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An Electoral Passions Reunion

urna.jpgRegarding the several approaching appointments with the ballot boxes (Spain, Italy, the United States, and municipalities in France), the author analyzes the democratic components common to the several campaigns. Using the American model and the current political involvement of its citizenry, he reminds the readers that a party system is far from being a summation of apparatuses; rather, the system responds to a dynamic in which each strong force talks to, competes with, and confronts the other.

(From Buenos Aires) THERE IS AN APPARENT COINCIDENCE, possibly virtuous and surely momentary, in the world’s principal democracies: intense electoral campaigns, discussion concerning their principles and values, greater voter turnout and the people’s greater involvement in political issues.

There is a coincidence of events: the primaries in the United States, the proximity of some very hard-fought elections in Spain between the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP) (Editor’s note: the PSOE won these elections by a 4 per cent margin), the ambitious French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s first test at the ballot boxes, and Italy’s entry into an electoral contest precipitated by the fall of Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi being on the verge of returning to power.

THE REGENERATION OF AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE

“The US is demonstrating a notable ability to regenerate its political life, in spite of Iraq and the specter of a recession” The American primaries are notable. Eight years ago, the tie between George Walker Bush and Al Gore and the shady vote count spurred many of the voters to talk about the end of the electoral system, and even the crisis of the legitimacy of the American presidency. Four years later, the lack of interest in view of Bush’s clear re-election reiterated the diagnostics of the Americans’ alarming apathy and disinterest, which was reflected in the low electoral participation in a country where voting is not obligatory.

“Obama and Clinton mobilize sectors that would have otherwise continued to stare at other TV channels (…) McCain has retained the Republican electorate, even in view of the neoconservative sector’s abandonment” As the Bush era comes to an end, the United States is demonstrating a notable ability to regenerate its political life, in spite of Iraq and the specter of a recession (or, perhaps, precisely because of this). The candidatures of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have excited young people and mobilized sectors that would have otherwise continued to stare at other TV channels and attended other events.

The figure of John McCain has managed to retain the Republican electorate, even in view of the neoconservative sector’s abandonment and the massive mortgage that the current administration is leaving behind.

The most important immediate consequence has been the increase in voter participation levels, which in the United States are traditionally lower than in other mature democracies.

SOME ESPECIALLY MOTIVATING PRIMARIES

“The same instruments of representative democracy that were taken to be obsolete are now inciting a rarely seen mobilization of voters” In accordance with American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate’s studies [1], there has been a tendency for voter participation levels in the United States to decrease since the middle of the 1960s, when participation reached a record 45 per cent in the primaries. In 2004, for example, only 8,3 per cent of the national population of age to vote participated in the primaries, with large differences between states, ranging from a high of 23 per cent to a low of 3,8 per cent.

This declining tendency has been reversed in the primaries of the current Presidential contest. In several states, as much in those that had open elections as those that held caucuses, the “Democratic politics is, at the end of the day, the possibility of confronting distinct models of society without causing the rivers to run red”participation of both Republicans and Democrats has doubled in comparison to 2004’s turnout. Out of 15 million people able to vote in California, more than seven million did so. This works out to a more than 45 percent turnout. Furthermore, the Latino population formed a decisive coalition of voters for the first time.

In that way, the same instruments of representative democracy that were once taken to be obsolete or considered to discourage citizen participation (the primaries, party assemblies, curriculum discussions and political leaders’ speeches to the public) are now having the opposite effect and actually inciting a rarely seen mobilization of voters.

CONFRONTING MODELS WITHOUT SPILLING BLOOD

“And you can bet that blood has been spilled in Latin America, so we must not assign too much value to these demonstrations of quality democracy” In several South American countries the attention is falling on the necessity to modernize political parties, even when it is difficult to determine to an exact science how much evolution and how much real transformation results from these cyclical impulses.

For this reason, it is necessary to remember that a party system is far from being a summation of apparatuses; rather, the system responds to a dynamic in which each strong force talks to, competes with, and confronts the other. In these past weeks Spain has given a good example of this in its electoral debates, even if it weighs heavily on many Spaniards already saturated with so much confrontational tension. Democratic politics is, at the end of the day, the possibility of confronting distinct models of society without causing the rivers to run red.

And you can bet that blood has been spilled in Latin America, so we must not assign too much value to these demonstrations of quality democracy, even if they are just a flash of episodic intensity marked by governmental or legislative changes, an instant to harbor dreams and face up to the uncertainty with the discernment of the popular will.