Democratization and Accountability


Discussion Paper: Participatory and Inclusive Consultation for the Post-MDGs

In the area of democratization and accountability, ASAP has worked with the NGO Beyond 2015 to develop a general methodology proposal, backed by research, for ensuring that the post-MDG consultations are genuinely inclusive, particularly, of those who are living in severe poverty [to view the project discussion paper, click the ‘resources’ tab].

Overview of Key Issues

When thinking at the ‘democratization and accountability’ of the global institutional order, one might point to the democratic deficit of such a polity, “applicable to any supranational organizational to which states belong but of which their citizens do not have direct democratic control”[1].

Traditionally, a democratic society implies that representatives are responsible to their electors. One of the main issues in today’s institutional order is that the plethora of international organizations and supranational institutions brought up by globalization have shifted the responsibility of policy-making outside the realm of nation states.  Thus, people cannot hold their representatives responsible for the decisions that affect their lives.

The democratic deficit can be seen at two levels: in countries where people lack the means to hold authoritarian leaders responsible for their decisions, and in the international sphere where institutional arrangements are detrimental to developing countries. Leaders of authoritarian states commonly benefit at the expense of their peoples, by selling natural resources, engaging in massive privatizations and expensive infrastructure projects or borrowing money in the name of the country, bearing no responsibility after their mandate is over. In the international realm, preferential trading rules and intellectual property rights maintain developing countries in a stage of economic dependency towards the affluent states.

Four main perspectives conceptualize and criticize the present institutional order: libertarian, pluralist, social-democratic, and deliberative.[2]

The libertarian conception refers to the need of protecting individual liberties against the potentially corrupt and tyrannical power of political orders, while pointing to regulators’ tendency to act for narrow and arbitrary rather than for publicly justifiable reasons, or to the unbounded power of supranational entities.

The pluralist view calls for equal and meaningful opportunities for active individuals to influence the policy-making process, and stresses the lack of such incentives in international organizations.

The social-democratic critique points to the neo-liberal bias in international policy-making, triggering a ‘race to the bottom’ concerning labour standards, decent living conditions, education, medical care, social protection or just resource management, in order to compensate for markets’ expansion and wealth concentration.

The deliberative perspective conceives the political order as a means to improve the political capacity of the citizenry. Thus, it calls not only for equal opportunities for participation, but for institutional design that encourages and promotes meaningful and effective participation.

All of these conceptions draw on an ideal understanding of participatory decision-making, and one concern is that they should also consider the transaction costs of political participation, i.e. “limitations on the ability and willingness of individuals to involve themselves extensively in politics, to develop expertise, to manage credible commitment problems and to overcome existing differentials in social resources.”[3]

[Prepared by Cristian Gogu, ASAP intern, University of Kassel, Germany]

[1] G. T. Kurian (ed.) (2011): The Encyclopedia of Political Science Set. Washington: CQ Press: 674

[2] The following description is based on A. Moravcsik (2004): Is there a ‘Democratic Deficit’ in World Politics? A Framework for Analysis. Government and Opposition 39, no. 2: 336-363.

[3] Ibidem, p. 344.