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The Democracy Index: Venezuela fails the grade

Daniel Duquenal

The Economist has published its “democracy Index” for 2007. That is, using a rather complete set up it divided 192 countries into four groups: “full democracies” a rather low 28; “flawed democracies” 54; “hybrid regimes” 30 and 55 are “authoritarian”. Venezuela is ranked 93, and as a “hybrid regime” which means that it has on many aspects ceased to be a democracy. Quite a sobering thought when we are supposedly facing an election to settle our immediate future.

Before interpreting this a little bit further, let’s look at some of the questions that the Economist asked every country to fulfill (with different possible replies setting different scores) [with my comments in blue when appropriate]

2. Are elections for the national legislature and head of government fair? [are they?]

5. Can citizens cast their vote free of significant threats to their security from state or non-state bodies? [what about the Tascon list?]

6. Do laws provide for broadly equal campaigning opportunities? [anyone can observe the obscene advantage of the government as Rosales is not running against Chavez, he is running against the state]

7. Is the process of financing political parties transparent and generally accepted? [parties are not financed but chavismo uses state resources as if they were theirs]

10. Do opposition parties have a realistic prospect of achieving government?

11. Is potential access to public office open to all citizens?

14. Is the legislature the supreme political body, with a clear supremacy over other branches of government? [The legislature has become a rubber stamp for Chavez]

15. Is there an effective system of checks and balances on the exercise of government authority? [NO!!!]

16. Government is free of undue influence by the military or the security services. [The military is a pervasive presence at all levels of public administration]

19. Are sufficient mechanisms and institutions in place for assuring government accountability to the electorate in between elections? [NO!]

21. Is the functioning of government open and transparent, with sufficient public access to information? [NO!]

22. How pervasive is corruption? [do I have to comment there?]

23. Is the civil service willing and capable of implementing government policy? [NO!]

25. Public confidence in government.

26. Public confidence in political parties.

27. Voter participation/turnout for national elections [low and tendency to lower]

36. Is there a sufficient degree of societal consensus and cohesion to underpin a stable, functioning democracy?

37. Perceptions of leadership; proportion of the population that desires a strong leader who bypasses parliament and elections.

38. Perceptions of military rule; proportion of the population that would prefer military.

52. The degree to which the judiciary is independent of government influence. Consider the views of international legal and judicial watchdogs. Have the courts ever issued an important judgment against the government, or a senior government official? [NO!]

54. The degree to which citizens are treated equally under the law. Consider whether favoured members of groups are spared prosecution under the law. [The Tascon list, Maisanta come to mind]

55. Do citizens enjoy basic security? Crime is so pervasive as to endanger security for large segments [crime is at an all time high]

56. Extent to which private property rights protected and private business is free from undue government influence.

59. There is no significant discrimination on the basis of people’s race, colour or creed.

60. Extent to which the government invokes new risks and threats as an excuse for curbing civil liberties. [listen to recent speech of Chavez and wonder]

The smart reader by now has figured it out why Venezuela is so low in its democratic ranking. In fact in Lat Am only Cuba and Haiti are below Venezuela (although Ecuador is almost as bad).

“How come?” would ask the naïve newcomer to Venezuela situation? “Is not Chavez promoting extensive democracy, constant voting, forcing popular participation?” Well, the answer could be a yes, but when elections lead to personal power, concentration of all power into one single political line, elections lose any meaning, becoming little bit more than a vulgar plebiscite. People in Venezuela are aware of it as voting participation is diving dangerously (barely 20% in December 2005). Let’s quote the Economist:

A high turnout is generally seen as evidence of the legitimacy of the current system. Contrary to widespread belief, there is in fact a close correlation between turnout and overall measures of democracy—ie, developed, consolidated democracies have, with very few exceptions, higher turnout (generally above 70%) than less established democracies.
We are not, we are in fact far from being a “consolidated” democracy.

After 8 years of Bolivarian revolution the only thing we are achieving is the concentration of all power in one man’s hand, Chavez, who gives and take power as he wishes from a short list of sycophants. The numbers are there: Venezuela, the only democracy in Lat Am at times, a land where so many political exiles used to flee the stern dictatorships elsewhere, is about to become a non democratic country if the Chavez drive is not stopped. And do not believe me, just listen to the electoral offering of Chavez: unlimited reelection, new constitutional changes, one party state even, centralization, bypass of all controls and local politics. It is all there, for those who want to see.

PS: reading the full report is interesting besides the results for Venezuela. One can read that Italy flunks, that the US and the UK could do much better and are losing some ground, and that only Uruguay and Costa Rica deserve the title of full democracies in Lat Am. Some of the details and numbers are fascinating.

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