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Understanding populism and political participation: the case of Venezuela
Luis Vicente León & David Smilde
Source of the information:
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Since the onset of oil exploitation, the Venezuelan state has had enviable financial resources. Yet, effective policy implementation continues to be difficult. Corruption and inefficiency have been constants throughout Venezuela’s democratic period. This paper examines new forms of political participation and state-civil society interaction in Venezuela. Findings include:
The Chávez government appears in a strong position to build a hegemonic regime that mobilises citizen participation but progressively neutralises its independence and autonomy - 2007 witnessed a dramatic attempt at recentralising government, including the centralisation of participation.
The present government has not tried to create a chain of decentralised authorities but rather a direct relationship between the leader and the masses in which so-called intermediate institutions, such as state governments, city halls, and political parties.
However, not everyone wishes to make the effort or sacrifice to be involved in governing. In fact, only a minority have the level of education, information and economic resources that would allow them to participate effectively and efficiently in governing themselves. Additionally, the dilemma of a government that considered itself revolutionary trying to govern with the cacophony of civil society has come to the fore. The class-based nature of many civil organizations has surfaced and begun to clash with the government’s priorities.The paper makes the following conclusions:
The government’s social programmes and participatory forms depend on Chávez for their continuation, and as decentralisation gradually trickles down towards smaller units of government, democratic participation or self-government ought to become easier.
Parties fail to be an effective alternative channel to participatory democracy when their ideological and programmatic content disappears and is replaced by clientelism.