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Omnia

How do political parties influence social policy development?

Victor Camilo Enriquez Zutta

09/09/2018

Volumen 4 - Nº 41 sep./2018
ISSN: 2422-2216

How do political parties influence social policy development?

MSc Social Policy and Development – The London School of Economics Double Bachelors Degree in Finance and International Trade / Business Management – Universidad del Rosario

The relevance and decision making power that political parties (PP) have in developed and developing countries, establishes the way how social policy (SP) development will be planned, structured and implemented. This essay aims to present different views from literature related to this subject and give specific examples of the influence of PP in SP in the world and more specifically in Colombia. The above, looking to define in what manner and under which circumstances political groups, from diverse ideologies, lead the evolution of SP. This paper will be based in the partisan theory presented by Francis Castles, the views of Thomas and Grindle related to decision making process of governments and practical examples that offer tangible facts aligned with SP development. It begins defining some key terms to run the discussion and presenting theories aligned with PP and SP. Then, it offers a view about the Chinese model and centre the discussion in the Colombian case. Finally, the essay closes with a general conclusion that based on the literature, allows determining how PP influence SP development.

From different definitions that the literature has presented about SP, one of the clearest and understandable is the one of Hartley Dean. SP as the study of human wellbeing, the social relations necessary for wellbeing and the system by which wellbeing may be promoted. Its goal is to maximize people’s chances of a good life (Dean 2006, 11-12). According with PP, they are defined as permanent associations of citizens that are based on free membership and a programme, and which are anxious to occupy through the path of elections, the politically decisive positions of the country with their team of leaders, in order to materialize suggestions for resolving outstanding problems (Hofmeister and Grabow 201, 11). Is important to clarify that this PP’s definition contemplates a democratic scenario, however there are cases as the Chinese where this scenario doesn’t apply but the general definition of PP fits its model.

PP and SP, are related with the “partisan theory” which contemplate that PP are major determinants of the timing, substance, expansion and retrenchment of the welfare state (Shcmidt 2010, 212). This serves as evidence to confirm the influence of PP in SP, with a positive correlation that drives the wellbeing of societies. Thus, the making decisions process is present in every stage of SP development. Such process includes agenda, decisions and implementation stages where the PP or political elites make authoritative decisions in government (Grindle and Thomas 1991, 19).

Partisan theory denotes nine key prepositions that describe why and how PP, in fact, do influence SP. They maintain specific goals aligned with the policies to be implanted, once they will be in power. Such goals are note aligned with those of their competitors and focus to keep them in power. Their implemented policies bring outputs and outcomes that can change in the case of internal changes in PP. For example, policies can be easily implemented if the government in power has the support of PP. Besides, the effects of PP over SP implementation contemplate long and short-term effects that are determined by the government seated in power or the position of the PP (Shcmidt 2010, 212). The description of the partisan theory, then suggests clears effects of the strong influence that PP have in the SP process. These effects are linked to ideologies, government programs, power retention and differentiated interests that lead to a variety of policy results.

According with Grindle and Thomas theory of political approach is possible to find another effect regarding how PP determine SP development. The authors present two models of policy choice that include a range of approaches where PP are actors. Society-centered explanation of policy choice focuses in social class and interest group formation (Grindle and Thomas 1991, 20). This model includes the class analytical approach, as power and domination among social classes that is maintained implementing policies that protect the dominant class. The contemporary perspective of this model is centred in the support of governments to capitalist models (Grindle and Thomas 1991, 21-22). It is currently present in most of the countries, where PP create alliances with the private sector to fund political campaigns. Another approach that belongs to this model is the public choices approach. It refers to the constitution of political societies that unify members with similar interests looking to be elected (Grindle and Thomas 1991, 24). Once in power, they use public resources and policy tools to obtain their interests and the ones of economic partners who supported their campaigns (Grindle and Thomas 1991, 25). The authors recognize this approach as a clear example of PP influence in SP development that has been explicitly found in developing countries.

Alternatively, the authors present the State-centered model of policy choice, where the state is the decision maker along with the policy process (Grindle and Thomas 1991, 25). One of the approaches of this model is the bureaucratic political approach, where bureaucratic and executive players compete over preferred solutions using privileged information for their interests. It contemplates a high level of autonomy to make policies by dealing mainly with bureaucracy (Grindle and Thomas 1991, 25). In this approach the political groups follow the policy interest of their PP. Finally, the state interest approach represents the autonomy of the government related with social groups or policy elites. Is the state that defines the problems and solutions as a powerful actor in its own right (Grindle and Thomas 1991, 31).

Following the models and approaches mentioned before, China, with only one political party in power and without opposition, is a good example. It fits in the state interests approach, but mainly demonstrates how PP influence SP development. Jude Howell, in Reflections on the Chinese State, describes China as a polymorphous state with multiple complex forms and behaviours across time and space (Howell 2006, 275). According with this paper, the Communist Party, that exerts power in the country, has applied a policy of economic decentralization that has lead some provinces to greater economic and social development than others. The author highlights the fact that policy elites seek to mobilise societal support for developmental plans to specific regions according with their province of provenance (Howell 2006, 284). Such behaviour follows specific interests that have driven the support through SP to some regions. However, it has brought negative consequences as uneven development, environmental degradation and exploited conditions of employment to others (Howell 2006, 292). This finding suggests that the interests of the communist party’s members are present in the intervention of SP development.

Another example to support the influence of PP in SP is the Colombian case. Due to its dynamic political activity conducted by personal interest of actors, there is a range of specific cases that can contribute with this discussion. According with the paper “La influencia de los poderes ilegales en la política Colombiana” by Alejandro Vargas, in recent years the predominant mechanism of political reproduction in Colombian politics has been the clientelism. It implies a reciprocity and payment of favours logic that have a great weight in making political choices of voters (Vargas 2010, 1). This phenomenon creates a contrary effect once the politicians, members of PP, are in power. SP have to be directed according with the interest of those who supported their political campaigns. For example, the executive power in Colombia, lead by Mr. Juan Manuel Santos, assigned resources where specific political parties supported his election. Surprisingly, the health reform that Colombia needs, was not approved by the congress, due to high cost associated in terms of resources provision to regions in the country (Duncan 2014). In the same line, social programs implemented by the current government such as urban and rural housing allowance, “Families in Action”, that supports children’s nutrition of limited resources, and social protection for elderly (SISBÉN 2015), are used for PP to lunch future political campaigns. In contrast, the opposition parties reports this issues, however will act following the same interest once in power.

The intervention of groups, which share common interests oriented to be materialized, over the promotion of wellbeing to people, is a clear fact present in societies. The partisan theory specifies how PP, associated with governments in power, look for the implementation of SP according with their ideologies and goals. In addition, the political approach theory demonstrates how Society and State-centered models, define the development of SP based on interest and pressures of social groups or policy elites. Examples as the Chinese shows a view of the State Interest Approach, while the Colombian is rather a mix between the public choice and bureaucratic political approach. Over these theories there are also negative effects that should be examined in another context. Lack of knowledge of decision makers related to the SP needs, their mechanism to resolve problems based on their logic experience and their tendency to shape reforms to make them political acceptable (Grindle and Thomas 1991, 19). These consequences leave additional evidence how PP influence SP development and open new questions related to the management that this important process is having from political actors.

References
• Dean, Hartley (2006). What is social policy?. LSE Library: Polity.

• Hofmeister, Wilhelm and Grabow, Karsten (2011). Political Parties: functions and organizations in democratic societies. Retrieved from: http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_7671-1442-2-30.pdf?120920114650

• Grindle, Merilee and Thomas, John (1991). Public Choices and Policy Change: The Political Economy of Reform in Developing Countries. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

• Manfred G. Schmidt (2010). The Oxford Handbook of the Welfare State. Parties. LSE Library: Oxford handbook online.

• Jude Howell (2006). Reflections on the Chinese State. LSE Library.

• Nueva Sociedad: democracia y politica en America Latina. “La influencia de los poderes ielegales en la politica Colombiana”. http://nuso.org/articulo/la-influencia-de-los-poderes-ilegales-en-la-politicacolombiana/?
page=1,Viewed 25 October 2016.

• Gustavo Duncan (2014). “Fraude, clientelismo y corrupción: las otras amenazas” http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/fraude-clientelismo-ycorrupcion-otras-amenazas-articulo-477576, Viewed 26 October 2016.

• SISBÉN (Sistema de Identificacion de Potenciales Beneficiarios de Programas Sociales).  http://www.bochalema-nortedesantander.gov.co/apc-aafiles/66333631383862316464613238656339/qu-es-el-sisbn-para-subir-a-laweb. pdf, Viewed 26 October 2016.

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