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The Measure of Democracy: assessing Venezuela…

By Aleksander Boyd

London 18 Jul. 04 – I had a chat about Venezuela’s situation with someone last Friday. Interestingly, based on the recent assessment of Human Rights Director, J.M. Vivanco, and the fact that the media says and prints pretty much what it pleases the editors –further strengthened by the coming recall referendum- my interlocutor assured me that Venezuela enjoys a fully democratic system. However I differed for I believe that the existence of referenda mechanisms and freedom of the press are not guarantors that the system prevailing in a country can be called as such. It is an issue, I tend to think, way more complicated than that. So I set out to do some research on the topic and came about to a set of questions proposed by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) which can result in an empirical assessment of democracy in any given country. Critical thinking people will undoubtedly reach the same conclusion that I have, after answering the following, i.e. based upon the current circumstances Venezuela’s system can not be considered a democracy. Thus this is nothing but an attempt to promote discussion on this subject and opinions from all sides of the political spectrum are most welcomed by using the contact link. At the end of the article readers will find a link to IDEA’s brief where an example of how to tackle the questions is presented in page 13 [PDF document].

I. Citizenship, Law and Rights

1.0 Nationhood and citizenship

Is there public agreement on a common citizenship without discrimination?

1.1 How inclusive is the political nation and state citizenship of all who live within the territory?

1.2 To what extent are cultural differences acknowledged, and how well are minorities protected?

1.3 How much consensus is there on state boundaries and constitutional arrangements?

1.4 To what extent do constitutional and political arrangements enable major societal divisions to be moderated or reconciled?

1.5 How impartial and inclusive are the procedures for amending the constitution?

1.6 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

2.0 The rule of law and access to justice

Are state and society consistently subject to the law?

2.1 To what extent is the rule of law operative throughout the territory?

2.2 To what extent are all public officials subject to the rule of law and to transparent rules in the performance of their functions?

2.3 How independent are the courts and the judiciary from the executive, and how free are they from all kinds of interference?

2.4 How equal and secure is the access of citizens to justice, to due process and to redress in the event of maladministration?

2.5 To what extent do the criminal justice and penal systems observe due rules of impartial and equitable treatment in their operations?

2.6 How much confidence do people have in the legal system to deliver fair and effective justice?

2.7 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

3.0 Civil and political rights

Are civil and political rights equally guaranteed for all?

3.1 How free are all people from physical violation of their person, and from fear of it?

3.2 How effective and equal is the protection of the freedoms of movement, expression, association and assembly?

3.3 How secure is the freedom for all to practise their own religion, language or culture?

3.4 How free from harassment and intimidation are individuals and groups working to improve human rights?

3.5 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

4.0 Economic and social rights

Are economic and social rights equally guaranteed for all?

4.1 To what extent is access to work or social security available to all, without discrimination?

4.2 How effectively are the basic necessities of life guaranteed, including adequate food, shelter and clean water?

4.3 To what extent is the health of the population protected, in all spheres and stages of life?

4.4 How extensive and inclusive is the right to education, including education in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?

4.5 How free are trade unions and other work-related associations to organise and represent their members’ interests?

4.6 How rigorous and transparent are the rules on corporate governance, and how effectively are corporations regulated in the public interest?

4.7 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

II. Representative and Accountable Government

5.0 Free and fair elections

Do elections give the people control over governments and their policies?

5.1 To what extent is appointment to governmental and legislative office determined by popular competitive election, and how frequently do elections lead to change in the governing parties or personnel?

5.2 How inclusive and accessible for all citizens are the registration and voting procedures, how independent are they of government and party control, and how free from intimidation and abuse?

5.3 How fair are the procedures for the registration of candidates and parties, and to what extent is there fair access for them to the media and other means of communication with the voters?

5.4 How effective a range of choice does the electoral and party system allow the voters, how equally do their votes count, and how closely does the composition of the legislature and the selection of the executive reflect the choices they make?

5.5 To what extent does the legislature reflect the social composition of the electorate?

5.6 To what extent do the political forces in and outside the country accept the electorate votes and the election results?

5.7 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

6.0 Democratic role of political parties

Does the party system assist the working of democracy?

6.1 How freely are parties able to form, recruit members and campaign for office?

6.2 How effective is the party system in forming and sustaining governments in office?

6.3 How free are opposition or non-governing parties to organise within the legislature, and how effectively do they contribute to government accountability?

6.4 How fair and effective are the rules governing party discipline in the legislature?

6.5 To what extent are parties effective membership organisations, and how far are members able to influence party policy and candidate selection?

6.6 To what extent does the system of party financing prevent the subordination of parties to special interests?

6.7 To what extent do parties cross ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions? 6.8 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

7.0 Government effectiveness and accountability

Is government accountable to the people and their representatives?

7.1 To what extent is the elected government able to influence or control those matters that are important to the lives of its people, and how well is it informed, organised and resourced to do so?

7.2 How much public confidence is there in the effectiveness of government and its political leadership?

7.3 How effective and open to scrutiny is the control exercised by elected leaders and their ministers over their administrative staff and other executive agencies?

7.4 How extensive and effective are the powers of the legislature to initiate, scrutinise and amend legislation?

7.5 How extensive and effective are the powers of the legislature to scrutinise the executive and hold it to account?

7.6 How rigorous are the procedures for approval and supervision of taxation and public expenditure?

7.7 How comprehensive and effective is legislation giving citizens the right of access to government information?

7.8 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

8.0 Civilian control of the military and police

Are the military and police forces under civilian control?

8.1 How effective is civilian control over the armed forces, and how free is political life from military involvement?

8.2 How publicly accountable are the police and security services for their activities?

8.3 To what extent does the composition of the army, police and security services reflect the social composition of society at large?

8.4 How free is the country from the operation of paramilitary units, private armies, warlordism and criminal mafias?

8.5 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

9.0 Minimizing corruption

Are public officials free from corruption?

9.1 How effective is the separation of public office, elected and unelected, from party advantage and the personal business and family interests of office holders?

9.2 How effective are the arrangements for protecting office holders and the public from involvement in bribery?

9.3 To what extent do the rules and procedures for financing elections, candidates and elected representatives prevent their subordination to sectional interests?

9.4 To what extent is the influence of powerful corporations and business interests over public policy kept in check, and how free are they from involvement in corruption, including overseas?

9.5 How much confidence do people have that public officials and public services are free from corruption?

9.6 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

III. Civil Society and Popular Participation

10.0 The media in a democratic society

Do the media operate in a way that sustains democratic values?

10.1 How independent are the media from government, how pluralistic is their ownership, and how free are they from subordination to foreign governments or multinational companies?

10.2 How representative are the media of different opinions and how accessible are they to different sections of society?

10.3 How effective are the media and other independent bodies in investigating government and powerful corporations?

10.4 How free are journalists from restrictive laws, harassment and intimidation?

10.5 How free are private citizens from intrusion and harassment by the media?

10.6 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

11.0 Political participation

Is there full citizen participation in public life?

11.1 How extensive is the range of voluntary associations, citizen groups, social movements etc. and how independent are they from government?

11.2 How extensive is citizen participation in voluntary associations and self-management organisations, and in other voluntary public activity?

11.3 To what extent do women participate in political life and public office at all levels?

11.4 How equal is access for all social groups to public office, and how fairly are they represented within it?

11.5 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

12.0 Government responsiveness

Is government responsive to the concerns of its citizens?

12.1 How open and systematic are the procedures for public consultation on government policy and legislation, and how equal is the access for relevant interests to government?

12.2 How accessible are elected representatives to their constituents?

12.3 How accessible and reliable are public services for those who need them, and how systematic is consultation with users over service delivery?

12.4 How much confidence do people have in the ability of government to solve the main problems confronting society, and in their own ability to influence it?

12.5 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

13.0 Decentralisation

Are decisions made at a level of government that is most appropriate for the people affected?

13.1 How independent are the sub-central tiers of government from the centre, and how far do they have the powers and resources to carry out their responsibilities?

13.2 How far are these levels of government subject to free and fair electoral authorisation, and to the criteria of openness, accountability and responsiveness in their operation?

13.3 How extensive is the co-operation of government at the most local level with relevant partners, associations and communities in the formation and implementation of policy, and in service provision?

13.4 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of priority and public support do they have?

IV. Democracy beyond the state

14.0 International dimensions of democracy

Are the country’s external relations conducted in accordance with democratic norms, and is it itself free from external subordination?

14.1 How free is the governance of the country from subordination to external agencies, economic, cultural or political?

14.2 To what extent are government relations with external donors based on principles of partnership and transparency?

14.3 To what extent does the government support UN human rights treaties and respect international law?

14.4 To what extent does the government respect its international obligations in its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and how free from arbitrary discrimination is its immigration policy?

14.5 How consistent is the government in its support for human rights and democracy abroad?

14.6 What measures, if any, are being taken to remedy publicly identified problems in this field, and what degree of political priority and public support do they have?

Democracy Assessment Questionnaire: An Example

To answer all the above questions fully would require a panel of assessors with a wide range of expertise, such as we have drawn on in each of the countries surveyed in the International IDEA pilot study. However, a simpler ‘do-it-yourself’ method is to answer the list of question section by section according to a grid format in which you are invited to grade your answers by degree. Even this simpler format assumes a certain level of political interest and information. Consulting with some basic sources such as legal and political texts, reports from domestic human rights organisations and ombudspersons, main newspaper archives, etc., is also recommended. You will find that all the questions are framed in such a way that, the higher the score, the better the situation is presumed to be from a democratic point of view.



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