Citizenship and Political Participation
At the levels of rhetoric and ideology, as well as that of the simplest analysis, electoral democracy dominates the discussion of political participation. During the 1980s in Central America, the election of civilian presidents and legislators in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and in 1990, in Nicaragua was a significant phenomenon in which citizens of those countries acted importantly in their respective public lives. At the same time, it is worth remembering that elections were held in the latest part of the nineteenth and earliest part of the twentieth centuries in which the enfranchised portion of the population included a tiny elite minority. One must also recall that throughout the decades from the 1930s to the 1970s the most memorable feature of the elections that were held was not participation but rather fraud. It is worth noting, too, that the ideological champion of elections, the United States, supported many fraudulently elected regimes, helped violently to overthrow the fairly elected government in Guatemala in 1954, and dissuaded the major opposition candidate for president from participating in the 1984 elections in Nicaragua.
In the formation of a state, much more is involved in citizenship and participation in the public life of the state than elections. During the upheavals from 1989 to 1991 in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the activities of ordinary citizens in the streets and through informal roles of debating, demonstrating, resisting authority, and placing their bodies between tanks and leaders or parliament buildings are clear models of highly significant participation outside of elections. When citizens march in a demonstration to protest the perpetration of fraud in an election, their participation transcends their activities as voters. Elections are a mechanism for selecting governments responsive
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Publication information: Book title: State Formation in Central America:The Struggle for Autonomy, Development, and Democracy. Contributors: Howard H. Lentner - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1993. Page number: 187.
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