Category Archives: Latin America

Nicaragua – National Strike Called to Force President Ortega From Office

The nearly three months of near continuous protests, prompted by calls for the resignation of Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murrillo, show no sign of abating. If anything, tension in the Central American state has appeared to intensify. And now on Thursday of this week, the embattled Ortega administration will face a 24-hour general strike organized by opposition groups and with the support of the Nicaraguan Catholic Church. The purpose of the strike is to try and place economic pressure on Ortega; estimates suggest that the strike could cost the Nicaraguan economy US$25-US$30 million.

The protests began in late April in response to the proposed reform of Nicaragua’s social security system and the beleaguered Instituto Nicaragüense de Seguridad Social (INSS). The reforms proposed a five per cent tax on old age and disability pensions, which the government defended as needed to address the fiscal mismanagement of INSS. Protests, led by student groups, soon erupted in Managua and by the first weekend, ten protestors lay dead at the hands of police. The protests soon evolved into a general clarion call for an end to Ortega’s eleven-year rule.

So far, the protests have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 148 people and Ortega now appears to be locked in a degenerating cycle of repression, which has prompted comparisons with the under-siege Maduro administration in Venezuela. If he were to step down, Ortega  likely fears probable prosecution for the deaths of the protestors. The incentive then? Cling to power and crack down on dissent at all costs. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, following a recent visit to Managua, urged the government to halt violent repression and to prevent the use of force by paramilitary groups, which have been attacking protestors. The President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, has also raised the political crisis in Nicaragua at a recent speech at the Organization of American States.

The intensity of the protests previously forced Ortega to pull back on his proposed social security reform and to approach the Catholic Church to intercede. A few weeks ago, talks, broadcast live on television and mediated by the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, were held between government and opposition groups following the death of protestors. The televised talks did not begin well for Ortega however. Hundreds chanted “Killer” as Ortega arrived at the seminary and once the talks actually began, a student leader interrupted Ortega and began reading out the names of all of those who had been killed by police.

Daniel Ortega, previously President of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990 and a former member of the leftist revolutionary Junta Provisional de Reconstucción Ncaional that overthrew the Somaza dictatorship in 1979, re-gained office in 2006 and has adopted both a more socially conservative and business friendly stance. Ortega has been frequently accused of an increasing authoritarian turn and in 2013, he sought reform of 39 articles in the constitution, the most significant of which abolished the presidential term limit.

The Catholic Church, once again this week, has offered to intercede and mediate the dispute between the government and the opposition. It is difficult to see how Nicaragua can completely escape the trap that Venezuelan has fallen into, but the latest reports suggest that Ortega, although he is not willing to step down, has agreed to an early election. One thing is for sure. The crisis in Nicaragua is far from over.

Venezuela – President Maduro wins Re-election to Second Term

On Sunday May 20th, President Nicolás Maduro was re-elected for a second six-year term in Venezuela. According to the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE – National Electoral Council), Maduro received 67.84 per cent of the vote, a significant lead over the next nearest candidate, Henri Falcón, with 20.93 per cent. The evangelical Javier Bertucci received 10.82 per cent with Reinaldo Quijada, the fourth and final candidate, attracting just 0.39 per cent of the electorate. The CNE reported a turnout of just 46.07 per cent well down from the almost 80 per cent turnout in the last two presidential elections.

Amid a devastating economic crisis, generalized food shortages, widespread protests, a partial opposition boycott and the increasing authoritarianism of the Maduro government, it is no surprise that this electoral result has been mired in controversy. Nearly four months ago, in order to provide some respite from the escalating political, social and economic crisis, the Venezuelan government and representatives of the opposition began meeting in the Dominican Republic to thrash out a set of electoral procedures that would be acceptable to both sides, including reform of the National Electoral Council. In the midst of these talks, the Council announced a presidential election for the end of April, before changing the date to May. Presidential elections in Venezuela have traditionally been held in December, but nonetheless, the opposition agreed to this ‘snap election’, but soon after consensus on the date was reached, the talks disintegrated over disagreement about the conditions of the vote itself.

This left the opposition with very little time to mobilize and to co-ordinate a campaign to seriously challenge Maduro. The most well-known opposition figures, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López were unable to stand in the election; Capriles was barred from office and López was under house arrest. In December, the Constituent Assembly adopted a decree that stated that political parties that wish to take part in elections in Venezuela must have been active in prior elections. A broad swathe of the opposition, following the October gubernatorial elections, agreed to boycott December’s municipal elections and by refusing to take part in the municipal elections, the main parties provided the CNE with an excuse to bar them from presidential elections.

In addition, the opposition was already weak and fragmented. Henrique Capriles announced before Christmas that he was leaving the MUD coalition and persistent government repression of opposition groups and leaders has further weakened the opposition alliance. Henri Falcón defied a larger call to boycott the entire electoral process further exacerbating schisms among opposition leaders.

And Falcón has refused to recognise the result, given the intimidation, electoral fraud and vote buying, which he alleges were widespread throughout the electoral process. The Lima group, comprising the foreign ministers and representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia, have also issued a statement refuting the validity of the final result.

Even the turnout statistics were subject to controversy. Although the CNE reported a turnout of just over 46 per cent, significantly lower than the last presidential elections, opposition groups have claimed that this is still a highly inflated figure, in an effort to lend further legitimacy to Maduro’s weak mandate. They put the actual turnout at closer to 30 per cent.

Clearly, by no means do these elections draw a line under Venezuela’s political (and economic) woes. If anything, they only serve to set the scene for further turbulence.

Nicaragua – Protests Erupt against President Ortega

In Nicaragua, talks have opened between the administration of President Daniel Ortega and protestors who, for the past month, have taken to the streets of Managua to call for the removal of Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murrillo. The talks, mediated by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua and held at a seminary in Managua, are designed to diffuse the tension between the government and opposition groups following the death of approximately 65 protestors. The talks, in a bid for transparency, are being broadcast live on television.

The protests began just over three weeks ago in response to proposed reform of Nicaragua’s social security system and the beleaguered Instituto Nicaragüense de Seguridad Social (INSS). The reforms imposed a five per cent tax on old age and disability pensions, which the government defended as needed to address the fiscal mismanagement of INSS. Protests, led by student groups, soon erupted in Managua and by the first weekend, ten protestors lay dead at the hands of police. The protests soon evolved into a general clarion call for an end to Ortega’s eleven-year rule.

The intensity of the protests eventually forced Ortega to pull back on his proposed social security reform and to approach the Catholic Church to intercede. The televised talks did not begin well for Ortega however. Hundreds chanted “Killer” as Ortega arrived at the seminary and once the talks actually began, a student leader interrupted Ortega and began reading out the names of all of those who had been killed by police. And even though the talks were aimed at reducing the number of clashes between protestors and the police, hundreds still gathered at the Universidad Centroamericana.

Daniel Ortega, previously President of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990 and a former member of the leftist revolutionary Junta Provisional de Reconstucción Ncaional that overthrew the Somaza dictatorship in 1979, re-gained office in 2006 and has adopted both a more socially conservative and business friendly stance. As he tightened his grip on power, Ortega has been frequently compared to the Maduro regime in Venezuela and he has been accused of adopting tactics straight out of the playbook of electoral or competitive authoritarians, 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.

For example, in 2009, Ortega sought to alter the constitution to allow him run for a third term. At the time, Ortega and the Sandinistas lacked the necessary 60 per cent majority in the Assembly and so were forced to turn to the Supreme Court, which overturned the constitutional ban on consecutive re-election, thereby enabling him to return to power in 2011. In 2013, he sought reform of 39 articles in the constitution, the most significant of which abolished presidential term limits; altered the election of the president; and increased presidential power. Specifically, the proposal changed article 147, and removed the prohibition on consecutive presidential terms and the previous, two-term limit. And in December 2016, Ortega, with his wife Rosario Murillo as his running mate, won the presidential election with 72 per cent of the vote. Critics alleged that this huge electoral victory was due to manipulation of the political playing field, which, with just five months to go before the election, saw the Supreme Court rule that Eduardo Montealegre, the leader of one of the main opposition parties, the Partido Liberal Independiente, was no longer allowed to remain in that role.

Ortega’s administration is not the first Latin American government (democratic or otherwise) to face wide-ranging protests. Protests, and the wide-scale deaths of protestors, have also rocked Venezuela and the government of Nicolás Maduro and Maduro remains in power, albeit after tightening his authoritarian grip. Large sustained street protests nonetheless have acted as the trigger for a number of presidential impeachments and forced resignations in Latin America. So is Ortega in trouble? Presidential instability in Latin America appears to lie at the intersection of popular protest and vanishing partisan support in the and even in the face of mass protests, presidents who can boast secure support in the assembly, a ‘legislative shield,’ become very difficult to remove from office.[1] Given Ortega’s grip on the political institutions in Nicaragua, this means he can probably weather an amount of further unrest. At least for a while.

[1] See for example, Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press; Mainstrendet, Leiv. and Einar. Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions.” Comparative Politics, 41(1), pp. 83-101; Hochstetler, Kathryn. 2006. “Rethinking Presidentialism: Challenges and Presidential Falls in South America,” Comparative Politics 38 (4), pp. 401-418.

Peru – Ex-Presidents and their Legal Troubles

The legal woes of Peruvian former presidents continue at pace. It is barely a month since former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016-2018), facing an impeachment vote, resigned in the wake of allegations of vote buying and a lack of clarity surrounding US$782,000 that a company he owned received from the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Now this week, another ex-President, Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) and his wife Nadine Heredia, were released from their pre-trail detention over alleged kickbacks they received, also from Obebrecht. Humala and Heredia are accused of receiving money from Obebrecht, which they then used to illegally finance Humala’s election campaigns. They have been under investigation in some form or other since 2015 when four of Heredia’s personal notebooks, containing details of the alleged kickbacks, were stolen by a former housekeeper and leaked to the press. Humala and Heredia have been in prison since July 2017, but prosecutors had yet to press any charges and so last week, the Constitutional Court ruled that their arrest and imprisonment did not comply with the rules of due process.

Former Presidents Kuczynski and Humala are not the only ones affected by the fallout from the Odebrecht scandal. Centered on the Lavo Jato corruption scandal, the Odebrecht affair has its roots in bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, 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 been partly responsible for forcing Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, out of office. In Panama, prosecutors are now seeking to detain the sons of former president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli, who are accused of depositing part of a US$22 million bribe that Odebrecht paid in return for lucrative state contracts in Panama. 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.

But while this scandal has dragged other Latin American executives into its orbit, it seems to have hit the cohort of Peruvian ex-Presidents particularly hard. Former President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), has been accused of receiving US$20 million in bribes from Odebrecht in return for granting them the contract to build a large road and infrastructure project. Toledo is currently on the run and the Peruvian government offered a 100,000 soles award (approximately US$30,000) for information leading to Toledo’s arrest. The presidency of Alan García (2006-2011/1985-1990) has also fallen under suspicion, given that Obebrecht won a record number of contracts in Peru during his tenure. Kuczynski is not allowed to leave the country while investigations continue and former Odebrecht officers in Brazil have also alleged that they partly financed the presidential campaign of Keiko Fujimori.

This week it also emerged that former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) is set to face new charges over the alleged forced sterilization of five women during his time in office. Over 300,000 women were sterilized as part of a state programme during Fujimori’s presidency, but thousands of these woman have accused the state of forcing them to have the surgery against their will. In a 2014 investigation, Fujimori was cleared of any wrongdoing in this regard. This comes only months after Fujimori, who was serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses, was pardoned by former President Kuczynski. In December of last year, Kuczynski  defeated a motion to impeach him, by 78 votes against 19, with support from Keiko’s brother, Kenji Fujimori, who defied his sister by leading a small group of rebellious Fuerza Popular legislators to block the impeachment vote against Kuczynski.

By my count, this now means that every single living former Peruvian president is either under investigation, under suspicion, facing charges, on the run, or newly released from prison. Given the legal woes of these ex-presidents, it is perhaps no surprise that Peruvians tend to evince such low support for the executive office.

Victor Araújo, Andréa Freitas, and Marcelo Vieira – The partisan logic of government formation in presidential democracies: evidence from Latin America

This is a guest post by Victor Araújo, Andréa Freitas, and Marcelo Vieira. It is based on their article in Revista Ciencia Política and is available here.

In presidential democracies, constitutions empower the head of the executive branch as the main actor responsible for the composition of ministerial portfolios. Once elected, the president has the prerogative to directly appoint the high-level members of the government. The invited parties, in turn, must also decide whether to accept the offer. This decision, similar to the decision in parliamentary multiparty systems, involves costs and benefits. However, there are few studies that examine the reasoning behind parties’ decisions to join coalitions in presidential systems.

In our recent article The Presidential Logic of Government Formation in Latin American Democracies, we argue that the decision over whether to join or reject the government’s coalition is related to the party leaders’ evaluations regarding how much political resources their party will gain from the policies. By analyzing 12 Latin American presidential democracies, we test whether the presence of institutional incentives that allow political parties to influence policies in the legislative arena is related to parties’ decision to join government coalitions.

Theoretically, we assume that decentralization of the legislative decision-making process creates institutional mechanisms for sharing the policy formulation competence among different actors, strengthening the system of legislative commissions and allowing those parties to use this decision arena to change the policies that interest them. Thus, decentralized parliaments tend to empower opposition parties and increase the probability of minority governments.

Considering that state resources are finite and political actors prefer policies closer to their ideal points, parties need to set strategies on how to access resources from the public machine. Therefore, the question that emerges is: In which arenas can parties act to have their preferences considered in policies to be implemented by the government? In democratic contexts, parties have three options:
1. To systematize, vocalize and organize their preferences in deliberative instances of the decision-making process within the legislative branch;

2. To use mechanisms of preference alignment during the formulation process of public policies or;

3. To occupy ministry offices and positions in the structure of the executive power, attempting to aggregate their preferences to the executive’s policy agenda.

If, in contexts such as 1 and 2, a parties’ chances of influencing the policy-making process are reduced, then its incentives pursue option 3 increase. In other words, if a party does not expect to be the formateur party, it is more advantageous to join the government and have the chance to actively participate in the public policy formulation process. Those contexts vary according to the set of political institutions in two dimensions based on the centralization or decentralization score of the legislative power and the executive power. These two dimensions regulate the capacity of each branch to influence the political agenda. That is, to aggregate their preferences into the decision-making process.

Figure 1. Policy aggregation preference arenas and incentives to integrate into government coalitions

Source: Elaborated by the authors

In the first context (I), the area to aggregate preferences according to the two arenas (executive and legislative) is equivalent (L<=>E). In this case, the institutional arrangement gives equal capacity to the executive and legislative branches to influence the decision-making process. In other words, the possibility that parties influence public policies through the process of formulation and control of the implementation of public policies, which occurs both in the legislative arena and in the executive arena, is open. Consequently, the party that expects to be the formateur party of the cabinet in the short and medium run – and other parties that choose to not integrate cabinet -, will have an equivalent executive capacity to influence the agenda. In this context, formed coalitions will be either minimum winning or even minority coalitions, depending on the political/ideological parties that form the legislature.

In the second context (II), there is a non-equivalence relationship in the aggregation of preferences between both arenas of power (E>L). Therefore, the capacity of the legislative branch to aggregate its preferences is reduced by an excessive centralization of decision-making power in the hands of the executive branch and president. In other words, not being a member of the government cabinet means having restricted access to the formulation process of public policies, due to the legislative branch’s reduced capacity to aggregate parties’ preferences. In this context, all parties invited by the president that do not aim, in the short term, to assume the presidency, tend to accept the president’s coalition offer.

The third context (III) describes a situation in which the president has fewer agenda-setting powers and a reduced autonomy to manage resources — positions and budget — as well as a decentralized legislature (L>E). In this context, the capacity of the executive branch to influence the decision-making process is reduced, making it less attractive to legislative parties. In such a context, coalitions will seldom be formed. Because parties can aggregate their preferences in the legislative branch, they will not risk the potential costs of being associated with the government.

The Latin American countries analyzed in our article represent each of the three contexts described above. Chile and Panama are examples of the first context (L<=>E). In those cases, although the executive power has considerable influence over the legislative process, processes in the legislature are decentralized and there is an open space for aggregating preferences in this arena. Colombia and Ecuador can be included in the second context (E>L). In those democracies, the executive has considerable capacity to aggregate preferences in the formation of policy, while there is also a relatively low degree of decentralization of the legislative process. Finally, Costa Rica and Paraguay are included in the third context (L>E). In both countries, the presidency has a reduced prerogative that limits the executive’s ability to dominate legislative agenda. There is also a high degree of decentralization of legislative activity in these cases.

We use information from 12 Latin American Countries, comprising 68 governments and 112 cabinets, formed between 1979 and 2011. We conducted a panel data analysis in which we considered the variation among government’s cabinets both between and within democracies. We tested the impact of the decentralization score of the legislative activity on the probability of parties joining a government’s coalitions in presidential systems.

Our results suggest that the existence of parliaments with greater influence on the legislative process consistently reduces the incentives of parties to join the government. Figure 2 graphically shows the predicted effect of the degree of decentralization on the size of the cabinet. By varying the degree of decentralization and keeping all other variables constant (at their means), we are interested in assessing the expected size of the government’s coalition when we observe different values for legislative decentralization. A basic interpretation of the figure indicates a linear and negative relationship between both decentralization and the proportion of legislative parties within the cabinet. As the variable decentralization increases, the proportion of legislative parties that join the coalition decreases.

Figure 2. Predicting the size of the government coalition according to the decentralization of the legislative process in 12 Latin American Countries

Source: Elaborated by the authors

Therefore, our findings reinforce the idea that offices in the structure of the executive branch are only one path, among others, used by parties to influence the policy decision-making process. Our results suggest that parties adopt a policy-seeking orientation in presidential systems. This does not mean that we assume the unrealistic premise that all parties pursue programmatic goals. Our assumption means that, even if a specific party has clientelistic and patronage aspirations, political and monetary resources are crucial elements to accomplish their objectives, and that the only way to access such resources is through control over policies. There are at least three clear advantages in assuming the premise of policy-seeking behavior of parties:) it considers all dimensions where parties can express their preferences; 2) it takes into consideration the role and preferences expressed by the voters, and; 3) it enables analyses of different aspects of the decision-making process, avoiding simplistic conceptions based on, for example, the idea of patronage.

Authors

Victor Araújo is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP, Brazil) and a Research Associate at Center for Metropolitan Studies.
Email: victor.asaraujo@usp.br Website: http://www.victor-araujo.com

Andréa Freitas is Professor of Political Science at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP, Brazil), and coordinator of the Center for Political Institutions and Elections Studies (CEBRAP, Brazil). Email: amfrei@g.unicamp.br

Marcelo Vieira is Professor of Political Science at the Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo (UFES, Brazil), and coordinator of Comparative Politics Center (CPC, UFES).
Email: marcelo.m.vieira@ufes.br

Cuba – Miguel Díaz-Canel becomes President

As I am writing this, the Cuban President, Raúl Castro, will step down from his post to allow the current vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, to become Cuba’s new president (and the fifth president since the revolution of 1959). This will form the culmination of a meeting of Cuba’s National Assembly, which convened on Wednesday and named Díaz-Canel as the sole candidate to take over from Castro. Significantly, Díaz-Canel will be the first president since 1976 that is not a Castro, and the first president since 1959 that is not considered a figurehead for a Castro-run government.

Raúl Castro, who is now 86, and who took over as president from his brother, Fidel Castro, in 2006, is thought to be stepping aside to ensure the stability of the transition in the midst of a growing economic crisis and increasing dissatisfaction among Cubans, particularly the younger generation. Raúl oversaw a number of liberalizing economic reforms from 2008 on, which expanded Cuba’s private sector, but which also have also increased inequality among Cubans. At the same time, the state productive sector has remained mired in over-employment and productivity problems.

At 57, Díaz-Canel is the first leader since the revolution that is not part of the revolutionary guerilla generation – he did not march down from the Sierra Maestra with Che Guevara or Fidel. In contrast, his political experience mostly stems from the period of economic crisis in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed and stopped purchasing Cuban sugar at preferential rates and subsiding Cuban oil consumption, and he gained a reputation as an able technocrat in Villa Clara province. His support for LGBT rights, his use of an iPad, and his defense of disgruntled blogging teachers, are thought to signal a modernizer but nearly all analysts point to a likely continuation of the status quo, at least in the short to medium term. And if reform does occur, it will be of a gradual nature, given that Díaz-Canel is effectively a hand-picked and trained internal successor.

What is more, this is still far from a break with the past. Raúl Castro will still remain as head of the Communist Party of Cuba, arguably one of the most powerful positions in the country, while the vice-president has been named as Ramiro Valdés, an 85 year old veteran of the revolution who was with Fidel at the famous and symbolic attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953.

In fact, this current period in Cuban history, as Díaz-Canel assumes the presidential office, is analogous in many ways to the period of the 1990s, when he first cut his teeth as a Cuban politician. The economy is faltering and the US embargo, long hailed as a Cold War hangover, is very much back in vogue under the current Trump administration after the liberalizing reforms of the Obama administration. US embassy staff in Havana have been called home amidst allegations of covert sonic attacks on the embassy. The Venezuela government under Hugo Chávez, which had reprised the old Soviet Union role of economic subsidizer and source of cheap oil, is now no longer able to play this role as their own economic and political situation descends into chaos and crisis. All of this, leaves Cuba under significant economic and international pressure.

Díaz-Canel will need to address the economic stagnation, Cuba’s problematic dual currency system, and the debt overhang, much of which has already been restructured by China. In addition, increasing hostility from Miami and the US government will only make the task of stepping out from the Castros’ shadow even more difficult.

Costa Rica – Centre-Left Candidate wins Presidency

In the second round of presidential elections held last Sunday, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, of the left-of-center, Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), convincingly won the Costa Rican presidential election with 60.66 per cent of the vote. His competitor, Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz, of the right-leaning Partido Restauración Nacional (PRN), received only 39.34 per cent of the popular vote as of the last count on Monday, April 2. With 97.47 per cent of all votes counted and processed and with a respectable 66.46 per cent turnout, Fabrico Alvarado quickly conceded defeat, leaving Carlos Alvarado with a healthy electoral mandate.

The first round of the election was held on February 4th and Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz and the PRN topped the poll with 24.9 per cent of the vote, leaving Carlos Alvarado and the PAC in second place with 21.6 per cent with the centrist Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN) and the center-right Partido Unidad Socialcristianai (PUSC) in third and fourth place respectively. As no candidate received over 40 per cent in the first round, the contest went to a second round run-off between the leading two.

At one point in the campaign, Carlos Alvarado, a former labor minister (and a rock musician and novelist) under the current president, Luis Guillermo Solís, was under pressure due to corruption allegations against the Solís government, involving kickbacks and Chinese imports. However, the campaign became dominated by social issues, particularly same-sex marriage, and the anti-gay marriage conservatism of Fabricio Alvarado, a former evangelical preacher, television journalist and member of the national assembly (elected in 2014), failed to resonate with the majority of voters.

Although the campaign touched upon other issues such as the national deficit, stubborn unemployment levels and the surprising recent rise in Costa Rica’s homicide rate, by the second round, the election had effectively become a ‘referendum on same-sex marriage.’ This became the central issue of the campaign due to a decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in San José and of which Costa Rica is a member, in January shortly before the first round contest. In response to a petition from the Solís administration, the Court ruled that couples in same-sex relationships should be entitled to the same family and financial rights as heterosexual couples and as such, all signatories to the Court must recognize same-sex marriage. The Court even recommended that in contexts where domestic opposition is particularly virulent, governments use temporary decree measures until the passage of statutory legislation. Currently in the Americas, same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the US, Uruguay, and some parts of Mexico. Ecuador currently legislates for same-sex civil unions.

The Solís administration, and Carlos Alvarado, embraced the decision, but it generated a backlash among Costa Rica’s growing evangelical Christian population, whom Fabricio Alvarado actively courted during the campaign. While this worked as a strategy in the first round, it did not appeal to the majority of Costa Ricans. Interestingly, this was the first time that neither of the two traditional parties had a candidate in the run-off election and is indicative of the increasing fragmentation of the Costa Rican political system.[1]

Carlos Alvarado will take office on May 8th for his four year term.

[1] See Roberts, Kenneth M. Changing Course in Latin America. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Cynthia McClintock – The superiority of runoff to plurality election for democracy in Latin America

This is a guest post by Cynthia McClintock of George Washington University. It is based on her recent paper in Journal of Democracy

In the 1950s, the most common presidential-election rule world-wide was plurality (first-past-the-post).[i]  Now, however, the most common rule is majority runoff (a requirement for a second round between the top two candidates if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote).  In 2016, among the countries classified as “electoral democracies” and that directly elected their presidents, 73 percent in Latin America, 88 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, 86 percent in Europe, and 63 percent in the Asia-Pacific used majority runoff.[ii]

The vast majority of scholars have opposed runoff.[iii]  But, it is indeed superior. Runoff opens the electoral arena but at the same time enables presidential legitimacy and entices presidential candidates towards the political center.

PLURALITY, RUNOFF, AND DEMOCRACY: QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS

To assess the impact of plurality versus runoff rules on levels of democracy, I elaborated a dataset for Latin America between 1990 and 2016.[iv]  Thresholds for a first-round victory between 40 percent and 50 percent were classified as runoff but thresholds below 40 percent as plurality.  Bolivia was omitted because, until 2009, its rule was anomalous (if no candidate tallied 50%, the president was selected by the legislature from among the top two finishers (or, prior to 1990, the top three finishers).  Levels of democracy were measured through the addition of political rights and civil liberties scores by Freedom House (www.freedomhouse.org) and by the Liberal Democracy scores in the Varieties of Democracy 7.1 dataset at www.v-dem.net.

Figure 1 shows that Freedom House scores were similar under runoff and plurality between 1990 and 1998 but subsequently improved under runoff and plummeted under plurality.  The trajectory of V-Dem Liberal Democracy scores was similar. In regression analysis (using a random effects linear model and conventional control variables), runoff was significant to superior Freedom House and V-Dem scores at the .05 level.

Figure 1 Presidential-election Rules and Freedom House Scores, 1990-2016

PLURALITY, RUNOFF, AND POLITICAL INCLUSION

Scholars’ primary concern about runoff is that it lowers barriers to entry to the electoral arena and, concomitantly, enables a larger number of parties.  Under plurality, a new party is usually a “spoiler” party; but, under runoff, citizens can vote sincerely in the first round for the candidate whom they prefer.

These scholars’ concerns are not unfounded.  In the most recent elections in Chile, Colombia, and Guatemala, the number of parties surpassed 6.0 and, in Brazil, 10.0.  Often, many parties are inchoate and, sometimes, executive-legislative conflict is severe.

However, lower barriers to entry are synonymous with greater openness of the electoral arena.  It is easier to defeat long-standing parties with authoritarian proclivities that have lost majority support but retain political bases.  Such parties endured for many years under plurality in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela.

An open electoral arena was especially important in Latin America because, during the Cold War, Marxist parties had built considerable support but had usually been excluded; in the 1990s and 2000s, a key challenge was the incorporation of these parties into the democratic political arena.  Under runoff, a virtuous circle emerged.  With lower barriers to entry, leftist leaders gained respect for the democratic process and were likely to moderate.  For their part, long-standing parties knew that any new party would have to win 50 percent and, by definition, could not be “extreme;” they were less likely to resort to ugly tactics—again, increasing rivals’ respect for the democratic process.

By contrast, under plurality in the Dominican Republic (until 1994), Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela (until 1993), long-standing parties endured by means of dividing their opposition and applying ugly tactics—alienating the left and decreasing its respect for the democratic process.

Still, measures to reduce the number of parties under runoff would be advantageous.  The most promising reform would appear to be scheduling the legislative election at the time of the runoff or even after the runoff.   (Currently, in most Latin American countries, the legislative election is scheduled at the time of the first round.)  In France as of 2002, the legislative election has been scheduled after the runoff and, in France’s 2002, 2007, 2012, and 2017 elections, the expectation for momentum for the president’s party has been realized.

PLURALITY, RUNOFF, AND PRESIDENTIAL LEGITIMACY

Although legitimacy is a complex concept, it is clear what presidential legitimacy is not: it is not a president elected by a minority of voters and opposed by the majority—which can happen under plurality.  In 2006-2007 surveys that I carried out with legislators in Latin America, 84 percent of the 133 legislators who preferred runoff cited greater presidential legitimacy as their reason.[v]  These preferences were based in part on Latin America’s historical experience.  Although the causes of military coups in Argentina in 1963, Brazil in 1955, Chile in 1973, Ecuador in 1968, and Peru in 1962 were manifold, they occurred after elections in which the incoming president had won only 25 percent, 36 percent, 37 percent, 33 percent, and 28 percent respectively.

For the forty-five elections under plurality between 1978 and 2012, I determined that, under runoff, a “reversal” of the first-round result (victory for the first-round runner-up) would have been likely or virtually certain in seven (15 percent).[vi]  Also, between 1990 and 2016, elections were won with 41 percent or less in the Dominican Republic in 1990, Honduras in 2013, Mexico in 2006 and 2012, Nicaragua in 2006, Panama in 1994, Paraguay in 1993 and 2008, Uruguay in 1994, and Venezuela in 1993—often provoking legitimacy deficits even if the first-round runner-up would not have been likely to win.

Sometimes, legitimacy deficits were overcome–but sometimes not.

In various elections under runoff, the rule prevented victories by first-round winners that would have provoked widespread dismay.  Among the most problematic victories would have been Carlos Menem in 2003 in Argentina and Ollanta Humala in 2006 in Peru.   Further, presidents who prevailed in runoffs but whose parties were perceived to be leftist or populist gained legitimacy advantages through majorities in runoffs.  Among the most important examples are Jaime Roldós in 1978-1979 in Ecuador; Salvador Sánchez Cerén in 2014 in El Salvador; Vinicio Cerezo in 1985 and Álvaro Colom in 2007 in Guatemala; Ollanta Humala in 2011 in Peru; and José Mujica in 2009 in Uruguay.

PLURALITY, RUNOFF, AND PRESIDENTIAL IDEOLOGY

Under runoff, by definition, a candidate must appeal to the majority and be positioned not too far from the political center.   Recently, political leaders’ ideologies have been assessed by the country’s legislators in surveys by the Parliamentary Elites of Latin America Project at http://americo.usal.es.oir; political leaders’ ideologies are scored from 1.0 [the furthest left] to 10.0 [the furthest right].[vii]

Between 2000 and 2012, a president (or presidential candidate within 5.0 points of the winner) was classified at the “extreme left” (1.0 through 3.2) in four of the six plurality countries but only one of the eleven runoff countries.   Candidates at the “extreme right” (8.0-10.0) were elected in three of the six plurality countries but only three of the eleven runoff countries.

Further, presidents or top presidential candidates at the “moderate left” (3.21 through 4.99) were rare in plurality countries but common in runoff countries.  Often, these moderate leftists had previously been classified at the extreme left or had run for parties classified at the extreme left: Brazil’s Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva, Guatemala’s Álvaro Colom, Peru’s Ollanta Humala, and Uruguay’s Tabaré Vázquez.   Gradually, these leaders appeared to decide that, if they were to win, they would need to shift towards the center.

CONCLUSION

Although no electoral rule is a panacea, runoff has been successful in Latin America.  The greater openness of the electoral arena facilitated the defeat of long-standing parties with authoritarian proclivities that had lost majority support but retained political bases.  Presidents were enticed towards the political center and, with majorities of the vote, did not suffer legitimacy deficits.

Notes

[i] Nils-Christian Bormann and Matt Golder, “Democratic Electoral Systems around the world, 1946-2011,” Electoral Studies 32 (March 2013): 360-369.

[ii]Author’s calculation from www.electionguide.org and, if necessary, a country’s constitution.  The “electoral democracy” and regional classifications follow Freedom House at www.freedomhouse.org.  The figure for Latin America excludes several countries with a reduced threshold; the figure for Sub-Saharan Africa includes several countries in which runoff is combined with a territorial distribution requirement.

[iii]John M. Carey,  “Presidentialism and Representative Institutions,” in Jorge I. Domínguez and Michael Shifter, eds., Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 14-15;  Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, “Evaluating Presidential Runoff Elections,” Electoral Studies 25 (March 2006), 129; Juan J. Linz, “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does It Make a Difference?” in Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela, eds., The Failure of Presidential Democracy (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 21-22; Scott P. Mainwaring and Matthew  S. Shugart, “Juan Linz, Presidentialism, and Democracy: A Critical Appraisal,” Comparative Politics 29 (July 1997), 467-468; Arturo Valenzuela, “Latin America: Presidentialism in Crisis,” Journal of Democracy 8 (October 1993), 8.

[iv] For more information, see Cynthia McClintock, Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2018), Chapter 2.

[v] For more information, see Cynthia McClintock, Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2018), Appendix 1.

[vi] For more information, see Cynthia McClintock, Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2018), Appendix 6.

[vii] For more information, see Cynthia McClintock, Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2018), Chapter 3.

Peru – President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski Resigns

The President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned on Wednesday in the wake of allegations of vote buying and a larger existential threat to his leadership from the Odebrecht scandal.  He was facing an impeachment vote on Firday of this week in Congress, but party leaders have agreed to accept his resignation, which will prevent this vote from going ahead.

President Kuczynski had become entangled in the wider Odebrecht scandal that has engulfed Latin American politicians across the region. The tentacles of the Odebrecht scandal had already reached Peru, where former president, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), has been accused of receiving US$20 million in bribes from Odebrecht in return for granting them the contract to build a large road and infrastructure project. The presidency of Alan García (2006-2011) also fell under suspicion, given that Obebrecht won a record number of contracts in Peru during his tenure. Last year, President Kuczynski had been accused of receiving US$782,000 from Odebrecht through a company that he owned. He has admitted he received the money, but insists it was above board.

As a consequence, he was accused of being “morally unfit” to be president and he faced an impeachment vote in Congress in December of last year. Over 87 votes were needed to impeach him, but the motion, although supported by 78 against 19, did not pass. But a cloud hung over this vote. One of President Kuczynski’s main opponents in Congress has been the right-leaning Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former President, Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses. Keiko’s increasing power in Congress has placed significant pressure on Kuczynski and her party, Fuerza Popular, has been the main activist behind each impeachment vote. In the December vote however, her brother, Kenji Fujimori, defied his sister by leading a small group of rebellious Fuerza Popular legislators to block the impeachment vote against Kuczynski. A few days later, President Kuczynski pardoned Alberto Fujimori.

On Tuesday night, the fate of President Kuczynski was sealed. Videos emerged, released by Fuerza Popular, which purportedly show the President’s allies offering legislators a share of key public work programs, in addition to access to various government prerogatives, in return for their support in the impeachment vote scheduled for this Friday. Although Kuczynski has alleged that the tapes were heavily edited, already daunted by the prospect of a hostile Congress this Friday, this appeared to the final nail in the coffin of his political career and after just 19 months in office, he resigned on Wednesday.

And so Kuczynski becomes another victim of the Odebrecht scandal. Centered on the Lavo Jato corruption scandal, it has its roots in 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. It was partly responsible for forcing Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, out of office. In Panama, prosecutors are now seeking to detain the sons of former president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014). Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli are accused of depositing part of a US$22 million bribe that Odebrecht paid in return for lucrative state contracts in Panama. And current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, has been accused by a former advisor of receiving political donations from Odebrecht. In Colombia, a former senator who admitted receiving bribes from Odebrecht has accused current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, of receiving illegal campaign donations from the Brazilian firm 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.

In Peru, the former President, Alejandro Toledo, who is also facing prosecution for his dealings with Odebrecht, is currently on the run. This led to the Peruvian government offering a 100,000 soles award (approximately US$30,000) for information leading to Toledo’s arrest.

Undoubtedly, the Odebrecht scandal will rumble on and drag many more politicians into its wake.

Given the line of succession outlined in the Constitution of Peru, the Vice-President, Martin Vizcarra, will now become acting president.

Argentina – Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to Face Trial

On Monday, a federal judge announced that the former President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, would face trial over the alleged cover-up of Iranian involvement in the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building, a Jewish community centre, in Buenos Aires in the 1990s.

Eleven other former officials from the Kirchner government (2007-2015), including former Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, will also face trial and four of the accused have now been detained. The federal judge investigating the alleged cover-up, Claudio Bonadio, requested in December that Congress waive the immunity from prosecution of the former president. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner became a senator on December 10 2017, and Argentine senators are protected from being arrested, although they can be tried. Congress has yet to act.

In Argentina’s worst ever terrorist attack, on July 18th 1994, a bomb placed in the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, killed 85 people and left hundreds wounded. To date, no one has been charged and the perpetrators remain the subject of speculation. In 2006, Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, accused the government of Iran of orchestrating the bombing, and Hezbollah of carrying the actual act out.

Back in January 2014, when Kirchner was still in office, Nisman issued a request that a judge interrogate President Fernández and her Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman. Nisman had prepared a 289-page report, which accused the president and foreign ministry of communicating with the Iranian government via diplomatic back channels and offering to cover-up the involvement of five Iranian suspects in the AMIA bombing in return for a deal which would see Argentine grain exchanged for Iranian oil. Argentina at the time was facing potentially crippling energy shortages. In 2013, Iran and Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding, which established a joint investigation into the bombing, and more significantly, allowed Iranian officials to give evidence in Iran.

Then, in January 2015, somewhat incredibly, on the day before he was due to present his evidence to Congress, Alberto Nisman, despite his supposed ten-man security detail, was found dead in his 13th story apartment. He had been shot in the head with a bullet from a Bersa handgun, which was found lying beside him. Whether his death was murder or suicide became the subject of fevered speculation, but last year, the Argentine police ruled that his death was in fact, murder.

Judge Bonadio has yet to set a date for the trial.