Since the late 1980s, democratic institutions and an active civil society are being prescribed as important ingredients and preconditions to reduce poverty, social exclusion, and violent civil strife. Multi-party systems and elections are seen as the most important expressions of formal democracy. This paper argues that more attention is needed to substantive democracy, which requires a greater understanding of the various legal-political variants within a democratic framework. The paper discusses in some depth the crisis of governance in Belgium. The analysis raises questions about the relationship between ‘political’ and ‘civil society’, and between social movements and political parties.
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