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Political participation and war in Colombia

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This study analyses the impact of the war on political participation in the March 2002 elections to the lower house of the Colombian Congress. The specific research question is whether the dynamics of violence in Colombia has affected the way voters behaved in those elections. In order to provide some answers, this article seeks to pinpoint the relationship between war and democracy by focusing upon a key component of democratic regimes, namely political participation. The article is organized in five sections. The first consists of a theoretical overview of democracy and political participation. The second section, drawn principally from the press, provides evidence of the impact of the war upon the congressional and presidential campaigns. The third part discusses the evolution of political participation in Colombia. The fourth section is a quantitative analysis of the relationship between violence and political participation. Finally, the last section offers some conclusions about political participation and violence in Colombia. Although Colombian democracy is under assault from armed actors and undermined by socio-economic factors, its viability has not been contested to the point of regime collapse, nor is that likely to occur in the near future. While it is appropriate to label Colombia a crisis state, neither the parameters nor the intensity of the crisis permit either theoretical or empirical conclusions as to the calibre or endurance of its democratic regime. For the past fifty years or so, the Colombian State has been characterized by perpetual crisis, and that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

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