MULTILEVEL GOVERNANCE: CHALLENGES TO DEMOCRACY?
By Austen Uwosomah
Meaning of Democracy
Sørensen (2004:71), in a phrase, describes democracy as “rule by the people”.
Contextually, he describes democracy “as political or liberal” governance which he says
Robert A. Dahi calls ‘polyarchy’. Sørensen further explains that democracy centre on
three major elements of a political system, which includes: (1) “competition among
individuals and groups for all important positions of governing power”; (2) “political
participation in the selection of leaders and policies” and (3) “civil and political liberties
(e.g., freedom of expression and of the press) sufficient to ensure the integrity of political
competition and participation”. Democracy so far has been a phenomenon of the states
where sovereignty has been sustained. The independent nation state makes up the
framework for community of people that build democracy without which it will be
impossible to foment or sustain democracy (Sørensen, 2004:72)
Multilevel Institutions and Democracy
The advent of multilevel governmental and non governmental organizations introduced
some kind of influence on the governance pattern of the sovereign nation states. This is
particularly because the multilevel governmental institutions are macro subsets of the
nation states and they serve as linkage between the states on matters that pertain to
humanitarian development at the global level. Unlike the nation states that usually have
well defined constitution for the governance and administration of their polities, the
multilevel government institutions do not have well defined constitutional draft for
governance and administration. As corollary, democratic processes at arriving at decision
are not as practicable as it is in the nation states.
Writing about this, Sørensen, (Ibid: 72) reiterates that “multilevel governance is not based
on distinct constitutional framework; therefore, core decision makers are not subject to
sufficient democratic accountability and control. Decisions are made behind closed doors
… by high-ranking bureaucrats without clear democratic mandate”. An obvious problem
associated with democracy outside the framework of well defined sovereign nation states
is particularly due to the evident reason of absence of ‘demos’ or well defined political
and moral communities. This is what makes democratic practice in multilevel institutions
impracticable. Against this backdrop, Kymlicka (1999:124) infers that “the only forum
which genuine democracy occurs is within national boundaries”.
There are other obvious challenges associated with democracy outside the confines of the
sovereign nation states especially in multilevel governmental institutions. For instance,
political leaders in several sovereign nation states create multilevel institutions that
provide citizens with opportunities for political participation, influence and control.
When this is done, the citizens of the different states who wish to take part in the
multilevel institutions administration and governance will need to be concerned and
informed about the policies decisions of the multilevel institutions as they are about the
government decisions in their respective countries without which entrance and
cooperation is impeded. Another challenge is the lack of stronger sense of solidarity with
an acceptance of economic and other redistribution within the community and a common
public debate and the formation of public political opinion. (Sørensen, 2004:76)
Improving Democracy in Multilevel Governance
In order to do improve on these challenges, political and communication elites would
need to engage the public in public debate and discussion of the alternatives ways that
would engage the attention and emotions of the public to be more conscious and
responsive to multilevel political and non political institutions. (Sørensen, 2004:72) In the
aspect of citizens’ participation within the multi-governmental frameworks, the
multilevel frameworks should engage citizens through public debate and that would
entail to create an international equivalent to national political competition by parties and
individuals seeking office (Dahl, 1999:30).
In the present globalization age where democracy is being globallized as the best suitable
system of governance for both the nation states and multilevel institutions, the emergent
multilevel institutions are still not able to implore maximal democratic process in the
scheme of its leadership selection and deliberations on policies, programs and actions.
To best improve democracy in multilevel institutions in the face of globalization,
multilevel institutions such as the international political organizations, non governmental
organizations and others, should ensure “increased transparency is essential in the
selection process of leaders in the institutions. Voting should be used instead on
appointments and selection. In addition, transparency should also be sustained in the
deliberation process. Members of the public particularly members such as the press and
other smaller multilevel organs that form bases for the larger ones should be allowed into
sessions of the multilevel institutions to make their voice heard in the deliberations.
Dahl. R. A. (1999) ‘Can International Organizations Be Democratic? A Sceptic’s View,
In I. Shapiro and Hacker-Cordon (Eds), Democracy Edges Cambridge: Cambridge
Joseph, S. Nye Jr. (2001) ‘Globalization’s Democracy Deficit’, Foreign Affairs Journal
July/August 2001 Vol. 80, Issue 4.
Kymlicka, W. (1999) ‘Citizen in an Era of Globalization’, In I. Shapiro and Hacker-
Cordon (Eds), Democracy Edges Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sørensen, G. (2004) ‘The Transformation of the States Beyond the Myth of
Globalization’, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.