This is a guest post by Rut Diamint (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella) and Laura Tedesco (Saint Louis University/Madrid Campus) based on their newly published book, Latin America´s Leaders, available here.
In writing Latin America´s Leaders, we had four objectives: to review the main bibliography on political leadership; to examine the domestic political conditions that impact on the emergence of different types of leaders; to offer a qualitative analysis of interviews with political leaders; and to devise a typology of democratic leaders.
Our research[i] was motivated by questions related to the democratic quality of leaders[ii]. Why do democratically elected leaders undermine democracy as soon as they are in power? Is there any relationship between the features of political party systems and the leaders’ democratic quality? Why has the return to democracy not done away with Latin America’s tendency to generate strong leaders?
We looked at Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay. While all these countries suffered similar political and economic crises during the 2000s, the outcomes were different: five presidents were expelled in Argentina, three in Ecuador, one in Venezuela and none in Uruguay and Colombia. In Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the crises brought about the fragmentation or collapse of the party system and the emergence of strong leaders. Conversely, in Uruguay the 2002 crisis neither affected the political party system nor became a major systemic crisis; the traditional political parties lost the elections and the Frente Amplio won the presidency for the first time since its creation in 1971. In Colombia, political parties underwent an important transformation following the political reforms in 1991 and the 2003, and political stability with a high degree of institutionalization allowed a strong leader in the form of Álvaro Uribe to come to power – yet these features also helped to control his political ambitions.
We conducted 285 interviews with former Presidents, Vice-Presidents, MPs, mayors and party leaders. The aim of the interviews was to learn how leaders interpret democratic quality and how far they perceive themselves as the architects of democracy.
Our interviewees talked about powerful presidents who concentrate power and, in many cases, usurp power from other institutions. Many presidents in Latin America dis-empower institutions to empower themselves.
The qualitative analysis of the interviews showed two different groups: in Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the analysis of Néstor Kirchner, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez dominated the interviews while in Uruguay and Colombia our respondents examined political leadership together with the role of political parties, state institutions and historical processes.
One of our conclusions is that the degree of institutionalization of the political party system influences the type of leader that emerges in a given country.[iii] We developed a typology based on three elements: the political context, the ability of the leader to lead and the impact of the leader on the quality of democracy. Cutting across these elements are three dimensions of leadership: the relationship between the leader and the rule of law; the leader’s efforts to achieve consensus or in contrast to provoke polarization; and the leader’s methods to increase power. Our typology highlights leaders’ democratic quality by looking at their attitude to rules (obey, challenge or manipulate) to opposition (polarize, tolerate or build consensus) and to power (share, concentrate or usurp).
||Soft Power Usurper
Democratic-enhancers include leaders who push for the building or reinforcement of democratic institutions, accept the limits on power imposed by state institutions, respect and promote democratic rights and civil liberties, and leave their posts on time. This type of leader invariably belongs to a political party in which he has developed his career.
The ambivalent democrat respects people’s rights, works in a cooperative manner but seeks to accumulate personal power. Unlike the democratic-enhancer they respect but do not strengthen democratic institutions. The ambivalent democrat can actually end up weakening democracy in his bid to increase his own personal power.
The soft power usurper navigates between challenging and accepting the rule of law and state institutions. The historical context becomes crucial since it can either facilitate or block the leader´s ability to gain autonomy. In crises, this type of politician can take advantage to reduce other institutions’ maneuverability. However, at some point, a brake is applied by his party, the judicial, the legislative power or even societal pressure. The soft power usurper then retreats in the hope of more favorable conditions arising that will enable him to fit the political game to his own personal or collective aims.
Power-usurpers accumulate power by absorbing it from other state institutions, either by minimizing the role of the legislature and/or by undermining the independence of the judiciary. Power-usurpers are democratic leaders who have been elected in free elections. However, some end up manipulating constitutional or electoral instruments to increase personal power, thus worsening the quality of democracy. Power-usurpers believe that they are the only legitimate representatives of their people. Politics becomes embedded in them. They generally aspire to perpetuate themselves in power.
In Uruguay most leaders are democratic enhancers. In Colombia, Álvaro Uribe was a mix of ambivalent democrat and soft power usurper, while Juan Manuel Santos is a democracy-enhancer. In Argentina, Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner were soft power usurpers. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa combines elements of a power usurper with a soft power usurper. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez was the archetype of a power usurper: he challenged the rules, polarized society and maximized his power.
This typology distinguishes four ideal types that measure leaders’ degree of democraticness. It offers a framework for how leaders´ political influence and democratic quality can be studied in other parts of the world. And it can serve as an instrument to promote democratic-enhancers and avoid the rise of power usurpers.
[i] The research was done between 2009 and 2012 and was financed by Foundation Open Society Institute, Washington DC.
[ii] The quality of democracy has been debated in Guillermo O´Donnell, Jorge Vargas Cullell and Osvaldo Iazzetta (2004) The quality of democracy. Theory and applications (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press) and Pippa Norris (2011) Democratic Deficit. Critical Citizens Revisited (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
[iii] The degree of institutionalization of political parties has been analyzed by Manuel Alcántara (2004) ¿Instituciones o máquinas ideológicas? Origen, programa y organización de los partidos latinoamericanos (Barcelona: Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona); María Matilde Ollier María Matilde (2008) “La institucionalización democrática en el callejón: la inestabilidad presidencial argentina (1999-2003)”, América Latina Hoy, vol. 49, pp. 73-103 and Scott Mainwaring and Timothy Scully (eds.) (1995) Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America (Stanford: Stanford University Press).
Rut Diamint is professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at Universidad Torcuato di Tella, researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET) and a member of the Advisory Committee of Club de Madrid and the UN Secretary General Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. She has been visiting professor at Columbia University, and has received scholarships from Fulbright, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the PIF programme of the Canadian government, the Tinker Foundation, the UN Commission for Peace Studies and the US Studies Center for US–Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego.
Laura Tedesco is associate professor of political science at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus, and at Instituto de Empresa, Madrid. She has received scholarships from the British Council, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and CONICET (Argentina) and grants from the British Academy and the Open Society Institute. She has taught at Universidad de Buenos Aires, FLACSO, the University of Warwick and the University of East Anglia. She has been a consultant for UNICEF and worked as an analyst for FRIDE, Spain.