Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Party-Society Linkages and Democratic Representation in Latin America

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Party-Society Linkages and Democratic Representation in Latin America

Article excerpt

Abstract. Although it is often said that there is a crisis of party systems and political representation in Latin America, it may be more accurate to assert that a transition is underway from some types of partisan representation to others. This transition is best understood by exploring party-society linkages and their transformation over time. Five types of party-society linkage are identified, along with the social and economic changes that have undermined encapsulating and programmatic linkages while buttressing those based on political brokerage, personal appeal, and political marketing. The net effect of these changes is to produce political parties that are more detached from organized social constituencies and more individualized and contingent in their patterns of affiliation.

Resume. Bien que l'on ait souvent l'occasion d'affirmer que le systeme de partis et la representation politique en Amerique latine est en crise, il serait plus exact de dire que certains types de representation sont en voie de transition. L'etude des liaisons partis-societe et de leur transformation au fil du temps permet de mieux comprendre ce phenomene. On peut ainsi degager cinq types de liaisons ainsi que les changements economiques et sociaux qui ont affaibli celles qui ont trait aux programmes et aux formules tout en renforcant celles qui sont axees sur les tractations politiques, l'attrait personnel et le marketing politique. Ces changements ont directement contribue a la creation de partis politiques moins lies a des electorats socialement organises, mais bien plus individualises et contingents quant a leur mode d'affiliation.

Introduction

As elected officials replaced military dictators across most of Latin America in the 1980s, it seemed as if they had barely taken the oath of office before scholars began to lament the "crisis of political representation" that plagued the region's fledgling democratic regimes. (1) The manifestations of this crisis were legion, including voter abstention, declining partisan identification, electoral volatility, the rise of independent candidates and "anti-politics" outsiders, and the demise of traditional political parties as well as secondary associations like labour unions. (2) Since political parties are widely recognized to be the primary intermediary institutions between citizens and the state under democratic regimes, (3) they were often held accountable for this alleged crisis of representation. Although some scholars claimed to find evidence of increasing party system institutionalization in the region, (4) there was a growing sentiment over the course of the 1990s that party systems were failing in a number of countries and that their deficiencies posed formidable problems for the quality and stability of democracy in the region. (5)

Is there a crisis of political representation in Latin America? If so, to what extent is it attributable to the failings of political parties? While intuitively appealing, given the turmoil that exists in many Latin American party systems, the notion of a crisis of representation is overly simplistic. Political representation, after all, can assume a number of different forms, and parties have performed a variety of social and political functions. A crisis in a particular mode of political representation or a certain type of party organization does not necessarily imply a more generalized crisis of representation. What may actually be occurring is a shift away from one mode of representation to another, with distinctive institutional features and societal linkages.

To understand such a process of transformation requires a more systematic analysis of the different ways in which parties represent citizens in democratic contexts--that is, how they articulate societal interests, aggregate groups and individuals, and mobilize support in a competitive electoral arena. In short, it requires that parties be analyzed in the social milieu in which they compete. …

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