Political debates offer numerous benefits to voters, but they do not occur in many countries around the world, depriving citizens of an important opportunity to hear candidates explain their position on issues relevant to the country’s development.
Within established democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom, the “debate” about the impact of political debates is in no danger of ceasing anytime soon. Debates are often seen as key moments in political campaigns from the local to the national level — a chance for candidates to present their policy proposals directly to voters. Our country’s long history with radio and televised candidate debates has also provided us with a plethora of research on the impact debates have on voter preference. As this journalist resource on the topic demonstrates, nearly every aspect of political debates – particularly Presidential debates – has been researched, dissected, and analyzed in one form or another. Interestingly enough there is even research on the effect high definition television (HDTV) has on voters’ perceptions of candidates.
While research comes to divergent conclusions on how exactly voters are affected, the benefits of debates to democracy are clear. They force candidates to define specific policy platforms; provide voters with access to information they may not otherwise receive; and create another layer of accountability for public officials.
Throughout its 30 year history, CIPE has worked with the private sector and economic think tanks around the world to enhance the debate of public policies before, during, and after important elections. Over the past five years CIPE and its partners in Latin America and the Caribbean have sought to take advantage of increasing access to radio, television, and the Internet to counter the region’s long history of populist politics in which candidates campaigned heavily on their personality and political connections and very little on actual policy platforms.
In Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and Paraguay, CIPE supported programs that raised demand for public policy debate during electoral seasons and, in the case of Colombia and Paraguay, actually organized Presidential debates.
Over the course of June and July, nearly 1,000 high school and university students in cities throughout Ecuador learned about business plan development, leadership and communication, market economy, and democracy. However, they did not learn about these topics by reading their textbooks or from listening to a professional consultant or workshop facilitator. Uniquely, the message on the importance of a market economy, democracy, and an entrepreneurial climate came from a group of 45 aspiring young leaders and entrepreneurs. These 45 university students from rural areas of the country are the first participants in the Emprendedores Ecuatorianos (Ecuadorian Entrepreneurs) program organized by the Ecuadorian Institute of Political Economy (IEEP).
The Emprendedores Ecuatorianos program, launched earlier this year with local private sector and CIPE support, is modeled after the successful EmprendeAhora program in Peru. In this its first year, IEEP selected 45 participants based on a lengthy application process. The educational program took place from March to May at the Universidad del Espiritu Santo in Guayaquil and consisted of 100 hours of courses on leadership, business plans, democracy and economy, marketing, and human development.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
While visiting a friend recently, I picked up the second year medical school textbook he had been studying and browsed through a couple of the pages. Instantly my head began spinning as I tried to decipher the litany of unpronounceable medical terminology and pictures. Without a doubt, Spanish and Turkish have nothing on whatever foreign language was on the pages in front of me. Although I cannot offer any medical advice based on this brush with medical science, the process of identifying maladies of the body and determining a precise treatment left me thinking about the science of politics; specifically, the science of democracy. Whereas doctors can conduct an examination to determine a person’s overall health, how do you diagnose something as ambiguous as the health of a country’s democracy?
For years, democracy professionals have debated what exactly democracy means. Beyond the most basic of definitions, “rule by the people,” everyone has a unique conception based on his or her own experience. The plethora of definitions have made it difficult for experts to agree on an index classifying (or diagnosing) the level of democracy in countries around the world. At a recent event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, two principal investigators from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project presented a new tool for diagnosing democracy: not in the aggregate, but in the disaggregate.
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In Latin America, many citizens lack a clear understanding of democratic and free-market principles, and strong, charismatic leaders have exploited that knowledge gap. In several countries, notably Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador, the government exerts significant influence over traditional media outlets through direct ownership, intimidation, or even censorship.
The trend is not a positive one for freedom of the press in the region as governments become more creative in finding ways to muzzle the media. And although some have tried to censor the internet, technological and social progress mean that information consumption in Latin America is increasingly linked to the internet and less to traditional media. The importance of cross-border journalism making use of digital platforms to communicate freely is becoming more and more important in this scenario.
One of the first people to walk through the doors after CIPE’s founding in 1983 was Hernando de Soto, President of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) in Lima, Peru. Mr. de Soto had the fundamental insight that poor people were not part of the development problem but instead part of the solution. In his best-selling books, The Other Path and The Mystery of Capital, he explained how the lack of access to property rights and other institutions of a market economy keeps the poor in most developing countries trapped in the informal sector.
In one of its first-ever programs, CIPE teamed up with de Soto and ILD to begin bringing the poor in Peru from the extralegal economy into the formal economy and the rule of law. As a result of ILD’s unique and innovative property rights and business reform program, Peruvian society received $18.4 billion in net benefits between 1992 and 1997, including saving formalized urban owners some $196 million in red tape costs.
In honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the CIPE-sponsored Spanish-language magazine Revista Perspectiva will be hosting a Twitter chat in Spanish to discuss the role of entrepreneurship in development.
In conjunction with several articles featured in Perspectiva’s online magazine, the focus of the chat will center on the role of the private sector in entrepreneurship, challenges to young entrepreneurs, potential policies that encourage entrepreneurship, and the broader implications of a strong entrepreneurial climate. The chat will take place on Wednesday, November 14, beginning at 11am (EST) and will continue for two hours.
CIPE partners and entrepreneurs from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean will participate and share their ideas and hopes for the future of the entrepreneurial spirit of the region.
Revista Perspectiva (@ReviPerspectiva) will be joined by several experts in the field of entrepreneurship: Roberto Laserna of Fundación Milenio in Bolivia (@roblaser), Guido Sanchez of SYSA Cultura Emprendedora in Peru (@emprendesiosi), Xavier Andrade of the Ecuadorian Institute of Political Economy(@Xavierlibertas), as well as representatives from Instituto Invertir’s educational program EmprendeAhora in Peru (@EmprendeAhoraPe) and the Center for National Economic Research in Guatemala (@CIENgt).
Follow the chat by using the hashtag #EmpChat or visit the TweetChat room.
Note that this chat will be conducted in Spanish. Please also follow our English-language Twitter chat with entrepreneurs from around the globe on Tuesday, November 13 on the hashtag #GEWChat.
Internet use in Peru and throughout South America is growing rapidly. So how can youth use these tools to spur economic and democratic development? A young group of Peruvians demonstrate one way to do so.
As of March 31, 2012, there were 8,204,560 Facebook users in Peru; a respectable 28.1% penetration rate that puts Peru perfectly in line with Facebook usage in South America as a whole. Experience would suggest that younger Peruvians make up a large percentage of these users. We have seen time and again that as more reliable internet connections have arrived in developing countries around the world, youth are the first to latch on to the new technologies that come with them. Unsurprisingly, social networking tools like Facebook, Skype, and now Twitter are generally the first services to gain traction (not to mention social media sites like YouTube).
Given the vastness and diverse geography of Peru, opportunities for face-to-face interaction with people from other parts of the country are few and far between. Therefore, alumni from Instituto Invertir’s EmprendeAhora youth leadership and entrepreneurship program have increasingly used social media, particularly Facebook, to keep in touch and discuss democracy, rule of law, free markets, entrepreneurship skills, and leadership with one another and members of their communities.