Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Political Participation, Elections and Violence

04 March 2009 | 4:00pm - 6:00pm | Seminar

Room 11.14, Social Sciences Building

Part of the Security, Development and Democracy Seminar Series

The aim of this session is to discuss how violence threatens the democratic process of free elections, and how such threats can be minimised.

Jenny Pearce is an expert on the politics of Latin America; Michael Meadowcroft has been involved in election monitoring in various 'hotspots' throughout the world, and is a former Liberal-Democratic MP for West Leeds; Pablo San Martin is an expert on the politics of ETA, the movement for Basque nationalism.

Speaker: Dr. Jenny Pearce, Bradford University
Speaker: Michael Meadowcroft, University of Leeds
Speaker: Dr. Pablo San Martin, University of Leeds
Discussant: Dr. Hendrik Kraetzschmar, University of Leeds

'Participation under fire: Exploring the democratic effects of multiple violences in Latin America'
Professor Jenny Pearce, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford

Latin America has one of the highest levels of violence in the world; the number of people killed by gun crime in Central and South America is four times the world average according to the UN.  Political violence has a central place in the history of nation building in Latin America. However, there has been a shift since the much acclaimed democratic transitions of the 1980s from the focus on political violence by state and non state actors to one on drugs, crime, urban crisis and civil war and its legacy.  This paper argues that violence is a variable which manifests itself across multiple spaces of socialization and transmits itself easily through the generations, notably through social constructions of gender identities. There is a connection, albeit complex, between the persistent violences in all those spheres (from family, to community, to neighbourhood, to school to that of nation state and even today the structure of violent forms of market entrepreneurship). This has a particular impact on political participation, confidence in democratic institutions and the character of the public sphere itself. This paper will explore the democratic effects of these multiple violences in Latin America, drawing on fieldwork in Guatemala and Colombia.

'Violence, Political Participation and Elections in the Basque Country'
Dr. Pablo San Martin, Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, University of Leeds.

Dr. San Martin will be talking about the attempts by ETA and the radical nationalist left to influence the political process in the context of the post-Bidart crisis strategy known as 'socialization of fear'. He will be analysing the politics of fear in the Basque Country.

'Can ballots beat bullets?'
Michael Meadowcroft, University of Leeds

1. Violence is endemic in all human societies even though its level and its incidence vary considerably. Its interface with democracy is significant in that one key characteristic of violence is that it often occurs when an individual or a group of individuals cannot achieve democratically what they can gain through violence. This ranges from the “excluded” in our Western European and North American democracies who increasingly believe that their participation in the democratic process is unlikely in any foreseeable circumstance to deliver a satisfactory level of existence, to the private - and sometimes state - armies of Africa and Asia who routinely resort to armed force to grasp a country’s resources for themselves and who have the military resources to deny democratic participation to citizens.

2. The claims of democracy certainly have a moral imperative but they also can claim to be the only means of establishing a lasting general peace and a secure communal environment. Only the acceptance of pluralism, diversity, alternance  and the secular state can underpin a democracy within which choices can be made and sustained. Peacemakers and peace keepers rely primarily on this latter argument for their mandate in areas of violence and chaos.

3. Without the infrastructure of the democratic state - a civil service, a judiciary, a fair electoral system, an independent electoral commission, political parties based on philosophy, a parliamentary process, accountable security forces and sustainable civil society - the democratic process cannot be sustained for sufficient length of time to become entrenched. Time can be bought by the introduction of externally financed and supported elections but unless the time thus gained is utilised then the electoral process will soon become flawed and manipulated.

4. The electoral process can be a significant instrument by which violence can be diminished but only if its operation and its consequences are accepted by the major forces - military as well as political - within a country. Otherwise it is very tangential to the violent struggles that beset many countries. In some circumstances the introduction of elections can make the situation worse: if, for instance, elections make legitimate the domination of a single tribe.

5. Not enough attention has been paid to the place of elections within the broader processes of containment, neutralisation, political development and the peace process generally. Elections are very often a visible and attractive "project" which are perceived as a "good thing" and, as such, can be seized upon for funding by the international community with the best of motives. Without tackling the broader perspectives the substantial resources being committed to electoral projects cannot deliver long term results.

Location Details

Room 11.14 is located on Level 11 of the Social Sciences Building

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