Scientists analyze the performance of democratic institutions | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

In Salamanca, researchers from Brazil and Spain discuss topics like public policies, political elites, decentralization and federalism (Marta Arretche, CEM and USP)

Scientists analyze the performance of democratic institutions

December 13, 2012

By Carlos Eduardo Lins da Silva, from Salamanca

Agência FAPESP
– Studies by political and social scientists from São Paulo and Spain into the characteristics and performance of democratic institutions were put forth and debated in Salamanca on the first day of the seminar “Frontiers of Science – Brazil and Spain in the 50 years of FAPESP” sponsored by FAPESP and the University of Salamanca (Usal).

Miguel Jerez, of the University of Granada, began the sessions with a report on his research about the federal deputies of Spain’s new democracy. The study consists of an extensive compilation of demographic, personal and political data on all the legislatures of the Lower House of Spain according to political party, which allows for some interesting analyses of that country’s legislative branch.

To reach this point, Jerez reviewed empirical studies about politics from the classics of the 1950s (like Wright Mills, Seymour Lipset, Robert Putnam and others) through more recent comparative studies about European and Spanish national elites.

With the data he compiled, Jerez was able to determine, for example, that the average age of the deputies has dropped over the last three and a half decades. At present, the communists are older (45.5 years old on average) than the socialists (39.3 years old on average).

Women’s participation in the House has increased steadily: in 1977, they made up only 6% of the house. Now they make up 36.3%. The socialist party has the largest female membership in proportion to its total number of members.

The percentage of those with a bachelor’s degree in law fell from 45.4% to 37.7% of the entire House, while the number those with a bachelor’s degrees in the humanities increased from 29,7% to 46.6% over the past 35 years. Individuals without a college degree who numbered 14.6% in 1977 now make up 9.9% of members.

In terms of the professions, the number of lawyers declined (from 21.1% to 17.4%), the number of university professors increased (from 15.1% to 19.5%), although among them, the number of full professors has decreased (from 8.0% to 5.2%) and the number of instructors and assistant professors has increased.

One of the most interesting data pertains to the low number of members of the Spanish house that seek reelection: for the past 35 years, an average of 57% of the deputies are reelected to the following Legislature. In the first election after the one in 1977, this percentage was 59.1% and in the most recent elections, it was 62%.

Jerez also notes that, as in several other countries, the public’s level of trust in the Legislative branch in Spain has declined.

This topic of this study is similar to that of José Álvaro Moisés and his group from the Center for Public Policy Research (NUPPs) of the University of São Paulo, which purports to measure the quality of the democracy in Brazil or in other countries using the most objective data possible.

During his talk at the “Frontiers in Science” Seminar, Moisés explained his theoretical approach, which accepts the principle that democracy is advancing and there are characteristics that determine and may improve its durability. In an effort to identify these characteristics, he and his colleagues have studied the democratization processes not only in Brazil, but also in southeastern European nations.

There are a number of factors that can define a democracy and Moisés outlined several of them: holding periodic elections, the rule of law, respect for the fullness of rights, an autonomous judicial system, society’s control of the political system and its ability to demand accountability from those in power, and the degree of response by leaders to the demands of society and its capacity to act in response (responsiveness).

The NUPPs study is currently being carried out and there are still relatively few tangible results to show. But Moisés showed several positive aspects Brazilian democracy has enjoyed over the course of its 25 years (through 2013), such as the autonomous and efficient operation of its institutions, the complete absence of the Armed Forces in the political debate and its complete submission to civilian command, the increase in the extension of rights to sectors of the population that previously had almost no rights.

But he also pointed out the problems with the young Brazilian democracy, among them: cases of abuse of power, corruption, violation of human rights, imbalances in the electoral system, asymmetry between the Executive and Legislative branches – the latter less influential and powerful than the former even in those tasks specifically designed to generate laws – and defects in the system of political representation.

Politics and Federalism

Joan Subirats, of the Autonomous University of Barcelona spoke at the seminar in Salamanca about public policy studies in Spain. He began with the assertion that his country and Europe as a whole were late in beginning to research this topic, compared to the United States, which has been doing so since the middle of the last century.

In Europe, it was only in the 1980s that the initial attempts to systematically analyze public policies began. In Spain, it was only in the late 1980s that such analysis began, even though the process of democratization there had already begun to gain relevance in the media and academic discussions beginning with the 1975 death of Francisco Franco.

According to Subirats, the field of public policy study was not considered to be a specific discipline, but rather a meeting point for researchers from various disciplines like sociology, anthropology, law and political science.

According to him, the topics most studied in Spain are: the multiple levels of public policy (global, European, national, regional and local), public policies and social movements, public social policies, public policies and the Internet, and public policy methodology and management.

Marta Arretche, professor of the Department of Political Science at the University of São Paulo (USP) showed how political scientists erred in their predictions of how Brazilian federalism would behave, derived from a mistaken interpretation of its measures in the Constitution of 1988, and the expected behavior of state members in voting on laws of regional interest.

According to this analysis, Brazilian federalism would be decentralized and laws like the Brazilian Fiscal Responsibility Law (LRF) approved during the administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso would have hardly have gained the endorsement of Congress.

Such comments ignited discussions among the European political scientists about whether the European Union could imitate Brazilian initiatives like the LRF to solve its own problems.

Arretche, who directs the Center for Metropolitan Studies (CEM), a FAPESP Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (RIDC), clearly demonstrated that there was nothing idiosyncratic or exceptional about the LRF in the last two decades of Brazilian political history.

Between 1992 and 2012, 70 constitutional amendments were approved in Brazil (an average of 3.3 per year) and 37 of them (1.8 per year) dealt with federative issues, rates that are quite high when compared to other countries.

In reality, unlike the European Union or the United States, central governments have the authority to initiate national legislation and subnational governments have very little chance to veto legislation approved at the national level. These are the two decisive factors that guarantee more regional administrative autonomy in a nation.

Brazilian states and municipalities do not have autonomy in establishing spending levels in health, education or personnel, and have limited autonomy in making decisions about taxes, income, expenses and public policies.

The states are only allowed to make decisions about metropolitan regions, and the municipalities do not have the power to make any public policy decisions. They only have the power to carry out public policies, like those that pertain to health and education.

“The term autonomy has been incorrectly used to describe Brazilian federalism,” Arretche stated. 

Esther del Campo, from Complutense University spoke at the “Frontiers of Science” seminar on the topic of decentralization, a topic similar to that of Arretche, especially in Andean countries like Bolivia and Colombia.

Del Campo showed how decentralization experiences in these and other countries has forced political scientists to envision original analytical frameworks; references that would provide them with better explanations for the causes, configurations and consequences of new forms of government at the local level.

In the specific case of Bolivia, after more than 10 years of experience, although more participative mechanisms of local management have been introduced with support from citizens, the levels of participation in decision making have been relatively modest and developed slowly.

For her, there are three “Cs,” three basic concepts that enable decentralization to be more successful in the future: control, coordination and cooperation.

In the field of political life outside the political parties, the communists were marginalized from formal political party activity in Brazil for most of the 20th century as a result of laws that prohibited the existence of its parties. However, there was intense participation by artists and intellectuals from the left in establishing the intelligentsia and culture industry of Brazil during this period.

Marcelo Ridenti, professor from the University of Campinas (Unicamp) who has devoted himself to the study of this influence, stated in Salamanca that “it is very hard to understand Brazilian cultural reality without understanding the role communists played in it from 1940 to 1970.”

He used the example of Jorge Amado, whose one hundredth birthday will be celebrated this month and who was the subject of a seminar on his work at the University of Salamanca, along with his comrades in the international communist circle, particularly between 1945 and 1956.

Amado, who was elected in 1946 as federal deputy for the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), but was forced into exile when the party was banned from public life, went to France and met up with some other artists who were also in exile. He went on to gain significant stature there in communist communication networks of that time.

Since the Brazilian universities were very young and did little on an international level at that time, anyone who wanted to maintain intellectual contacts with other countries had to seek them out through multinational entities that were already established like the Catholic Church and the communist parties.

Ridenti shows that up to 1948, only two of Amado’s books had been published in France. Between 1948 and 1955, the time he was in exile and shortly thereafter, another six were published. His texts also appeared in publications controlled by the French communists who held one third of the electorate at that time, such as the magazines “Europe” and “Lettres Françaises.”

The Unicamp professor also showed how the internal conflicts that Amado experienced during the period, particularly after Stalinist crimes were revealed to have occurred, caused him to finally abandon the Communist Party.

The “Frontiers of Science” event includes the celebration of 50 years of FAPESP in the cities of Salamanca (12/10-12/12) and Madrid, 12/13-12/14), and brings together researchers from the state of São Paulo and from several academic and research institutions of Spain in a lively and varied program that is open to the public.

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