Some phase of democratisation is to last reasonably
Some of the writings indicate that factors that explain the withdrawal of armed forces from power do not necessarily explain the onset of democracy.
Many others are concerned with the shape and form of political democracy how superficial or deep-rooted it would be; as some others are concerned with the pressing needs for reviving the economic growth, or highlighting the strength of popular demands and movements for economic redistribution.
It is worthwhile to present briefly some of the leading analyses of the transition. Among the first leading analyses of ‘transition’ was the one by James Malloy and M. Seligson.
Having earlier analysed the persistence of authoritarianism and corporatism as the political expression of the ‘crisis’ of ‘delayed dependent capitalism’ in Latin America, James Malloy found not many reasons to be optimistic about the ‘transitional’ democracies of the 1980s.
Taking a political historical view, he argued that there is no unilinear tendency toward democracy or towards authoritarianism in Latin America. Rather, the “predominant pattern is cyclical” with alternating democratic and authoritarian “moments”. The present moment is one more turn of the wheel.
He argued that the underlying forces, which generate alternation between authoritarianism and democracy, remain very much in the political milieu of the 1970s and the 1980s.
On why does this cyclical alternation take place, Malloy argue that the case to case diversities are so significant that no general model or theory of the shifts between authoritarianism and democracy can be built?
Unlike his analysis of bureaucratic-authoritarianism, Malloy interestingly agreed that there is a link between economic issues and regime shifts but this linkage is neither deterministic nor insurmountable.
In the present shift towards democracy and this is the most significant argument proffered by Malloy “there is a key voluntary dimension to the process.” In other words, ‘transition’ owes much to the “concrete behaviour of critical civilian leaders”, who had often failed in the past because of their ideological rigidities or political intransigence.
The circumstances and nature of transition, Malloy states, demand certain amount of caution and circumspection on the part of the civilian regimes: Elected civilian leaders, having so strongly ‘willed’ for democracy would have to work under ‘constraining situations’. They need to be prudent if the present phase of democratisation is to last reasonably long.
These ‘prudential rules’ pertain to economic and political issues facing democratic regimes. Instead of looking for some definitive and radical solutions, for instance, to the issues of poverty and unemployment and- human rights abuses by the armed forces, elected regimes would do well for themselves and for the future of democracy if they searched only for some short-term resolutions.
In other words, democracies have to observe caution and pragmatism, and find short-term ‘way-outs’ (salidas) rather than go for some final structural solutions that will only invite confrontation with the forces of authoritarianism. Secondly, given the constraining situations in practically all the Latin American countries, there are going to be only hybrid regimes in the transitional phase.
Democratic regimes will assure political participation and maintain civil liberties, while giving the executive quasi-authoritarian powers in times of crisis. This calls for some constitutional engineering. Elections, in order to become meaningful, must be related to the effective functioning and role of the legislatures.
Broad legislative coalitions are the need of the hour to breed national consensus on contentious issues. These could underpin strong presidencies; and, at the same time, shape a consensual policy-making process.
Political parties need to shun their narrow constituents and instead, mediate between the socio-economic groups and the powerful presidency. Military and civilian leaders will have to compromise and form de facto coalitions so that the armed forces find it in their own interest to back a strong civilian regime in times of crisis.
These and other ‘prudential rules’ are necessary for the prolongation of the present phase of democracy and prevention of the return of authoritarianism. An electoral democratic regime with a quasi-authoritarian presidency is the single flexible regime form, which is best suited to the present context.
One may hope that such a regime would muddle through successive crises as they arise, prolonging the present phase of democracy. Otherwise, forces and impulses that generate democracy and authoritarianism alternately are strong and immutable in Latin America; and the best one hopes for is to learn to live with them.
In yet another analysis, Guillermo O’Donnell had argued that notwithstanding the advent of democracy, the socio-economic and political fundamentals remain unchanged in the region: armed forces continue to play a central role in the political process; the historical roots of democracy remain shallow and its character ambivalent; social and economic inequalities have only exacerbated; and there remain absent the political and economic pacts between significant political actors and economic forces.
On the last point, his argument was that various actors and interests particularly the popular sectors such as labour remain organised and politically entrenched and that political parties have not been able to establish their domination over these organised groups. Amidst such a dismal scenario for democracy, however, there is one striking and positive transformation that has taken place.
And it is the new and positive region-wide evaluation of democracy itself. The long and repressive phase of bureaucratic authoritarianism has brought about this change in the outlook of all significant political forces. Now, most political and cultural forces of any weight attach intrinsic value to the achievement and consolidation of political democracy.
Even the extreme radical forces for whom electoral democracy had little meaning in the past now realise the virtues and values of electoral democracy in terms of its no matter how limited civil liberties and political participation; so do conservative forces including church and business who also could not escape the high-handedness of military rule.
A second noteworthy aspect of O’Dormell’s analysis is the scope for purposive human action for enhancing the prospects for the consolidation of democracy. Like Malloy and Seligson, O’Donnell also returns to the theme of ‘voluntarism’.
O ‘Donnell and Schmitter both have advised that transitional democracies should not tinker with the ‘property rights of the bourgeoisie’. Besides, the institutional interests and privileges of the armed forces should not be touched.
The realistic alternative for the broad left-oriented parties and movements is to accept the above limitations and hope for better opportunities in the future to effect radical social change.
In sum, most analyses of democratisation have advised caution and conservatism so as to exclude any significant social or economic content in the name of protecting political democracy.
In the first place, it was argued that political democracy by itself is valuable. It was feared that if the democratic regimes begin advancing the agenda of social and economic democracy during the transitional situation itself, they might-rather surely would-invite authoritarian interventions.
Anyway, to attain greater social and economic democracy, Latin America requires installation of popular authoritarian regimes that would respect neither individual rights nor democratic procedure.
Secondly, electoral democracy is compatible with social and economic change, and electoral regimes would be better placed to introduce some incremental reforms, if not now then in the future.
Incremental and consensual introduction of economic democracy and social change since they are more compatible with values of electoral democracy are likely to have more enduring effects than any premature attempt at radical change. What is advised is the sequencing of piecemeal reforms in response to a wide range of political pressures and policy calculations.
In short, O’Donnell and Schmitter presented a double argument: radical social and economic change now would be destabilising and anti-democratic; while more lasting gains may be made by incremental reforms in the future without prejudice to political democracy. They did not offer any solution to the social and economic crisis of the 1980s; instead they advised faith in ‘possibilism’.
In other words, democracy holds ‘possibilities’. In short, the literature on transition has not hoped much out of the present phase of democratisation/re-democratisation. The notable feature in Malloy is the new-found voluntarial commitment of the civilian elite to abide by electoral democratic game; and in ODonnell and Schmitter, it is the new valuation of democracy per se among various contending political forces.
For Malloy, transition to consolidation was to be a discontinuous phase while O’Donnell has made a clear distinction between the two. Given the transitionary and ephemeral character of democracy and lurking authoritarian forces, scholarly analyses have generally suggested transitional regimes to tread with caution, conservatism and consensus.
The best course, they suggested, was to form the ‘centrist’ governments of grand ‘rainbow’ coalitions, with minimum programme of safeguarding the electoral-democratic turf and postponing the agenda for deepening the democracy to social and economic areas.
Civilian elite and political parties have to accept capitalism as the dominant mode of production and recognise the rights and role of both the national bourgeoisie and the foreign capital.
Importantly, all transitional regimes needed to pact and compromise with the institutional interest and a political role for the armed forces. It was expected that in case, and as and when, these transitional regimes consolidate, country-wise patterns of consolidation would be very different.
So, common circumstances of birth would differ from the diverse patterns of democratic consolidation. In the end, while some common generalisations can be proffered about the transitional phase, the same cannot be said with certainty about the consolidated democratic regimes.
Analysts, not only Malloy and O’Donnell, but also others like Enrique Baloyra, have uncannily put at store the role of politics and ‘political will’ as an independent variable facilitating the transition to democracy.
This contrasts sharply with the analyses of bureaucratic authoritarianism where historical structural constraints were presented as the bases of the emergence of military rules in the 1960s and the 1970s. One may need to explore the terrain upon which structural constraints and ‘political will’ meet face to face.
In other words, political scientists would need to know the defining constraints and limitations of socioeconomic and political structures which have shaped the political choices and thereby the characteristics of transitional democracies.
It is equally imperative to know the institutional set-ups that have facilitated the transition from authoritarian rule as well as institutional arenas in which democracies are working.
Also, it is not enough to advise muddling through or a piecemeal approach to historical inequalities and injustices without knowing the structural features of the economies and societies, that have bred repression and inequalities, and now under democracies are said to be holding some hope for incremental reform and justice.
Literature on transition saw some uniformity in the patterns of transitional regimes and therefore has suggested some common policy prescriptions.