Academic journal article Development and Society

The Struggle against Corruption during the Democratic Transition: Theorising the Emergent Role of CSOs*

Academic journal article Development and Society

The Struggle against Corruption during the Democratic Transition: Theorising the Emergent Role of CSOs*

Article excerpt

This article argues that civil society organisations (CSOs) play an increasingly prominent role in combating corruption in countries that have recently democratised. Democracy cannot survive without accountability, but in transitional democracies the formal accountability mechanisms associated with democratic governance are typically ineffective. "Horizontal accountability" in the form of check-and-balance mechanisms between various state institutions usually does not function well due to the poor capacity of state institutions. "Vertical accountability" through general elections very often fails to bring state actors to account. In such circumstances, we should not be surprised that corruption becomes endemic. In order to reduce corruption, therefore, emerging democracies need far-reaching political reforms to develop sound systems of accountability. But because many state and business actors represent groups with a vested interest in corrupt activities and which generally resist reform initiatives, this article proposes that initiatives for such reform are best generated by organisations based on political movements within the broader community, namely 'civil society organisations'.

Keywords: Anti-corruption Measures, Civil Society Organisations, Democratisation in Developing Countries, Public Accountability

Corruption has triggered the collapse of authoritarian regimes in a number of developing countries, notably Iran in 1979, Uganda in 1979, Thailand in 1982, Argentina in 1982, Haiti in 1985, the Philippines in 1986, Brazil in 1986, Nigeria in 1998, and Indonesia in 1998. In all these cases, regime change was followed by efforts to implement rapid democratisation, during the course of which the failure to control corruption constituted perhaps the most evident weakness of the newly democratic regimes; the very phenomenon that helped precipitate regime change became a serious challenge to the political legitimacy of the new regime. The structural reason for this failure can be put quite simply: governmental institutions in a new political order are almost inevitably weak. Overcoming this structural weakness is a complex and difficult task, and such limitations on state capacity make it crucial that civil society take an active political role. One purpose of this article is to examine the role that civil society organisations (CSOs) are required to play in combating corruption during the democratic transition.

As described at greater length below, recent studies have recognised the importance of understanding the social context that makes corruption more likely in a transitional democracy. Based on both the following literature review and on our observations of the Indonesian experience, we suggest that CSOs play an increasingly important role in policy formation and policy implementation in new democracies for two reasons. Firstly, civil society leaders had been generally key players in the struggle against corruption under the authoritarian regime, and political activists generally expect them to lead this struggle during democratic consolidation. Secondly, the failure of the state to deal adequately with this problem creates a new political space, one that is best filled by CSOs.

While it is important to establish the role of CSOs in the process of democratic consolidation, it is more difficult to accurately describe how their activities may or may not advance the anti-corruption drive. The theorisation of CSO operations is often inadequate, and the second purpose of this article is to propose a framework for describing how CSOs fight corruption. A later section of this article describes the mechanisms by which CSOs would contribute to anti-corruption efforts. We conclude by asking, what are the implications for state-society relations when CSOs assume such a role during periods of democratisation?

Key Concepts: Corruption and Accountability

Before we begin our analysis, we need to first establish some conceptual ground rules. …

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