The (dis)agreements of democracy

In a few months our democracy will be 40 years old. In 1983, the social and political climate was one of breaking with a violent and authoritarian past. And for this, the political class had understood that on the way to rebuilding a democracy that emerged weak, they reached strictly necessary agreements. The argument was that in contrast to the violence of the 70s, on the points of contact between the different forces and political actors we were able to build a sustainable democracy.

Where do we stand today in relation to this vision? This conception proved essential in the military uprisings that took place from 1987 to 1990, and in the convulsed transfer of government in 1989. The acordista vocation was also experienced with the Olivos pact that gave birth to the first institutions of democracy, which, in turn, time, they allowed to get out of the 2001 crisis, again with an agreement between the main political forces. At present, is it possible to think of agreements that allow us to move forward?

In order to reach agreements, it is necessary that there is trust between the parties. In any democracy, the first party is the citizenry. Edelman, a renowned communication and public affairs consultant, published its annual barometer a few days ago, which analyzes the credibility of various social actors in 28 different countries. The novelty for the 2023 barometer, globally, is that confidence in the private business sector has increased, and this is greater than confidence in institutions.

In the Argentine case, this is exacerbated, with the addition of being, according to what was proposed by the study, the society that is perceived as the most polarized of the 28 analyzed. In other words, the majority of Argentines perceive that we have deep divisions, and believe that we will never be able to bring positions closer. In other words, it is not unreasonable to think that society does not trust institutions.

Political actors, for their part, also reflect this mutual distrust. The confrontations between the three powers acquire a particular dynamic that shows this phenomenon. The Judiciary fails against the Executive Branch in cases that are sensitive to it, the latter rejects the actions of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation promoting the impeachment of its members; and the Legislative Power does not meet because it cannot achieve minimum consensus within it. Negotiation channels appear to be broken, as all political actors – content to compete in a polarized society – seek to differentiate themselves. Likewise, in recent days the internships in the two main political blocs have intensified – or have become visible, showing not only the differences within them, but also the difficulties in consolidating candidacies with some levels of consensus. Quoting Elmer Schattschneider, if a party cannot nominate candidates, it ceases to be a party. How can a political actor who does not achieve minimum agreements within himself be able to be legitimized before the citizens to seek agreements?

Now, what is it that generates this mistrust in society? In a recently published paper, Scott Mainwaring and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán argue that poor government performance leads to dissatisfaction with democracy, and that in turn, this opens the door for populist and authoritarian leaders, in a strong criticism to the establishment, especially political. This phenomenon is the one observed in several of the central countries, and even in Latin America (it is enough to mention Bolsonaro in Brazil and Pedro Castillo in Peru). In other words, if governments are not successful in responding to the demands of society (those that are currently focused on economic development and the reduction of inequality), the door is opened for criticism of governments. Be a critic of democracy. And to achieve an improvement on these points, political actors need to pull together on the same side.

Faced with the risks of a crisis of Argentine democracy, it is necessary for politics to attract again. Even though the power of an outsider seems unlikely –but not impossible, nor far from a feasible scenario–, it will be the political class that will have to face, in an election year, the demands of the citizenry and reconnect with it.

How can you do it? The political class has three tools at its fingertips. In the first place, you can take advantage of the pre-selection of candidacies (who will compete in the PASO) to strengthen the internal debate and include the demands of the citizenry. You must also pay attention to changes in that demand, but without falling into the temptation of responding to demands that are impossible to fulfill (with particular emphasis on economic and social development). And finally, focus more on the possibilities of agreement –as was done in that nascent democracy in 1983– than on division.

Polarization and the latent risk of a democratic reversal –as world evidence shows us– are a danger from which we are not oblivious. In turn, these agreements require including the business sector (which, curiously, following Edelman’s report, is the one that arouses the most confidence among the actors). If politics does not begin to respond to the demands of the citizenry, we run the risk that the phenomenon that, after the crisis of 2001, Juan Carlos Torre called “the orphans of party politics” will become an orphanage of politics in general.

The democratic proposal in Argentina emerged on the basis of agreements, and if we lose the ability to achieve them, dissatisfaction with democracy will unfortunately be guaranteed.

* Political Scientist – Specialist in electoral issues and public opinion.

You may also like