Bernal, The tyranny of the political patronage system

Protesters in Lima, the capital of Peru, where the norm is that members of the political caste understand graft as the ordinary thing that they do. Odebrecht finally overflowed the public disgust with that, and calling out the riot squad only made it worse fot the politicians. Wikimedia photo.

Authoritarian patronage

by Miguel Antonio Bernal

Patronage, Rodrigo Borja tells us in his Encyclopedia of Politics: “is a style of doing politics that consists of generating loyalty and gratitude in population groups, in exchange for favors that politicians give or offer them. It is the formation or promotion of these groups to support electoral or government political actions. Some have defined it as the “exchange of votes for goods or services.”

In light of this definition, there is no doubt that in Panama we have an electoral system that is based on and promotes the necessary clientele for the solidity of this practice. But, if we dig around and reflect a little more, we will find that Panama has a political patronage government in its full scope: concept, expression and action.

The Creole Leviathan – in its incessant search for authoritarian solutions — managed with the military coup of 1968, among other things, to disintegrate the municipal system of the time and, by imposing the corregimiento to replace the municipality, established a political patronage system to hijack any democracy that has citizen participation.

The constitution imposed in 1972, with its patching reforms of 1983, endorsed by the party and the plutocracy, imposed an authoritarian constitutionalism which persists to this day. It’scharacterized by the absolute absence of responsibility of the rulers towards the citizen. The ruling elites exercise violence and hide and hide themselves behind their imposed militaristic constitution.

That authoritarian constitutionalism, about which Mark Tushnet tells us, and about which we will return in future writings, has found in the Panamanian population the clients for the political patronage that today stifles the possibilities of a democratic constitutional state of law. That is, patronage denies us the basis to make a qualitative leap as a society, as a country, as a state.

The important work of analyzing and defining the role of political patronage in our Panama should help us to understand, criticize and transform the basis of the irrational exercise of political power. It uses a “liberal democratic constitution” (CB Pedreschi dixit) where authoritarianism is the prevailing rule. It prevents substantial progress towards real and effective citizen participation.

The “Bicentennial Pact,” as they want to call it, is their new channel to direct the citizen clamor for a true transformation of the state. It can be nothing more than a new way to evade the imperative need for a constituent process that leads us to break with political patronage and its constitutionalized authoritarianism.


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