Tag Archives: Democratization

Mozambique – Facing critical challenges: local elections, peace talks, and emerging security issues

After much speculation, Mozambique held local elections on October 10th, which were the fifth since 1994. These elections were important on several grounds. First, they took place under new legislation for electing local authorities. Second, it was the first time in 10 years that  Renamo was going to compete in local elections, after boycotting the 2013 polls. Third, these elections presented a critical test to the country’s prospects for democratization and peacebuilding. They took place about one month after the signature of a memorandum of understanding on military issues between the incumbent President Filipe Nyusi and the acting leader of Renamo, Ossufo Momade. Therefore, there was some level of uncertainty on whether the formal consensus would endure as the campaign unfolded and after the results were announced. Overall, looking at the political leadership during this period can foreshadow what is to come a year from now, when the general election is expected to take place.

The peace talks   

On August 6th, President Filipe Nyusi addressed the nation to announce that the Mozambican government and Renamo had signed a memorandum of understanding on military issues. The long awaited memorandum represents an important milestone after several months of negotiations and the initial uncertainty on whether the death of Renamo’s leader (Afonso Dhlakama) would compromise the peace negotiations and whether acting leader Ossufo Momade would fulfil the compromises reached hitherto. The memorandum establishes the process of “integrating the officers from Renamo in the FADM and in the Republic of Mozambique Police (PRM)” and “the Renamo armed elements’ DDR process”, as well as clear mechanisms that allow the process to be monitored. More specifically, it creates a Joint Technical Group on DDR (JTGDDR) to ensure that “DDR activities are performed in a timely, effective and efficient manner”.

The signing of the memorandum highlights the relevance of political leadership. President Filipe Nyusi’s willingness to concede on Renamo’s longtime demands, namely the decentralization package and the incorporation of the latter’s men into the country’s armed forces, was crucial for this outcome. Moreover, throughout the negotiation process, he presented himself as committed to attaining consensus and peace.  His words at the announcement of the signature of the memorandum are a clear illustration of this: “we did this by believing that, with patience, tolerance, understanding, a spirit of reconciliation, and a singular dedication to results, Mozambicans can construct peace”. Ossufo Momade, on the other hand, strived to gain legitimacy as a peace negotiator and Renamo’s new “strong man”. Following a decision made by Renamo’s National Political Committee, he went on living in the Gorongosa (as Afonso Dhlakama did in the past), and he was expected to continue the peace negotiations from there. Still, he also alluded to the “good will between the parties” and to Renamo’s commitment to the disarmament process.  However, the holding of local elections, which were the first ones in which Renamo participated in 10 years, relaunched new uncertainties on whether the party would still fulfil the memorandum.

Local Elections

After the approval of new electoral legislation on July 19th, the competing political forces had only a few months to set up their lists of candidates for the October 10th local elections. Parties’ nominations for the country’s 53 municipalities were not consensual across all units. This was the case in the capital, Maputo. Here, Frelimo faced an important setback when Samora Machel Júnior, son of the first Mozambican president, Samora Machel, defected the party to run as an independent mayoral candidate against the party’s endorsed candidate, Eneas Comiche. Renamo, on the other hand, saw its first choice, Venâncio Mondlane, excluded by the National Elections Commission (CNE) and had to replace him with Hermínio Morais. The electoral campaign period had a few episodes of clashes between the opposing parties, and Renamo’s supporters claimed they were victims of intimidation and assault. Voting day was generally calm, although there were some procedural incidents. Overall, the results brought no significant changes: Frelimo elected mayors (the head of the list of the party with the most votes) in 44 municipalities, while Renamo elected 8 and  MDM 1. The results were not accepted by Ossufo Momade, who promised to contest the results. Following a strategy that was often used by the former leader of Renamo Afonso Dhlakama, he stated “We do not want war but we also do not accept any attempt to change the popular will”; moreover he threatened to walk out of talks if the electoral bodies failed to recognize that the local elections had been fraudulent.  So far the appeals submitted by the Renamo (and the MDM) against the election results have been rejected by the courts.

Leadership in times of uncertainty

President Filipe Nyusi has been facing critical tests since he was elected to office in 2014; however, the unfolding of the peace talks with Renamo and his party’s win in the local elections, reinforce his legitimacy and strength as leader. On Renamo’s side, the new leadership has a chance to refashion and strengthen the party if it is to continue to improve electorally. However, there are important challenges ahead. The implementation of the DDR process as delineated in the memorandum remains haunted by uncertainty, and Renamo’s leadership has already threatened to abandon the negotiations, as the party considers the recent local elections illegitimate. Furthermore, the economy is still volatile, and there are new emerging security threats in the country’s northern provinces that have been linked to Islamic terrorismillegal mining activity, and social inequality, which need to be addressed by the presidency. How both parties’ leaderships deal with the challenges they face and keep the peace process on track will be the keys to their success in the upcoming 2019 election.

Romania – How much ‘deep state’ and where to find it

Social Democrat Party (PSD) chairman Liviu Dragnea delivered the most important speech of 2018 at a party rally in June. The ‘parallel state’ featured most prominently among his choice of words. ©presidential – power.com / Veronica Anghel

In the 2013 novel ‘A Delicate Truth’, former MI5/6 spy and novelist John le Carré presents the ‘deep state’ as ‘the ever-expanding circle of non-governmental insiders from banking, industry and commerce who were cleared for highly classified information denied to large swathes of Whitehall and Westminster.’ The popular writer has constantly known how to position his plots in the palm of contemporaneity. Increasingly, politicians use the scare of the secrecy of the ‘deep state’ for a useful one-dimensional identification of an enemy and conspiracy theorists are slithering from the margins towards the mainstream on the waves of social media. At the same time, political scientists increasingly acknowledge the existence of unquantifiable intervening factors that may alter the predictable outcomes of formal institutions. How much is the balance between democratic institutions affected by the existence of a ‘deep state’ and is there a use to professionally trace its attributes without falling in the traps of literally mystery or legitimize populist discourse?

The ‘deep state’ by any other name…. and where to find it

The most common place to find the ‘deep state’ is in the results of discourse analysis. While politicians can use different names for what it is, they rely heavily on its power to be all encompassing and mobilize electoral sensibilities. In the US, Stephen Bannon announced the White House’s war against the ‘administrative state’, a conception of the ‘deep state’ that pits President Trump not against an economic privileged class, but against clerks and civil servants who are perceived as obstacles against the success of his political platform. Republican Ron Paul referred to such obscure interests as ‘the shadow government’.  This understanding of detrimental networks of authority for representative governance finds its adherents further back in US history. President Theodor Roosevelt announced his own belief in the existence of an ‘invisible government’ that cannot be held accountable by the people.

In Central European politics, reproving the ‘colonizing interests’ of the West – via Western corporations or enabled through Brussels and its EU civil servants – and/or chastising the secret services as enablers for hidden undefined interests are increasingly more common elements of political rhetoric. Such discourses use the logic of a Manichean zero sum game approach – the ‘good’ us against the ‘evil’ others – and incentivize emotional societal division. The Polish Kaczyński administration actively pursued the re-investigation and promotion of the Smolensk tragedy not as a result of faulty rational decisions as shown by a previous report, but of treacherous intrigues sponsored by Russia and other perpetrators that remained nameless. In Hungary, a useful name was at hand, as George Soros was identified as the social – liberal Western capitalist who is an obstacle against the state sponsored return to conservative values and nationalist economy. Consequently, the ‘deep state’ became known as the ‘Soros Army’. Contenders of the Orban regime use the term ‘mafia state’ to identify the structures that run parallel with state institutions and which are run through oligarch proxies of PM Orban and the FIDESZ party. Bulgarian PM Boiko Borisov announced during his first mandate in 2009 his own fight with what he considered is a deep infiltration of organised crime inside the government, working for personal economic interests. Similarly, his contenders claim (ex. here or here) it is PM Borisov and other government leaders with long running ties in the Bulgarian Communist Party who chair networks that result in a ‘state capture’. In other hybrid democracies, such as Turkey, the military is an unaccountable power group that more blatantly and more frequently curbs the power of elected civilians.

In Romania, this inner core of the establishment able to conduct in secret a blurring of public and private interests is branded as the ‘parallel state’. The ‘parallel state’ allegedly represents a consortium of unidentified interests of secret services, foreign – connected NGOs and representatives of different branches of the judicial system linked to former president Traian Băsescu who use state resources for their aims. A quantitative analysis of the most important political speech of the year 2018, delivered by the chairperson of the governing Social Democrat Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, at an assembly of over 150 000 PSD supporters shows that the ‘parallel state’ is at the core of his concerns. At the same political assembly, another PSD leader delivered a speech in English, cheering president Trump’s fight against the ‘deep state’. Mr. Dragnea considers it the main obstacle standing in the way of PSD fulfilling its policy program, while also having the ability to change election outcomes and intimidate state officials through prosecutions. Similar analyses show comparative frequencies of references to the ‘parallel state’ in public discourses of other leaders of the governing coalition. Such concerns are reinforced by junior partner ALDE and senate chairperson, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu. This phrase has become so common use in Romanian politics that even in internal fighting of PSD members, members accuse each other of ‘using the means common to the “parallel state”’. By these, they mean illegal phone – tapping or other types of interception of communications using state resources. This is usually a cause for escalation of tensions and media speculation.

The wide spread use of the scare of an almighty  ‘parallel state’ that reminds of the communist security service is a source of citizens’ erosion of confidence in state institutions and the progress made towards the independence of the judiciary and in the anti-corruption fight. Electorally, this translates into support for the government’s program to reform the justice system. It also leads to steady decrease in voter turn – out as citizens increasingly believe politics is a murky territory their vote cannot affect either way. Lower voter turn –out is a technical advantage for the PSD who relies on a captive electorate.

President Băsescu, the main actor accused of chaperoning this complex system of  interests during his mandate, declared there is no such thing as a ‘deep state’, but affirmed the existence of prosecutors, judges and other persons, from within institutions, but not representing those institutions, who abused and misused power. President Klaus Iohannis altogether denied the existence of anything similar to what the PSD leaders claim exists in Romania.  The identification of this useful enemy that is everywhere and nowhere is a useful campaign tool. But is there anything that can be taken out of the shadows and systematically researched for a better understanding of weaknesses of formal institutions?

The aristocracy of pull or how much ‘deep state’ ?

The study of ‘interest groups’ and the need for their judicial review has been a long running preoccupation of political science (ex. here and here). More recently, post-communist transition theory identified that informal powers and networks that political elites use to their benefit is as an important factor in limiting democratic state building (see Grzymala – Busse and Jones Luong 2002). In such evaluations, the extent of the use of parallel networks of authority and power personalisation make the difference between ‘democratic’, ‘autocratic’ and ‘personalistic’ states. Other researchers claim the tension between formal and informal institutions precedes communist times (see Ekiert and Ziblatt 2012). Disaggregating the state analytically into actors at various levels of the decision-making process and state administration provides insight into the struggle between formal and informal institutions and permits a categorisation that can be used irrespective of time and space:

”In the formal democratic state, informal institutions are largely in accord with formal democratic institutions. In the semiformal state, dual domination signals the deep state’s existence. In the informal state, deep state is converted into the state, the rule, and the norm.” (Soyler 2013)

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) increasingly prove to have multiple centres of informal authority with fluctuating degrees of influence on the process of democratization and state institutionalization. The introduction of democratic institutions – and their intrinsic formalisation of elite relationships -clashes with persistent informal practices. In other words, the formal changes introduced from above met significant resistance from patterns of informal norm systems, which are also the source of clientelism, corruption and networks of political patronage. The widespread acceptance of these informal norm systems caters for whichever presiding force finds its way into loci of state power. By circumventing predictability, their effect is anticompetitive and antimeritocratic, favouring those who are ‘in-the-know’ and have privileged access to politicians. This eases the appearance of one – party state forms of political organisations, regardless of ideological inclinations.

Conclusion: the ‘deep state’ is a puzzle, not the Leviathan    

Consequently, the Romanian ‘deep state’ is much less the conspirator centralized system chaired by any one interest group at any one time, but a fabric of relationships that uses different types of barter as a source of maintaining power among an established political and economic elite. The extent to which this is a part of the decision making process affects the state of democracy as a whole, but cannot controllably and substantially satisfy the interests of any one centralized interest group in the longer run. The ‘deep state’ is not in itself the all-powerful Leviathan, but resembles the timeless aristocracy of pull. It is a complex puzzle of unwritten, informal norms and relations that requires empirical research for a better understanding of power dispersion and agenda setting.

Yonatan L. Morse – Presidential Power and Democratization by Elections in Africa

This is a post by contributor Yonatan L. Morse, based on his article ‘Presidential Power and Democratization by Elections in Africa’ that will be published in the journal Democratization

In traditional studies of democratization, elections are generally the end phase of a prolonged process of liberalization and political opening. However, in recent years political scientists have also entertained the idea that elections might actually be the starting point of a process of democratization. In foundational work on Africa by Staffan Lindberg, he contended that repeated consecutive elections could create self-reinforcing mechanisms that deepened democracy over time. This approach is intuitively appealing for an era in which elections are commonplace, yet many countries still fail to live up to democratic standards. And expectedly, this thesis has been subject to quite widespread replication, scrutiny, and criticism.

In new research, now published online by the journal Democratization, I engage with the democratization by elections thesis in Africa, and argue that repeated elections can induce some forms of democratic behavior but face real limitations when formal presidential powers are strong. This is because under certain conditions strong presidentialism reinforces incentives for elections to become opportunities for clientelistic exchange, rather than moments of self-expression. Powerful presidents that control legislative agendas, access to political appointments, and the purse strings, might lead certain actors to behave more democratically during elections, but not necessarily to develop more robust notions of citizenship. This holds true in Africa because levels of economic development and inequality reinforce the role of clientelism as a central way elites and citizens access their government.

A caveat is in order here first. If the democratization by elections thesis has been so heavily scrutinized (in Africa and elsewhere), what is there to add to the debate? Other studies have generated, at best, mixed results. For instance, in Latin America democracy was restored in the 1980s after periodic interludes of authoritarianism. Therefore, many of the indicators of democracy simply jumped back to their prior levels, and have in fact declined since in many countries. Most importantly, in many countries repeated elections seemed to reinforce rather than undermine authoritarianism. Referred to as electoral or competitive authoritarian regimes, in these cases repeated elections appear to offer incumbents the ability to reshuffle their coalitions, gather information about their levels of support, and generate international legitimacy. In one study of Africa, the authors found that democratization by elections could only truly be found in a handful of cases.

The problem with previous studies is that they often mischaracterize what the democratization by elections thesis is actually about. Lindberg makes a crucial distinction between the “process of democratization” and a “transition to democracy.” Regimes can show improvements in specific indicators of democracy, while not necessarily transitioning to a new regime. Indeed, autocratic regimes can exhibit more or less democratic behavior. For instance, when actors participate more, compete more effectively, or appear to accept the legitimacy of the election process, this is a sign of democratic progress. Specifically, for Lindberg this is evidence of how elections create self-fulfilling expectations. Elections might also lead to improvements in other realms of democratic life like the protection of civil liberties. This indicates some form of socialization by elections, whereby citizens learn from election experience to demand voice in other realms of life. Using this more limited definition of democratization yields quite different results from previous studies.

My contribution is therefore to stress which factors condition the impact of repeated elections on much more specific democratic outcomes. I gathered information on 679 African elections since 1990, and combined this information with data from the Varieties of Democracy (V-DEM) and Presidential Power (PRESPOW) datasets. These data offer new ways to explore both numerous democratic outcomes, and to compare and contrast the extent of formal presidential power across Africa. The V-DEM data includes measures of electoral participation, competition, and legitimacy. But, it also includes indexes of many non-electoral elements of democracy like the protection of civil and private liberties, civil society participation, and equal protection under the law. I controlled for numerous other factors like executive years in office, levels of economic growth and development, foreign aid, ethnic heterogeneity, religion, and historic experiences with democracy.

A key utility of this study is its use of formal measures of presidential power in Africa. In many studies of African politics the focus has often been on the various ways in which presidents violate constitutions and operate through parallel informal institutions. This approach is mistaken for a number of reasons. First, it is equally clear that African presidents routinely amend constitutions, which means that the formal powers of presidents are not trivial. Second, using formal measures of presidential powers limits the risk of endogeneity in a study. For example, if a president unconstitutionally repeals legislation, this is often coded as both a violation of the democratic process and stronger informal presidential power. It is difficult to know what factor is influencing what factor. By focusing on the formal attributes of presidents, this risk of conflation is mitigated.

The analysis shows that improvements in the election process do not depend on levels of presidential power. Using Lindberg’s criteria, with more experience African elections become more participatory, competitive, and legitimate. This validates the notion that elections reinforce actors’ expectations and conditions them to accede by the rules of the game if they want to get ahead. On the other hand, presidential power significantly conditions the impact of repeated election on civil and private liberties, civil society participation, and equal protection under the law. When presidents are formally strong, repeated and consecutive elections limit the ability of elections to socialize more participatory and democratic behavior. These results hold up to various statistical models, and even the inclusion of a measure of the unfairness of the election.

This corresponds with expectations regarding the intersection of presidential power and clientelism in Africa. When levels of access to a system of spoils define the political game, and when presidents control that access, elections become devoid of deeper civic meaning. Rather, actors decide to accept electoral processes because fighting the system keeps them excluded. These results do not reject the democratization by elections thesis, but rather shed light on its limitations. Moreover, it also corroborates that the problem of democratic progress is not only due to the fact that elections themselves are unfair. In many cases the playing field remains heavily tilted toward incumbents, but clientelism and powerful presidents exist in diverse settings and exert an independent impact on democratic outcomes. It is not enough to just get the elections right, the disproportionate formal powers of presidents need to be tempered too.

Young Hun Kim – Democratic Performance of Semi-presidentialism: It’s the Presidential Powers

This post by Young Hun Kim is a summary of an article “A Troubled Marriage? Divided Minority Government, Cohabitation, Presidential Powers, President-Parliamentarism and Semi-Presidentialism,” (Government and Opposition 2015).

Young Hun Kim photo

Semi-presidentialism, with its combination of prime minister and directly elected president, is a common feature in many of the world’s new democracies. About 40 percent of countries that experienced democratization between 1974 and 2009 (40 of 103) are classified as semi-presidential systems. More interestingly, some presidential and parliamentary democracies have transformed to semi-presidential governance. For example, presidential Armenia and Georgia adopted a dual-executive system in 1994 and 2004, respectively. More recently, the parliamentary Czech Republic elected its president by popular vote for the first time in February 2013 and Turkey, another parliamentary country, in August 2014.

However, research to date generally views semi-presidentialism as a liability to democratic governance, since it is more likely to experience partisan infighting in the executive branch and to foster political fragmentation in the legislature. Thus semi-presidential regimes are thought to be prone to government instability, lower levels of democracy, and even democratic failure (see for example, Elgie 2008; Elgie 2011; Elgie and McMenamin 2008; Protsyk 2005; Roper 2002; Sedelius and Ekman 2010). Considering the high popularity of semi-presidentialism among new democracies, these pessimistic understandings do not seem to bode well for their democratic future.

A recently published article “A Troubled Marriage?” reassesses democratic performance in all new semi-presidential systems across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America from 1974 to 2009. By democratic performance, the study refers to three challenging tasks that new democracies often deal with at executive and system levels. The first one is executive stability measured by presidential impeachment attempts and prime ministerial turnovers. Impeachment attempts are efforts made by legislative deputies to effect a constitutional removal of a president. Prime ministerial turnovers are situations in which a prime minister is replaced by a new figure excluding changes immediately following parliamentary elections. The second is the levels of democracy which is measured by dividing democratic years into partial democracy (where a Polity2 score ranges from +1 to +5) and full democracy (where a Polity2 score ranges from +6 to +10). The last one is democratic breakdown defined as a situation in which new democracies cease to function due to a military coup or civil war.

For factors that may affect the democratic performance, the study focuses on divided minority government (where no party or coalition controls a majority in the legislature), cohabitation (where the president and prime minister are from different parties and the president’s party is not represented in the executive), unchecked presidential powers, and a president-parliamentary subtype (where the prime minister and cabinet are responsible to both the president and the legislature, and the president has power to dismiss the legislature) that previous studies have identified as risk factors for semi-presidential regimes.

The results are more encouraging than previous research has suggested. A divided minority government contributes to higher levels of democracy, even though it, along with president-parliamentarism, generally means presidents becoming more vulnerable to legislative impeachment efforts. And cohabitation poses less risk than previously thought. It has little effect on either executive stability or the level of democracy.

What does appear to be a great risk for semi-presidentialism is a failure to check presidential powers. As presidents enjoy more powers, the level of democracy tends to decrease. In addition, prime ministers’ tenure in office becomes less stable and presidents are more subject to impeachment drives.

What explains the negative effects of a strong presidency? It might be suggested that having a strong president would be an asset in semi-presidential systems. This is because strong presidents may effectively coordinate and undertake critical reforms after transition (Holmes 1993). But it should be emphasized that presidents with stronger powers are not likely to negotiate and compromise with other political actors mostly because they can get things done on their own. As a result, the horizontal accountability is prone to be compromised (Fish 2006). Also strong presidents are likely to personalize the political process. Overall, disadvantages of a strong presidency seem to trump any merits associated with it from the experience of new semi-presidential democracies.

The findings have a significant implication for countries that already practice semi-presidential governance or are contemplating a move in that direction: checking presidential powers is one of the key factors that will influence democratic consolidation in semi-presidentialism. In particular, executive powers need to be balanced between president and prime minister. Doing so would not require a major constitutional overhaul. What is necessary is a relatively minor constitutional amendment regulating the distribution of executive powers. If countries can successfully check presidential powers, then a semi-presidential system may appear to be a more appealing option than it does now for many young democracies.


Elgie, Robert. 2008. ‘The Perils of Semi-Presidentialism. Are They Exaggerated?’ Democratization 15 (1):49-66.

———. 2011. Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performance. New York: Oxford University Press.

Elgie, Robert, and Iain McMenamin. 2008. ‘Semi-presidentialism and Democratic Performance.’ Japanese Journal of Political Science 9:323-40.

Fish, M. Steven. 2006. ‘Stronger Legislatures, Stronger Democracies.’ Journal of Democracy 17 (1):5-20.

Holmes, Stephen. 1993. ‘The Postcommunist Presidency.’ East European Constitutional Review 2:36-9.

Protsyk, Oleh. 2005. ‘Politics of Intraexecutive Conflict in Semipresidential Regimes in Eastern Europe.’ East European Politics and Societies 19 (2):135-60.

Roper, Steven D. 2002. ‘Are All Semipresidential Regimes the Same? A Comparison of Premier-Presidential Regimes.’ Comparative Politics 34 (3):253-72.

Sedelius, Thomas, and Joakim Ekman. 2010. ‘Intra-executive Conflict and Cabinet Instability: Effects of Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe.’ Government and Opposition 45 (4):505-30.

Dr. Young Hun Kim (pokocham@hotmail.com) is a Visiting Assistant Professor at North Carolina Wesleyan College. He has earned his Ph.D. in political science in 2008 from the Pennsylvania State University. His research has focused mostly, but not exclusively, on comparative political institutions and democratization, with regional expertise in East Asia and Eastern Europe. More specifically, he examines sources and consequences of new types of presidential instability (interrupted presidencies and impeachment attempts), post-tenure fate of political leaders, and institutional determinants of democratic performance in presidential and semi-presidential systems. His research has appeared in Cross-Cultural Research, Democratization, Government and Opposition, and Journal of Politics.

The Philippines – Government Funds and Institution-building

A beleaguered President Benigno Aquino III challenged his opponents in early October to “Go ahead, impeach me” as efforts intensified to launch an inquiry into the existence and use of funds in the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) under the Presidency.

Affectionately known as Noynoy or Pnoy, the President has seen his approval ratings decline following the discovery of the DAP. The DAP was promulgated in October 2011; it recovers unused or underused public funds that had been targeted in the annual budget for spending and became a source of funding for senators’ projects and constituency spending. The unfortunate tie-in of DAP in the midst of public protests against and criminal investigations of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) – the large pork-barrel scandal where key congressional members are currently investigated for diversion and misuse of funds and corruption – has seen the extension of public disapprobation to the President. Public petitions to the Supreme Court to act against the DAP has led to the scheduling of oral arguments for November 19 on the constitutionality of the DAP. For the President, whose key policy stance is the tuwid na daan (straight path), these are dark days indeed.

The controversy over the DAP is currently focused on the possible ethical breaches (at the very least) regarding the funds. This may sidestep a key issue regarding the use and effects of government spending: to build politics, society, and the economy. Importantly, in democratizing countries, these tasks translate into institution-building.[1] Institution-building takes on particular significance in democratizing nations because it displaces personalistic politics so that institutions – rather than personalities and personal relations – develop the facility and capacity to deliver regularly political, public, and social goods.[2] Political development in a democratizing system, then, depends on successful institution-building.

It is in this regard that the DAP may be a disservice to politics and society in the Philippines. Although “People Power” shepherded the democratization process in the Philippines, personalistic politics remains undented while institution-building has struggled to move beyond the presidency to other institutions, such as programmatic parties.[3] The presidency, then, continues to play a central and dominant role in domestic politics. Consequently, the occupant remains vulnerable to questions of ethics related to being the focus of power, i.e., abuses and corruption of high political office.

There is no question that the DAP serves a source of funds for expeditiously dealing with crises in the country, as its use towards the recent earthquake relief in the Central Visayan provinces demonstrates. President Aquino III’s point regarding the efficacy of the DAP, then, is not baseless.

Critics of the funds may be better positioned to note that judicious use of government funds extends beyond efficacy to institution-building. In this regard, President Aquino III is an important ally: he remains a highly regarded president, notwithstanding the recent decline in his approval ratings. More so than his predecessors, then, this is a president who may be able to swing the much-needed reforms towards institution-building, perhaps starting with who/what disseminates funds.

 [3] Rocamora, Joel. 1998. “Philippine Political Parties, Electoral System and Political Reform.” Philippines International Review, 1(1).