Friday, July 9, 2010

Protests Make Political Parties More Responsive

Latin American protests have caused deaths and national crises since the 1970s, but democratic reforms too. Moises Arce, an associate professor of political science in the Missouri-Columbia College of Arts and Science, has found that political protests, although they can be violent, can bring about stronger political parties and more responsive policies (published in Party Politics):
Many of these protests in Latin America have led to changes in policies and the direction of the government. In some cases, protests may ultimately be helpful for democracy. The established parties may be taking things for granted. Political protests become forms of street accountability. The change that we have seen after many of these protests is the creation of new parties that better represent the popular interests of society, and, therefore, serve as more effective communication channels for political discourse.
By studying political activity and parties in 17 Latin American countries since 1978, Arce found that most protests were because economic policies favored the business sector. Most recent policies have given Latin America large scale economic stability but little improvement from the general public's perspective. There is still a high level of unemployment, and the public has become more knowledgeable of political corruption:
People have died, so it's unfortunate that government reforms happened that way. Currently, almost all Latin American countries have left or left leaning presidents who tend to be more responsive to popular demands and will create a new political equilibrium between those popular demands and the business sector.
Politicians often argue that protests are disruptive and should be suppressed, and that protests are unnecessary in a democracy, but they are happening and have not damaged democratic stability. Of course, generally the political right are ultimately not interested in democracy, only their own power, and many so called Liberals, and even New Labour “socialists” in the UK, are dupes of the rich anyway, so the trend towards unrestrained global capitalism means that “the existing power structure will be forced more and more to directly violate its own formal democratic rules”, as Slavoj Zizek puts it. The Patriot Act in the US and similar repressive legislation laid on incredibly thckly by the Blair and Brown governments are far more dangerous to democracy than a few protests, or even the terrorism attacks they pretend to be to prevent.

People in Latin America are becoming tolerant of protests. In Europe and the US, politicians are getting more and more scared of it. Democracy needs both parties and protests. We have the duff parties. All we need now, according to Arce, are more and more determined protests.

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