From Elections to Democracy: Building Accountable Government in Hungary and Poland

Article excerpt

From Elections to Democracy: Building Accountable Government in Hungary and Poland, Susan Rose-Ackerman. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 284 pp. $24.99, paper.

In From Elections to Democracy, Susan Rose-Ackerman uses interviews and survey data in Hungary and Poland to argue that governmental accountability is central to democratic consolidation and best achieved through citizens' organized and direct participation in the policymaking process. Her emphasis stems from the perspective that legislative and electoral institutional reforms are necessary but insufficient means to, and indicators of, democratic consolidation. This perspective suggests parties are poor aggregates of policy preferences and inadequate mechanisms through which publics can--and even then only infrequently--exert their policy mandates. Normatively expanding the dimensions of democratic consolidation, Rose-Ackerman suggests that congruency between policies and the will of the people would be better captured by assessing governmental performance and policymaking accountability.

Focusing on policymaking accountability, Rose-Ackerman evaluates several means of achieving this goal. Greater policy accountability could emerge through a devolution of policymaking to lower levels of government, increased oversight by constitutional institutions (i.e., presidents and courts), the involvement of neocorporate bodies, and in the case of Hungary and Poland, the European Union as a supranational check on national-level policymaking processes. In each case, Rose-Ackerman details their shortcomings in the post-Communist setting. For Poland and Hungary, however, involving nongovernmental actors in the policymaking and implementation process would result in more transparent, and thus more accountable, policymaking. Broader public inclusion and participation of both self-governing and interest groups as well as social organizations in the generative process (rather than reactive efforts, a critique leveled at several of the other means) would not only result in more "democratic" policymaking processes but also democratic consolidation. …