We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Trinidad: Organizations Call for More Transparency and Participation

Whether openly acknowledged or not, corruption is a problem that people face all over the world. Corruption by it's very nature erodes democratic processes and usurps power from the people while their representatives engage in criminal acts more often that not without accountability. Transparency is a key first step toward countering this effect and expanding participatory democracy because it allows the people to expose corruption as well as see directly the effects of their votes and their own voice within the government, or lack thereof. Many social movements and NGOs are working toward transparency within central governments, but we have a long way to go before this corruption is revealed to the extent necessary to make the general populace aware of just how rampant it is in most cases. The following article from Trinidad and Tobago demonstrates one example of efforts to promote transparency in favor of democracy. - Editor

Letter: People's right to know

Published on Thursday, June 19, 2008


Dear Sir:

The Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) has had cause in the past to voice its concerns over Government’s selective use of transparency in its approach to governance.

In 2001, Government inherited the Freedom of Information Act from the previous administration and, in the ensuing years, reduced its effectiveness by exempting from the Act first the Central Bank and then selected State-funded agencies. This was a major curtailment by government of the people’s right to information and, at that time, very few civil society voices were raised in protest.

Next we saw government’s habitual delays in answering questions raised in Parliament and, in some cases, either refusing to answer or giving very limited information. This trend continues today.

Government also attempted to limit citizens’ right to bring public interest litigation against the state by proposing revisions to the Judicial Review Act.

Public procurement practices are replete with examples of Government’s unwillingness to provide timely information to the public whose money is being spent. One example is the continued refusal by Government, in the face of many calls from TTTI and others, to make public the technical studies (paid for by taxpayers) which the Prime Minister and the Line Minister told Parliament recommended the adoption of the multi-billion dollar Rapid Rail System over other less expensive options.

More recently, government sought to protect UDeCoTT from public scrutiny in the face of serious concerns voiced and allegations made by many respected persons and organisations in the society. Eventually, government bowed to the pressure of those calls but still sought to control the process by opting for a Joint Selective Committee of Parliament and only later agreeing to the Commission of Enquiry called for.

The latest example of the lack of transparency was seen when government refused to disclose in Parliament how much of taxpayers’ money was spent on fees for professional services on the dubious grounds of protecting the recipient’s rights to privacy.

We note that some important independent voices have been raised against this latest curtailment of the people’s right to information on how their money is being spent. More civil society organisations should raise their voices in protest over this latest development. Government’s decision in this matter must be reversed because of its far-reaching implications.

TTTI senses that there is a wind of change blowing through this country and bringing with it more national consciousness. Civil society seems to have awakened from its slumber hence the many voices being heard today in protest over the UDeCOTT matter, escalating crime, high food prices, failures in the education and health systems, infrastructure inadequacies etc

This awakening is good for our democracy but civil society must go further and insist on its right to information and it’s acceptance by Government as a partner in the governance of the country. Civil society must also insist on its voice being heard and listened to and its suggestions acted upon by government. Civil society must demand a culture of consultation and a truly participatory democracy for our country and accept nothing less.

Victor Hart
Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bulgaria: New Green Party Advocates Direct Democracy

Bulgaria sees the creation of a new green party which among other things supports expansion of direct democracy within the country. Read the following article to learn more about the party and it's platform. - Editor

Bulgarian Greens Established

The newest green political party Zelenite (Bulgarian Greens) was established on May 18 in Sofia by a number of environmental non-government organisations (NGOs).

Among the party's founders are members of To Sustain the Nature in Bulgaria coalition; Balkani Wildlife Society (BWS); UNECO University Club for Environment; Green Policy Institute (GPI); Centre for Environmental Information and Education; Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation; Cooperation for Voluntary Service Bulgaria (CVS);; Borrowed Nature; association Za Zemiata (For the Earth); organisers and volunteers of the national campaigns for salvation of Irakli Black sea beach, Strandja nature park, Rila and Pirin national parks. NGOs are not allowed by law to establish political parties.

Hristo Genev, a psychologist and has political experience in the past in the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union, was elected general secretary of the party. The three co-chairpersons are Andrey Kovachev from BWS, Petko Kovachev from GPI (no relation) and Denitsa Petrova, also from GPI . Zelenite’s treasurer is Julia Yordanova from CVS.

The non-governmental organisations’ members decided to form a political party despite their unwillingness to take part in the political life of Bulgaria, as, according to them, during the years of work in the non-governmental sector they could achieve only small changes in the way the state treats the environmental problems and small amendments to some laws on biodiversity and nature preservation. However, even being members of various working groups on environmental problems within the Ministry of Environment and Water Affairs and other institutions, the non-governmental organisations representatives had no right of vote and decision-making within those bodies.

By establishing Zelenite, they hoped to get into the political life and to achieve substantial changes by stimulating the civil society and opening equal possibilities for citizens' participation in the decision-making processes, working towards expanding the direct democracy, do changes within the legislative system, and working for achieving sustainability in different societies and regions, participants said.

Zelenite is not the first political party to adopt the 'green' rhetoric. One of them is Zelenata Partia (Green Party), which is the oldest and has existed since the communistic regime fell down in 1989. However, according to Zelenite members, this party is not functioning or if it does, it is not doing it on the most environmental way.

The other green party formed recently in Bulgaria is Zelena Bulgaria (Green Bulgaria), which reportedly is established by businesses trying to gain key positions in Bulgarian regions that are attractive for tourism and other investments. This argument is backed by the fact that the party appears to have extensive financing to campaign during elections, a trait that has never been typical for other local environmental movements.

ECUADOR: Poder Popular y la Nueva Constitución

El pueblo Ecuadoreño esta experimentando un alto nivel de participación civil en el proceso democrático desde la elección del Presidente Rafael Correa, pero es la responsibilidad de la asamblea constituyente que está haciendo la nueva constitución asegurar que esa participación sea legalmente y permanentamente parte de la escena politica del pais. Eso significa la creación de una estructura de poder popular que incluye consejos comunales y presupuestos participativos. Acá presentamos un comentario hecho por un miembro de la asamblea costituyente que apoya esta iniciativa. - Editor

Poder para el pueblo organizado y movilizado!!!

Enero 28, 2008 Por: Eduardo Zambrano


La Revolución Ciudadana ha descubierto una serie de potencialidades y capacidades del pueblo ecuatoriano para el ejercicio democrático. Visto desde la oposición o desde el Acuerdo PAIS, el pueblo decidió participar. Son parte de nuestra cotidianidad hechos formidables y excepcionales como marchas de miles de personas.

Existe una voluntad de participación masiva en procesos de consulta y elecciones (Elecciones presidenciales 2006, consulta popular convocatoria Asamblea Constituyente abril 2007, elecciones de asambleístas septiembre 2007), la participación popular avanza. Esta participación masiva instituye necesariamente el germen de más y mejores prácticas democráticas.

Se ha venido afirmando la vocación democrática de la mayoría de ciudadanos y ciudadanas. Desafortunadamente la violencia mediática, la falta de balance de casi todos los medios y la corrupción parecieran ser los males antidemocráticos más difíciles de erradicar.

Se incrementa la participación de los jóvenes, de las mujeres, de las y los discapacitados, de los migrantes, la participación en cooperativas, medios comunitarios, comunidades organizadas autogestionadas, comités de tierras urbanas y rurales, movimientos sociales, entre otras formas organizativas de participación.

En Ecuador el pueblo insurgió para dejar de ser espectador, conciente de que no basta con delegar su poder soberano, se dio a sí mismo una Asamblea Constituyente de Plenos Poderes para hacer una Nueva Constitución que consagre el derecho de los ciudadanos y ciudadanas a participar en los asuntos públicos, no sólo a través de representantes elegidos, sino directamente. Me refiero a la democracia participativa y protagónica en la que las comunidades, conjuntamente con las autoridades locales, tienen el derecho y el deber de formular, ejecutar, controlar y efectuar seguimiento a las políticas públicas.

Ya no se trata solamente de ir a votar, se trata de ejercer una actividad permanente de construcción social que exige formación, proactividad, capacidad de negociación, consulta de la gente, participación y seguimiento por parte de los ciudadanos y ciudadanas. La democracia participativa implica un cambio de cultura en la conciencia del pueblo. Este cambio tiene que representar un salto cualitativo para la vida social y política del país. No se trata de un simple cambio operacional sino de instaurar en la práctica una nueva visión del poder popular en los niveles local, regional, nacional.

Para desarrollar este paradigma revolucionario de la democracia participativa y protagónica, se tiene que generar articulado constitucional y una ley donde se plantea la instauración de una nueva institucionalidad o consejos locales que superen la planificación como actividad de expertos, estableciendo que es el pueblo organizado el que debe decidir y direccionar, conjuntamente con los representantes elegidos y funcionarios públicos, en qué se invertirán los recursos, así como el cómo, el dónde, el cuánto y el cuándo debe hacerse.

El plan de gobierno local debe responder a las necesidades reales de las poblaciones locales; si el pueblo se organiza, si el pueblo se moviliza, los alcaldes ya no pueden decidir invertir unilateralmente los dineros públicos en aceras, brocales y cloacas cuando la comunidad organizada exige salud y escuelas. El presupuesto (participativo) debe ser el plan de gobierno local en números y no un ejercicio de los técnicos y expertos financieros que guarda insuficiente relación con las demandas de las comunidades o lo que se tiene planificado hacer.

Paralelamente, el pueblo organizado no debe olvidar que existe el riesgo de que el ultrademocratismo paralice la acción, que el arte de gobernar implica generar sinergias, aprender a ordenar las prioridades, diagnosticar, consultar, sistematizar proyectos y ejecutar. De manera análoga los representantes elegidos (alcaldes, prefectos o gobernadores) deben desaprender la cultura de la democracia representativa y facilitar este ejercicio de soberanía, promover realmente la corresponsabilidad en el proceso de toma de decisiones.

La participación del pueblo en los asuntos públicos, me refiero a una participación cooperativa, empoderada de herramientas técnicas, conocimiento del presupuesto y ejercicio permanente del control social, donde los alcaldes, prefectos y gobernadores sean líderes-facilitadores del ejercicio soberano del poder popular en la concepción de los planes, en la ejecución con participación de las instituciones del poder organizado (cooperativas, microempresas, etc.) es la única garantía de superación del problema de la corrupción.

Durante los últimos tiempos el pueblo ecuatoriano ha demostrado una gran madurez y visión política ante golpes de estado, destituciones de tres presidentes elegidos en las urnas, la estafa bancaria, crisis política, social y económica, guerra mediática y otras difíciles pruebas. Por ahora el mayor reto del pueblo ecuatoriano radica en la organización. Estos tiempos de revolución no son solo para agotarse en marchas y contramarchas, la plataforma de los Consejos Locales de Planificación Pública nos ofrece la oportunidad de avanzar hacia formas superiores de organización social.

Enfatizamos que hay que avanzar en lo organizativo hacia un verdadero protagonismo del pueblo en la toma de decisiones soberanas. La democracia participativa y protagónica alude a la necesaria vinculación del pueblo organizado y movilizado entorno a lo social, lo político, cultural y lo económico y productivo.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Colombia: Open Letter To Nancy Pelosi and the US Congress

Citizens in several municipalities in Colombia have been employing direct democracy in the form of public consultations in order to voice their opposition to the proposed free trade agreement between Columbia and the United States. The trade agreement would have a devastating effect on Columbia's struggling poor, and opponents to the agreement are calling upon the Columbian government of Alvaro Uribe, a government very much directed by the powers that be in Washington, to put the matter to a the people in a nationwide referendum. While the Colombian government is not likely to heed this request, opposition to the agreement in the U.S. Congress has stalled its implementation. In this letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Columbian opponents of the trade agreement express their gratitude and put forth their aruements against the FTA. - Editor

Colombia: Open Letter To Nancy Pelosi and the US Congress

Written by Association of Indigenous Authorities of Northern Cauca Council
Thursday, 17 April 2008

"Three years later, like us, you said no to the Colombia-US Free Trade Agreement."

Dear Representative Pelosi and Congress of the United States of America:

First, we would like to express our joy and gratitude for the decision made April 10, 2008, in the United States Congress. With 224 votes in favor and 195 against, the House of Representatives, over which you preside, decided to indefinitely freeze the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the US. We know that this is but one step on a long path, but the result is profoundly meaningful for our peoples, and it opens a window through which we can breathe with strength and rejuvenated spirits. With this letter, beyond expressing our recognition and appreciation as peoples, we seek to open a space for communication between us, because we feel that we deserve the right to be heard and respected. It is long overdue that Democratic Party members of Congress under your leadership should become aware of our democratic decision and analyses, all of which are rooted in dignity and respect for life.

Little more than three years ago, on Sunday March 6, 2005, the first Popular Consultation on the US-Colombia FTA was carried out through a referendum held in six municipalities in the Department of Cauca, Colombia. In that free, open and transparent referendum, monitored by national and international observers and bound by strict electoral regulations, there was a level of participation that had been unprecedented in the history of our municipalities. Ninety-eight percent of the people responded NO to the following question: "Are you in favor of the FTA between Colombia and the United States?" The people expressed their sovereign and conscious decision. Since that first consultation, others have been carried out throughout Colombia, all with the same result.

On February 1, 2005, we had made public a proclamation in which we called for a national popular referendum on the FTA. We invite you to examine this document, which we reaffirm, and whose clarity and eloquence remain relevant today, even more so given the most recent decision of the US Congress. In order that you may understand our motives and perspectives, we believe it is our right to respectfully express this to you, as peoples reacting to a trade agreement that would deeply affect our lives. Through you, Rep. Pelosi, we invite the Congress and the people of the United States to read this proclamation and to treat its content with the respect and consideration that it deserves [], recognizing the sovereign and democratic decision of our peoples.

It is important for you to know that from the moment of our carrying out the consultation to today, information on the FTA and its consequences made available to the people of Colombia through the government and the mass media has been absurdly distorted and entirely in favor of those interested in winning approval of the agreement. This has effectively closed any spaces for debate and discussion among diverse perspectives, which would be necessary for Colombian citizens to understand the issue and to take a substantive position on it. In the proclamation of our consultation, we asked: "If the FTA is so good, why is the population being misinformed, and why is the government so afraid of a popular consultation and a conscious and democratic decision?"

Today, in light of the decision you have made, we reiterate the relevance of that question. In spite of the barrage of propaganda in favor of the FTA and the manner in which fear was used to assure people that rejecting the FTA would be equivalent to the United States' abandoning Colombia in backwardness, those who participated in the referendum understood that quite to the contrary, approval of the FTA on these terms and under these conditions would be equivalent to pushing Colombia toward an abyss of backwardness, impoverishment, inequality, and war. We understand that the people of the United States also suffer negative consequences from these kinds of trade agreements, but it is ultimately up to you and the people of the United States to analyze and make decisions on these agreements and their consequences. Rep. Pelosi, the Colombian government was opposed and remains opposed to allowing the Colombian people to understand the real impacts of the FTA that has been presented to Congress; it has closed the spaces of democratic debate and ignored the results of the Popular Consultation. We therefore urge you to examine the Consultation of March 2005, our motives and arguments, the democratic decision of the peoples, and the consequences and implications of this decision. We also invite you to support the right of peoples to understand and decide. With respect to the FTA, this is a right that the Colombian government has not respected.

The Colombian government attempted to discredit the decision of the consultation, alleging that we do not understand the benefits of the FTA and that terrorists and other nefarious forces had manipulated the population. Our response to this disturbing and unfounded accusation is found in the text of the proclamation and in the reality of facts that speak for themselves. The position of the government is racist insofar as it still considers us primitive beings incapable of understanding and consciously deciding for ourselves. Moreover, it seriously threatens our lives and integrity by falsely claiming links with terrorists, claims that easily become death sentences in this country.

Read our arguments and see for yourselves if we can be accused of not understanding. In contrast with the Colombian government's reaction, read and respond with ideas, arguments, and substance. As we said in the proclamation calling for the consultation, we are opposed to neither free trade nor an agreement with the United States. We are opposed to this particular agreement, and we have reasons based fundamentally on substance.

Rep. Pelosi, Members of Congress, and people of the United States, three years after our proclamation and call to carry out a public referendum on the FTA, three years after our people said NO, in spite of the closing of spaces for debate and democratic decision-making, more than 60% of arable lands in Colombia remain in the hands of 15,000 families, less than 0.4% of the population of the country. This immense concentration of land is nonproductive in that the food that we consume comes from the poor, small producers; the large property owners do not produce food. Furthermore, the influx of subsidized agricultural products condemns peasants, indigenous peoples, and rural producers to ruin and hunger, as they face the impossibility of competing with less expensive products and artificially reduced prices. Free trade is making the production of crops for illicit use necessary for survival and for the attainment of basic economic resources. You are well aware that we are being displaced and forced off our lands through violence and war, which serves to open the countryside to the megaprojects of transnational corporations. This eviction has displaced 4 million of our compatriots to the cities, where they live in miserable conditions. This promotes only social and political violence and hatred, thereby perpetuating war and misery.

The agreement would place the price of life-saving medications beyond reach for the majority of Colombia's people and would permit the patenting of life-forms and our ancestral knowledge. The FTA, which you have decided to not consider for now, would back a government whose president, during a "community council" held on March 15, 2008, offered bounties on the lives of indigenous peoples who are struggling to recover the lands from which we have been displaced, lands to which we have a right in accordance with agreements with the very state that now criminalizes our struggles to access its own commitments. Agrarian reform has been transformed into a crime in order to protect particular interests that would benefit from the FTA. In the midst of war, misery, displacement, terror, and deception, there can be prosperity for no one. That is why we have rejected this FTA.

Rep. Pelosi and Members of Congress, we want a trade agreement that is actually an agreement, one that is negotiated among sectors that really represent the interests of peoples—not only among a few who act exclusively in the interests of big capital. We want an agreement that is free and not imposed unilaterally through propaganda, without debate or open and democratic consultation. We want an agreement that has real trade as its content, trade that guarantees reciprocal opportunity, so that the well-being of peoples is realized in a manner that is autonomous and sovereign and protects nature and life. The FTA that you have decided not to debate for the moment promotes displacement, legalizes injustice, condemns us to permanent war, and leaves us behind.

We celebrate the decision that you have taken, and we thank you. This means nothing more or less than respecting our lives. Receive our expression of immense gratitude to your people, and accept our invitation to understand the motives of the decision we made democratically three years ago.


Association of Indigenous Authorities of Northern Cauca, Council

For more information on the indigenous movement in Colombia visit:

Monday, June 16, 2008

Turkish Greens Establish New Party with Direct Democracy Platform

We present two separate articles regarding the new Turkish Green party which has a platform based on environmental principles and direct democracy.- Editor

Turkish Greens to establish a new political party


The Greens of Turkey, who have struggled to establish their movement in Turkey since the 1980s, will seek to become a political party at the end of this month, with a platform based upon environmental principles and direct democracy.

This will be the second effort of the Greens to set up a political party; the first came in 1988 and was successful, but the party was closed down in 1994 by the Constitutional Court due to irregularities in the party budget.

In an interview with Today’s Zaman, Greens spokesman Ümit Tahin said the organizational structure of the party will be different from others. “We will of course fulfill the requirements of the Law on Political Parties, but we will have our own rules, such as a 50 percent quota of women members and rotation of party officials. We will not have a leader, but rather one man and one woman spokesperson,” Tahin noted.

The Greens of Turkey, even before becoming a political party, were accepted as an observer in the European Green Parties Council in 2005.

The Greens of Turkey have the same platform as many other global Greens -- ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy, nonviolence, decentralization, community-based economics, feminism, respect for diversity, global responsibility and future focus.

In their party program, detailed on their Web site, the Greens of Turkey claim that wars were started in order to control water and oil resources in the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia, while Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq were occupied and Turkey is in the middle of all these problems; thus, they say, international politics based on regional cooperation, peace and friendship is necessary. The Greens of Turkey have pledged to cooperate with the Greens of the world to overcome these problems and not to act on the basis of nationalism.

According to the Greens, Turkey is suffering from human rights violations, military coups and social injustice, all stemming from an authoritarian approach to governing.

The Greens note that their movement began based on civil society organizations but that in recent years the concept of civil society organizations has been abused. The Greens say they will derive their power from real civil society organizations that are working for democracy.

The Greens define the existing Constitution as a product of the 1980 military coup and demand that a new, shorter constitution be created that focuses on basic rights. According to the Greens all types of interference in democratic politics should be banned. They note that the new constitution should emphasize that the freedoms of citizens should not be restricted in the interest of the state. They would also like to see restrictions on and civil monitoring of military expenditures along with the abolishment of the National Security Council (MGK). The Greens also want Turkey to withdraw from NATO, the Americans to be prevented from using İncirlik Air Base and the complete demilitarization of Cyprus. When it comes to the EU the Greens are in favor of continuing with the country’s accession negotiations but pledge to work for an EU based on Green principles.

Regarding the Kurdish question the Greens propose that Turkey must confront the mistakes of the past and recognize the Kurdish identity.

The Greens will discuss the details of the party’s bylaws on June 21 during a meeting in İstanbul.

Turkish Greens against current party system

Thursday, June 12, 2008

ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News


Believing in direct democracy and prioritizing the local instead of the “center,” a new political party is preparing to enter the Turkish political scene. Aiming to challenge and urge change in the political parties law in Turkey, the Green Party is set to be established at the end of this month.

“Democracy only gives its name to the existing political parties. To overcome this problem, despite the law, we tried to establish new principles,” said Alper Akyüz, one of the founders of the Green Party, emphasizing that the current political parties law prioritizes centralized leadership. Instead, the new party prefers a network type of organization, rather than a centralized one, to minimize the function of the party center, said Savaş Çömlek, another founder. There will be a rotation system for any kind of position in the party, said Akyüz citing an example of the party's principles. Having co-speakers is another choice of the party. “There will not be two male co-speakers at the same time. Two women can be co-speakers but two men cannot,” he said. The party started its organizational work six years ago and finally the work has come to an end. “This took a long time because of our principle of direct democracy,” said Çömlek.

The story of the Greens in Turkey is not new. There was a first Green Party, which operated in 1988-1994 and was closed down by a Constitutional Court decision due to some bureaucratic defects. The founders of the old Green party cooperate with the current Green movement as well.

Kyoto is not an end

The Kyoto Protocol is not a sufficient agreement, said Hüseyin Güngör, another party activist. A new agreement will be made in 2012. However the government could not understand the essence of Kyoto, Akyüz said, although the protocol has come to the parliamentary agenda to be signed by Turkey. The government's approach shows that Turkey will sign the protocol, however it will not be binding, Akyüz said, adding that it is not correct. Çömlek said the politicians are also aware of the importance of the protocol but the question is whether they would bypass the copper and oil lobbies. But the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government runs the politics of a dealer, Çömlek said.

Friday, June 13, 2008

CHIAPAS: A Voice of the People

The following letter represents a voice of the people of Chiapas that should be heard within the political decision-making processes that are drastically changing the area. First read the letter regarding "the other campaign" and the plight of the people of Chiapas even under a "leftist" state government (PRD). Then, visit the link that follows. It outlines Plan Mexico or the Merida Initiative which seeks to arm Mexican police and allow them to continue committing the atrocities against which the people of Mexico are organizing. Here we see different interests between the ruling officials and the people. Empowerment of the people will come through participatory practices that give people a decision-making voice in their community and government. PRD should be accepting and learning from "the other campaign" in order to better understand the opinions of constituents. -Editor

La otra campaña

Communiqué from the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee—General Command of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation.

September 22, 2007


To the People of Mexico:
To the adherents of the Sixth Declaration and the Other Campaign:
Brothers and Sisters:
Compañeros and Compañeras:

The EZLN communicates to you the following reflections and decisions we have made:

I. Reflections

At this time, the state government of Chiapas and the federal government (of the PRD-PRI and the PAN respectively) are waging a campaign against the Zapatista communities. “Official” evictions, paramilitary attacks, invasions sponsored by officials, persecutions and threats, have become once again part of the surroundings of the indigenous communities, the Zapatistas, who have set upon constructing their own destiny and improving their living conditions, always without losing their indigenous identity.

Just like in the worst times of the PRI, of Absalon Castellanos and “Croquetas” Albores Guillen, the PRD government of Chiapas is attacking the poor and needy, while catering to and benefiting the powerful. Just like any right-wing government, that of Juan Sabines in Chiapas continues the repression and dispossession, but now under a left-wing flag and with the double sponsorship of the two “presidencies” of our country: that of Felipe Calderon (of the PAN) and that of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (of the PRD, and, above all, of himself).

In contrast to other occasions, these aggressions have been met by the silence of those voices that before rose to protest and to demand justice, and that now fall silent, perhaps so that we are not reminded that they applauded AMLO’s support for Juan Sabines and his recent call to support PRD candidates for the municipal presidencies and the local congress.

In this way, what we have been saying for the last 3 years has been confirmed: above there are no principals nor convictions; there are, rather, ambitions and conveniences. And another thing we said has also been confirmed: the institutional left is nothing more than a shameless right, a left rubber-stamped by the right.

The same crime has a different judgment: if the repression is carried out by the PAN, then one must mobilize and detain fascism; if its is carried out by the PRD, then one must lose one’s memory, hush, do ridiculous juggling acts, or applaud. In Chiapas there is a real step backward in government policy. This time it does not carry the shield of the confessional right, but rather of the “modern” and “legitimate” left.

We will do what we have to do: resist. It does not matter if we have to do it alone. It wouldn’t be the first time; before we became coffee-shop kitsch, alone indeed we were.


There are many aspects upon which to reflect, voice opinions, and take positions. This will be done another time another way. For now we just want to say that the determining factor in our country is not the supposed “neo-independence” of the legislative powers with respect to the media. Above, politics is the art of simulation, and the real agenda of organized crime (that is, of the government) is not demonstrated in the declarations of politicians.

What we want to say now has to do with the double effort, civil and pacific, which we are currently undertaking as Zapatistas: the Encounter of Indigenous Peoples of America, and the Other Campaign.

The first represents an event without precedent. Outside the official national and international circles, delegates and representatives of the original peoples of the American continent will come together to meet each other directly, to see and listen to each other. That is, to begin to respect each other. The fact that the encounter will take place in the besieged territory of the Yaqui Tribe in the Mexican State of Sonora symbolizes our permanent struggle to make ourselves visible and give ourselves the voice and ear that those above deny us.

The days 11, 12, 13, and 14 of this October, in Vicam, Sonora, Mexico, we will be represented as Indian Peoples, to whose brown blood we have added the color of the Zapatistas.

With regard to the Other Campaign, it represents for us the only serious effort to construct a national movement from below and to the left.

It is interesting that those who before criticized this effort now use the same words that we have used to refer to the political class, to the necessity to listen and to organize from below.

As a sign of our commitment to those who are now our compañeros and compañeras, in addition to carrying out encounters in our own territory so that they may know us better, we regularly send one or more delegations of the EZLN out to visit the places where others struggle in order to know them better.

Thus we made a first journey throughout all of our country, and now that we are making an outline of a national plan of struggle, with the feeling and thinking of all those who form the Other Campaign, we have made a second visit to the north of Mexico.
As we have done on other occasions, each time that we leave our territory to visit other parts of our country, the EZLN has addressed the existing political-military organizations in order to respectfully ask them not to carry out actions that could endanger the life and liberty of our delegates in their civil and peaceful work.

In every case, we have received the attention and respect of those revolutionary organizations, and in some cases we have received their sympathy for our political initiatives.

These are organizations with which we maintain differences in formation, structure, method, analysis, and history, but we recognize and respect them. Their existence and persistence, like ours, is due to the grave living conditions of our people and the lack of spaces for political participation and struggle. Currently, one of these revolutionary organizations, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), is carrying out a political-military campaign to demand that two of their companions in struggle be returned alive.

The demand for the appearance of these disappeared is not only legitimate, it is also a denunciation of the current dirty war that that adoring lover of military uniform, Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, is re-editing for the present.

As Zapatistas we think that we can not ask of the Popular Revolutionary Army that they permit our delegation to travel through the territories where it has presence or influence and to declare a ceasefire and suspend the campaign that it maintains with the just and legitimate demand for the presentation of its disappeared.

On the other hand, the nervous stupidity of those in charge of the official repression has become more acute with the recent actions of the EPR, and it could be, if the leadership of the Popular Revolutionary Army was to generously agree to a ceasefire so that our delegation could carry out its work, that the military government of Felipe Calderon would launch an attack and later attempt to lay responsibility for this attack on the EPR using inexistent disputes as an explanation.

Not long ago a government official said that the disappearances denounced by the EPR were not carried out by the government, but rather by another revolutionary organization. But it is well-known that it was indeed the government that detained them and has them still, and thus it is the government that must return them alive.

II. Decisions.
Compañeros and Compañeras:

For these reasons that we have here tried to synthesize as much as possible, we have decided the following:

First. The Sixth Commission of the EZLN will suspend the journey of the second phase of the Other Campaign to the states and regions of the center and south of the country that it had announced for the months of October, November, and December of 2007. In its place, we will carry out civil and peaceful actions in defense of the Zapatista Communities.

Second. The EZLN will comply with our commitment, as part of the organizing commission, to attend the Encounter of the Indigenous Peoples of America. A delegation of Zapatista leadership will travel precisely for that purpose to the territory of the Yaqui Tribe in Vicam, Sonora, Mexico, October 11, 12, 13, and 14, to be present in this important meeting, key for the future struggle of the original peoples of our continent.

Liberty and Justice for Atenco!
Liberty and Justice for Oaxaca!

For the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee—General Command of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation.
Sixth Commission of the EZLN

From the mountains of the Mexican SoutheastSubcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
Mexico, September of 2007.


LASC Position on the Merida Initiative

June 2008


As Congress enters the final stages to approve the Merida Initiative, an aid package to Mexico and Central America that seeks to further militarize the region under the guise of the U.S.’s “war on drugs/war on terror,” we find manifold reasons to stand in opposition:

1) Money for Central America through the Merida Initiative would mark a significant increase in funding for military/police equipment and training in the region at a time when the need is for anti-poverty and crime-prevention programs.

The Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico, builds on the troubling model of Plan Colombia, which has poured billions of dollars into a failed military approach to combating drugs while doing little to address rural poverty and urban unemployment. Central America has already become a satellite for U.S. military and police training in Latin America, despite the poor human rights records of some governments in the region. With the opening of the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in 2005, El Salvador—already the second largest recipient of military training in the region—became the hub of police training. The ILEA has the capacity to train 1500 students per year, more than the current Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation, also known as the SOA. U.S. officials refuse to acknowledge the corruption, misconduct and human rights violations committed by the Salvadoran police. To the contrary, the Merida Initiative now proposes to further support ILEA and further equip those police. Meanwhile, the Initiative wholly ignores the root problems that continue to compel regional involvement in drug trafficking—poverty and unemployment.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ireland: Referendum Regarding EU Lisbon Treaty

Ireland will be the only nation to vote through referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, an agreement that would streamline procedures in the EU. The treaty must be ratified by all 27 member states before it can take hold, but Ireland stands out as the only nation that is asking its citizens whether or not they approve. As noted in this article however, the population finds itself unsure regarding how to vote because the government has failed to communicate the significance of the vote or the substance of the treaty. Without proper communication and education, a referendum is void. Of course it is better to hold a referendum than not, but without tools or organizations through which to communicate the various stances on the issues, people do not know how to adequately represent their own interests. If this and future referenda fail to present the issues at hand before the vote, we are not taking sure passes toward direct democracy. -Editor

All Eyes on Ireland


In Europe, all governments will be looking to Dublin on Thursday when the Irish people go to the polls to vote yes or no to the Lisbon EU reform treaty. It is the only referendum being held on the treaty in the EU, and if it is voted down, there will be virtual panic in Brussels that could even, in the long run, lead to the collapse of the 27-member block. As former EU commissioner Peter Sutherland commented over the weekend, this Irish vote could be the "most crucial decision in international affairs in its history."

Perhaps this is a bit of hyperbole, but it's hard to think of a vote in Ireland's history that has affected people in other countries as much as this one will. If Ireland votes no to the reform treaty it would derail the entire process, which could force the treaty to be scrapped. And if the EU can't make these changes, which it deems necessary for it to function properly, the very future and purpose of the union would likely be called into question.

Brussels has been caught off guard by last week's polling, which showed that the number of people who intend to vote 'no' and those who will vote 'yes' are now about even, with a massive amount of people still undecided. At the begining of this process, few would have expected a snag in the ratification to come from Ireland, a country that has benefitted enormously from EU membership and is one of the most pro-EU countries in the block. But, the reason Ireland is the only nation putting the treaty approval to a public referendum isn't because it's particularly unpopular or controversial there, but because a quirk in its constitution requires it.

Direct Democracy

Of course in many ways, the confusion around this referendum in Ireland demonstrates exactly why every other EU country has avoided one: putting a complex, 300-page document's approval up for a vote by a public almost completely unfamiliar with its contents at its heart a bizarre concept. A majority of the people who have answered pollsters saying they would vote 'no' have cited the fact that they don't understand what the treaty is as the reason. A majority of the rest cited reasons that don't actually reflect the reality of what's in the treaty. Direct democracy at its finest.

Now the government is scrambling to push an old-fashioned 'get out the vote' effort with their constituencies. But without the time or resources to educate six million people about the vagueries of a 300-page tome, parliamentarians are going to have to resort to basic 'because i said so' mobilisation efforts, probably even personally driving their constituents to their polling station. And it will be almost the entire parliament that will be doing this, because every serious party in Ireland wants the referendum to pass. The only party in parliament that doesn't is Sinn Fein - the political wing of the IRA whose main issue is the unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic – and they only have six MPs.

The 'no' pushers are a loose coalition of various factions who have various issues with the treaty but are banding around a basic appeal to nationalism - the idea that a 'yes' vote on the treaty would effectively be surrendering Ireland's military independence and history of neutrality. This claim though is dubious, as the treaty doesn't obligate member nations into any specific foreign or military policy. There are other more legitmate objections, such as the idea that Ireland should have negotiated for special opt-outs like the UK did, or that Ireland occasionally losing a seat on the European Commission after it is shrunk is not in its best interest. But even these issues are a bit complicated, so the campaign for a 'no' vote is being framed around nationalism - as demonstrated by the posters around the city this past weekend. The vote is also seen by many to be a referendum on the government of new prime minister Brian Cowen, and many say they will vote 'no' just to send a message that they don't like the prime minister.

What Would Happen?

If Ireland does vote 'no' on Thursday, there are a few possible courses of action, none of which will be very palatable to Brussels. In the first, the government will just put it to another referendum again in a few months, changing nothing but campaigning more vigorously this time and making a massive effort to educate people about the treaty. This is what happened when Ireland voted no on the Nice Treaty in June 2001. A revote was held in October 2002, and this time turnout improved and Yes won by a longshot. A revote is the best outcome for Brussels, but of course it will delay the treaty's implementation and in the mean time the EU would be in a state of dysfunctional limbo. Plus, in the mean time other countries might feel pressured to reverse their position and hold a referendum as well, particularly the UK.

The second possibility is that the Irish government will attempt to negotiate special opt-outs for itself and then go back to the public with a referendum on a different agreement. Of course this would be hard to do since the grievances of the 'no' voters don't seem to be very specific, so the government would be unsure of what opt-outs it would need to ask for in order to make them happy. Brussels wouldn't be very happy with this outcome either because if every tiny country started demanding opt-outs from treaties in order to ratify them, the whole union would fall apart. The UK is a special circumstance, but if a country the size of Ireland, which has benefitted so much from EU membership (and particularly EU subsidies) then turned around and demanded special opt-outs, it would enrage many similar-sized countries on the continent.

The third possibility is the most dire, in fact it is what many in Brussels are calling the 'doomsday scenario.' If Ireland says 'there's no way we can get this treaty to pass a public vote,' Ireland would either have to change its constitution (which, since it would require another referendum, is extreemly unlikely) or the entire treaty would have to be scrapped. The problems that currently exist in the union would go unfixed. People would lose their faith in the union's workability, and it could eventually either degenerate into just a glorified free trade zone or cease to exist at all.

Across the Irish Sea

No matter which of these three scenarios followed it, much has been made of what a 'no' vote in Ireland would immediately mean in the UK. No doubt, it would be bad news for Gordon Brown, who has stuck to his guns and refused calls for a referendum in the UK. Besides keeping alive an issue Brown wants to go away, it would also give credence to the idea that he is trampling on a massive tide of public will. If even Ireland, a country that has benefitted enormously from EU membership, doesn't want this treaty, how can Brown force it down British throats?

But what is perhaps lost in this theorizing is that a 'no' vote in Ireland would be even worse news for the prime minister's rival, David Cameron. Because as much as a 'no' vote in Ireland would be a headache for Gordon Brown, it would be an absolute nightmare for David Cameron, and could very well derail the Tory win the country seems headed for in the next general election. As the Economist's Euroblog pointed out today, despite his public posturing demanding a referendum, everyone behind the scenes at Westminster knows that Cameron is desperate to avoid Europe becoming an issue in the next election. The Conservative party is historically split over this EU issue, with half being pro-Europe and half being Eurosceptic. Cameron does not want to see a civil war erupt in his party once again over ratification, particularly during an election when the nastier, more hard-line Eurosceptic Tories would come out of the woodwork with some not-too-nice words about the continent, which would be damaging to the "softer Tory" brand Cameron is trying to create. If the treaty still hasn't been ratified by the time Cameron came into office (if he did), he would of course be expected to call a referendum based on his posturing for a referendum up till now. Cameron of course knows that he can't call a referendum, because it would surely fail and derail the whole process and throw Britain's relationship with the EU, and the EU itself, into turmoil. But if the issue is still open by the time of the next general election, it may force his hand.

In any event, Thursday is going to be a key turning point in the EU. If the Irish vote yes, nothing should stop the Lisbon Treaty from coming into force in a matter of months, making the union a stronger, more functional body with the constitutional question finally behind it. If Ireland votes no, it could be the catalyst that eventually leads to the disintegation of the union.

Monday, June 9, 2008

EL SALVADOR: Women Defend Their Own Rights

In a country plagued by violence and oppression, women bear the brunt of machismo, economic frustration, joblessness and gang conflict. There is no way we can ask them to feel safe in a "democracy" built and maintained by men who violate women, even their own family members as cases revealed by Oxfam pointed out. Women and girls are creating their own safety network to educate and advocate for their rights. This can be seen as a first step toward their participation within society and politics. Within the current structure, they would be unsafe and oppressed. But by working within a social context that hopes to change individuals and communities through non-violence and education, women are creating a new structure that will create safe and open environments for their participation. The following article describes their successes thus far. - Editor

A New Campaign Led by Women

21 May 2008

A call for more resources and better laws, along with education for women and all young people, will reduce violence.


In 2005, Oxfam America joined with four other development and women’s rights organizations to address the vulnerability of women in El Salvador by challenging the government to provide better protection; training and mobilizing women and men to change the machista culture in the country; and raising public consciousness through the media, street theatre, and other public events. What emerged is a campaign under the slogan “Entre Vos y Yo, Una Vida Diferente” (“Between you and Me, A Different Life”) that is calling for new laws to protect women, as well as the financial commitment to back up the laws at both the local and national levels. Along with better laws and policies, members of the coalition are training public officials such as police officers, judges, doctors, and social workers to be more sensitive to gender violence in their work, recognize the signs of abuse, and take steps to stop crimes against women. Six communities have made public commitments to the campaign and have stepped up their efforts to help women affected by violence.

The Next Generation

One of the goals of the campaign is to increase the number of women who understand their rights and can effectively defend them as Adelina Ortiz did. To help educate the next generation, the campaign developed a program for teachers and schoolchildren in 2007 that teaches young people about how to prevent gender violence and what to do if they are attacked.

“We used to talk about gender equity here,” says Patricia Jovel. “But never gender violence.” Jovel is the director of a school participating in this new initiative in El Progreso, a village perched on the impossibly steep Quetzaltepeque volcano outside San Salvador. The school, where 850 students from 6 to 16 years old attend classes in two half-day groups, is a collection of six cinderblock classrooms topped by metal sheet roofing on either side of a terraced concrete courtyard sloping down the mountainside. It is a beehive of activity after classes, as without any level area for a playground, the students play tag around the central courtyard in the brisk mountain air. Jovel says the young women who sometimes have to walk home in the dark after school are now better equipped to fend off the young men offering drinks and cigarettes to them. “Thank God there have been no rapes,” she says.

The students have learned their lessons well: Karla Sanchez, 15, says it is a matter of her basic rights. “Everyone must respect our rights as children, girls, youth… We all have the same rights, and no one can violate them. And if something should happen, we know we can tell our parents, our teachers, or adults we trust. They are here to help us,” she explains patiently. And if these people can’t help, she knows where to go. She lists a number of institutions where she can turn for protection: the Human Rights Office; the National Police; and the Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women, known as ISDEMU. As she leaves, Sanchez articulates one essential idea about reporting gender violence: “We should not be afraid of what people say.”

In 2007, this pilot project in 53 schools exposed 25,000 students to the key messages of the campaign and trained 1,000 students and 1,000 teachers. The teachers now have incorporated violence prevention into their curriculum, and they work with the trained students. The pilot was supported by the Ministry of Education and was such a success that the minister decided to incorporate it into the public school curriculum nationwide.

Changes in Attitude

Sustained pressure to change societal attitudes toward women is a slow process. One effective way to question long-held ideas and beliefs is to educate those entrusted with defending the rights of women, protecting them in the community, and helping them if they are attacked or injured. These include public officials like police officers, judges, public health officials and doctors, and social workers. The campaign organized a formal training program at the University of Central America (UCA) in 2005, and 45 people attended.

Maritza de Vasquez, a psychologist at the family court in the city of San Marcos, just outside San Salvador, says this training has helped her assist the many women who come through her office. De Vasquez says that women are hearing the messages of the campaign and are taking action to protect themselves. In the steady stream of domestic violence and divorce cases she sees, there is a different attitude. “Women take the opportunity to come here and talk about their situation they come here right away to denounce it,” she says. “They are expressing their rights more openly now.”

Back in Ahuachapan, Ortiz grows corn and raises sheep to support her children and grandchildren. He husband is in jail awaiting a hearing. “I’d rather see him in prison than anywhere else,” Ortiz says. It was her participation in a sheep-raising program run by one of Oxfam America’s partners, Association of Salvadoran Agriculturalists (AGROSAL), that exposed Ortiz to the human rights training that helped her defend her own life and protect her children. She points out that in all her training to become a health worker, no one ever educated her about domestic violence or how to prevent it. “The training taught me that women have rights and people are obligated to respect them,” Ortiz says. “This made me act, to look for help, and thank God I found it.”

More on El Salvador's grassroots movements see:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

NIGERIA: Participatory Democracy Part of Sustainable Development

The people must have a say in how their country creates the necessary infrastructure to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to be successful and healthy. Leaders have historically manipulated the hopes of the population in order to gain political support, power, and money. But when the people have the opportunity to take part it structures of governance, suggestions regarding development are much more specific to the locality and the region instead of being imposed from above. Not only does this eliminate corruption, it ensures that the development will be sustainable and upheld by the people whom it directly effects. Nigeria is a popular topic because there have been many efforts at improving governance in that country, especially evidenced in this speech by Governor Aliyu. -Editor

Participatory democracy as an ingredient for sustainable development (1)

By Muazu Babangida Aliyu

Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu,
Niger State governor
Distinguished scholars, today’s event is indeed a historic opportunity for me to share my views and experience with you with a view to stimulating our collective thinking on how we can evolve and sustain a credible development process in Nigeria through participatory democracy. I believe for us to achieve that, we should look at such variables as transparency, accountability, leadership and good governance. This may require us to enlighten, educate and mobilize the common people, for everybody to understand their role and place in the community, and to understand what to expect and what is expected of them.

Let me emphase how strongly I share the view that unless we in the developing democracies are able to systematically evolve a political system that takes account of our socio-cultural peculiarities and characteristics, we run the risk of thinking that the wholesale robust economic and democratic ideas and precepts of the developed world would have the magic wand to solve our developmental problems

We thus may be under a dangerous illusion that we are making progress while in the actual sense, we may indeed be engaging the reverse gear and be going in the reverse direction, because of wrong applications to different settings and environments. In other words, we must domesticate democratic principles to take cognizance of excellent values and institutions.

We need to understand that although there are general elements and principles of democracy - participation and inclusiveness, responsiveness, free and fair multi-party elections, freedom of speech and association, respect for human rights, observance of rule of law, etc., there is no universal blueprint for development. Development, in my view, must be home grown, home-made and targeted at improving the lives of the people. Indeed, development must be people-conscious and people-centred. And this precisely underscores the critical role of participatory democracy in sustainable development.

But first, we should be clear about what participatory democracy implies. In my view, the term ‘participatory democracy’ is tautology as the two words describe the same thing - depicting a process that emphasises the broad participation (decision-making) of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems. Whereas, in the actual sense, any democracy would rely on the participation of its citizens, which is the etymological root of the term ‘democracy’, derived from the Greek ‘demos’ and ‘krotos’ – combined to suggest that “the people rule”. This provides the general basis for the simple and widely held definition of democracy as ‘a government of the people, for the people and by the people’.

As earlier pointed out, we must appreciate that there is no universal blueprint of development or democracy. What matters most is which works well in bringing about good democratic practices that promote good governance to facilitate sustainable development in different settings. What do I mean here? Some forms of democracy tend to limit citizens’ participation to voting, thereby leaving actual governance to politicians, who often do not know any better than the electorate; especially if we consider the general psyche of Nigerians in 1999 when politics was left in major parts to charlatans and the unemployed. Many politicians see victory at the polls as an opportunity to make money, to plunder the state and corruptly mismanage the resources. No, it is not so and should not be so. Politics is too important to be left to the Nigerian politicians alone.

My strong view in this regard is that the Gown must make conscious efforts to meet the Town. Intellectuals and academics must participate in politics if we really desire sustainable development. We need to refocus attention on community-based activity which strives to create the opportunity for all members of the society, and not just the politicians, to make meaningful contributions to decision-making in the overall interest of the society. There is no such term as ‘professional politician’ who most often give the impression that they have the monopoly of wisdom in providing leadership. We – academics, public servants, farmers, artisans, etc - must all stand up to challenge this misleading assertion, and exercise our obligation to participate in governance at our individual levels. We can do this effectively by paying close attention to the programmes and manifestos of the political parties, by monitoring and asking questions about the implementation of the campaign pledges, by sending written contributions on ways to improve governance and indeed by having sympathy for or being bonafide members of a political party of our choice.

In order for participatory democracy to attain legitimacy and reinvigorate democratic politics as a whole, the institutional frameworks have to be established and certain conditions need to be in place.

• Participatory arrangements need to be open at their foundation to everyone affected by such decisions and people made aware of how such decisions affect their lives.

• There is need for mutually-agreed and openly-negotiated rules to be upheld by everybody, and mechanisms for sanctioning deviants.

• There should be an enabling environment for participatory institutions and groups to monitor implementation of government’s decisions. We should create both formal and informal institutions that should monitor, checkmate public servants with the objective to enhance their performance.

• There should be general sharing of knowledge; where users and service workers, for instance, can share their ‘inside knowledge’ to improving services, thus making the public service reform process democratic. People must be carried along in the entire decision-making process – from the inception through the implementation and review

For this concept to take firm roots and to produce desired effects, every social unit of the society needs to imbibe democratic ideals. This should in effect start at the family level, with parents being open and involving all family members, particularly the children, in decisions that affect the entire household. It should then go on to the school system, where democratic principles should be applied in the entire running of the schools, particularly on matters that people are likely to have differing positions and interests.

The same should take place in our faith-based groups and associations as well as in the large civil society, so that democratic values become fully established and entrenched in the society, rather than limiting such to party politics. In that process, people develop confidence in themselves, in their institutions and in the leadership

I had an opportunity to travel to Brazil on study tours, first, on federation and federalism, and second, on public services. I noted that when participatory democracy was introduced in municipal administration of Brazil’s Porto Alegre, it enhanced transparency, reduced corruption, assisted in the redistribution of public resources from the high income areas of the city to the poor areas and improved the efficiency of the social services. Indeed, people were/are willing to blow the whistle on corrupt public officials and began/begin to see public property as the peoples’ property, with a sense of ownership being translated into positive protection and increased value

It is significant to stress that popular participation in politics not only enhances good governance – exposing corruption, challenging bureaucratic systems, keeping close to the real needs of the people – it also raises ‘political consciousness about economic power at every level’. What I observe in Niger State is that many people, many villages and indeed many communities know and understand their problems; they understand their needs and the solutions to their problems. However, many do not appreciate the concept of economic power – that every kobo allocated to their local government or state is actually their money; that they need to ask questions and to hold whoever is in charge of the resources responsible – be it the President, the governor, the local government chairman or even the councillor – for every expenditure or the lack of it

They should therefore demand not only for quality services to be delivered transparently but also respectfully, because government is about people and for the people and not about some esoteric ideas that have no bearing with peoples’ lives

We demonstrated this concept of people-centred and people-conscious politics during our recent local government elections which our party, PDP won in all 25 local government councils, for the first time in the political history of Niger State. How did we achieve that feat? Simply, we insisted on non-interference with the political process leading to the nomination of candidates; that is, non-imposition, and therefore discouraged ‘godfatherism’. But above all, we were sensitive to the expressed needs of our people and earned their confidence through demonstrated commitment to the improvement of the quality of their lives

The point to note in this is that when you demand, as an individual, to know the state of public expenditure simply for your selfish reasons, so that you can be ‘settled’ as a way of sharing with the corrupt ones, then you become compromised as one of them and you remain a beggar, - an apologist

Dr. Aliyu, the Niger State governor, delivered this paper at the Foundation Day lecture of the Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State on Saturday, May 10, 2008

Friday, June 6, 2008

KERALA: An Experiment in Mass Participation

Having posted various articles regarding participatory democracy in India, the tiny state of Kerala somehow escaped our radar until now. It turns out that the heterogeneous population of 32 million has had a unique opportunity to manage public policy and achieve tangible success on the heels of the Panchayathi Raj movement. The following article provides the unique history of development experienced in the region and points out the advantages of mass participation in politics as an example for other "developing" states. -Editor

Kerala's Silent Revolution

Rajaji Mathew Thomas

18 March, 2005


The significance of the tiny Indian state of Kerala’s experience is often underestimated in national and international discussions. One reason for this is that Kerala, not being an independent country, is often missed in policy analysis based on international comparisons. Yet Kerala, with it’s 32 million people, has a larger population than most countries in the world (even Canada), including many from which comparative lessons are often drawn for India, such as Sri Lanka (19 million) or Malaysia (23 million), not to speak of tiny Costa Rica or Singapore (less than 4 million each). Even South Korea, which receives a great deal of attention in the development literature, had about the same population size in the early sixties (when it’s rapid transformation began) as Kerala has today. To achieve as much Kerala has done for a population of it’s size is no mean record in world history.

This is basically because Kerala has been fortunate with it’s past. For one thing, bulk of what is now Kerala used to consist of two ‘native states’-Travancore and Cochin- formally outside British India.

They were not subjected to the general lack of interest of Whitehall officialdom in Indian elementary education (as opposed to higher education). When Rani Gouri Parvathi Bai, the young queen of Travancore, made her pioneering statement in 1817 on the importance of basic education, there was no need to bring that policy initiative in line with what was happening in the rest of India, under the Raj. (The independence from general British Indian policy applied not only to the princely rulers of these states, but also to the British ‘Residents’ in Trivandrum. The Residents could consider independent initiatives, and indeed in the big move in Travancore in the direction of elementary education in the early nineteenth centaury, the Resident Mr. Munro played as extremely supportive – and possibly even catalytic role. There is some evidence that he drafted Parvathi Bai’s 1817 statement, whether or not the initiative was also his.)

Kerala has also been fortunate in having strong social movements that concentrated on educational advancement – along with general emancipation – of the lower castes, and this has been a special feature of left-wing and radical political movements in Kerala. It has also profiled from a tradition of openness to the world, which has included welcoming early Christians (at least from the fourth centaury), Jews (from shortly after the fall of Jerusalem), and Muslims (from the day of early Arab trading, with settlers coming as economic participants rather than as military conquerors). Into this rather receptive environment, the extensive educational efforts of Christian missionaries, particularly in the nineteenth centaury, fitted comfortably. Kerala has also benefited from the matrilineal tradition of property inheritance for an important part of the community in the past. While the Nairs constitute about 20 percent of the total population, and the practice has changed a good deal in recent years, nevertheless the social and political influence of a long tradition of this kind, which goes against the conventional Indian norms, must not be underestimated.

Having good luck in one’s history is not, however, a policy parameter that one can command. Those who see a unique and unrepeatable pattern in Kerala’s remarkable record of social progress can point to the very special nature of it’s past, and suggest that other states can learn rather little from it. This, however, would be quite the wrong conclusion to draw from Kerala’s heterogeneous history. When the state of Kerala was created in independent India, it included not only the erstwhile native states of Travancore and Cochin, but also - on linguistic grounds – the region of Malabar from the old province of Madras in British India (later Tamil Nadu). The Malabar region, transferred from the Raj, was at that time very much behind Travancore and Cochin in terms of literacy, life expectancy, and other achievements that make Kerala so special. But by the eighties, Malabar had ‘caught up’ with the rest of Kerala to such an extend that it could no longer be seen in divergent terms. The initiatives that the state government of Kerala took, under different ‘managements’ (led by the Communist Party as well as by the Congress), succeeded in bringing Malabar rather at par with the rest of Kerala over a short period of time. So there is a lesson here that is not imprisoned in the fixity of history. Other past of India can indeed learn a lot from Kerala’s experience on what can be done here and now by determined public action.

It is also worth noting that while Karala was already quite advanced compared with British India at the time of independence, much of the great achievements of Kerala that are so admired now are the results of post-independence public policies. In fact, in the fifties Kerala adult literacy rate was around 50 percent compared with over 90 percent now, it’s life expectancy at birth was 44 years vis-à-vis 74 now and it’s birth rate was 32 as opposed to 18 now. Kerala did have a good start, but the policies that have made it’s achievements so extraordinary today are, to a great extend, the products of post- independence political decisions and public action[1].

Any student of history can observe participation of huge masses in public action in determining political decision that has been instrumental in transforming Kerala to the present state. Let it be the mass movements, of late fifties, sixties and early seventies, for radical land reforms or for liberating the educational system from the clutches of powerful managements. This has been proven true in the complete literacy programme, or in the people’s science movement and in the political mobilization to guarantee eight-hour working day and statutory minimum wage for agricultural labour. These are the rich experiences of the Kerala society, which forms the foundation, for moving ahead to the new era of participation in further developments of it’s social, political and economic life.

Peoples Plan Movement: An experiment in mass participation.

The much-debated peoples plan movement stands tall among all experiments in Kerala in the mobilization of masses in the process of participatory democracy and decentralized planning. The enactment of 1994 Kerala Panchayathi Raj – Municipal act, in tune with the 73, 74 constitutional amendment of 1992, opened up great opportunity for people to participate directly in the process of governess at the local self-government level. Conceived by the then Left Democratic Front government, of 1996-2001, the People’s Plan Movement was aimed at empowering people by allowing them the freedom of choice in the selection and formation of development projects in accordance with their concrete situations. By allocating about 40 percent of the state budget and a considerable number of state government employs to the local self governments, from different departments, significant efforts were made by the state government to empower the system with resource, powers and strength. Kerala, a highly political and open society, could not save the movement from its share of controversy. Despite all genuine criticism and reservations expressed by several quarters, it will be impossible to reverse the process of mass participation in the decentralized plan movement. Come whatever the change there may be, in its name, due to political consideration, this form of participation shall remain and strengthened in the days to come. Further it has already set in motion a chain of action and reaction affecting the entire spectrum of social, political and economic life of Kerala.

Major flaw of the much-celebrated Peoples Plan Movement was that, due to several reasons it could not attract middle and upper class sections, youth and students people with higher education and those with expertise and skill who could have been contributed to the process. This had its adverse impact on the movements’ quality and vibrancy. The movement had been dumped as one with the sole purpose of doling out benefits to individual political supporters, though the fact is largely otherwise. Secondly, the experts committees created in accordance with provisions of people’s plan, mainly composed of retired government officials, instead of assisting the elected local self governments, in several cases, usurped powers and even succeeded in blocking the process of participatory democracy and dwarfed the elected bodies.

Despite all those flows mentioned, the people’s plan movement made it’s definitive mark in improving grass root level participatory democracy, involving masses in the planning and execution of developmental projects; and improvement, in real terms, in the lives of a large number of marginalized. It was instrumental in drawing huge number of masses, especially women, who never had enjoyed in their life, meaningful participation in public action other than routine ritual of voting once in five years.

With the change in government, from Left Democratic Front to United Democratic Front, the movement has been re-christened as ‘Kerala Development Project’. Though, the basic character of the movement remain unaltered, the improper flow of state funds to the local self governments and the shift in priorities and perspective of the reigning government has dampened the enthusiasm that has been generated among the people of the state.

Participation : Kerala Women in Focus.

In comparison, with many other states, women in Kerala, are highly literate and educated. According to the 2001 census they outnumber male population with 1058 per every 1000. Manipur is the only other state in India with a higher female population than men. Female foeticide is almost unheard off. Dowry system, though prevalent among almost all cast and religious communities, dowry related murders and other atrocities are comparatively lower. However this is no indication to the statues of women n the family or in society. Neither it indicate absence of discrimination, elimination of atrocious acts against women including sexual harassment and exploitation. They still are economically underprivileged and prone to exploitation.

However, it is interesting for a keen observer of Kerala scenario to notice the radical shift, taking place, in the socio-economic and political status of women. And it is no exaggeration to state that, it is a silent revolution in the making. The women self-help group’s, especially the state supported ‘Kudumbasree’ project that are basically aimed at micro credit facility among women has become the main catalyst in the process. Their participatory public action has almost effectively eliminated cutthroat moneylenders from outside the state who had deep pen iteration in communities. This act put an end to the unproductive outflow of hard earned money from the state. They have provided women a new sense of self-respect, put in place a voluntary but efficient organizational system and infused new strength in them. This has been slowly being transformed in to determined socio-political action.

The new found economic freedom, organizational strength and exposures to the outside world, other than the traditional domain, is slowly leading them to micro enterprises-that are caring the family, society, above all the fragile environment, without forcing them to the migratory tendencies for bread winning jobs. With in a short span of years the money accumulated in banks by the women self-help groups have exceeded few hundred crores of rupees. Interestingly, now public sector banks are coming forward to advance capital lending for their enterprises and initiative with no collateral security. Further, in the Kudumbasree project circles itself, there is a thinking of establishing an exclusive bank catering entirely to the needs of women self-help groups. The enthusiastic participation of women in the grass-root level democratic process and their willingness to part-take in public action is not only surpassing the traditional role of men but also promise to change the stagnating socio-political and economic scenario of the state.

It is worth noticing the ongoing movement initiated by women groups, which mobilizes means of women, to establish Vigilance Committees and Family Empowerment Forum at each and every local self-government level. These committees empowered with statutory powers, equivalent to a civil court, will have great impact in ensuring gender equality, eliminating violence and atrocities on women and ending their marginalized existence at home and society. Further, if succeed, the movement will prove the power of public participation of women in getting things done were the state fail.

Mass Participation in altering the decadent state policies: The Kerala Experience.

Kerala has been witness to informed and voluntary public participation and action in altering the state policies that are against the interest of people, state and the nature and ecosystem itself. The mass opposition to the exploitation of invaluable ground water by the profit hungry multi-national Coco Cola; the use of deadly pesticides like Endosulphan; the move to extract mineral wealth from the coastal sands of Kerala, with no regard to grave consequences; the projects to build hydroelectric projects disregarding it’s implication to the rarest of rare forests; the proposal to build an Express Way dividing the narrow strip of land that is Kerala with no thought of its social, economic and environmental coast; the public pressure that is building up against polluting industries which are destroying our land, water sources and the nature itself are some resistance movement that have been witnessing mass participation worth mentioning.

The scenario gives a picture of public participation not only for the success of state sponsored programmes but also critical to its rational in the larger interest of people. Rational and informed participation in socio-political and economic life in Kerala requires patient study and analysis in order to understand an evolving society.

-Rajaji Mathew Thomas
Thenguvilayil House
Kannara.P.O, 680 652
Thrissur, Kerala.
Phone: 0487 2284207, Cell: 9895313696

[1] India: Development and Participation.