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Voice and Vote: Decentralization and Participation in Post-Fujimori Peru

Voice and Vote: Decentralization and Participation in Post-Fujimori Peru

by Stephanie McNulty

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In the months following disgraced ex-President Alberto Fujimori's flight to Japan, Peru had a political crisis on its hands. The newly elected government that came together in mid-2001 faced a skeptical and suspicious public, with no magic bullet for achieving legitimacy. Many argued that the future of democracy was at stake, and that the government's ability to


In the months following disgraced ex-President Alberto Fujimori's flight to Japan, Peru had a political crisis on its hands. The newly elected government that came together in mid-2001 faced a skeptical and suspicious public, with no magic bullet for achieving legitimacy. Many argued that the future of democracy was at stake, and that the government's ability to decentralize and incorporate new actors in decision-making processes was critical. Toward that end, the country's political elite devolved power to subnational governments and designed new institutions to encourage broader citizen participation. By 2002, Peru's participatory decentralization reform (PDR) was finalized and the experiment began.

This book explores the possibilities and limitations of the decision to restructure political systems in a way that promotes participation. The analysis also demonstrates the power that political, historical, and institutional factors can have in the design and outcomes of participatory institutions. Using original data from six regions of Peru, political scientist Stephanie McNulty documents variation in PDR implementation, delves into the factors that explain this variation, and points to regional factors as prime determinants in the success or failure of participatory institutions.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[I]ntriguing . . . This book provides a very useful introduction to the topic under study, providing an important contribution to a key aspect of contemporary Peruvian democracy. It also has the not inconsiderable virtues of being written in straightforward jargon-free English and organised in a clear and logical fashion."—John Crabtree, Journal of Latin American Studies

"Thoughtful and informed, Stephanie McNulty's book expertly argues that the post-Fujimori reforms set the stage for various regions in Peru to achieve effective leadership and a collaborative, organized civil society, critical to the establishment of a virtuous cycle of participation. McNulty's impressive research spans both multi-year observation at Peru's grassroots and comparative analysis across the globe."—Cynthia McClintock, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, and Director, Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program, George Washington University

"Voice and Vote represents an impressive contribution to the literatures on decentralization and participatory democracy by showing what happens when participatory reforms are mandated from above rather than demanded from below. McNulty helps us understand why politicians decentralized, what types of institutions they designed, and why participation increased in some regions but not in others."—Kent Eaton, University of California, Santa Cruz

"This book persuasively weaves together debates on decentralization and participatory governance to expand our understanding of how negotiations among Peru's national politicians during a national political crisis produced two forms of participatory governance. McNulty's insightful analysis is a must-read for students and scholars seeking to understand how top-down participatory governance institutions create opportunities and risks for governments and civil society activists as they seek to improve the quality of democracy."—Brian Wampler, Boise State University

"Those interested in learning about the key issues of decentralization and its implementation, the politics of Peru, and/or the nitty-gritty details of political development processes will benefit from this research. . . Recommended."—S. M. Wheeler, Choice

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Stanford University Press
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

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Voice and Vote

By Stephanie L. McNulty

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2011 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7397-3

Chapter One


IN LATE 2000 and early 2001, Peru faced a political crisis. The former president, Alberto Fujimori, had fled the country in disgrace and faxed his resignation to Congress after evidence surfaced that he and his chief of security had bribed legislators, judges, and the media. Congress rejected his resignation and then ousted him, calling him "unfit" to govern the country. Allegations of corruption and human rights violations by party politicians dominated the headlines. The international media followed the crisis closely, noting that videos of the corruption "scandalized" the country and calling Peru "crisis-ridden" later that year.

After Fujimori left, Peruvians were extremely dissatisfied with their political system. Congress and the judiciary struggled to regain legitimacy and autonomy after ten years of authoritarian rule. Many argued that the future of democracy in Peru partly rested on its ability to decentralize its highly centralized government and incorporate new actors into decision-making processes. Peruvians were not alone. Their neighbors in Ecuador and Bolivia were also clamoring for change. Farther away in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, citizens of the Philippines, the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, and Tanzania were calling for the end of politics as usual. Representative political institutions no longer met the demands of citizens who wanted their voices to finally be heard.

In Peru, a newly elected government decided to meet the crisis head-on. Influenced by participatory models of governance, such as the experience with participatory bud gets in areas of Brazil, local councils in the Philippines, and town hall meetings in the United States, the newly empowered political elite designed a comprehensive decentralization reform that explicitly mixes representative and participatory democratic institutions. As one Peruvian congressman stated during Congressional debates:

This proposal defends participatory democracy within the regional governments by establishing an adequate combination of representative democracy by those who have been elected and participatory democracy with the presence of civil society (December 17, 2002; italics mine).

By 2002, the reform—an example of what I call "participatory decentralization reforms," or PDRs—had been finalized.

Peru's PDR restructures the state in several ways. In addition to empowering several levels of new governments—including regions (akin to states in the United States), provinces (akin to counties), and municipalities (akin to cities)—the reform also creates new ways for civil society to participate formally in regional and local decision-making processes. As such, it is one of the most ambitious examples of a participatory decentralization reform in recent history.

Peruvians designed and implemented several new participatory institutions (PIs) at the regional and local level. These institutions are also starting to appear around the world. As Brian Wampler (2007a, 57–58) writes, "directly incorporating citizens into participatory decision-making venues has been a central feature of institutional innovations in Brazil, South Africa, Spain, Venezuela, Indonesia, and other new democracies over the past two de cades."

This book focuses on two PIs in the newly created regions: (1) a mandatory participatory budgeting process, in which civil society actors participate in regional bud get planning; and (2) Regional Coordination Councils (Consejos de Coordinacion Regional, or CCRs), which bring together mayors and elected civil society representatives twice a year to discuss development plans and bud gets. These new participatory institutions are considered by some to be the real success stories of the reform (PRODES 2007a, 2009).


The Peruvian experience presents a multilayered story about why countries decentralize, why particular designs are chosen, and the constraints that these designs put into place. It also demonstrates the power that local factors can have in overcoming these constraints once the reform starts to be implemented around the country. The book begins by addressing national-level design issues. Specifically, Part 2 tackles three questions:

1. What explains national policy-makers' decision to devolve power to regional governmental and societal actors through constitutional reform?

2. What factors help us understand the particular design of the participatory institutions?

3. How does this design then condition the implementation of the reform?

The analysis highlights the important role that electoral strategies and domestic politics play in the origin and outcome of PDRs. In answering the first question, I argue that the post-Fujimori democratization process provided the right context, or opportunity structure, for this kind of reform. A window of opportunity opened for reform-minded agents. National politicians, specifically presidential candidates, then made strategic electoral calculations to push through a constitutional decentralization reform very quickly after Fujimori fled the country. Thus, the case suggests that in countries like Peru, with weak political parties and few subnational political elites, strategic calculations by national political elites explain the decision to decentralize.

What led these same reformers to embrace participation in the early phases of the reform? Again, the return to democratic rule provided the opportunity structure. Three additional factors combine to help us understand the emergence of a PDR in this case: (1) experiences with corporate structures in the 1970s and 1980s; (2) the experiences of some participatory planning processes in a few localities in Peru during the 1980s and 1990s, some of which implemented by these very reformers; and, in the case of the participatory bud get, (3) institutional relations between the Ministry of Economy and Finance and Congress.

Debates in Congress also help us understand the specific PI designs that emerged during the reform process. Congressional debate surrounding the PIs became politically charged at times, especially as regional elections approached. When debating the CCR design, a group of politicians intervened to grant civil society voice but no vote. Some resisted granting civil society more power for ideological reasons; others worried that the CCRs might grant too much power to potential competitors in the regions. The participatory bud get, however, was viewed widely as a technical process and never seen as potentially threatening the power of elected officials. As a result, civil society retained voice and vote. The analysis demonstrates the power that political strategies—motivated by both ideology and the fear of losing power—have when undertaking specific PI design issues.

When we explore the outcomes of the PIs, we see that design does matter. A national-level analysis of the participatory bud get shows that it has emerged in most cases as an institution with the potential to help democratize Peru and increase participation. In contrast, the CCRs are weak and in effective in most regions of the country. Thus, to understand PDR outcomes we first need to look at the genesis and evolution of the design. Politics affect design, and design affects outcomes.

Part 3 of the book explores the implementation of the reform in more detail. It asks two additional questions: (1) How are the newly created participatory institutions unfolding in six of Peru's new regional governments? (2) What factors contribute to the successful implementation of participatory institutions in these cases?

When we look more closely, we see that some regions have overcome design constraints and are implementing the participatory institutions better than others. In some regions, the CCRs are actually emerging as a dynamic and innovative space for collaboration between civil society and the state. In other regions, governments are restricting participation in or manipulating the budget process to fund their own projects. Using data from six regions of Peru, this book explores the factors that allow these more successful regions to overcome design constraints or avoid legal requirements when implementing these new institutions. I argue that in the most successful cases, two regional factors—leadership and a collaborative and organized civil society—create a virtuous cycle of participation that leads to the successful implementation of the CCRs and the participatory bud get.

Analyzing the Peru case both confirms previous research and adds new findings and research debates to scholarship on decentralization. Studying Peru's experience builds our knowledge of the strengths and limitations of decentralization generally and of participatory decentralization reforms more specifically. This book's extensive data on regional politics in Peru—a level of government oft en overlooked in most existing studies about participatory institutions—moves the discussion beyond conventional wisdom in several ways. It demonstrates that not only leftist leaders implement these institutions; rather, politicians from the entire political spectrum use these institutions to improve their image and expand their electoral base. Further, although it is true that successful institutions necessitate some level of cooperation and coordination within the regional civil society, this cooperation and organization can be relatively new. This finding goes against some arguments about social capital that suggest that the benefits of organizing can only be seen after long periods of time.

This book also provides useful information about the successful implementation of participatory institutions in general—whether part of a decentralization package or not. Similar innovations exist in several other Latin American countries (for example, Guatemala, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil) and around the world (for example, France, Spain, and Canada). Neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia are experimenting with new ways of involving citizens in decision-making at the local level. The 2009 military coup in Honduras took place in part as a response to the desire to implement participatory democracy in this small Central American country. We will surely see a rise in these efforts in more countries around the world as participatory models of governance are seen as potential solutions to the problems with representative democratic institutions. In many ways, this study helps us understand the conditions that will increase the chances for success for the institutions that emerge from these efforts.

These issues are important to policy-makers and international development organizations, such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank. USAID is actively supporting Peru's decentralization efforts—and similar efforts around the world—through several projects. Similarly, multilateral development banks spend billions of dollars promoting decentralization reforms around the world. According to the World Bank's website, from 1997 to 2003 more than 190 projects, totaling more than 2.5 billion dollars, had decentralization components (World Bank "Bank Projects"). Donors tend to assume that decentralization improves democracy and governance and that participatory institutions will ensure accountability and transparency in the developing world. Yet, more data are needed to assess this assumption. The conclusion of this book provides policy recommendations that can help strengthen similar experiments in other parts of the world.


How is a participatory decentralization reform differentiated from other reforms that devolve power to subnational governments? In many ways they are part and parcel of the wave of decentralization reforms taking place around the world. However, two necessary dimensions characterize PDRs: decentralization and mandated participation. Reformers must devolve new powers to subnational levels of government and mandate new forms of citizen participation in these governments. Reformers generally design new institutions to channel citizen participation and give citizens decision-making power in governmental processes. In other words, these reforms find new ways to give both voice and vote in subnational decision-making processes to societal actors.

There are several similar cases of this kind of reform. In Bolivia, reformers coupled decentralization with efforts to increase civil society's participation. The Popular Participation Law, passed in 1994, grants formal power to "territorial base organizations," including indigenous, campesino, and neighborhood groups, and assigns them important functions in municipal government processes. Additionally, representatives of these organizations form oversight committees to monitor and control the use of local funds. Another effort took place in the Philippines, where the government formally institutionalized the participation of civil society organizations (CSOs) at the local level as part of its 1991 local government reform. Accredited organizations participate in development councils, work on councils that set up local contracts and bids, deliver social ser vices, and manage local projects (Angeles and Magno 2004). Other cases of PDRs include the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, South Africa, and Uganda. By including both participatory bud gets and coordination councils (as well as other PIs that are not studied in this book), Peru has passed one of the most ambitious examples to date of a PDR.

PDRs, therefore, represent one kind of decentralization. Their key features are top-down, mandated participation in subnational governments as part of a legal framework. The newly empowered governments are required to implement the PIs. These cases can be distinguished from cases where innovative new forms of participation emerged after a decentralization reform, such as the participatory bud get in Brazil and in municipalities around Mexico. The Brazilian and Mexican experiences stemmed from grass-roots local innovations that encourage citizen participation after a reform. PDRs set up these channels as part of the actual reform package.

This innovative policy mix is heavily influenced by democratic theories that stress direct, or participatory, democracy. Inspired by the thought of political philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and James Harrington, several political theorists have pointed to the need for citizen participation beyond elections. They argue that a country can hold competitive elections, but citizens may still not adequately participate in the system (Avritzer 2002; Barber 1984; O'Donnell 1994). Scholars, activists, and policy-makers, especially since the 1970s, have come forth to call for complementary strategies: implementing participatory approaches to complement and strengthen representative institutions. Binding decision-making power is devolved to these new actors through institutions that formalize society's participation.

However, the Peru case demonstrates that mandated participation, when stemming from top-down national political forces, does not always translate to meaningful citizen participation in practice. It is no surprise to those who study the developing world that laws are not always implemented as intended after passage. Thus, in many countries these new forms of participation are working well in some areas of the country, yet barely functioning in others. Decisions to design and pass PDRs as well as their implementation are the main topics of this book.


This book contributes to two major strands of theoretical analysis: the extant literature that explores the decision-making process that leads to decentralization reforms, as well as an emerging body of literature on participatory institutions.


Excerpted from Voice and Vote by Stephanie L. McNulty Copyright © 2011 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Stephanie McNulty is Assistant Professor of Government at Franklin and Marshall College.

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