Category Archives: Latin America

Honduras – Disputed Presidential Election Result

On November 26, Honduras went to the polls to elect a new president. The main contenders were Juan Orlando Hernández, the incumbent President of Honduras, from the conservative and right-leaning Partido Nacional, and Salvador Nasrilla, a former sports journalist, commonly known as Mr. Television from the Alianza de Oposición contra la Dictadura, a coalition that encompasses the left-leaning party of Manuel Zeleya, the former Honduran president ousted in a coup in 2009, and his wife, Xiomara Castro, Libertad y Refundación, and the centre-left, Partido Innovación y Unidad.

According to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) in Honduras, on the day after the election, it looked as if Nasrilla was going to claim victory. With 57 per cent of the votes counted, Nasrilla had managed to gain 45 per cent of the vote, giving him a clear five point lead over Hernández. Following this update, the count then seemed to slow dramatically, if not completely stop and after a somewhat suspicious hiatus, counting resumed and as of today,  according to the TSE, Hernández leads the race with 42.98 per cent of the vote compared to 41.38 per cent for Nasrilla. No official winner has yet been declared.

Unsurprisingly, the opposition claim that the government is trying to steal the election. Nasrilla and his coalition have called for a complete vote recount and if the TSE refuses to do this, then Nasrilla has proposed a second round run-off between him and Hernández. There is currently no provision in Honduras’ constitution to allow for a second round run-off (presidential elections are first past the past).

Hernández came to power following the December 2013 elections, which saw him defeat the left-leaning wife, Xiomara Castro, of former president, Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup in 2009 by pro-military conservative factions. Hernández and his party were accused of embezzling over US$90 million from the state social security agency, which was then used to fund Hernández’s victory in the 2013 election, as part of a larger scandal involving the state agency, El Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS), which provides one in every eight Hondurans with healthcare, that has seen over US$200 million embezzled from its coffers over the last few years. These allegations gave rise to protests in Tegucigalpa calling for his resignation. Hernández has also been criticized for being overly authoritarian but despite all of this, he has remained popular, with recent polls from September suggesting an approval rating of 56 per cent.

While president, Hernández also managed to introduce a new constitutional amendment, allowing for consecutive presidential election, the very same proposal that resulted in the removal of Zelaya, a coup that Hernández supported. Since 2013, a third party, Partido Libertad y Refundación, the party of Xiomara Castro, has held a third of the seats in the house, challenging the traditional conservative and oligarchic two-party system.

A victory for Nasrilla would completely upend the status quo.

This is not the first time that Honduars has been mired in allegations of electoral fraud. In the 2013 election, Xiomara Castro, after initially claiming victory, contested the result. This time, it seems that supporters of the left will not allow this victory to remain unchallenged. There have been hundreds of protests, in which three people have died so far, forcing the government to implement a night time curfew. The police force in Honduras have now announced that they will not leave their barracks until the political crisis has been resolved and while the TSE have agreed to a partial recount, whatever happens, it is clear that this controversy is far from over.

Chile – Presidential Election Goes to Run-Off

On Sunday, Chile went to the polls for the first round of their presidential election. Voters also had to elect all 155 lower house deputies and half of Chile’s senators. The former billionaire, center-right president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera (2010-214), despite a clear lead in public opinion polls, was forced into a second round run-off due to a late surge by candidates on the left.

Piñera, with his right-leaning Chile Vamos coalition, won 36.4 per cent of the vote, while the left-leaning representative of the incumbent coalition, Alejandro Guillier, came second with 22.7 per cent and Beatriz Sánchez Muñoz, also on the left, came third with 20.3 per cent of the vote. The right wing candidate of the Unión Demócrata Independiente, José Antonio Kast, came fourth with 7.9 per cent.

Guillier a former news anchor, is the candidate of the centre-left Nueva Mayoría governing coalition led by current incumbent Michelle Bachelet and during the election campaign, he pledged to continue the reform agenda of the Bachelet administration. Sánchez, also a former journalist, represented the left wing Frente Amplio coalition, a party that emerged from the Chilean student movement of 2011. Sánchez ran on a platform that emphasized redistribution and higher taxes for the wealthy. This was the first time that the Frente Amplio has competed in a presidential election.

Piñera’s victory reflects divisions among the left in Chile. The Partido Demócrata Cristiano decided to leave the governing leftist coalition and contest the election on their own for the first time. Their candidate, Carolina Goic, received 5.8 per cent of the vote. It is also a product of  the falling popularity of the current incumbent, Michelle Bachelet. Her popularity has plummeted a long way from the eighty plus rating that she enjoyed towards the end of her first term in office. Her administration has been beset by a number of corruption scandals, one of which involved one of Chile’s largest corporate entities, Penta Group, and the right-leaning Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI). More significantly however, one of the scandals involved the President’s own son, Sebastián Dávalos. Dávalos was accused of using his political influence to arrange a US$10 million bank loan for his wife’s firm, Caval, which then used the funds to purchase land in central Chile that was promptly resold for a profit. The national banking regulator cleared Dávalos of any wrongdoing, but Congress launched an investigative committee to explore the allegations.

The emergence of the Frente Amplio, an anti-establishment coalition, was partly a response to this corruption crisis.

The low turnout at 46.7 per cent probably also helped Piñera. A run-off is now scheduled for December 17. The big question of course will be whether the supporters of Sánchez will weigh in behind the incumbent candidate, Guillier. Sánchez has been highly critical of Piñera in the past. A right-leaning victory in Chile would continue the recent swing to the right in other South American countries, including, Brazil, Peru and Argentina.

Christopher A. Martínez – Democratic tradition and Lucio Gutiérrez’s ‘survival’ in office

This is a guest post by Christopher A. Martínez from Temuco Catholic University

In a previous post, I briefly described the main findings of a quantitative analysis that showed a significant (and consistent) effect of a country’s democratic tradition on presidential survival (Martínez 2017a). However, that study does not delve into how both variables are theoretically or empirically connected. I tackle this issue by analysing how Ecuador’s democratic tradition, along with other determinants of presidential survival, affected the chances of former President Lucio Gutiérrez staying in office (Martínez 2017b).

Ecuador has been historically known for its feeble democratic institutionalisation, undisciplined parties and a highly volatile party system. Zamosc (2007: 8) states that during the 1990s, even after 10 years of civilian government, Ecuadorean political actors remained weakly committed to abiding by democratic rules and that the electorate still lacked a well-developed ‘political culture.’ Bearing this in mind, I use the case of Gutiérrez to closely study how democratic tradition might have contributed to his political demise.

Democratic tradition: radicalism, normative preferences for democratic institutions and institutional equilibria

I argue that a country’s democratic tradition may have important effects on how political actors behave. Countries with stronger, longer democratic experiences are less likely to witness chief executives ousted from power. I posit that a country’s democratic tradition is a distant force, one that unfolds through three more proximate causes: level of radicalism, normative preferences for democratic institutions, and institutional equilibria (see Table I).

First, radicalism is observable when actors pursue political goals that dramatically deviate from the status quo. When these radical objectives cannot be attained through institutional mechanisms, actors may use non-institutional or even violent methods to accomplish them. These actions naturally spawn political friction and polarisation among those who oppose, which may increase political instability (Pérez-Liñán and Polga-Hecimovich 2017). Second, actors’ behaviour may also be driven by the values and attitudes they hold toward democracy. Weak normative preferences for democratic institutions would make actors more inclined to break the rules of the game if they interfere with their goals (Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán 2013). Thus, it may come as no surprise if actors resort to non-institutional or even illegal means to unseat a standing president. Finally, it might also be the case that actors do not intend to pursue radical goals and even value democratic institutions but still decide to break the rules and seek dramatic political changes. This may occur when negative institutional equilibria are in place in which ‘cheating’ is the equilibrium strategy (Greif and Kingston 2011; Calvert 1995), an arrangement that does not favour presidential survival.

Table I. Democratic tradition and its three proximate causes

I hypothesise that countries with shorter democratic traditions are more likely to witness political actors attempting to achieve rapid and dramatic changes to the status quo, displaying scant regard for democratic rules, and being prone to ‘cheat’ when other actors do so. These conditions tend to produce highly polarised and unstable scenarios which may pose insurmountable obstacles for presidents attempting to hold on to power.

The Gutiérrez case:

Following the steps of Abdalá Bucaram (August 1996 – February 1997) and Jamil Mahuad (Agustu 1998 – January 2000), Lucio Gutiérrez became the third consecutive elected Ecuadorian president to be unseated before completing his constitutional term. Still, the failed presidency of Gutiérrez is a curious case since he was ousted amid a period of mild economic bonanza. Shortly after taking office, President Gutiérrez betrayed his campaign promises and turned to the right. Following the left-leaning indigenous Pachakutik party’s walkout from the ruling coalition, Gutiérrez—with few parties willing to support him and after facing an ill-fated impeachment attempt—packed the Supreme Court with friendly judges so as to allow former President Abdalá Bucaram to return from exile as part of a deal struck with Bucaram’s party. In the following months, social discontent, which had been building up since Gutiérrez packed the Supreme Court in December 2004, led to widespread protests after Bucaram finally arrived in Ecuador in April 2005. Demonstrators took over the streets of Quito and broke into Congress, beleaguering the president who found himself politically isolated and struggling to hold on to power. After a couple of weeks of strong social mobilisations and lacking support from the military, the legislative opposition seized the opportunity and dismissed Gutiérrez after declaring his abandonment of office and appointed his vice-president in his place.

Ecuador’s democratic tradition and Gutiérrez’s ‘failure’:

Before and during the presidential crisis, Ecuador’s main political players exhibited low normative preferences for democratic rules. For instance, the temporary withdrawal of charges against Bucaram in exchange for political support and how Gutiérrez was irregularly voted out are clear examples of actors considering their goals to be far more important than the mechanisms to achieve them. Similarly, Gutiérrez blatantly intervening the Supreme Court in December 2004 represented a serious threat to the system of checks and balances, another sign of weak attitudes toward democracy and its institutions.

Still, a question worth asking is what would have happened if Gutiérrez had not packed the Supreme Court. He would have probably been out of office months earlier than he actually was. This means that ‘intervening’ in the Supreme Court was a very rational decision for the president and his political ‘survival.’ Analogously, had protestors not taken to the streets and broken into Congress, Gutiérrez would have stayed in office longer. Both moves cannot be considered fully democratic in the sense that they bypassed institutional mechanisms, at the very least, but they can still be regarded as rational.

Unreliable parties, erosion of legislative coalition and legislative shield

In addition to the effects of democratic tradition, Gutiérrez’s failure was also influenced by Ecuador’s undisciplined political parties. A remarkable sign of this was that apart from Gutiérrez’s own party, Partido Sociedad Patriótica (PSP), all of the largest parties were members of both the president’s coalition and the opposition at different moments during his administration.

Given that democratic tradition gradually changes over time, and undisciplined political parties are not new in Ecuador, why did presidential failures only occur after 1996? Mejía-Acosta and Polga-Hecimovich (2011) argue that before that time, presidents resorted to gastos reservados (discretionary budget allocations) which helped oil executive-opposition relations that reduced the likelihood of presidential failures. Nevertheless, a constitutional reform in 1996 took away the gastos reservados from the president; thus, negotiations between the ruling coalition and the opposition became increasingly difficult.

Final comments

The ouster of Lucio Gutiérrez was chiefly driven by institutional and political factors. Ecuador’s notoriously undisciplined parties, lack of incentives for executive-legislative collaboration and weak democratic tradition posed a challenging scenario for the president. Specifically, the behaviour of parties, protestors and Gutiérrez himself was influenced by the existence of a negative institutional equilibrium which rewarded cheating rather than complying with rules and a frail intrinsic commitment with democratic institutions, all of which heightened the risk of presidential failure.

Christopher A. Martínez holds a PhD in Political Science from Loyola University Chicago. He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Political Science, Temuco Catholic University, Chile. His current research interests include the executive branch, government survival, institutional performance and democratic consolidation in Latin America. He can be reached at christopher.martinez@fulbrightmail.org and @martineznourdin.

Miguel Carreras – Presidential Institutions and Electoral Participation in Concurrent Elections in Latin America

This is a guest post by Miguel Carreras, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside (www.miguelcarreras.com). It is based on his recent article in Political Studies.

What is the impact of political institutions on voter turnout in Latin America? Previous studies (Fornos, Power, and Garand 2004, Kostadinova and Power 2007) have addressed this question by replicating a “classic” model (Jackman 1987). This mainstream model evaluates the impact of a series of legislative institutions—district magnitude, the number of parties in the legislature, and unicameralism—on electoral participation. These factors are found to be poor predictors of electoral participation in Latin America. One of these earlier studies concludes that “the classic model provides a weak explanation for turnout in the region” (Pérez-Liñán 2001: 286).

While all these studies have contributed important insights to the literature on electoral participation in Latin America, their assessments of the effect of institutions on turnout have overlooked the fact that Latin American countries have presidential systems of government. In presidential systems, the presidency is the dominant branch of government. Therefore, presidential elections can be described as first-order elections and legislative elections as second-order elections (Reif and Schmitt 1980). The key argument I make in a forthcoming article in Political Studies is that in concurrent elections in Latin America (i.e. when presidential and legislative elections are held on the same day)[1], first-order factors and first-order (i.e. presidential) institutions should have a stronger impact on electoral participation than second-order (i.e. legislative) institutions.

Presidential Institutions and Turnout

The first important factor to consider is the electoral system. Electoral systems regulating the election of the president must determine a threshold of legitimacy considered sufficient for the chief executive to form an authoritative government. Turnout may increase under majority-runoff systems for two reasons. First, voters who support minor or mid-sized parties and realize that their vote will be “lost” may prefer to abstain in plurality systems. Second, under majority-runoff systems, minor parties have more incentives to activate their bases so as to obtain a large share of votes that could be used as an exchange value in the second round (Shugart and Carey 1992).

Hypothesis 1: Turnout is likely to be higher in majority-runoff systems than in plurality systems.

A second institutional characteristic that may be related to electoral participation is term length. All other things being equal, I expect turnout to be higher in countries where the presidential term length is longer for three main reasons. First, the relative costs of voting decrease as the time between elections increases. Second, since dissatisfaction with the political and economic performance of the incumbent government drives electoral participation in developing countries (Aguilar and Pacek 2000), a longer tenure may lead to higher levels of electoral participation by disenchanted citizens who want to punish the president in power. Third, longer presidential terms increase the clarity of responsibility. As a result, it is easier for voters to determine whom to punish or reward for the country’s performance.

Hypothesis 2: Turnout is likely to increase as the presidential term length increases.

The prerogatives vested on the president may also be related to turnout in the region. In fact, concurrent elections in Latin America become more salient when the powers of the president increase. When presidents are more powerful, they are more likely than their weak counterparts in other countries to influence the direction of policymaking and avoid an executive–legislative gridlock. Moreover, when the institution of the presidency carries more powers and prerogatives, presidential elections are more salient to political elites, who are likely to focus efforts on voter mobilization.

Hypothesis 3: Turnout is likely to increase as the legislative powers of the presidents increase.

Political Context and Turnout in Latin American Elections

Previous research has shown that two variables related to the political context in which elections take place have an impact on electoral participation: electoral competition and the number of competing parties (Blais 2006). Surprisingly, previous studies of turnout in Latin America (Fornos, Power, and Garand 2004, Kostadinova and Power 2007) find that competitiveness and the number of parties are unrelated to voter turnout in the region. The Latin American exceptionalism may result from the fact that previous studies have analyzed electoral competition and the number of parties in second-order (i.e. legislative) elections. This study reevaluates the null findings of the literature, applying these two well-known hypotheses of the electoral behavior literature to the first-order rather than to the second-order institution.

Hypothesis 4: Turnout is likely to be higher when the presidential election is close.

Hypothesis 5: Turnout is likely to be lower when the effective number of candidates increases.

Research Design and Results

To test the five hypotheses, this study uses a new cross-national, pooled time series dataset of electoral participation in 102 concurrent elections in 17 Latin American countries between 1980 and 2016. The dependent variable in all of the models presented in this article is turnout as a percentage of voting age population. The data structure is multilevel because there are several observations per country. In other words, election years are clustered within countries. I therefore specify a multilevel model with random intercept coefficients to take into account the hierarchical nature of the data (level 1: country, level 2: election year). The results of the main empirical model in the paper are presented below.

The results provide strong support for my theoretical expectations. In particular, presidential institutions are good predictors of electoral participation in concurrent elections in Latin America. Other things being equal, electoral participation is almost nine percentage points higher in concurrent elections in which there is a majority-runoff system in place for the election of presidents. Term length is positively associated with electoral participation, and the coefficient is statistically significant. An additional year of presidential tenure is likely to increase electoral participation by 4.2 percentage points. In the same vein, the results demonstrate that turnout increases when the legislative powers of the president increase. A 1-point increase in the 10-point presidential power score created by Doyle and Elgie (2016) leads to an increase in electoral participation by 3.2 percentage points. Finally, the effective number of candidates is negatively associated with electoral participation. An increase in one viable candidate in the presidential elections leads to a decrease in turnout in concurrent elections by three percentage points. As expected, in a fully specified institutional model, legislative institutions have a weaker effect on citizens’ decision to turn out on Election Day.

In sum, my findings challenge the conventional wisdom regarding the impact of institutional factors on electoral participation in Latin America. Previous studies of turnout in Latin American elections replicated an institutional model (the “Jackman model”) that is better suited to explain electoral participation in parliamentary systems. By estimating a fully specified model of turnout in concurrent elections in Latin America which includes both first-order (presidential) and second-order (legislative) institutions, I provide the strongest and clearest evidence, to date, of the impact of presidential institutions and the context of presidential elections on turnout in concurrent elections in the region. My empirical results also demonstrate that legislative institutions have minimal effects on voter turnout in concurrent elections in Latin America.

References

Aguilar, Edwin E., and Alexander C. Pacek. 2000. “Macroeconomic Conditions, Voter Turnout, and the Working-Class/Economically Disadvantaged Party Vote in Developing Countries.”  Comparative Political Studies 33 (8):995-1017.

Blais, André. 2006. “What Affects Voter Turnout?”  Annual Review of Political Science 9:111-125.

Doyle, David, and Robert Elgie. 2016. “Maximizing the Reliability of Cross-National Measures of Presidential Power.”  British Journal of Political Science 46 (4):731-741.

Fornos, Carolina A., Timothy J. Power, and James C. Garand. 2004. “Explaining Voter Turnout in Latin America, 1980 to 2000.”  Comparative Political Studies 37 (8):909-940.

Jackman, Robert W. 1987. “Political Institutions and Voter Turnout in the Industrial Democracies.”  American Political Science Review 81 (2):405-423.

Kostadinova, Tatiana, and Timothy J. Power. 2007. “Does Democratization Depress Participation? Voter Turnout in the Latin American and Eastern European Transitional Democracies.”  Political Research Quarterly 60 (3):363.

Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2001. “Neoinstitutional Accounts of Voter Turnout: Moving Beyond Industrial Democracies.”  Electoral Studies 20 (2):281-297.

Reif, Karlheinz, and Hermann Schmitt. 1980. “Nine second-order national elections – a conceptual framework for the analysis of European election results.”  European Journal of Political Research 8 (1):3-44.

Shugart, Matthew S., and John M. Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Notes

[1] The majority of elections in Latin America are concurrent—60% of national elections in the region between 1980 and 2016 were concurrent.

Ecuador – President Lenín Moreno ousted as head of his party

Last week, the President of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, was removed as head of his own party, Alianza PAIS, following a meeting of the party leadership in Quito. Moreno, who only won the presidential election as the Alianza PAIS candidate last April, by narrowly defeating the right-leaning banker Guillermo Lasso by just over two percent of votes, was ostensibly removed as leader of the party because Moreno had been absent from a number of the party’s meetings over the course of the last three months. Most commentators however, believe that Moreno was removed as head of the party because of his decision to shift his stance away from that of the former president, Rafael Correa. Ricardo Patiño, a former Foreign Minister and Minister of Defense was chosen by the party’s national directorate to replace Moreno, while the party also issued an invitation to Correa to lead a restructuring of Alianza PAIS.

Moreno, an experienced disability campaigner, who is in a wheelchair following a robbery in 1998 when he was shot in the car park of a supermarket, served as Correa’s vice-president between 2007 and 2013, before assuming a role as a UN Special Envoy for Disability and Accessibility. For most of his presidency, Rafael Correa managed to maintain very high approval ratings. He was re-elected for a third term in a veritable landslide victory in May 2013, and his approval rating remained consistently between 65 and 85 per cent. Back in April 2014, Correa began indicating support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits. Correa had already overseen a constitutional reform to allow him run for a third consecutive term, and with national assembly backing of his proposed amendment to term limits, it was widely expected that he would run in 2017. However,  by the end of his presidency, falling oil prices had badly hurt the oil-exporting economy and economic growth had begun to grind to a standstill. The stuttering economy and his declining approval ratings appear to have convinced Correa to step aside.

It was widely perceived that Moreno who succeeded Correa as head of the party, following Correa’s decision not to run again in 2017 (but who remained as honorary life president of Alianza PAIS), would become a puppet of Correa as the power behind the throne, thereby facilitating Correa’s return in 2021. However, this was not to be the case. During the presidential campaign, Moreno began distancing himself from Correa; he indicated support for a more centrist economic policy and a re-evaluation of Ecuador’s relations with other countries in the region. In fact, after only three months in office, Moreno made a number of comments that were clearly a veiled criticism of President Nicolás Maduro and his increasing authoritarianism in Venezuela, which was widely seen as a repudiation of the former Boliviarian foreign policy of Correa, which had seen Ecuador provide the Maduro government with unwavering support.

Domestically, Moreno began a more conciliatory policy towards the former enemies of Correa, and reached out to opposition parties, the media and indigenous groups. Moreno introduced reforms to media freedom, allowed the liberalisation of digital financial transactions and even cut some public sector salaries. In August, he also suspended, and instigated proceedings against, Jorge Glas, his vice-president, and a former minister in Correa’s government, due to allegations of Glas’ involvement with the Odebrecht corruption scandal.

Acrimony soon followed, and Correa and Moreno began a very public spat on Twitter and in the national media. Moreno’s removal is far from the end of the story. Moreno’s approval has jumped to nearly 77 per cent, according to a recent poll from September, and not all party deputies have accepted this decision; in fact, over  44 Alianza PAIS deputies have expressed unconditional support for Moreno. Expect things to only heat up.

Venezuela – Elections for Governor Cause Opposition Disunity

On October 15th, Venezuela held elections for the 23 state gubernatorial posts. Despite public opinion polls suggesting that the opposition would gain a significant number of the governorships, with one prediction suggesting they could even control 16 states after the election (from three), the governing coalition of Nicolás Maduro eventually won 18 states of the 23, with the opposition coalition MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática), taking the remaining five. These five states are Táchira, Mérida, Nuevo Esparta, Anzoátegui and Zulia, while the government regained the state of Miranda (which covers part of Caracas) and Hugo Chávez’s younger brother, Argenis, managed to maintain hold of the state of Barinas.

The MUD have since refused to recognise the legitimacy of the elections and have called for a complete audit. They accuse the government of widespread fraud and vote rigging. But the elections appear be driving a wedge among the opposition coalition and undermining their unity (and consequently their ability to challenge the government of Maduro). President Maduro insisted that before any of the governors take up their posts, they must swear allegiance to a new Constituent Assembly that Maduro created by decree in July.

The constituyente was created for two main reasons; firstly, to transform the institutional structure of the Venezuelan state, and secondly, to sideline the opposition dominated Congress that has proven such a thorn in Maduro’s side. In the last legislative elections in December 2015, the government lost their majority in Congress to the opposition alliance. Although the opposition won enough seats for the all-important two thirds majority, some political machinations managed to prevent the super-majority taking their seats, by barring three opposition legislators due to alleged election irregularities.

Initially, all five MUD governors choose to boycott the official ceremony in the Constituent Assembly where all governors were expected to swear their allegiance to the body. However, the governors from the states Táchira, Mérida, Nuevo Esparta and Anzoátegui changed their minds and did eventually swear the oath of allegiance. Now, one of the central figures in the opposition movement and a former presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, has announced that he is leaving the MUD coalition in response to the decision of the four governors. This could have serious implications for the ability of the opposition to resist the increasing authoritarianism of the Maduro government.

We have written before on this blog, notably with reference to Venezuela, about electoral or competitive authoritarianism, a coin termed by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way in a seminal paper back in 2002. These are regimes that they describe as a ‘diminished form of authoritarianism’ and involve the reform of political institutions to centralize power and distort the electoral arena in order to stack the deck in favor of the incumbent. Democracy remains, particularly the façade of procedural democracy, but it is of a much weakened variety.[1]

These gubernatorial elections have long been mired in controversy. The National Electoral Council, CNE (Consejo Nacional Electoral) had long prevaricated about when, and indeed if, these elections would be held. They were initially slated to be held in December 2016, but the National Electoral Council decided to push them back until mid-2017. Last May, the elections were scheduled for this coming December, before the electoral council announced a date in October.  During the elections themselves, numerous problems arose. At the last minute, 273 voting centres were relocated, largely from areas where the MUD is strong, for security reasons, and some ballots continued to carry the names of defeated primary candidates.

Whether Maduro can use these elections as a means to consolidate his power in the face of an economic crisis and widespread unpopularity remains to be seen.

[1] Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way. 2001. The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy., Vo. 13(2), pp. 51-65.

 

Brazil – President Temer Continues to Battle Corruption Charges

Michel Temer continues to fight the corruption allegations that have dominated his short presidency. On Tuesday, a report presented to the Constitution and Justice Committee (CCJ) by Bonifacio de Andrada (PSDB-MG), a Temer ally, urged the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies to reject the latest criminal charges against President Temer, and two members of his cabinet, Eliseu Padilha, the Chief of Staff, and Moreira Franco, the General Secretary.

Temer is accused of obstruction of justice an racketeering by the federal prosecutor as part of the Lavo Jato scandal that has engulfed the Brazilian political class. This latest charge has emerged as a result of a set of tapes that was given to prosecutors by two brothers, Joesley and Wesley Batista, who are in control of the gigantic Brazilian meat packing firm, JBS. As part of a larger plea deal involving allegations of bribery and corruption, the Batista brothers released these tapes to the federal prosecutor, on which we can allegedly hear President Temer approving continued cash payments by the Batista brothers to the former Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha, in return for his silence. As part of their testimony, the Batistas also allege that President Temer received millions of dollars over the last seven years in order to fund his electoral campaigns. Temer and his party are accused of receiving nearly US$190 million in return for political favors.

The Brazilian lower house now have to vote on these accusations. They will do this towards the end of October. For the investigation to continue, 342 out of 513 members of congress must vote in support of the allegations. If the Chamber reject the charges, then the investigation is frozen until Temer leaves office. If the charges are accepted, then Temer will be suspended and his case will be heard in the Senate, under the direction of the Supreme Court. In fact, this is the second time that the Chamber will have voted on charges levelled against Temer. In August, by 263 votes versus 227, they rejected a different allegation of corruption presented by federal prosecutors.

The wider Lavo Jato corruption scandal centers upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in addition to other construction companies, in return for a whole gamut of favors. In fact, Odebrecht has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

The scandal has also dragged other Latin American executives into its orbit and has included allegations of corruption involving the former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), the sons of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and in Argentina, members of Mauricio Macri’s centre-right organization have been accused of ties with Odebrecht, and in the case of Gustavo Arribas, of accepting a direct bribe from the firm. In the Dominican Republic, the Brazilian firm admitted that it payed US$92 million in bribes to Dominican government officials to secure large and lucrative infrastructure projects.

Michel Temer has a lot on his plate. He has been trying to push through crucial legislation relating to pensions and the retirement age in Brazil, but this scandal has dominated the political scene. Temer is now the most unpopular president ever in Brazil. According to a recent Ibope poll, only 3 per cent of the population consider his government good, or very good. Indeed, 77 per cent consider his government bad or terrible. One thing is for sure – the Lavo Jato will continue to dominate Brazilian politics for the foreseeable future.

 

Bolivia – Ruling Party Still Presses for Change in Term Limits

The issue of term limits for President Evo Morales and his left-leaning governing party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), still remains on the table. The MAS party has submitted a claim to the Plurinational Constitutional Court that the current constitution, and the articles specific to term limits, are violating the political rights of the president by limiting the constitutional right of all Bolivians to “participate freely in the formation, exercise and control of political power“. In short, their argument contends that the constitutional provisions on term limits are, in fact, unconstitutional. They wish the Court to overturn the relevant articles and allow Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019.

This is not a minor political battle. Morales is already Latin America’s longest-serving president currently in office, having previously won elections in 2006, 2009 and 2014. The Bolivian Constitution, the current version of which was adopted in 2009, states that presidents are only entitled to two consecutive terms in office. On this basis, Morales’ opponents challenged his right to run in the last election in October 2014. Morales was first elected in 2006, before being re-elected again in 2009 and as such, his opponents claimed he has already held two consecutive terms, and so was constitutionally barred from running again. The Supreme Court disagreed. In 2013, they ruled that his first term in office was not applicable in this instance as it occurred before the new constitution when the two-term limit came into effect.

But this not stopped Morales seeking a fourth consecutive term. In February 2016, Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo attempted to change the country’s term limits via a popular referendum, which would have allowed him to run again in 2019. Despite high levels of popularity throughout his terms, coupled with growth rates of nearly 7 per cent per annum, he was dogged by a corruption scandal involving a former relationship from 2005 with Gabriela Zapata and her relationship with a Chinese construction firm, CAMC. During the campaign, Morales’ opponents accused him of influence peddling and corruption, allegations that were thought to severely dampen enthusiasm for his proposed constitutional reform. As a consequence, Morales’ proposed reform was rejected by 51.3 per cent of the electorate (with a turnout of nearly 85 per cent).

But Morales and the MAS, despite initially claiming that they would respect the results of the referendum have not left things at that. Morales publicly announced his intention to seek a fourth term after the referendum and just before Christmas, the MAS named Morales as its candidate for the 2019 elections.

What makes the current strategy of the MAS all the more interesting is the fact that elections for the juridical positions on the Plurinational Constitutional Court will be held this coming December. It is expected that candidates will be pressed by the media and the public, about their position on the proposal of the MAS. One thing is for sure: we have not heard the last about term limits in Bolivia.

Carlos Pereira, Mariana Batista, Sérgio Praça and Felix Lopez – How Presidents Monitor Coalitions in Brazil’s Multiparty Presidential Regime

This is a guest post from Mariana Batista based on her recent article with Carlos Pereira, Sérgio Praça and Felix Lopez,  ‘Watchdogs in Our Midst: How Presidents Monitor Coalitions in Brazil’s Multiparty Presidential Regime’, published in the Fall edition of Latin American Politics and Society. The full article can be found here.

In “Watchdogs in Our Midst: How Presidents Monitor Coalitions in Brazil’s Multiparty Presidential Regime” we analyze coalition politics from the perspective of what happens after government formation or what are the president’s strategies to manage “a government of strangers” (Heclo, 2011).

We argue that presidents in multiparty settings deal with the fundamental dilemma of delegating power to coalition partners while minimizing the risk of policy drift. Cabinet positions are the main currency of coalition politics and a fundamental part of coalition formation and survival. However, when trusting cabinet positions to coalition partners, the president runs the risk of being expropriated by their cabinet. There are some mechanisms to minimize the risk of expropriation in coalition governments such as coalition agreements, inner cabinets, centralized screening, and legislative oversight. In our article, we explore the strategy to reduce policy drift based on the appointment of junior ministers.

Junior ministers are the second in command in a ministry and may act as watchdogs on behalf of the president. When presidents cannot “choose whom to trust” (Martinez-Gallardo and Schleiter, 2015) they still may use their appointment powers to appoint a junior minister loyal to their preferences. By doing so, the president will have eyes and ears inside the ministry, even though a coalition partner is in control. This is a powerful way to “keep tabs on partners” (Thies, 2001) while holding the coalition together.

The role of junior ministers in the monitoring of coalition partners is a topic explored in parliamentary regimes, but not in the presidential setting where the president is the one at the top of the hierarchy. To analyze the presidents’ appointment strategies we focus in Brazil as a case study in the period from 1995 to 2010, exploring the partnering between ministers and junior ministers. We consider a junior minister a watchdog when the junior minister is not aligned to the minister. This may happen when the president appoints a junior minister from a different party or when the junior minister is a career bureaucrat. In these situations we expect the junior minister to be loyal to the president and to report on the ministers’ doings.

Figure 1 shows that presidents have the options of appointing 1) ministers from their party (PP), 2) from a coalition partner (CP), or 3) non-partisan ministers (NP). Non-partisan ministers are aligned with the president’s preferences by definition. However, partisan ministers have policy preferences of their own that may jeopardize the president’s agenda. For this reason, these are the ones that the president considers to monitor. Figure 1 shows that partisan ministers are monitored with the appointment of junior ministers. However, ministers from the other coalition parties are monitored more frequently.

Figure 1: Portfolio Allocation and Monitoring Through Junior Ministers, 1995–2010

Considering that appointing a watchdog is a direct control over the minister, the president will not implement this strategy indiscriminately as shown above. We expect that watchdogs will be used only when the costs of the delegation are high. We argue that these costs may be captured by three variables: ideological distance as a proxy for preference distance, portfolio salience, and the coalescence rate as a proxy for the degree of the coalition agreement.

We expected that the greater the ideological distance, the greater the probability of appointing a watchdog because ideological distance would represent preference divergence between the president and the minister. Knowing that the minister is not to be trusted, the president would appoint a hostile junior minister to keep control from the inside. Also, we expected that the most important ministries would be monitored closely with the appointment of watchdogs because the stakes are high. So, the greater the portfolio salience, the greater the probability of a watchdog. Lastly, we expected that the greater the coalescence rate, the smaller the probability of a watchdog because the coalescence would be a measure of the degree of the coalition agreement. This is especially important in presidential systems because there is evidence that coalitions reach some very different arrangements regarding the distribution of portfolios and the amount of power coalition partners will have in government (Amorim Neto, 2006). We expected that the greater this agreement, the smaller the incentives for coalition monitoring.

The results indicate that only ideological distance is important to explain the appointment of a watchdog junior minister, indicating that when policy preferences between the president and the minister are not aligned, the president will try to minimize agency losses and risks of policy drift by appointing a trusted junior minister. Figure 2 shows this relationship.

Figure 2: Predicted Probability Logistic Regression (with Controls): Ideological Distance (95 percent CIs

For a minister from the president’s party (an ideological distance of 0), the predicted probability of a watchdog junior minister to be appointed is 0.64. The predicted probability increases to 0.81 when the ideological distance between the minister and the president is 2, and to 0.95 when the ideological distance reaches 4.5, the maximum value in our distribution.

Analyzing the president’s monitoring strategies concerning coalition partners in Brazil, our main result is that the greater the ideological distance, the greater the probability of monitoring. Although we specifically investigate the political dilemma that Brazilian presidents have faced deciding how to monitor coalition partners, we hope that the particular results presented could travel well and extend to other multiparty presidential regimes elsewhere. We also expect that this discussion will increase interest in what happens after coalition formation or how coalitions actually govern in presidential systems.

References:

Amorim Neto, Octavio. Presidencialismo e governabilidade nas Américas. FGV Editora, 2006.

Heclo, Hugh. A government of strangers: Executive politics in Washington. Brookings Institution Press, 2011.

Martínez-Gallardo, Cecilia, and Petra Schleiter. “Choosing whom to trust: Agency risks and cabinet partisanship in presidential democracies.” Comparative Political Studies 48.2 (2015): 231-264.

Thies, Michael F. “Keeping tabs on partners: The logic of delegation in coalition governments.” American Journal of Political Science (2001): 580-598.

Brazil – Former President Lula Sentenced to Nine and a Half Years in Prison

In a decision, where the true political ramifications are, as of yet, unknown, last week, the former two-term president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison by judge Sergio Moro. Lula, of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) or Worker’s Party, served as Brazil’s president between 2003 and 2011. Probably Brazil’s most popular politician in recent decades, Lula was sentenced for his part in the ever-widening Lavo Jato corruption scandal. The sentence is connected to some UK£590,000 in bribes that Lula allegedly received from the Brazilian engineering firm OAS. Apparently, Lula bought a seaside apartment in a complex built and operated by OAS for UK53,000, but OAS then ‘upgraded’ Lula to a lavishly refurbished duplex apartment worth nearly UK£600,000 in the same complex.

The Lavo Jato corruption scandal, which has engulfed the Brazilian, and increasingly the regional, political establishment centres upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in addition to a host of other companies, in return for a whole gamut of favours. In fact, Odebrecht alone has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

The scandal has rocked Brazil. The current president, Michel Temer is facing corruption charges, and a much discussed list, known as Fachin’s list, when released, contained details of prominent politicians that are under investigated for allegedly receiving payments from Odebrecht. This list is based on information provided to federal investigators in Brazil by 77 former Odebrecht executives as part of a larger plea bargain and includes at least eight government ministers, nearly a third of the whole cabinet.

The scandal has also dragged other Latin American executives into its orbit and has included allegations of corruption involving the former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), the sons of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and in Argentina, members of Mauricio Macri’s centre-right organization have been accused of ties with Odebrecht, and in the case of Gustavo Arribas, of accepting a direct bribe from the firm. In the Dominican Republic, the Brazilian firm admitted that it payed US$92 million in bribes to Dominican government officials to secure large and lucrative infrastructure projects.

Although this sentence hangs above Lula like the sword of Damocles, Judge Moro has allowed Lula to remain free until he appeals, a process that could take up to eighteen months. The decision will also have significant implications for the next presidential election in 2018. Lula has long been touted as a possible candidate for the beleaguered PT, and opinion polls suggest that he would be one of the hypothetical front runners in any election contest. Currently, as long as the legal action is ongoing, Lula is free to run. However, if he appeals and his appeal is successful, the verdict must completely quash Moro’s ruling. Any slight alteration or amendment to the sentence would still result in a conviction and would present Lula from running in the next election, as his case would have been heard in two different courts. If he accepts his sentence and does not appeal, he is also free to run, but he most likely will end up in prison. Not an easy choice for either Lula or the PT.