What were the Characteristics of Transitional Regimes in Latin America?

(iii) Armed forces continued to claim extensive rights of intervention and oversight. In fact, in most countries, their immunity and preservation of their institutional interests were part of the military-civilian pacts leading to transition.

Besides, transitional democracies found military immunity and its political role under civilian rule legislated or guaranteed by the constitutions. As democracies ‘consolidated’, there is no change in the entrenched rights and privileges of armed forces in all these countries,

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(iv) Since political democratisation was taking place in the context of deep economic recession and external debt obligations, democratic regimes were obliged by international creditors and lending agencies as well as by the upper echelons of domestic business to introduce stabilisation measures that put the cost of adjustment on the popular classes.

The ‘consolidated’ democracies have only seen the ever-growing power and role of the corporate sector and sometimes, even its direct participation in the electoral political process. The transitory characteristics of the regimes were obviously not expected to last long. But they have. These were unstable states of transition, which have ‘consolidated’ more or less as it is.

It was expected that once the common transitional situations are over, specific country differences would mark the process of consolidation. But they have not. This tells us something about the nature of democracy in Latin America; and ironically, about the academic analyses too. Analysts were also identifying as to which one of the Latin American countries would be the first to revert to military authoritarian rule.

In a sense, none has. Wherever armed forces have threatened or actually carried out a coup, as in Haiti, regional and inter-American institutional pressures have sooner or later reversed the trend.

It was also argued that once the transitory situations faded, electoral dynamism would also generate more differentiated political parties who would be offering alternative programmes of social and economic reforms so as to combine the interests of the dominant classes with some demands of the dominated sections of the society.

Contestation is the essence of electoral democracy; and secondly, to garner and maintain support and legitimacy, various regimes had to offer something to those sections of the society who had been reeling under the impact of economic dislocation caused by the prolonged recession.

Admittedly, it is not the political process but deep economic crisis that, as for instance in Brazil and Argentina in 2002, has forced elected governments to pay some heed to social and economic issues.

Process of differentiation of political forces and a reform agenda in the electoral arena are sure signs of transitional democracies becoming ‘consolidated’. But these democracies have been declared ‘consolidated’ without the above elements. Alfred Stepan has also added a stable civilian-military relationship under civilian rule, if democracy is to be consolidated.

In addition, armed forces retain their institutional privileges and position of the ‘transitional’ period; and in some countries are even able to pressurise the ‘consolidated’ democracies.

Be that as it may, the current phase of democratisation has proved more enduring than the earlier attempts. The ‘third wave’ of democratisation is much larger and deeper than the ‘second wave’ of the 1950s.

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