Monday, 17 December 2012

The Texture of Democracy

By Joanne Smyth*

We hear the term democracy so frequently that it’s easy to lose the sense of what it means. One day it’s a presidential election. The next it’s regulation of the media. A week later it’s the right to display a flag. At the Sussex Development Lecture a few weeks ago Kayode Fayemi talked about the texture of democracy in Nigeria. The idea struck a chord. We need to be looking at something more than the forms and functions.

Kayode Fayemi’s path to Ekiti State Governor


Kayode Fayemi described himself as an “accidental politician”. However, few of those among the audience had any doubt that his rise to the role of Governor of Ekiti State in South Eastern Nigeria was built on a solid foundation of political dexterity. Following his earlier career as a civil society activist (he was a former Director at the Centre for Democracy and Development in Nigeria), his election campaign was built on a commitment to reduce poverty and improve education and healthcare. Governor Fayemi spent three years in court contesting the results of the 2007 elections before finally being recognized as Governor on 15th October 2010. 

I was particularly interested in his description of the successes he has achieved to date. And even more, in his proposal that progress in Ekiti State served as evidence of the oversimplification of national rankings in measuring good governance. The recent publication of the Ibrahim index placed Nigeria at 43 out of 52 African countries. Governor Fayemi rightly maintains that aggregating the indicators on a national scale hides many positive initiatives. I agree whole-heartedly with his appeal that we look beyond national statistics to develop a deep understanding of the texture of democracy.  However, this should be done both for the good and the bad.

Having spent years demanding good governance as an activist, his efforts have been driven by a determination to change the culture of Nigerian politics and bring people to the centre of the debate.  Delivering has not been so easy. 

Facing the challenges of a federal system


One of the big difficulties Governor Fayemi faces is the relationship between the federal and the state levels of government. Nigeria is formally a federation, but the federal government is generally powerful, and especially so in relation to the police and security forces. Although as Governor of Ekiti State Fayemi has overall responsibility for security, the state Police Commissioner reports not to him but to the federal government in Abuja. Approval from Abuja is required before action is taken on the Governor’s requests or suggestions about police activities. 

As Governor Fayemi explained, policing demands not only specific technical skill and experience, but also an understanding of local languages, issues and networks. It is the lack of this understanding that largely explains the security challenge posed by Boko Haram in the north of the country. This in turn has led to renewed calls for policing to be managed by the states.

With the creation of a state police force, Governors would benefit from increased autonomy and discretion. It would be easier for them to respond directly to security concerns of their electorate. They would not need to negotiate, cajole or appease their police commissioners into action. Less time would be wasted explaining local issues to federal decision makers.

On the surface of it, these arguments sound like a valid basis for change. But governance is rarely so straightforward.

Governor Fayemi has a strong academic background in security issues, but this is unlikely to be the case in every other state of the country. Are all thirty-six states equally ready to take this on? Making a decision based on the current leadership or preference in one state is no guarantee of success. The referral to the federal authority is an important safeguard to moderate the power of the Governor and prevent the police from being used as a political tool. And finally, a national perspective to policing maintains a balance of authority across the diversity of Nigeria.

Nigeria’s progress as a democratic state


Over 13 years ago, Nigeria closed a chapter on military rule and embarked on a process of democratization. In a country of tremendous diversity it has managed to hold this course. The tension between internal state priorities and the wider discussion about the federal constitution will likely continue. And so it should.

In a country of over 160 million people who speak over 500 different languages there is rarely an obvious choice for policy decisions. To reach the best decision for the context of Nigeria, the debate might broadcast the advantages, discredit the problems and perhaps even hint at the political gains.

But that is the nature of a textured debate. And that is the essence of the democratic state.


* Joanne Smyth is a student on the MA Governance and Development course at IDS, 2012 - 2013.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Global Peacebuilding II: High time for environmental diplomacy in the Caribbean


Antonio Archbold, an old fisherman from Providence Island in the Caribbean, whom I have known for a long time, woke up a few days ago without sea. On 19 November, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that from now on Nicaragua has rights over a significant area of the Caribbean Sea that formerly belonged to Colombia.

The dispute over the maritime border between Colombia and Nicaragua dates back to 1928, when both countries signed the Esguerra –Barcenas treaty to define their territorial sea borders. This treaty established Colombia’s sovereignty over the San Andres and Old Providence archipelago. In 1980, Nicaragua unilaterally annulled the agreement, arguing that it had been signed under US pressure. 

In 2001, Nicaragua submitted the case to the ICJ. The court has now decided that the group of disputed islands belong to Colombia, but drew a demarcation line in favour of Nicaragua in the adjacent waters. The ICJ’s ruling is binding and cannot be appealed. And so, Antonio and the local community of this archipelago have lost their beloved sea.

Colombian islands without sea


Losing an area almost equal in size to that of Austria (approx. 85,000 km²) has tremendous implications for the Colombian archipelago. The local communities, whose livelihoods depend on fishing in those waters, will clearly be the most affected. Traditionally, fishing has been their basis of subsistence. It is part of the islands’ way of being.

In addition, fishing is one of the remaining licit economic activities on the islands. Drug trafficking has become an economic mainstay in this region, partly because of its strategic location on the maritime cocaine trafficking routes to the US and partly because of a lack of economic opportunities for young islanders.

The impact of the ICJ’s decision will be equally disastrous for the pristine marine ecosystems. Nicaragua has already made public its plans for exploring the seabed for oil in an area which has the third largest coral reef in the world. The protection and sustainable management of this coral reef was the main reason for UNESCO to designate, in 2000, the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve (BR). From the outset, the implementation of the BR has been backed not only by the local community but also by a broad range of international stakeholders, such as the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


Environmental diplomacy: protecting the interests of the fishing communities and the environment


Colombia did not expect the ICJ to rule the way it did. Accompanied by Foreign Minister Holguín, President Santos immediately visited the islands to meet with local authorities and representatives of a very concerned and disappointed community. A heated debate about the issue is raging in Bogotá. Viewed from a distance, it seems that the Colombian government lacks a clear strategy to deal with this serious issue.

But what choices does Colombia have? I suggest focusing on quick and effective environmental diplomacy, pursuing a three-pronged strategy:

  1. Colombia should draw international attention to the potential environmental impact of the ICJ’s decision on the unique marine ecosystem. This global campaign should involve internationally renowned environmental organizations that in the past have supported Colombia’s conservation efforts, such as The Prince’s International Sustainability Unit, GEF, the World Wildlife Fund, UNESCO, and Sea Shepherd
  2. Colombia should approach Nicaragua on good terms and propose the creation of an international Peace Park. Peace Parks are transboundary protected areas dedicated not only to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and its associated cultural resources, but also to the promotion of peace and cooperation. Such efforts have been adopted successfully around the globe since 1932, when the first park was declared by Canada and the US: Waterton Lakes Glacier International Peace Park. In Latin America a successful example is the Cordillera del Condor Peace Park. It was established in 1998 by Ecuador and Peru on the basis of the peace treaty that ended a short but bloody international conflict and settled a long-standing territorial dispute.
  3. Both countries should use the ample experience in negotiating Peace Parks of organizations such as the South African Peace Park Foundation and the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security to transform the Seaflower BR into the first ever Caribbean Peace Park. The objective should be to establish a collaborative management regime for the sustainable management and conservation of the disputed marine area. Participation of local communities is imperative to give them back their sense of belonging.
Let’s remember that oceans, coral reefs and marine resources do not recognize political boundaries. This fact as well as the need to secure local communities’ access to marine resources should be Colombia’s and Nicaragua’s priority in looking ahead. 

*Julia Gorricho is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Forest and Environmental Policy, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

After the Arab Spring – the birth of a new political model?

by Josie Stewart*

The power and promise of Tahrir Square has given way to a slower, less dramatic process of change in Egyptian politics and society – but one that will have at least as much impact on the country, the region and the world. As the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood begins to define its role in political leadership, the nature of Islamist democracy is on the table and the stakes are high.

This blog is based on a synthesis of a recent Sussex Development Lecture by Mariz Tadros, author of The Muslim Brotherhood in Contemporary Egypt: Democracy Redefined or Confined? The lecture illuminated the current transformation in Egypt’s political system and proposed the need for more robust debate and challenge regarding the emerging model of Islamic democracy.


Democracy on the move in Egypt


Back in June, Mohamed Morsi rode a wave of popular support to become Egypt’s first democratically-elected president. The Western world cheered the democratisation of the Arab world’s biggest and in many ways most influential country. And there was much to cheer about: the Egyptian people had expressed themselves through the ballot box and had given power to a moderate Muslim party. The Brotherhood had mass popular support, did not condone violence and played by the democratic rules of the game.


But in what direction?


As the initial euphoria wears off, it is only now that serious questions are emerging regarding the type of democracy that is filling the space that Tahrir Square created. In her work on this, Mariz points out that on the ground many of those who initially supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s sweep to power are beginning to wonder what they have let themselves in for as executive power grabs accompany restrictions on the media, limitations of minority rights and constraints on individual choice.

As the new Egyptian democracy uses religion to legitimise and enforce what could turn into a new form of tyranny, the democratic rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood sits in sharp contrast to their authoritarian reality. This raises the question: what is happening to Egypt’s infant democracy?


What does the new political order mean for the Egyptian people?


Egypt has democracy, but it is a heavily qualified democracy. It is an attempt to do something new: to merge liberal democratic systems and institutions with traditional Islamic substance and values; to carve out a path somewhere between theocracy and secularism.

Should the Muslim Brotherhood be given time to show that they can consolidate their many promises and contradictions into one new order, and deliver the revolutionary dreams identified by Mariz: dignity, freedom and social justice? Will the substance of Egypt’s infant democracy develop to come into line with its structures and processes, providing a better overall fit with the liberal Western understanding of democracy? Or will the attempt to anchor democracy within a stringent Islamic ideological framework result in the creation of a wholly new kind of political order? And what would such a system mean for the Egyptian people, and for the many others that will be influenced by what happens in Egypt?


The imperative to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood


There is a current window of opportunity to influence the direction of Egypt’s emerging political system. The Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate political party is still new, and its approach is meeting resistance from some elements of Egyptian society. Its approach is not yet fully embedded in politics or society, and the shape of the democracy that they currently represent is not yet fully defined. Policy-makers and practitioners now need to listen to academics and engage in constructive analysis, and where appropriate criticism, of the political developments underway in Egypt.

It is not enough to feel grateful for a supposed ‘lesser of two evils’; the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood are not Al Qaida does not mean that all is alright in Egypt. As Mariz argues, it is not acceptable to self-censor for fear of being seen to criticise Islam. It is also not enough to assume that the current political transition will build on the positive foundations of the revolution, or to apply the label of ‘democracy’ to smooth over a much more complex reality. Those with power and influence – the US, the UK and closer neighbours such as Turkey – need to immediately engage with the Muslim Brotherhood, to understand, to challenge, and to help shape a positive future.

Is there enough political will to engage in robust debate with the Muslim Brotherhood? Would this engagement be constructive? Could it threaten a delicate relationship between Islam and the West? The most important question is: can we afford to miss this opportunity?

* Josie Stewart is a student on the MA Governance and Development course at IDS, 2012 - 2013.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Better coordination key to more tax and less aid

By Mick Moore

In August of this year, the UK Parliament’s International Development Select Committee published a report on its investigations into DFID's work on tax and development. The process was in some ways impressive. A number of MPs on the Committee showed a real interest in the topic. A visit to Zambia brought them right up against what some people regard as the scandal of gross under-taxation of foreign-owned mining companies.

The report was notable too for the way in which it addressed what many of us believe are the central tax and development policy issues for the UK government: how do the tax policies and practices of the UK, EU, OECD countries and the UK Crown Dependencies (some of them tax havens) impact positively or negatively on the capacity of the revenue authorities of developing countries to tax transnational business?

The most radical single proposal was that the UK Government should undertake "an analysis of the likely financial impact of the revised Controlled Foreign Companies rules on developing countries. Depending on the results of this analysis, the Government should consider whether to drop its proposals."

UK Government responds to the committee's recommendations


The UK Government has now published its response to the 16 recommendations in the Committee's Report. The general pattern of responses is predictable. Four of the recommendations were for what the governments of developing countries should do – or what the UK Department for International Development (DFID) should urge them to do. The government response is 'Agree' to all four of these recommendations.

The other 12 recommendations were about what the UK Government itself should do – or what it should be encouraging the OECD or the Crown Dependencies to do. Here the response is far less positive: 'Disagree' on 3 points; 'Partially agree' on 5 points; and 'Agree' on 3 points. Of those points of agreement, two are for DFID to spend more money on tax and development issues. And you can guess the response to the suggestion for a review of the impact on developing countries of our revised Controlled Foreign Companies rules.

The outcome is no surprise. The Committee that produced the report is appointed to "examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Office of the Secretary of State for International Development." International tax issues are the responsibility of HM Treasury, and the International Development Select Committee has little influence on Treasury policy. So, no big changes, but a brave effort and some useful nudges in the right direction.

Tax and development policy - something for donors to ponder 


One final thought for DFID and other donors in relation to tax and development policy. As I outlined in my evidence to the committee, donor activity and funding in the field of tax and development is on the rise. DFID itself is committed to spending more money in this area. However increased resources must be targeted and coordinated effectively and at the moment this is not happening. An influx of new donors, doing their own thing, means that there is a real danger of fragmentation and that money and efforts are being wasted. If systems of taxation in developing countries are to improve and dependence on overseas aid reduced, donors (and government departments) must work together much more closely.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Are You Getting Excited about ‘Formulary Apportionment’?

 
I thought not. And, by the way, formulary apportionment is not directly connected to children’s milk food formulae – although more of it in our lives should ensure that more under-nourished babies are better fed.

Formulary apportionment is all about taxation of transnational corporations. It is very complex. But the principles are quite straightforward.

The reality of transnational corporations’ cross-trading

Transnational corporations have subsidiary companies in more than one country. Some have them in dozens of countries, and some have hundreds of subsidiaries. They inevitably do much of their international business with one another. Unilever does not manufacture all of its enormous range of foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products separately in each of the many countries in which it operates. Nor does it brand and market completely separately in each country. Its many subsidiaries and affiliates trade with one another across international borders – in market-ready products, in components, in packaging, in management expertise, in the right to use its 400+ separate brands, in intellectual property, and in capital (i.e. inter-company loans).

Two possible ways of taxing Unilever Worldwide

How should Unilever Worldwide be taxed? There are two main possible answers. The first and most logical is unitary taxation: Unilever could be taxed on its total worldwide profits, allocated according to the location of its activities. It could present annually to the tax authorities of the countries in which it operates a single set of accounts. These would include profits for the firm as a whole, and identify the proportion of its activities (number of employees and wage bill, assets, and sales) in each country where it does business. Its tax bill could then be apportioned among all those countries according to an internationally agreed formula based on a weighting of these factors. That is formulary apportionment.

The second way of taxing Unilever is to disregard that it is a Worldwide entity. In this approach, each subsidiary would report to, and be taxed by, the revenue authorities in the country in which it is located. And the parent company would report to the tax authority in the country in which it is formally head-quartered. But there it would need to report only the income it actually receives from the other parts of the whole Unilever group, usually as dividends. Other income could be transferred through a chain of intermediaries to holding companies in countries where it is not taxable, either because the country has no income or profits tax, or it exempts foreign source income. But Unilever does not have to submit accounts for the whole of Unilever Worldwide to any one tax authority.

The latter is sort-of what happens at present – although tax law is much more complex, and national tax rules vary enormously. What is wrong with the current system? It is not that it is a bit messy. Any system for taxing transnational corporations is likely to be messy. It is rather that the current system disregards the economic reality of Unilever as a worldwide business, and also provides very strong incentives for the managements of transnational corporations to shift their profits around the world through pure accounting devices. It diverts valuable management, accounting and legal skills into gaming the tax man. It is unfair between countries, because some get much less in tax revenue than they have earned by hosting transnational businesses. And it is a major source of business for tax havens, where little or no tax is paid (Palan,R., et al., 2010). If transnational corporations were not using tax havens for this purpose, it would be easier for global authorities to crack down on their more nefarious uses, including money laundering and tax evasion by wealthy individuals.

If we had a system of formulary apportionment, there would be little reason for transnational corporations to put so much effort into shifting profits around the world on paper, and much less incentive to use secret tax havens.

How transnational corporations get around paying taxes

How do transnational corporations less scrupulous than Unilever shift their profits around the world in an accounting sense? Easy. Here are three widely used devices that might be used, for example, by a transnational corporation in the business of distilling, brewing and selling alcoholic drinks. First, it might sell its finest scotch whisky at an artificially high price to a retailing subsidiary in a country where it does not want to be seen to be making profits – or at a low price if to wants to show profits. Second, it might charge unreasonably high (or low) rates for subsidiaries for the right to use such famous brand names as Moores Pale Ale for beer they were brewing in-country. Third, it might organise a large number of inter-company loans among its many subsidiaries, charging lower or higher interest rates than those available from local banks, according to the central plan about where profits should finally appear to be ‘earned’.

If you are with me so far, you need to know where the excitement is. A couple of years ago, I would have said that formulary apportionment was pie in the sky. Although over 20 American states actually use such a system to share out income tax from US companies the rest of the world has gone in another direction, and the political resistance from the world’s transnational corporations appeared fierce and apparently insurmountable. But the wind seems to be changing. The European Union is considering introducing such a system internally. A few transnational companies seem to be signalling that formulary apportionment would not be a big problem globally, and would perhaps be a reasonable price to pay for cleaning up their image.

Tax avoidance of international corporations in the UK

And, on Saturday 20 October, responding to the campaign around the alleged failure of Starbucks to pay significant taxes in the UK on its profitable UK activities, an editorial in the Financial Times, one of the world’s leading business newspapers, urged that the European Union proposal for introducing formulary apportionment should be “keenly pursued”. 

We are quite some years away from any global adoption of formulary apportionment. But it is worth fighting for. The governments of many developing countries would get more tax revenue, and could be more realistically held to account for infant under-nutrition, and many other things. And the bun-fight over the actual formulae through which the global revenues of transnational corporations are allocated among countries offers real opportunities. Instead of giving aid, we might calibrate the system such that the governments of the poorest countries would automatically get a revenue supplement. Even better, we could make that supplement conditional on their running effective direct cash transfer programs for their own poor citizens. We would then have a global welfare state. You will forgive my excitement?

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Global Peacebuilding I: Supporting Big Strategy in Colombia


By Markus Schultze-Kraft

President Juan Manuel Santos has taken a big political gamble. In late August he announced that his administration had been holding secret talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for more than a year, and that formal negotiations to end the armed conflict with Colombia's largest and oldest insurgent organization would be launched in Oslo in mid-October.

The course of events indicates that the Colombian government is determined to achieve one of the most remarkable feats in the country's recent history: peace with the FARC. Why did Santos take this risk and what should he and his team do to be successful in this grand endeavor, not seen since the flawed and failed talks with the FARC under President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) in the Caguán region?

Peace talks between FARC and the Colombian government: A sensible agenda

Supported by Norway, Cuba, Venezuela and Chile, delegations of the Colombian government and the insurgents officially inaugurated the talks in a small town near Oslo on 18 October. The 'general agreement' (in Spanish ‘acuerdo general’) the two parties forged in the run-up to Oslo will serve as a roadmap.
It is a sensible agenda and the two sides should stick resolutely to it during the next eight to ten months – more time they will not have, as has been signaled by President Santos. This is a promising but small window of opportunity that deserves all the goodwill and support it can get; for the incipient talks with the FARC are potentially a game-changing moment in the history of Colombia's conflict.

President Santos: Buttressing policy change

The negotiations stand to buttress President Santos's goal to move Colombia - which is among the countries of the world with the highest Gini-coefficients or most unequal distribution of wealth - toward more prosperity and well-being across all strata of society. This is so not because the FARC would legitimately represent this political agenda. The group is appreciated by few and feared and despised by a majority in Colombia for its violence, backward ideology and deep involvement in criminal activities.

Rather, finding an effective way to demobilize and reintegrate the FARC into civilian life would deal a blow to those intransigent and reactionary elites who saw their heydays during the two administrations of Santos's predecessor, Álvaro Uribe; and who have used the specter of the FARC as a pretext to further their exclusionary, conservative and neoliberal political-economic agendas. While by no means opposed to opening up Colombia's markets, especially in the natural resource extraction sector, Santos's otherwise more progressive political agenda is an anathema for these elites. Nothing would serve the president better to rein them in than reaching a peace agreement with the FARC.

The way forward for the Colombian government: Sticking to strategy

To achieve this, President Santos and his team should stick closely in the coming months to the strategy they designed for dealing with the FARC. All of the five substantial issues that are up for negotiation – rural development, the FARC's political participation, ending the conflict, resolving Colombia's illicit drug problem, and addressing the rights of victims of the armed conflict – are key to the government's overall transformative economic and socio-political agenda; though, of course, they are only part of the broader political picture.

The armed conflict is only one of Colombia's manifold problems

Santos's approach to dealing with the FARC differs fundamentally from the way his two immediate predecessors, Uribe and Pastrana, approached the issue.

Santos does not try to work naively with the FARC (Pastrana) or single-mindedly against them (Uribe). Rather, since taking office he has sought to work around and – now - through them. This is as clever as it gets, and deserves our applause and support.

It appears that the Colombian government has recognized that the conflict with the FARC is only one of Colombia's manifold problems. Hence, because a military defeat of the insurgents is not feasible in the foreseeable future it is better to 'enlist' the FARC in a broader process of political and socio-economic change.

Taking the FARC out in a 'civil' way will open up vast opportunities for Colombia

Taking the FARC out opens up opportunities to start addressing a whole range of deep-seated issues in Colombia, such as strengthening democratic politics and the rule of law and finding ways to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth and tapping into Colombia's enormous and growing human and social capital.
Santos is right to pursue the end of the FARC from the vantage point of strengthening Colombia's ailing democracy and institutions and fomenting social peace; and not from the perspective of elite vengeance, hatred and political opportunism, as was the case during the administrations of his predecessors.

Let us support Santos and his team in this exercise of 'big strategy' for peacebuilding. As a recent symposium on Colombia at the Institute of the Americas at University College London revealed, this appears to be the most promising way forward.

Keep an eye on the Governance and Development blog for more Global Peacebuilding.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Student movement leads demands for a new constitution for Chile



by Sofia Donoso Knaudt*

As in other parts of the world, in Chile the year 2011 will be remembered for the massive demonstrations that took place across the country.

What are Chilean students shouting about?


From mid-May onwards, the student movement (from universities and secondary schools) staged the largest mobilisations Chile had witnessed since the reinstatement of democracy in 1990. The students have been calling for free quality education, and a new political constitution that allows for more citizen participation.

Through novel repertoires of action such as a performance of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ to depict themselves as ‘zombies’ of the education system, and 1,800 consecutive hours of running around the presidential palace to symbolise the $1.8 billion that funding the 300,000 most vulnerable students would cost, the movement rapidly gained public support. Surveys (in Spanish) show the student demands have approval rates close to 90%, while the incumbent right-wing government’s popularity has reached historical lows.

Stressing the huge proportion of middle income families’ budgets that is spent on education, the movement has retained its momentum. In June this year, students gathered over 100,000 people on the streets of the capital Santiago.

The outcome of the ongoing protests remains to be seen, but it is evident that the terms of the debate have shifted since the movement took off in May last year. Since then, not only education policies, but also tax reform, changes to the electoral system, and the possibility of a constituent assembly have dominated public debate.

The exhaustion of the Concertación’s governance formula


Crucially, the student protests have left the opposition in disarray. In power between 1990 and 2010, the Concertación, the centre-left coalition in charge of Chile’s acclaimed negotiated transition to democracy in 1989, was lauded in both academic accounts and wider international circles for its economic, political, and social achievements.

In light of the considerable institutional constraints bequeathed by the military regime (1973-1989), and the traumatic experience of dictatorship, the Concertación’s adopted a governance formula that put political stability in the forefront. This was translated into a consensus-seeking approach, and a tendency to thwart social mobilisation that might otherwise risk the process of democratic consolidation.

In the area of education (as in other policy fields), the Concertación’s gradualist and wary approach to policymaking involved sidestepping complicated negotiations and giving continuity to the institutional architecture left by the military regime. In doing so, the Concertación concealed unequal power relations in the garb of achieving consensus. As a result, as the students have claimed with unswerving fervour, the centre-left coalition failed to fulfil its most important pledge: to bring in equity.

What will be the impact of the Chilean student movement?


As university and secondary school students have claimed, the ever more intolerable inequality in Chile requires structural reforms that surpass the underlying logic of the Concertación’s governance formula. At the same time, the student movement has exposed the detachment of the Concertación from its social base. The resultant profound distrust is detrimental to the prospects of attaining the broad agreements required for far-reaching reforms.

Ironically, the same strategy of securing political stability that motivated the Concertación’s moderate left-wing stance is now causing discontent and mistrust in the political establishment and political institutions, complicating the prospects for reaching a new ‘social contract’ that addresses the country’s pending development challenges. As Roberts and Levitsky suggest in their recent book, ‘moderate’ centre-left administrations such as the Concertación in Chile might have ‘overlearnt’ the lessons left from the democratic breakdowns of the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America, ‘thereby failing to take advantage of a historic opportunity to bring about far-reaching social change.’

While the conclusion of this debate seems far away, it is clear that education and inequality will remain on the public agenda. To what extent are the student demands a result of a rising middle class demanding socioeconomic redistribution and more responsiveness from the political establishment? And what can other moderate left-of-centre forces in Latin America such as the PT in Brazil learn from the experience of Chile?


* Sofia Donoso Knaudt is a D.Phil. Candidate in Development Studies at the University of Oxford, and a Visiting Student in the Governance Team at IDS.