Clientelism – a democratic asset?

The most damaging fissure afflicting Europe isn’t a cultural cleavage separating a diligent, Protestant northern Europe and the lazy, self- indulgent Catholic-Orthodox south, says Francis Fukuyama.* The real division is between clientelistic and non-clientelistic Europe, he writes on The American Interest:

Clientelism occurs when political parties use public resources, and particularly government offices, as a means of rewarding political supporters. Politicians provide not programmatic public policies, but individual benefits like a job in the post office, an intervention on behalf of a relative in trouble with the government, or sometimes an outright payment of money or goods.

In my view, clientelism should be distinguished from corruption proper because of the relationship of reciprocity that exists between politicians and voters. There is a real degree of accountability in a clientelistic system: the politician has to give something back to  supporters if he or she is to stay in power, even if that is a purely private benefit. True corruption is more predatory, such as a politician accepting a bribe or kickback that goes directly into a Swiss bank account for the benefit of the politician and his family alone. ….. One of the great tragedies of Afghanistan’s long-running civil war is that tribalism (which is inherently clientelistic) has broken down and been replaced by pure predation; returning to clientelism would actually constitute progress there.

An alternative way of understanding clientelism is that it is an early form of democratic mobilization, one that is almost universally practiced in relatively poor countries that hold regular elections. It is pervasive in countries as diverse as India, Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Kenya, and Nigeria. Clientelism is not the product of a cultural proclivity or a failure of politicians to understand how a modern democratic political system is supposed to operate. Rather, it is often the most efficient way to mobilize relatively poor and uneducated voters and get them into the polling place. Such voters often care less about programmatic policies than an immediate personal benefit like a job or the equivalent of a Thanksgiving turkey.

America’s own history demonstrates this point: when the franchise was expanded in the 1820s and 30s to universal white male suffrage, the political parties responded by mobilizing these new masses of voters clientelistically. Indeed, the US invented both the mass political party and clientelism (or what in American history was known as the patronage system). For a century between the election of Andrew Jackson and the end of the Progressive Era, American politics at federal, state, and local levels was organized around the ability of the two competing parties to hand out government jobs…….

In the United States, clientelism was overcome eventually as a result of economic modernization. Industrialization of the country in the late 19th century produced new social groups like businessmen, professionals, and urban reformers who united in a Progressive Movement to push for civil service reform and merit-based bureaucracy. While the struggle to achieve the latter was slow and stretched over the better part of two generations, the US did manage by the middle of the 20th century to eliminate patronage on both federal and municipal levels. (One can argue that it has come back in a modern form of interest groups, but that’s a story for another post.)

*Fukuyama is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.


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Ukraine a ’dictatorship’ like Belarus, says Merkel

Ukraine’s people are living under a repressive regime comparable to its authoritarian neighbor Belarus,  German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today.

“Today we are living in peace and freedom in Germany, and in the European Union, but sadly not in the whole of Europe: for in Ukraine, and in Belarus, people are still suffering under dictatorship and repression,” she said.

Her comments drew a barbed response from a Ukrainian foreign ministry official in Kyiv who, speaking on condition of anonymity, hinted that Merkel was employing double standards.

“If someone charges us with selective justice, we can say … that we see selective application of democratic standards towards Ukraine,” the official said. “Because according to all respected international ratings, there is quite a number of nations in Europe and other parts of the world where democracy evidently meets much more serious challenges than in Ukraine.”

“And Ms Merkel … consistently develops political and economic ties with those countries,” clearly alluding to Germany’s close political, energy and business relations with Russia.

The German leader’s comments are especially striking as most analysts do not rank Ukraine to be as authoritarian as either Russia or Belarus, dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship” by then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

Ukrainian democracy and civil society activists tend to share the assessment of independent analysts that the country has regressed towards authoritarianism following the democratic advances following the 2004 Orange Revolution.

“Ukraine is sliding back in terms of democracy, media freedom, corruption, and rule of law,” said Nadia Diuk, a vice president of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

On the plus side, Ukrainian civil society remains vibrant and politically engaged, she told a recent Brookings Institution seminar on Ukraine’s Drift Away From Europe and the Western Response, citing activists’ success in securing a new law on non-governmental organizations.

Merkel is one of several European leaders threatening to boycott Ukraine-based matches during the June Euro 2012 football championship, which it is co-hosting with Poland, to protest the prosecution and mistreatment of former premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

President Viktor Yanukovych is facing international criticism and diplomatic pressure over her seven-year jail sentence for alleged abuse of office in a 2009 energy deal with Russia. Independent observers and Western states say the prosecution was politically motivated.

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Putin’s G8 snub signals hard line – at home and abroad

Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing to play hardball both domestically and in foreign policy, say analysts.

His decision to shun the upcoming G8 summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama is a “particularly blunt” indication of a more assertive foreign policy, while the excessive force used against demonstrators this week (above) “threatens to radicalize the confrontation between civil society and the state.”

“There will probably be raised eyebrows in Washington,” Lilit Gevorgyan, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, said today. “His refusal may be taken as a sign that Russia under Putin will indeed be more inward looking and favor a tougher foreign policy.”

Putin’s decision to snub the US-hosted summit confirms that ‘foreign policy … will play the role of a servant to Putin’s domestic agenda,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an expert on Putin. “And his main goal domestically is to preserve the status quo and survive.”

The move represents a further deterioration in relations already strained by the Kremlin’s harassment of Michael McFaul, the U.S. envoy to Moscow and architect of the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations.

Most analysts are dismissive of Putin’s references to reform and enhancing Russian democracy, suggesting that even incremental change would threaten the vested interests of his fellow siloviki.

“Moving against this system, which yields profit and power for so many colleagues, would undermine the ruling architecture that Putin has built over the past decade,” The Economist notes.

Former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky believes this week’s violence will taint Putin’s inauguration and term of office.

“Putin can’t escape … the pointlessness of the crackdown, the sporadic savagery combined with absurdity,” he said.

“A further escalation of civil conflict is unavoidable, simply because society has outgrown being a semi-colonial, authoritarian, natural resource appendage to the developed world,” opposition leader Yevgenia Chirikova said on her blog.

That shift in public sentiment is evident in a recent survey by the Levada Center, an independent polling group which found that only 1 in 5 Russians believe Putin is supported by ordinary Russians. Some 64% believe they may become victims of arbitrary abuse by police or prosecutors, while 55% say they can’t depend on the courts for protection.

Almost 50% of respondents believe government uses law enforcement agencies against political opponents and two-thirds believe official corruption will stay the same or grow in Putin’s new term.

But Putin is unlikely to respond to such shifts in public opinion by adopting a more reformist or modernizing approach to governance.

“Right now, Putin does not perceive anything except for stability,” says Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of Moscow’s Centre for Post-Industrial Studies.

The survey by Levada, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, confirms that “serious societal shifts are underway,” writes Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Putin’s government has effectively offered two tacit pacts,” she contends:

For the conservative majority, the deal is: We deliver and you stay loyal. The government can’t provide services such as just courts or a trusted police force, but at least the high price of oil has supported steady growth in state-funded salaries and pensions.

The deal for the independent-minded minority centers on non-intrusion: You stay away from politics, and we do not interfere with your pursuits.

While the first pact still holds, the second has mostly fallen apart.

Putin was able to ride out the winter’s “Snow Revolution” of anti-government protests by cultivating a new social base, says Stephen Sestanovich* of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ironically, while relatively affluent urban middle-class voters turned against him, Putin “managed to solidify his support among people who have done the least well” by employing virulent anti-Western rhetoric to mobilized rural and working class voters.

Putin also has the benefit of a weak and divided opposition.

“The anti-Putin forces remain weak; they are a loose constituency without a political agenda or broadly recognized leaders,” Lipman notes. “This enables Putin, for now, to dismiss them and proceed with his governance of manipulative politics, centralized power and egregious abuse of executive authority.”

The opposition may also be approaching a strategic choice: decline or radicalization, observers suggest.

“Putin may be back, but he has not restored the status quo ante. He survives, but the system does not,” says Andrew Wilson of University College London:

The control techniques of ‘virtual politics’ that were built in the 1990s and 2000s will no longer function in the same systematic way: some techniques will survive, some will not. The decay of the system, however, is far from complete. Russia now has a self-styled ‘liberated minority’ operating in one reality, and a residual and relatively passive ‘Putin plurality’ operating in another. And never the twain shall meet. In that sense at least, the 2011-12 election cycle is an important turning point.

“Russia was a ‘managed democracy’ or ‘virtual democracy’ (pick your term) before December 2011,” he suggests. “It is now turning into something else.”

Wilson is the co-author of a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations which makes the case that Russia’s changing political terrain demands a shift in foreign policy approaches:

Central authority is weaker, the economy is faltering and the restless middle classes are confident enough to protest against the government.

‘The end of the Putin consensus’ by Ben Judah and Andrew Wilson argues that:

  • The financial crisis has exposed Russia’s chronic governance crisis and dashed its dreams of being a true rising economic power. Russia suffered the G20’s deepest recession in 2009. See ECFR’s report ‘Dealing with a post-BRIC Russia’.
  • Recent protests show that Russia is restless but not yet revolutionary. The protest movement is a minority, but is drawn from Russia’s most dynamic demographic groups – the Moscow based, the middle class, the young and the cultural elite.
  • Electoral fraud is often unsophisticated and discrepancies are easy to expose thanks to the booming blogosphere. For instance exit polls in Moscow gave United Russia 32% of the vote in recent parliamentary elections, but the final count gave it 46.5%.
  • Despite his promises of reform, Putin will be more dependent on oligarch allies and prone to economic populism.

With a re-elected President Putin under increasing pressure at home the European Union should expect Russia to be more withdrawn and less co-operative in foreign policy, in areas from the Middle East to frozen conflicts. Moscow’s obstructive Syria policy has been presented domestically as ‘standing up to the West’.

The authors argue the EU should:

  • Loudly defend human rights, but refrain from loud support for the opposition movement (unlike some Americans who have embraced it), to avoid charges of the protesters being Western stooges.
  • Pass a pan-European ‘Magnitsky List’ – a blacklist that imposes visa bans and asset freezes on those connected to the death of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. This would indicate the EU’s red lines on egregious human rights violations.
  • Launch a new anti-corruption dialogue with Russia that includes opposition leaders and government officials. The Russian elite currently uses the EU as a safe haven for its money, and the opposition is calling  for the EU to change laws to make it harder for dirty money to find a safe berth in Europe.

Click here to download a copy of ‘The end of the Putin consensus’

*Sestanovitch is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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No whiff of Arab Spring in Algeria poll

“A Reuters reporter who stood for 45 minutes outside a polling station in Bab El Oued, a neighborhood in Algeria’s capital, did not see a single voter enter,” the agency reports. “At two other polling stations in the city, election officers said about 10 percent of those registered to vote had shown up by mid-afternoon. ” That’s no surprise, a democracy assistance official reports from Algiers. There was little to differentiate the three-day, campaign-free ‘silence period’ prior to today’s parliamentary elections in Algeria from the lackluster three-week campaign period.

In the final days of the campaign, several of the largest parties, including the majority National Liberation Front (FLN) and National Democratic Rally (RND), managed to mobilize supporters for major rallies in Algiers, but such events were the exception rather than the rule. Observers in one region estimated that more scheduled rallies were cancelled than held in the campaign’s final week.

As parties grew more intent on demonstrating their ability to draw crowds, accusations of parties bribing citizens to attend rallies became more frequent. At one small rally near Oran, observers estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of attendees were of voting age; the rest were neighborhood kids lured by free popsicles and juices. Even the FLN struggled at a major rally to control youths who broke out in chants for local football clubs. An observer at the event witnessed a young man in the crowd setting an FLN hat on fire.

Parties’ campaign messages remained vague and voters had difficulty differentiating them. To varying degrees, candidates touched on unemployment, housing shortages, the challenges faced by young people, but largely failed to propose solutions. Majority parties emphasized the importance of national unity, political stability, and participation in the elections, while voicing what one op-ed in a leading paper called “archaic speech” about the country’s independence struggle. Some parties increased negative campaigning against the Islamist-led coalition, the Alliance for a Green Algeria, which spent the latter half of the campaign running an intensive door-to-door grassroots operation.

In an attempt to counter public apathy and encourage turnout, the government ran a voter mobilization campaign via state-run television and radio, text messages, and posters imploring Algerians to vote. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika delivered a televised speech equating the independence struggle with the national duty of citizens to vote — a historic symbolism lost on many young Algerians. Paradoxically, Bouteflika also noted that “our generation has reached its time” and urged citizens to vote for young candidates.

Yet the electoral authorities have done little to ensure that citizens actually know how to vote. Authorities at various levels maintain that it is the responsibility of political parties and the media to educate voters on electoral procedures. The lack of publicly available information and inconsistent interpretations of polling regulations suggest that confusion is likely to prevail on election day, particularly on such issues as voter identification and disposal of unused ballots. The ballots themselves, printed in French and without party symbols or candidate photos, may contribute to confusion for illiterate or non-francophone voters, potentially limiting their ability to express their choice.

Progress has been made in other areas, however. Electoral authorities agreed to grant access to each level of the results tabulation process to international observers and candidate agents.

Opening this step of the electoral process to oversight by all types of observers was the first recommendation made by a pre-election assessment mission last month. While its application may be inconsistent across the country, the guarantee of access addresses a major concern expressed to the pre-election mission by many political parties and Algerian citizens.

The authorities have not entirely embraced independent oversight of the electoral process, however, as Algerian civil society groups who requested official accreditation to observe the elections never received a response. Nonetheless, members of the Civil Society Observatory for Electoral Observation, a new coalition of over 10 Algerian civic groups, are moving forward with plans to conduct a preliminary observation exercise around tomorrow’s elections in 15 different regions.


The elections are being billed as the fairest in decades, but Algerians appear to be showing little interest in the vote, the Project for Middle East Democracy reports:

Forty-four political parties are vying for 462 seats while approximately 500 international observers are monitoring the polling stations. Two government affiliated parties are facing a challenge from a three-party bloc of Islamist parties known as the Green Alliance, though no party is expected to dominate the parliament.

The Algerian Press Service reported early estimates that roughly 15 percent of voters turned out, a number far lower than the 35 percent of voters who went to the polls in 2007. In the lead-up to the elections, Algerian security forces detained people attempting to demonstrate peacefully in Algiers, including at least one candidate for election, and prevented people from reaching the city if they suspect them of intending to demonstrate. Turn out was expected to be low by the international community due to vocal boycotts and voter apathy. For example, in Algeria’s Kabylie region, a traditional opposition stronghold made up mostly of non-Arab Berbers, few entertained the thought that the polls could bring about legitimate change and thus refused to participate in the election.

POMED is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy

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