Thursday, August 11, 2011

Decentralization and party disintegration in Colombia

Eduardo Dargent and Paul Muñoz, "Democracy Against Parties? Party System Deinstitutionalization in Colombia." Journal of Politics in Latin America 3, 2 (2011): 43-71. Click here for ungated PDF.


This article argues that in Colombia, decentralization and electoral reforms adopted in the late 1980s and in the 1991 Constitution – designed to improve democratic quality – brought about a gradual deinstitutionalization of this country’s traditional party system as an unintended consequence. Building upon resource-based theories of party configuration, we contend that in developing countries, where resources are usually crucial for party aggregation, “democratizing” reforms designed to distribute power and resources in the political system can reduce local candidates’ incentives to join and remain loyal to political parties, particularly when those parties’ reputations are weak. In Colombia, these reforms (i) reduced the power of intermediate-level party leaders over the distribution of selective incentives, making these leaders less important for local politicians, and (ii) gave more political and financial autonomy to local candidates, reducing their need to join parties in order to advance their electoral goals. As a result, party cohesion and discipline become difficult to maintain, and the party system gradually deinstitutionalizes.
Decentralization is often portrayed as a positive force, since its goal is to weaken clientelist ties and increase accountability at the local level.  The argument here, though, is that local leaders don't need national parties anymore to achieve their programmatic goals, which makes individual politicians more important than the party they belong to.  As a result, Alvaro Uribe came very close to amending the constitution again to run for a third term.  Fortunately he backed off, but it was a warning sign for Colombian democracy.


Vicente Duque 3:17 PM  

Very interesting article, thanks !

During the Government of Alvaro Uribe :

1) The "Intelligence Agency" of Colombia was dedicated to hacking telephones of the Judiciary, listening illegally to conversations of Judges or "Magistrates" that were enemies of Uribe. And other political enemies of Uribe were also "chuzado" that is illegally wiretapped.

2) The "Agro Ingreso Seguro" was a program dedicated to distribute many millions of dollars to secure poor peasants against the "Free Trade Agreement" with the USA.

Instead these monies were given as a free gift to the cronies and supporters of Alvaro Uribe, many of them mafiosi or narcodealers.

And this program was going to help "Uribito" to be the heir of Alvaro Uribe and to build his clientele to become president of Colombia.

3) Many narco crimes were forgiven because the paramilitary groups feigned to deliver their arms and armies. But it was a fake peace, and a fake armistice. And many of the guys that were supposed to be soldiers of Paras, Paracos or Paramilitarism were just bums, little city scoundrels, small thieves or desperate jobless youngsters.

This was also a squandering of many billions of dollars that were given to the poor bums or little scoundrels.

And these facts are only the tip of the iceberg.

Vicente Duque

Vicente Duque 4:23 PM  

Uribito is in jail for "Agro Ingreso Seguro" and the stolen billions.

Uribe's cousin Mario Uribe Escobar is in jail sentenced for seven years plus. He was Uribe's closest political associate, but big scoundrel.

The former General District Attorney of Antioquia Guillermo Leon Valencia Cossio is in jail for years, this is the clique of Uribe. Accused of Paramilitarism, Displacement, etc ...

The lady that directed the Intelligence Agency is fleeing from Justice in Panama.

Another henchman Jose Obdulio has a program to defend Uribe in the prestigious NTN Cable Network. This is a boring litany of accusing the Enemies of Uribe of sympathy with the FARC, everyday.

Uribe, Great Statesman, Great Hero and Great Lawbreaker.

He almost became "President for Life", also called "Vitalicio".

The more he fought Chavez, the more he did "Chavadas"...

The Rule of Law : Zero.

Vicente Duque

MSS 8:10 PM  

I am not so sure about this:

"local leaders don't need national parties anymore to achieve their programmatic goals, which makes individual politicians more important than the party they belong to."

The 2 major old Colombian parties had long been empty shells as far as programmatic content or discipline was concerned. Colombian politics was about as personalistic as you can get.

The argument of the paper, as sketched here, makes sense for the period of fragmentation and localization of 1994-2002, as long as we don't exaggerate the "institutionalization" of the 1970s and 1980s.

But from 2006 with the new electoral system and with the successful presidency of Uribe--successful on its own terms such that he won a second term--there was a re-emergence of a more nationalized party system. It appears that local leaders again see advantage in aligning with national parties to a considerable degree.

(Also, Uribe's bid for a chance to run for a third term was scotched by the constitutional court.)

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