Category Archives: Latin America

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.

Guy Burton and Ted Goertzel – Presidential Leadership in the Americas since Independence

This is a guest post from Guy Burton and Ted Goertzel about their new book, Presidential Leadership in the Americas since Independence, available to buy here.

What makes a president ‘great’ and which have been the ‘great’ ones in the Americas? These were the main questions we sought to answer in our book, Presidential Leadership in the Americas since Independence (Lexington Books, 2016). We sought to extend the work of the US presidential scholar, Stephen Skowronek, who developed the concept of ‘political time’. For Skowronek (1993, 2011), the US political system appears stable on the surface, supported as it is by an unchanging constitution, clear separation of powers and a two-party system. But that doesn’t mean that turbulence has been absent. Since the republic’s foundation in 1789, the US political system has faced periodic periods of upheaval with those presidents best placed to tackle them regarded as the most outstanding.

Skowronek’s institutionalist account of presidential leadership combines both structure (including its opportunities and constraints) and human agency and distinguishes between four types of presidential actor: transformative individuals were those who adeptly exploited a crisis by setting down a new political order that might last generations. Those that succeeded them would be one of two types: either those who supported and consolidated that order (i.e. articulative) or challenged it – but find it too strong to break down (pre-emptive). Over time though, the parameters of the political order and its support base might erode, making it more susceptible to change. In such cases, those who tried to maintain and reconstitute it, but failed to do so were disjunctive; those who succeeded in replacing it with a new order were transformative.

As Latin Americanists, we were curious how ‘political time’ might be applied to our more visibly tumultuous region – and through it to identify those presidents who were transformational, or ‘great’. To identify ‘greatness’ we made use of two approaches. One was to conduct a survey of outstanding leaders in the US and Latin America. We calculated the average number of mentions for political leaders across North and South America based on an analysis of their mentions in a number of commonly used textbooks for the history and politics of the two regions (Skidmore, Smith and Green 2014, Williamson 2009, Eakin 2007, Keen and Hayes 2004, Jenkins 2012, Remini 2009, Sinclair 1999, Schweikart and Allen 2004, Zinn 2005). We were encouraged that our findings for the US case tallied closely with previous efforts to rank US presidents; we were therefore confident that our Latin American findings were similarly accurate although no other surveys have been done.

The other was to extract from the historical literature a description of the cycles of political regime change in each country. Many scholars have observed cyclical changes in the political climate in United States and European history. We extended this analysis to Latin America. We noted that transformational/great leaders tended to emerge at a time of crisis in the political climate. This uncertainty enabled them to innovate by creating a new economic and social order underpinned by a broad political consensus. But importantly, the new order needed to be lasting, surviving beyond the political (and perhaps biological) lifetime of a given president.

Like Skowronek we wanted to be broad in our historical approach. But we also recognized that it was important to compare leaders with others who confronted comparable historical challenges. : The scale and scope of George Washington’s eighteenth century presidency is not exactly comparable with that of George Bush’s twenty-first century version, for example. We found that there were four historical eras in the political development of the Americas which presented leaders with similar social and economic frameworks that constrained their actions.

The first historical era, independence and its aftermath, required establishing a new political order. The second was the era of national consolidation, in which the new political order was dominated by the influence of landed and agrarian elites. Their position came under challenge towards the end of the nineteenth century when industrialists became more prominent – and eventually aligned themselves with key agents in national bureaucracies and military forces to institute an era of state-led development. From the 1930s to the 1970s this alliance held sway until economic dislocation and inefficiency coupled with social disconnection prompted a re-evaluation by intellectuals and politicians: the contemporary era of neoliberal globalization. The political systems that operated were constrained by these historical conditions, but success in confronting them was not guaranteed. Few are the presidents or political leaders who did not seek to leave their mark, but not all were successful. To consider a transformational president successful, we insisted that innovations he brought about be long lasting.  Several instituted important changes, but the changes did not last after them. This includes the Diaz and Rosas dictatorships in Mexico and Argentina respectively.

Having established the framework, we then examined the successes and failures of specific presidents as they struggled to introduce lasting political innovations in the eight American republics: : the US, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. Using histories at a regional and country level, we identified 20 presidents, over four historical eras, who succeeded in being ‘transformational’:

  • In the independence era we concluded there was only one: George Washington (US).
  • In the era of national consolidation we identified Ramón Castilla (Peru), Benito Juárez (Mexico), Pedro II (Brazil), Diego Portales (Chile), Rafael Reyes (Colombia) and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln (both US).
  • In the era of state development we concluded that Lázaro Cárdenas (Mexico), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Juan Gómez (Venezuela), Raúl Haya de la Torre (Peru), Juan Perón (Argentina), Getúlio Vargas (Brazil) and Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt (both US) were transformational.
  • In the neoliberal era and after we suggested Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Augusto Pinochet (Chile) and Ronald Reagan (US).

Ours is the first effort to compile a list of transformational presidents of the America. We hope it will be the beginning of a dialogue that could make use of other methodological approaches in the study of presidentialism. One such would be to apply a quantitative approach to the experience of individual presidents, thereby echoing a trend we have observed in the study of US presidentialism in recent decades (Mayer 2009, Moe 2009, Wood 2009).


Eakin, Marshall. 2007. The History of Latin America: Collision of Cultures. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Jenkins, Philip. 2012. A History of the United States. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Keen, Benjamin and Keith Hayes. 2004. A History of Latin America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Ninth edition.
Mayer, Kenneth. 2009. Thoughts on the ‘Revolution’ in Presidential Studies. Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(4): 781-785.
Moe, Terry. 2009. The Revolution in Presidential Studies. Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(4): 701-724.
Remin, Robert. 2009. A Short History of the United States. New York: HarperCollins. Kindle edition.
Schweikart, Larry and Michael Allen. 2004. A Patriot’s History of the United States. New York: Sentinel.
Sinclair, Andrew. 1999. A Concise History of the United States. Stroud: Sutton Publishing Ltd.
Skidmore, Thomas, Peter Smith and James Green. 2014. Modern Latin America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Skowronek, Stephen. 1993. The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush. Boston: Belknapp Press.
Skowronek, Stephen. 2011. Presidential Leadership in Political Time: Reprise and Reappraisal. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. Second edition.
Williamson, Edwin. 2009. The Penguin History of Latin America. London: Penguin.
Wood, B. Dan. 2009. Pontificating about Moe’s Pontifications. Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(4): 805-818.
Zinn, Howard. 2005. A People’s History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial.

Biographical notes

Guy Burton (@guyjsburton) is assistant professor at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government in Dubai. He received his PhD in 2009 from the London School of Economics. His research interests in relation to Latin America are comparative politics and political sociology, as well as the politics of the left and right.



Ted Goertzel ( is professor emeritus of sociology at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ. He has published biographies of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula da Silva and is also known for research on homicide rates, conspiracy theories, social movements and on the misuse of regression analysis in social science research.

Venezuela – Protestors Storm National Assembly

I have written a lot recently about the situation in Venezuela. There are recurrent shortages of goods in supermarkets across the country, and inflation continues to rise, unabated. The capacity of the state is slowly crumbling, epitomized by rising infant mortality and malaria cases. With oil prices far from the highs of the mid-2000s, investment in the state oil company PDVSA, mooted to come from Russia, is a political and economic necessity. Given this context, political capital has been hard to generate, and since taking office, in response to weakening support, the successor of the late Hugo Chávez, President Nicolás Maduro, has increasingly adopted authoritarian tactics to quell and suppress opposition movements and parties.

Part of Maduro’s authoritarian turn can be explained by Venezuela’s current experience of divided government. In the last legislative elections in December 2015, President Maduro and his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), and his electoral coalition, the Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP), lost their majority in Congress to the opposition alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD). As I have discussed previously on this blog, although the opposition won enough seats for the all-important two thirds majority, some political machinations managed to prevent the super-majority taking all of their seats. The Supreme Court barred three opposition legislators and one from the governing coalition from taking their seats. These four legislators are all from the state of Amazonas, and the PSUV alleged that there had been irregularities during the election, revolving around accusations of vote buying.  To prevent the escalation of another political crisis, in January 2016, the three opposition legislators in question, Julio Haron Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana, agreed to give up their seats while investigations into the alleged electoral irregularities continue.

The executive and legislative branch are now engaged in nothing short of open war. Although the opposition don’t have the magic two thirds majority, they have placed persistent pressure on President Maduro. In turn, Maduro has found an ally in the Supreme Court, which has struck down a number of the opposition initiatives. Two months ago, President Maduro issued a decree to establish a constitutional assembly, or constituyente in order to transform the institutional structure of the Venezuelan state.

This move sent the opposition into overdrive and sparked a wave of street protests and international condemnation. Street protests have become a near daily occurrence, both in opposition to, and in support of, the Maduro regime and over the last months, we have seen a steady stream of fatalities as police clash with protestors.

Now it seems as if the crisis is moving to the next level. Yesterday, approximately 100 government supporters stormed the opposition-controlled National Assembly, where they attacked and beat up a number of opposition legislators. A crowd had been gathering for a number of hours outside the Assembly, and following a session to mark the country’s independence day, and a speech from vice-President Tareck El Aissami, urging a new constitution to end the last vestiges of empire, the crowd attacked the building and kept roughly 350 people hostage for nearly four hours.

All of this came amid a video last week that purportedly showed a police helicopter attacking the interior ministry and the government-backed Supreme Court. The helicopter was apparently piloted by Oscar Pérez, a former member of Venezuela’s intelligence services. The Maduro regime are claiming that Pérez received support and backing from the CIA.

It has been asserted that the executive-legislative deadlock in Venezuela is living proof of Juan Linz’s direst predictions. Regardless of what the truth actually is, and the support that Pérez and his group have, one thing is for sure: things in Venezuela are only going to get worse.

Panama – Ex-President Ricardo Martinelli Wanted in Panama on Charges of Spying

On Monday, as the current president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, was meeting with President Donald Trump in the White House, the former president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli was fighting his extradition back to Panama in a court in Miami. Martinelli, who was president of Panama from 2009 until 2014, is accused of diverting and embezzling public funds in order to pay for a highly complex and sophisticated wire-tapping arrangement that allowed him to listen in on political opponents. He was arrested last week in Florida, where he has lived as a political refugee since the end of his presidency, claiming that President Juan Carlos Varela has pursued this corruption and spying case against him for political reasons.

Martinelli is accused of diverting approximately US$13.4 million that was set aside for targeted poverty relief, and using this money to instead illegally gain access to the phone calls and emails of 150 major political opponents. Martinilli’s defence in the face of extradition back to Panama is largely predicated on the argument that during his term in office, Martinelli fired the current president, Juan Carlos Varela, as his foreign minister, because it allegedly emerged that Varela was receiving illegal payments from foreign consulates. Varela’s actions, so Martinelli argues, are a type of payback for this.

Although not from the same party (Varela is from the Partido Panameñista and Martenelli is from Cambio Democrático), Varela and Martenelli established a coalition after the 2009 election, which saw Varela assume office as Martenelli’s vice-president and foreign minister. As relations became more acrimonious between the two men, Varela ran for, and won, the presidency in 2014, against the candidate of Cambio Democrático, José Domingo Arias. Shortly after he came to power, Varela launched an inquiry into the alleged illegal spying of former-president Martinelli, who then fled to the US.

Of course, this is not the first time that former president Martinelli, or former Panamanian presidents for that matter, have been embroiled in some form of corruption scandal. I have discussed the fallout from the Lavo Jato corruption scandal before on this blog, which was partly responsible for forcing Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, out of office last year. This scandal centers upon allegations of kickbacks from the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, to former worker party president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), but as the scandal has rumbled on, it has also dragged other Latin American countries into its orbit.

One of these is Panama. Prosecutors have been seeking to detain the sons of Ricardo Martinelli, Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli, both of whom are accused of depositing part of a US$22 million bribe that Odebrecht paid in return for lucrative state contracts in Panama. In fact, current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, has been accused by a former advisor of receiving political donations from Odebrecht.

The US and Panama do have an extradition treaty (although rather an old one) and the US judge will decide Ricardo Martinelli’s fate next week.

Aníbal Pérez-Liñán and John Polga-Hecimovich – Getting Rid of the President

This is a guest post by Aníbal Pérez-Liñán of the Department of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh and John Polga-Hecimovich of the Political Science Department at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. It is based on their paper in Democratization.

Are presidential impeachments modern functional equivalents of old-fashioned military coups? The impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in August 2016 led to an acrimonious debate on whether her removal from office constituted a “soft coup” against an elected leader. Similar concerns were voiced after the impeachment of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in 2012. As calls to impeach President Donald Trump multiply, this question appears to gain increasing relevance for US politics as well.For students of presidentialism, the idea of “functional equivalence” between military coups and legal ousters (impeachments, legislative declarations of presidential incapacity, or anticipated resignations of the executive) translates into very specific questions: Are there any historical factors able to explain military coups as well as impeachments? If so, why are some presidents removed following legal procedures while others are removed by force?

In a forthcoming paper in Democratization we develop a unified theory of presidential instability to explain why presidents are removed from office through military coups or through legal procedures.

We identify two sets of historical causes. First, some factors create conditions for presidential instability, irrespective of the mode of premature exit from office. Because they motivate a political opposition to conspire against the government, those factors explain why presidents are likely to fail, but not how they fail. Second, an alternative set of causes accounts for the specific institutional manifestations of presidential instability. Those factors map onto the relative capabilities of groups inclined to pursue a military coup or the legal removal of the president.

The distinction between general motivations to remove the president and the capabilities of specific opposition groups helps us identify the role of different causal explanations in the literature.

Among the common causes of legal removals and coups, we find:

  • Poor economic conditions. Recessions undermine the president and facilitate conspiracies. Studies on military coups argue that negative economic shocks increase the risk of military rebellions, while the literature on impeachments shows that weak economies undermined Latin American presidents in the 1990s.
  • Popular protests. Mass mobilization against the government signals that the president is weak and destabilizes any elected administration. Students of military intervention find that mass protests help elites coordinate in a coup. Students of impeachment emphasize that protests encourage reluctant legislators to act against the president.
  • Radicalization. Radical actors have intense and extreme preferences; they are reluctant to bargain and remain intransigent in defense of their policy goals. Radicalism is therefore a potential cause of military coups, but also an explanation for the role of social movements forcing the resignation of presidents in places like Bolivia and Ecuador.

Given the prior conditions for instability, several factors separate legal removals from coups:

  • The regional context. A long line of research has invoked international diffusion as an explanation for democratic instability – though not necessarily government instability. The regional context may strengthen the position of coup perpetrators or otherwise direct elites towards legal strategies against the president.
  • Legislative support for the president. Two causal mechanisms are discussed in the literature: Linz’s argument that presidentialism itself is a source of instability and the argument that a legislative majority “shields” the executive against impeachment.
  • Elite support for democracy. A strong normative preference for democracy among elites forecloses the possibility of a military coup and leaves legal removal as the only acceptable strategy for the opposition. The government’s normative preferences also matter: a president dismissive of democratic rules may be unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of an impeachment procedure, driving opponents to consider the option of a coup.

To test those expectations, we use discrete-time event history models with selection.  Our sample covers all democratic regimes in nineteen Latin American countries between 1945 and 2010 (N = 729). The dependent variable measures yearly outcomes for each president:  survival, exit via military coup, or exit via legal removal. Our sample includes 21 coups and 15 legal removals. The selection model estimates the risk of president being removed from office (in any way) in the selection stage, and the risk of being removed via coup (as opposed to a legal procedure) in the outcome stage.

The statistical models allow us to estimate the risk of coups and impeachments, plotted in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1 underscores the role of common motivations behind coups (in the bottom row) and impeachments (in the top row), as economic recession, demonstrations, and radicalization consistently expand the risk of both outcomes.

Figure 1: Common Causes of Legal Removals and Coups (Predicted Risk)

Figure 2, on the other hand, illustrates the differential impact of variables. The first column illustrates how a large number of coups in neighboring countries expands the risk of military intervention but reduces the probability of legal removal in the observed country.  The second column shows that the risk of military overthrow remains independent from the composition of congress, but impeachment is less likely when the executive controls the legislature.  The third column shows that a military coup is unlikely when political actors are more committed to democracy. By contrast, the risk of legal removal expands as groups operating within the constitution become empowered by the opposition’s reluctance to engage in military conspiracies.

Figure 2: Causes Separating Legal Removals and Coups (Predicted Risk)

Our findings underscore that common causes of presidential instability are not necessarily causes of democratic breakdown, yet crises of government may easily escalate into crises of the democratic regime when legal venues for the removal of the president are blocked.

These findings are increasingly relevant today.

In a global context in which presidents and their adversaries – in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Turkey, and even the U.S. – have displayed growing levels of radicalism, our findings raise concerns. Radical leaders engender polarization, encouraging their opponents to overthrow the government by any means possible. Combined with economic stagnation or social protest, radicalization is likely to trigger presidential instability.

Yet other factors ultimately tip a crisis towards a non-democratic resolution. A regional environment hostile to democracy and a lack of democratic commitment from domestic elites decrease the probability of a legal impeachment and increase the likelihood of a coup.

International policymakers would be wise to consider these findings: long-term efforts to build regional organizations that discourage military intervention and steady support for democratic leaders will prevent future presidential crises from escalating into full crises of democracy.

André Borges and Mathieu Turgeon – Presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism

This is a guest post by André Borges and Mathieu Turgeon, both of whom are assistant professors of political science at the University of Brasília. It is based on a recent article in Party Politics.

Research on coalitional presidentialism has focused mostly on post-electoral coalition formation, neglecting the  pre-electoral origins of cabinets  in many – if not most – presidential countries with multiparty systems (Albala 2014; Chasquetti 2008; Freudenreich 2016). Kellam (2015) analyzed pre-electoral coalition formation in presidential elections in eleven Latin American countries from the 1980s to the late 2000s, and found that 35% of all presidential candidates that obtained at least 10% of the national vote formed a coalition with one or more parties. Although pre-electoral coalitions in presidential elections are a rather frequent phenomenon, there is a paucity of research on the causes and consequences of these pre-electoral alliances. In particular, the literature on presidential coattails has failed to consider the potential impacts of multiparty alliances on party system formation, assuming that parties entering the presidential race as members of an alliance do not obtain electoral gains (Mainwaring and Shugart 1997; Shugart and Carey 1992; West and Spoon 2015). That is, the coattail effect benefits only parties that enter the race with a candidate of their own, as voters rely on the party of their preferred presidential candidate as an information shortcut to help them decide how to vote in legislative election (Golder 2006). But, if allied parties do not benefit from presidential coattails and they actually risk losing credibility and weakening their party base if the coalition is not perceived as adequate , why would they support a presidential candidate from another party in the first place? Even if parties believe that entering a pre-electoral coalition will increase their chances of entering the presidential cabinet, they cannot be sure of the supported candidate’s victory in the presidential contest (Freudenreich 2016).

In a recent article (Borges and Turgeon 2017), we challenge the conventional wisdom on presidential coattails and pre-electoral coalitions.  By focusing on coattails from the president-elect party—the coalition formateur—we argue that presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism benefit not only the party of the president-elect but also the coalition party members, which has  important implications for coalition formation in presidential systems. This is what we label a diffused coattail effect.

In multiparty presidential systems, parties that are viable contenders in the presidential election are likely to “presidentialize”, shifting resources away from their legislative campaigns and focusing on the presidential race (Samuels 2002). To secure the necessary votes to win the presidency, large parties form electoral coalitions with smaller parties and adopt broad campaign strategies. Specifically, they avoid pure partisan campaign strategies and campaign, instead, on behalf of the coalition to mobilize as many voters as possible for the presidential election.

Coalition fomateurs understand that there are costs for parties to join their coalition and are disposed to make important concessions to convince them to join forces. These concessions include, in part, supporting coalition party members in simultaneous, lower-level elections and by making sure that candidates from the coalition formateur party do not “invade” the electoral strongholds of the other coalition party members. Moreover, presidential candidates campaign on behalf of the whole coalition and not only for their own party, especially in other simultaneous, lower-level electoral contests like legislative elections. In exchange, coalition party members aggregate valuable organizational and financial resources to help the formateur party reach segments of the electorate otherwise less accessible but necessary to win the presidential election.

We believe coalition party members benefit from presidential coattails because the parties involved in the coalition work together to coordinate their campaign strategies at all levels (presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial and lower chamber races). But coalitions are not all created equal and the effects they carry over election results depend, in part, on the ability of coalition party members to coordinate effectively with the formateur party. Specifically, we believe that coalition party members that coordinate more effectively with the formateur party should benefit more from presidential coattails than those who don’t. We classify coalition party members into core and peripheral coalition party members. Core coalition party members are defined as those that are close ideologically to the formateur party and that have adopted consistent strategies in the governing and electoral arenas in the past.

Coalition party members that have participated in the past governing coalition can benefit from the president’s popularity during the election by claiming credit for key government programs, tying their fortunes with that of the incumbent president. Moreover, coalition party members that have participated in previous electoral coalitions with the same formateur party should be associated more strongly to the said coalition by voters than those coalition party members that have not. Finally, we believe that coalition party members will coordinate more forcefully the closer they are ideologically to the coalition formateur because, in that scenario, both can tailor campaign messages courting ideologically similar voters.

We test two hypotheses. First, we argue that presidential coattails are diffused, benefiting the president’s party but also her coalition party members. Second, we claim that The diffused coattails effect in coalitional presidentialism should benefit more strongly core coalition party members, as compared to peripheral coalition party members.

To evaluate the two hypotheses we analyze data from Brazil and Chile. These two countries are widely studied cases of coalitional presidentialism where multiparty coalitions play a fundamental role in the governing and electoral arenas. Overall, Chile represents a most-likely case for diffused presidential coattails because its governing and electoral coalitions are stable and ideologically coherent. Brazil, on the other hand, represents a least-likely case for diffused presidential coattails because it shows much less congruence between its governing and electoral coalitions and its electoral coalitions are unstable and generally not ideologically coherent. We believe that such design allows for robust testing of our hypotheses of presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism. Finding only weakly supportive evidence (or no evidence at all) of diffused coattails in Chile would seriously undermine or lead to outright rejection of our theoretical claims.  On the other hand, if we succeeded in finding evidence of diffused coattails in Brazil, this should strongly support the view that presidential coattails exhibit dynamics of their own in coalitional presidentialism.

Our statistical analysis of coattail effects using data on district-level electoral returns in Brazil and Chile shows that presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism are diffused, benefiting the president’s party and her core coalition party members. Presidential coattails, however, do not affect coalition party members equally. Core coalition party members, that is, those that are more strongly associated with the coalition formateur, are the sole beneficiaries of presidential coattails. No presidential coattail effect is discernible for peripheral coalition parties.

Admittedly, we cannot make claims about the presence or not of similar diffused presidential coattails in other cases of coalitional presidentialism. We have very good reasons to believe, however, that this phenomenon extends beyond the Chilean and Brazilian cases. In particular, both Chile and Brazil are open-list PR systems. In closed-list PR systems, which are most commonly found in other cases of coalitional presidentialism, intra-coalition coordination is profoundly facilitated. Under such electoral rules, parties can more easily divide the expected seats among coalition partners by ordering the candidates’ names on party lists in each district in a way that benefits more fairly coalition party members (Cruz 2010; Leiras 2007).

Future research should explore further the broader implications of the diffused coattail effect for coalitional presidential systems and party systems, more generally. One such possibility deals with the relationship between electoral and governing coalitions. Our results, for example, suggest that the electoral success of peripheral coalition party members is not tied to that of the coalition formateur party. Consequently, their behavior within the governing coalition could be distinct than that of core coalition party members and could potentially affect the stability of governing coalitions. Thus we may ask: are peripheral coalition party members less loyal and possibly more demanding than core coalition party members? Similarly, are threats to leave the governing coalition more credible than those made by core coalition party members? These are other interesting questions to be explored.

Finally, diffused presidential coattails may also contribute to maintain or even increase party fragmentation in the lower chamber. That is, different from traditional arguments on presidential coattails and party systems, the theoretical argument and empirical evidence presented in this paper indicate that presidential coattails, when diffused, foster instead the survival and growth of small parties. Contrary to West and Spoon’s (2015) findings about electoral coalitions, it is not clear whether this will always and necessarily lead to lower fragmentation in legislative elections. These questions should be of great interest to comparativists given the spread of coalitional presidentialism in Latin America, Africa and the former Soviet Union.


Albala, Adrian. 2014. “The Timing Effect of Presidentialism on Coalition Governments: evidence from Latin America.” In 23rd IPSA World Congress, Montreal, CA.

Borges, André, and Mathieu Turgeon. 2017. Presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism. Party Politics: 1-11.

Chasquetti, Daniel. 2008. Democracia, presidencialismo y partidos políticos en América Latina: evaluando la” difícil combinación”. Ediciones Cauce-CSIC.

Cruz, Facundo. 2010. Relaciones e interacciones partidarias en coaliciones de gobierno. Los casos de la Alianza, la Concertación y el Frente Amplio. Revista Debates Latinoamericanos 8: 15.

Freudenreich, Johannes. 2016. The Formation of Cabinet Coalitions in Presidential Systems. Latin American Politics and Society 58 (4): 80-102.

Golder, Matt. 2006. Presidential Coattails and Legislative Fragmentation. American Journal of Political Science 50 (1): 34-48.

Kellam, Marisa. 2015. Why Pre-Electoral Coalitions in Presidential Systems? British Journal of Political Science 47: 391-411.

Leiras, Marcelo. 2007. Todos los caballos del rey: la integración de los partidos políticos y el gobierno democrático de la Argentina, 1995-2003. Prometeo libros.

Mainwaring, Scott, and Matthew Soberg Shugart. 1997. Presidentialism and democracy in Latin America. . Cambridge University Press.

Samuels, David. 2002. Presidentialized Parties: The separation of powers and party organization and behavior. Comparative Political Studies 35 (4): 461-83.

Shugart, Matthew, and John M. Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional design and electoral dynamics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

West, Karleen Jones, and Jae-Jae Spoon. 2015. Coordination and presidential coattails Do parties’ presidential entry strategies affect legislative vote share? Party Politics: 1-11.

Christopher A. Martínez – Why political institutions matter for presidential survival

This is a guest post by Christopher A. Martínez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Political Science, Temuco Catholic University, Chile

There is no crisis here, nor problems” Fernando de la Rúa (resigned, December 2001)
I’ll continue to govern” Lucio Gutiérrez (dismissed by Congress, April 2005 )

Since 1979, thirteen South American chief executives have been unable to complete their constitutional terms. These failed presidencies occur when a popularly elected president is forced to leave office early, though the ouster is not followed by a democratic breakdown. Some presidents have been impeached (e.g., Collor and Rousseff in Brazil, Pérez in Venezuela, Cubas and Lugo in Paraguay); others could not withstand massive and widespread street protests (e.g., Alfonsín and De la Rúa in Argentina, Siles Zuazo and Sánchez in Bolivia, and Fujimori in Peru); while other leaders were unseated via unorthodox mechanisms (e.g., Bucaram, Mahuad, and Gutiérrez in Ecuador). Being forced to leave office early represents a dramatic deviation from a central goal of all political leaders, which is to maintain power. Thus, failing to fulfil a presidential term should be an exceptional political event in a presidential democracy.

I used survival analysis to quantitatively study 65 South American presidencies between 1979 and 2012. My results show that the most important forces driving presidential survival are institutional ones: legislative support for the president, and a country’s democratic tradition. Interestingly, inflation, economic recessions, and scandals have no significant impact on presidential survival, whereas violent social mobilisations exhibit a rather weak effect.

Some presidents are “safer” than others: Why a country’s democratic tradition matters

Previous studies have not established whether democracy had any impact, be it positive or negative, on the occurrence of presidential failures. Rather than focusing on current levels of democracy, in my research I used a new measure of democracy which represents a country’s past records with democratic and authoritarian politics: democratic tradition. Figure 1 illustrates how different a country’s current level of democracy (Polity2) and democratic tradition truly are. For instance, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay all had low levels of democracy in 1980. Nevertheless, only Chile and Uruguay stand out for their accumulated experience with democracy.

When considering democracy’s effects over extended periods of time, my findings show that the larger the democratic tradition of a country, the more likely the president will “survive.” That is to say, countries with a well-established democratic track provide a “safer,” less threatening environment for presidential survival. Unlike countries with poor democratic experiences, in these type of polities, political actors—presidents, legislators, parties, among others—are discouraged from pursuing questionable courses of action and are more likely to settle political disagreements through negotiation and accommodation, all of which reduces the risk of early government termination.

Figure 1: Democratic Stock and Polity2 Score of Democracy, 1900-2012

Legislative support is central to “survive” in office

In theory, chief executives in presidential systems do not require a legislative majority to stay in office; however, presidents need legislators’ support more than they may think. Passing relevant legislation is a central task for most executives, but hanging on to power is unquestionably a far more important goal for any president. If presidents are to complete their terms in office, they must ensure the backing of a disciplined contingent of members of congress. This “legislative shield” (Pérez-Liñán 2007) would especially come in handy during dire economic circumstances and intense social mobilisations, as loyal legislators may undermine the opposition’s attacks and criticism against the executive. As in previous studies, my research maintains legislative support for the president as the most consistent and strongest predictor of presidential survival in South America.

What do political scandals do?

Results have been mixed about the relationship between political scandals and failed presidencies. Unlike Hochstetler (2006) and Pérez-Liñán (2007), my findings show that corruption scandals do not reduce presidential survival in South America. Presidents’ involvement in scandals may be frowned upon and weaken their approval ratings, yet they do not directly or necessarily force them to step down. True, some presidents have been deposed because of corruption accusations (for example, Collor in Brazil and Pérez in Venezuela). Nevertheless, political scandals are not exceptional in the region, and many of them have not triggered presidential interruptions (e.g., Menem in Argentina, Samper in Colombia, among others). What scandals can do, especially in cases of fragile president-party relations, is to undermine the ruling coalition and/or reduce the president’s chances to form a new one. Such an instance is what I argue occurred with Fernando De la Rúa’s bribery scandal in Argentina (Martínez 2017) and Lucio Gutiérrez’s alleged links with a drug trafficker in Ecuador (Martínez forthcoming).

Social mobilisations

Though it may come as a surprise, my results show that street protests have only a weak—if any—effect on presidential survival. This is true of both general strikes and social mobilisations aimed at the executive. On the other hand, violent demonstrations such as riots do increase the risk of early presidential removals; nonetheless, their impact is significantly weakened when one analyses a president’s legislative support. That is to say, when it comes to “surviving” in office, the role of congress outweighs any type of social mobilisation, even the bloody ones. An alternative explanation for the weaker-than-expected effects of public demonstrations is that it is their intensity, rather than their simple occurrence, that matters.

Final remarks

Even though a president’s popularity may be negatively affected by economic recessions, street protests, and political scandals, their “survival” in office largely hinges upon legislative support and democratic tradition. The role of congress is likened to the proverbial two-edged sword: it may either shield the president or turn against him/her. Presidents, thus, ought to cultivate smooth relations with their ruling partners should they indeed want to hold onto office. Moreover, chief executives ruling over countries with a weak democratic tradition may have fewer chances to “survive” to begin with, as most political actors in those countries may be more accustomed to bend the rules of the game, which would heighten the risk of presidential failures.

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 and @martineznourdin.

Brazil – Pressure Increases on President Temer

The repercussions of the Lavo Jato corruption scandal continue to rock the foundations of the Brazilian political classes. The whole scandal centres upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in return for a whole gamut of favours. 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.

A little over a month ago, a federal judge, Edson Fachin, released a list of prominent politicians that were to be investigated for allegedly receiving payments from Odebrecht, based on information provided to federal investigators in Brazil by 77 former co-operating Odebrecht executives. At least eight government ministers, nearly a third of the cabinet, were on this list, and it included President Michel Temer’s chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, and his foreign minister, Aloysio Nunes Ferreira.

Well, now things have taken an even worse turn for the beleaguered government of Michel Temer. Last Friday, tapes were released by prosecutors, given to them 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.

The President’s office denies these allegations and disputes the validity of the tape. The Brazilian Attorney General, Rodrigo Janot however, has also accused President Temer of using his power to try and quash the investigation.

The political situation in Brazil has now only become more precarious. As has Temer’s presidency. In response to these revelations, yesterday saw violent protests in Brazil. Protestors in the capital Brasilía started a fire in the Ministry of Agriculture and damaged, and stormed, a number of other government buildings and ministries. There was an estimated 35,000 protestors on the streets of Brasilía calling for the resignation of President Temer and his cabinet in the wake of these fresh allegations of corruption. The protests, organized by labour unions and parties on the left, have clashed a number of times with police and in response, President Temer issued a decree that would allow troops, not only to guard government buildings, but also address the disorder more generally in Brasilía.

Allowing the military onto the streets of Brasilía to tackle public protests, in a country with Brazil’s past history of military authoritarianism is a good indication of how much pressure President Temer is facing. This decree was due to expire on May 31, but due to the political and public backlash to this decision, President Temer revoked this decree earlier today.

The combination of a corruption scandal and mass protests can, and indeed has, forced Latin American presidents to pre-emptively resign, or has forced the house to begin impeachment proceedings. Nonetheless, even in the face of mass protests, presidents who can boast institutional support have proven very difficult to remove from office.[1]

In this regard, things are looking bleak for President Temer. One of Temer’s coalition partners, the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB), announced on Sunday that they were leaving the government coalition and joined opposition parties in calling for the President’s resignation. At the same time, the influential Brazilian bar association voted to support Temer’s impeachment. This decision will be laid formally before the lower house of Congress. Temer’s largest coalition partner, the PSDB, is apparently also considering whether they will continue as part of the ruling coalition.

This all comes at a time when Temer is trying to push an important pension bill through Congress, which would introduce a mandatory retirement age and reduce death benefits, legislation that is deemed crucial in order to deal with Brazil’s very large primary budget deficit. Given the scale of the current political turmoil, it looks like this will have to wait.

[1] See for example, Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press; or Mainstrendet, Leiv. and Einar. Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions.” Comparative Politics, 41(1), pp. 83-101.


Venezuela – Current and Former Latin American Presidents Denounce Recent Events

The situation in Venezuela appears to be deteriorating. Amid daily street protests, a steady stream of fatalities as police clash with protestors, rampant price instability and food shortages, and against a backdrop of a crumbling state, epitomised by rising infant mortality and malaria cases, Nicolás Maduro, the embattled president of Venezuela, has stepped up his confrontation with the opposition controlled legislature.

As I have written recently on this blog, although political machinations denied the opposition the two thirds majority needed to change the constitution, they have nonetheless been a thorn in the side of President Maduro, and at the end of last month, the Venezuelan Supreme Court announced that it would take over and assume the legislative powers of the opposition-dominated Congress. In the government’s battle with Congress, the Supreme Court has proven to be President Maduro’s best ally, striking down a number of opposition initiatives.

This move sent the opposition into overdrive and sparked a wave of street protests and international condemnation. Now, President Maduro has called for a new constitution, and requested that a constitutional assembly, or constituyente, be established in order to transform the institutional structure of the Venezuelan state. President Maduro issued a decree to begin the process of convening such an assembly. This move has sparked even more intense protests and to add to the chaos, President Maduro’s supporters have also taken to the street to defend the call for the assembly.

Given that presidential elections are due to held in December 2018, it seems likely that the purpose of the constitutional assembly would be to prolong or delay this election, and extend the tenure of President Maduro. At the same time, the existence of an alternative legislative body, could undermine the legitimacy and power of the current opposition dominated Congress. A similar tactic was employed by Rafael Correa in 2007.

But the last vestiges of the Venezuelan government’s international legitimacy appear to have ebbed away. Having been suspended from the Mercosur since December, today at a meeting in Buenos Aires, a group of current and former Latin American Presidents denounced what they termed the “descent into hell” of Venezuela. This group included President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, former Uruguayan president, Julio María Sanguinetti, former Chilean president, Ricardo Lagos, former Brazilian president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Spanish prime minister, Felipe González.  They specifically criticised President Maduro’s plans to rewrite the constitution.

Of course, what effect this will have remains to be seen. It doesn’t appear as if President Maduro has very many options. Given the depth of polarization in Venezuela and the anger of the opposition, any chance of a controlled transition seems improbable. In response to increasing opposition, the government has moved towards increasing authoritarianism. For the people of Venezuela, an end to this crisis still seems like a long way away.

Marisa Kellam – Why Pre-Electoral Coalitions in Presidential Systems?

This is a guest post by Marisa Kellam, Associate Professor, Waseda University. It is based on her recent article in the British Journal of Political Science.

Presidential politics goes hand in hand with coalitional politics in Latin America, especially in South America. As recently reported in this blog, presidents in the region often depend on the support of other parties to win election and to govern.

In this post, I will focus on pre-electoral coalitions. [1] To give some recent examples: President Bachelet in Chile, President Santos in Colombia, and former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff all ran for re-election with a multiparty electoral alliance.  Multiple parties also supported Argentine President Macri’s candidacy. In recent elections in other countries, the incumbent party candidate defeated an opposition pre-electoral coalition, such as in Ecuador’s recent election, Bolivia’s 2014 presidential contest, or the 2013 presidential election in Venezuela.

In fact, pre-electoral coalitions in presidential elections have been a feature of Latin American democracy since the third-wave, and even before. Yet the conventional wisdom has been that these coalitions were “not binding past election day.” [2] However, increasing attention to post-electoral coalition formation in comparative presidentialism research has led to new findings that winning pre-electoral coalitions usually go on to form post-electoral governing coalitions. [3] Does the strong empirical correspondence between pre-electoral coalitions and post-electoral governments call for a revision of the conventional wisdom? My recently published article in the British Journal of Political Science speaks to this puzzle.

Why do parties form pre-electoral coalitions in presidential systems? From the perspective of a presidential candidate, it would seem to be an easy answer—the more in my camp, the merrier—that is, unless she must give something in return. When considering potential partner parties, we might assume that the presidential candidate offers them government positions—just as presidents offer coalition partners in government negotiations—except that pre-electoral agreements involve only promises not actual offers.

Although I set out to overturn the conventional wisdom on pre-electoral coalitions, I found no convincing argument to support a contrary claim that presidential candidates’ promises to distribute government positions and resources to other parties are credible commitments in presidential systems. Presidents alone control cabinet appointments—even their own parties cannot hold presidents immediately accountable. Moreover, presidents’ partners will not necessarily punish them for breaking their pre-electoral commitments. A party that wants access to resources under the president’s control is unlikely to make a loud complaint, much less to pull out of the government completely.  And if parties do not reveal the extent to which presidents fail to honor agreements to share spoils, then neither presidents nor their parties will pay a reputational cost. This isn’t to say that presidents will break their promises; it is only to make the point that candidates’ pre-electoral promises to share spoils are “cheap talk” and party leaders know this.

I find it useful to contrast these behind the door negotiations with presidential candidates’ public campaigns.  A presidential candidate and her political party pays an immediate reputational cost if she publically campaigns on a policy compromise made with another party in order to gain its support. True, a president is not bound to her campaign platforms. But even so, the pre-electoral policy agreement reveals information about her policy positions.  A pre-electoral policy agreement also gives the president and her partners a shared mandate, or common purpose, after the election. And if the president ends up reneging on that policy agreement later, the coalition partner would likely refuse to go along, consistent with their own electoral incentives and policy motivations.

These differences between patronage promises and campaign platforms provide some insight as to why parties join pre-electoral coalitions to support other parties’ candidates in presidential systems. Political parties join pre-electoral coalitions in pursuit of policy goals, but not as part of an office-seeking strategy.  To provide empirical evidence to support this argument, I compare characteristics of the parties that joined pre-electoral coalitions with those that did not.

More specifically, I compare the probability of participation in pre-electoral coalitions of programmatic parties to that of particularistic parties.  Particularistic parties are those that experts classify as having no discernible policy position on the standard, left-right macroeconomic dimension of politics; instead, particularistic parties focus on the distribution of “pork” and patronage or serve single-interests.  According to my reasoning, if these parties do not have policy goals then they should be less likely to join pre-electoral coalitions (unless one of their own members is on the president-VP ticket). Programmatic parties, in contrast, may use pre-electoral coalitions to identify and help elect presidential candidates who are closest to them in terms of policy.

I analyzed coalitions formed, and not formed, in 77 elections held in 11 Latin American countries.  I found that programmatic political parties (i.e. policy-seeking parties) were more likely than particularistic political parties (i.e. office-seeking parties) to join pre-electoral coalitions in support of another party’s presidential candidate.  As expected, I also found that the greater the ideological distance between a programmatic party and the party of a presidential candidate, the less likely they are to join that candidate’s coalition.

While the once conventional thinking that presidents have little incentive to form governing coalitions has been overturned, this does not imply that the conventional wisdom regarding electoral coalitions should also be cast aside. As I have discussed, pre-electoral coalition bargaining differs from post-electoral government negotiations, with important implications for presidential politics in multiparty systems.

In conducting this research, I realized that the reason why parties join pre-electoral coalitions in presidential systems is less obvious than it appeared at first glance. Even if pre-electoral coalitions are not binding commitments to govern together after the election, the coalition formation process itself informs political parties about their respective policy positions and creates a shared mandate.



[[1]] On a side note, the prefix “pre” seems unnecessary to me, but I use it nonetheless because the term pre-electoral coalitions is widely used in the literature.

[2] Mainwaring, Scott, and Mathew Shugart. 1997. Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America. Cambridge UP, p. 397.

[3] As discussed previously in this blog, see Freudenreich, Johannes. 2016. “The Formation of Cabinet Coalitions in Presidential Systems.” Latin American Politics and Society 58(4): 80-102.  In my own work-in-progress with Cecilia Martinez-Gallardo, we also find a strong empirical relationship between pre- and post-electoral coalitions in Latin America.