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.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner. Photo: http://www.english.rfi.fr
This weekend’s elections in Argentina produced an overwhelming victory for incumbent President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Not only did she score an historic victory capturing 54% of the popular vote in the first round—winning by the largest margin ever in since democracy was brought back in 1983—she also recaptured control of the National Congress.
The vote presents a real mandate for her leadership in the next four years, especially since she accomplished it without the behind the scenes labors of her late husband, Nestor Kirchner.
The real question is how President Fernández will use this mandate to forge the future for her country. Early indications are that she intends to continue the economic and political course that she and her husband began eight years ago using the popular vote as a stamp of approval for her past policies. Through government stimulated consumer demand, those policies have yielded a 9.5% increase in GDP during the first half of this year.
However, this path is fraught with troublesome signs and if she pursues it could lead to her undoing. Critics point to the following worrisome indicators:
- Government statistics claim that the inflation rate is at 9% but independent analysts place the rate at more than 20% per year. The latter calculation would bring the GDP growth rate down to a more modest 5.9%
- Government spending is increasing on average 34% per year. In August, it rose 43% compared to a year earlier while revenues climbed 34%.
- Capital flight is increasing, with $9.8 billion leaving the country during the first half of the year.
The Kirchners’ economic growth model appears to have won the approval of the Argentine electorate given the margin of President Fernández’ election. However, it is doubtful that voters understand the full implication these policies for the future of the country.
CIPE partner, the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth (CIPPEC) worked throughout the campaign to stimulate substantive political debate by researching and presenting policy positions as part of their Agenda for the President program. Their focus has not only been on national fiscal spending but on education, social welfare and 12 other important policy topics. CIPPEC’s efforts are intended to create a national dialogue on government policies across the board and provide important civil society input into the political process so fundamental to democracy in Argentina.
As President Fernández prepares her government for a second term, it is not too late to engage in such a discussion with civil society groups such as CIPPEC. As in any country, democracy in Argentina would benefit greatly from a better-informed and engaged public that thinks about the future for themselves and their children.
One of Agenda for the President memos (Image: www.cippec.org)
Think tanks play a significant role in democracies around the world. They provide insightful analysis about pressing issues and recommend feasible policy interventions. This is precisely what CIPE partner Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC)
in Argentina has been doing in the last decade. Yet CIPPEC’s work also bridges the world of ideas with the world of policy and politics. With its Agenda for the President
initiative, CIPPEC has sought to improve the quality of policy debate during this busy electoral year in Argentina. A general election is scheduled for October 2011
and numerous sub-national elections have been carried out throughout the year.
Like in many other countries, Argentinean policy discussions during election season tend to be vague and insubstantial. Remaining vague sometimes is part of a candidate’s campaign strategy. However, voters and investors alike need to hear more from candidates about what their general statements of promoting growth or improving education really mean. CIPPEC’s Agenda for the President gets to that task by developing a series of policy memos on 15 key issues including monetary and fiscal policy, education, transparency, and global integration. The memos identify policy issues that CIPPEC believes should be the priority of the President elected in the October elections and the new government.
In this Feature Service article, CIPPEC’s Executive Director Fernando Straface explains what drove Argentina’s leading think tank to play an active role in this election season through its Agenda for the President initiative. Straface highlights that, regardless of the election results, the issues presented in CIPPEC memos aim at spurring a meaningful debate throughout the months leading to October’s election and present a policy roadmap for the next President. The 15 policy memos CIPPEC produced can be found here.
Article at a Glance
- Political discussions in Argentina have traditionally focused on candidates’ personal attributes rather than on key policy issues.
- CIPPEC has been working to engage presidential
candidates, key political actors, private sector, civil society
organizations, and journalists in substantive policy debate
ahead of the October 2011 elections.
- CIPPEC is using its 15 Memos to the President on
issues ranging from social policy to good governance to
spur discussion and build conditions for the first-ever
presidential debate in Argentina.
You can read the full article at:
Freedom of the press is an essential component of a genuine democracy. That is why Thomas Jefferson expressed that, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Indeed, one of the most powerful development messages is written in the U.S. constitution: “Congress shall make no law (…) prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Freedom of the press’ key contribution to democracy is its unique ability to restrain government power by increasing transparency, advancing accountability, and circulating diverse opinions. Autocratic governments understand this very well and try to constantly control the press. Where there are no unambiguous laws protecting freedom of the press, politicians of all stripes utilize ingenious schemes to control the media.
Argentina is a case in point, where freedom of the press is under constant threat by the state as a result of flimsy legal protections. In fact, the current government recently passed a new law that gives government the power to decide when a media company is too big and makes newspapers more dependent on government advertising.
The Argentine government is not the only one doing it, but it is one of the few seemingly caught in the act. Apparently, the government is cooking the numbers to paint a better economic picture of Argentina and use it for political gains, and everyone (at least there) knows about it.
How serious are the allegations? Inflation, for example, is allegedly understated by a factor of 3. And its not the first time this happened in Argentina. See this Economist story from 2 years ago.
Understating inflation is often puzzling to me, especially when it is used as a means of retaining political power/touting one’s own success in managing the economy. People don’t need to look at official economics statistics to sense changes in the price index – they know when the price of milk, bread, and other essential goods goes up. They know it better and they trust their pocket more than any statistical analysis.
Lying about inflation seems to me a losing strategy, since it multiplies the anger over rising prices by the frustration of not getting the truth from the government. So why do it in the first place?
And, since we are talking about Argentina, see what Felix Salmon of Reuters has to say about a recent survey by the ministry of tourism in Argentina on doing business in the country.
This week has to have been a dramatic shock to the government of Cristina Fernandez in Argentina. First, there were fifteen days of strikes against the draconian export tax she has levied on producers of agricultural products and other goods. The draconian new tax would take a bite of up to 45% of the earnings of exporters, who would also still be subject to other local government taxes. The result has been nationwide road blockages of trucks carry goods to market by Argentina’s famous “piqueteros.” This week the result has been goods like meat disappearing from grocery store shelves and pictures of milk being poured by producers down sewers.
On Tuesday, broader public support in solidarity with producers led to demonstrations in the streets of Buenos Aires and other major cities. I was not in Argentina when the economic crisis hit in 2001, but I got a taste of what it must have been like when the pot bangers returned in a resounding protest what they call here a “cacerolazo.” Even people who have otherwise supported the populist leaning polices of the Fernandez government thought this tax had gone too far and they made their displeasure known. Today headlines show some cracks in the government’s refusal to engage in talks with strikers.
What is happening in Argentina? No one seems to know exactly why the government decided to push this policy at this particular time, except perhaps that it thought it could get away with it. It is not in great need for the fiscal revenues that this tax would produce, though those revenues would go directly into the coffers of the central government without being shared by the provinces as other taxes must. Does this mark a major misjudgement on the part of the government? Clearly so, but it is also true that the Argentine people up until now have put up with government encroachment on their rights and income without complaining too much. That seems to not be true anymore. By all accounts here, these demonstrations have been sudden and spontaneous and the jury is still out on where this will all lead. However, the message has clearly been sent to the Fernandez government that it has gone one step too far.