The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies

The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies

The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies

The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies

Synopsis

This text states that democratic governments must be accountable to the electorate; but they must also be subject to restraint and oversight by other public agencies. The state must control itself. This text explores how new democracies can achieve this goal.

Excerpt

Accountability is an elusive conception. To my mind, it implies the right of persons who are affected by an action or decision to receive an explanation of what has been done and to render judgments on the conduct of those who were responsible for doing it. Guillermo O'Donnell has classified the forms of political accountability thus. Horizontal accountability connotes the obligation of officeholders to answer for their actions to one another; vertical accountability signifies the right of persons who are affected by the actions or decisions of officeholders or leaders to renew, rescind, or revise the mandates of those who exercise authority.

Conceptions of horizontal and vertical accountability correspond to the ideas of constitutionalism and democracy, respectively. In practice, the processes associated with the latter set of ideas are closely related. Often those processes are conflictual and mutually reinforcing at one and the same time. For example, constitutional checks and balances are designed to repel threats to democracy by demagogic politicians. Conversely, popular power can often prevent the degeneration of constitutional government into an oligarchy of officeholders and their influential supporters. Clarity about the difference between these two forms of accountability, and the functional qualities of each, is needed to avert both intellectual confusion and the ensuing dangers of political disillusionment.

The relationship between constitutionalism and democracy has always . . .

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