of preferences leads to the transformation of the potentially many voices into only a few that speak for many.
  5. Institutions stabilize expectations – leaders and representatives expect a narrow range of possibilities from interactions, and expect that deviations are likely to be counterproductive. It is at this point that an institution is in equilibrium.
  6. Institutions lengthen the time-horizons of actors – stabilization of behaviours implies that interactions are set to continue. This together with high levels of representation is the foundation for the “competitive cooperation” that characterises democracy. Thus one shot prisoners dilemmas are overcome by bargaining. The alternative to institutions is a colossal prisoner’s dilemma. 

Characteristics of Delegative Democracy

  • Rest on the premise that whoever wins the election may govern as he sees fit as they are the embodiment of the nation. The promises of his campaign need not be met (Menem, Fujimori). They are above organized interests.
  • A large majority must be won to sustain such claims, and as such often run-offs are used. The majority is used to sustain the myth of legitimate delegation.
  • [This is largely related to neo-populism: presidents campaign on personal charisma, they can restore the health of the nation etc. They and their technical advisers are initially infallible. In terms of policy however they behave in a delegative rather than populist fashion.]
  • The president isolates himself political institutions and interests. And this is main difference between DD and representative democracy: in representative there is vertical accountability (between the president and the people) but also horizontal accountability (president accountable across a network of relatively autonomous powers that can call into question and punish if necessary, improper ways of discharging the responsibilities of office. In DDs only the former type of accountability exists. Indeed horizontal accountability is a headache to be avoided for DD presidents. 

Examples

  • First democratic government of Uruguay (Sanguinetti) saw the implementation of incremental economic policies, whereby inflation slowly dropped whilst investment and wages slowly rose. Most of the policies were explicitly negotiated within congress and with participation from various interest groups.
  • By contrast Argentina (Austral Plan), Brazil (under the Cruzado plan, things were different under the Plan Real) and Peru (Inti Plan) all opted for drastic and surprising stabilization packages. The packages were disastrous [for O’Donell] and solved very few of the problems inherited from the B-A states.
  • What is interesting is that Uruguay inherited no less severe problems than did Argentina or Brazil, but it chose an incremental path rather than a shock doctrine. Why is this the case? O’Donell says it is because Uruguay was a case of re-democratization with working institutions of government. The president had to negotiate with congress and congress had to consult various interested parties. Consequently, even though preferences at the top may have been for stabilization [a supposition not backed up with evidence] they were “condemned to incrementalism”, and limited to modest goals.
  • “This is the drama of countries bereft of a democratic tradition”.

 [This thesis should be read in conjunction with those pieces that state that executive isolation played only a minor part in many liberalizations. For example the Brazilian Plan Real was negotiated, and evidence of coalition building is seen in many countries indicating that domestic support was important (although it should be conceded that that the coalition building was often extra-institutional) – see Schamis as well as Armijo.]

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