Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Philippines' Low Intensity Democracy

Ha! In my paper on US foreign policy, democratisation and the Middle East, I stumble across this is article published in the Third World Quarterly journal. It was written in 1992 - fifteen years ago, but it could be describing what is happening this very moment.

By serependity (i.e. tadhana) this article is written by the co-author of the first ever book I've ever read on political economy - Barry Gills, and a Filipino scholar activist, Joel Rocamora.

The authors' case study of Argentina, Guatemala, the Philippines and South Korea show that the model of democracy as defined in the West is incompatible with "societies characterised by extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny elite (Gills & Rocamora 1992: 514)." Here are the defining characteristics of a low intensity democracy:
Low intensity democracy is a fragile political system. On the one hand, the new democratic order widens the space for popular mobilisation and therefore raises the possibility of increased social instability as radical demands threatening the establishment are articulated. On the other hand, the military hovers over the scene...always suspicious of the lessening of social control and the threat to the established interests this entails. The military wields a silent veto over the extent of change permissable under low intensity democracy.

The conservative leaders of the democracies must constantly look over their shoulders to the barrakcs of and the officers' club. Thus, the new democratic order is threatened with destabilisation from both the left and the right...Their leanings are, however, distinctively to the right and to ruling coalitions with the military. The civilian conservative government is usually a willing accomplice to the military. Together, they and the business elite form a hegemonic bloc. The difference between the previous dictatorships and the new 'democratic' regimes lies in the relationship between these three fractions of the elite (Gills & Rocamora 1992: 514).
Oh, and here's the money quote. Remember, this was written fifteen years ago.
Despite what may seem to be major changes, precious little real change occurs under a regime of low intensity democracy. The maxim of the 'enlightened' elite is that 'the more things change, the more they stay the same (Gills & Rocamora 1992: 519).'

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