Category Archives: Brazil

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.

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.


Brazil – One Third of the Cabinet to be Investigated for Corruption

Everybody was waiting for this. I have written before on this blog about the long tentacles of the huge Lavo Jato corruption scandal, which has engulfed the Brazilian, and increasingly the regional, political establishment. 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.

Well, now in Brazil, a federal judge, Edson Fachin, has released a list of prominent politicians that are to be 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. It was due to be released earlier, but the former federal judge responsible for the investigation, Teori Zavascki, was killed in a plane crash in January.

The list was part of a ruling that allows federal prosecutors to begin investigating politicians named by the Odebrecht executives and for the somewhat beleaguered government of Michel Temer, it is particularly damaging. It may also have consequences for the 2018 presidential elections. At least eight government ministers, nearly a third of the cabinet, will now be under investigation for allegations of bribery and corruption. It includes Michel Temer’s chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, and his foreign minister, Aloysio Nunes Ferreira. It also includes the Speaker of the lower house and the head of the Senate, not to mention a large chunk of sitting senators (24), 40 federal deputies and 3 governors.

This comes at a moment when Temer is trying to push an important pension bill through Congress, which would introduce a mandatory retirement age and reduce death benefits. This legislation is deemed crucial in order to deal with Brazil’s very large primary budget deficit. The deputy responsible for its introduction to the Chamber of Deputies has also been named on this list.

Potential candidates for the 2018 election have also been implicated, including Aécio Neves and José Serra (both from the PSDB). It is difficult to see how Temer’s party, the PMDB, could realistically contest the election given the incumbency curse they will face, and it remains to be seen whether the PT can shrug off its own involvement in the corruption scandal. Given that nearly the entire upper echelons of Brazilian politics have been caught up in this scandal, a cynical and downtrodden electorate might end up turning to an outsider like Marina Silva, or a populist, like the right-leaning Jair Bolsonaro.

One thing is for sure. There is more to come with this scandal. It has already spread across Latin America and its tentacles have thus far enveloped the sons of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), the current president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, and 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. In Peru, Odebrecht’s chief executive there has supposedly told Peruvian investigators that Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru between 2001 and 2006, has also received US$20 million in bribes from Odebrecht, in return for a lucrative infrastructure project.

We have not seen the end of Lavo Jato by a long shot.

Fernando Meireles – Latin American presidents and their oversized government coalitions

This is a guest post by Fernando Meireles, Ph.D candidate in Political Science at Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil). E-mail:

In many countries, presidents have a difficult time governing because their parties lack a legislative majority. In fact, because of the combination of separate elections for executive and legislative branches with multiparty systems, this situation is far from uncommon: during the last two decades in all 18 Latin American countries with presidential systems, only 26% of the time has the president’s party had a majority in the lower house. Due to this constraint, as a vast amount of research now highlights, minority presidents usually form multiparty government coalitions by including other parties in their cabinets. Again, only four Latin American presidential countries in the last twenty years were not governed by a multiparty coalition at some point since the 1980s.

However, the need to craft a legislative majority alone does not explain why presidents frequently include more parties in their governments than necessary to obtain a minimum winning coalition – forming what I call an oversized government coalition. The distribution of this type of coalition in Latin America is shown in the graph below. As can be seen, it is not a rare phenomenon.

If government coalitions are costly to maintain, as presidents have to keep tabs on their coalition partners to ensure they are not exploiting their portfolios to their own advantage – not to mention the fact that by splitting spoils and resources between coalition partners, the president’s own party is worse off – then why are these oversized coalitions prevalent in some Latin American countries?

In a recent article in Brazilian Political Science Review, I tackled this puzzle by analyzing the emergence of oversized government coalitions in all 18 presidential countries in Latin America[1], followed by a case study focusing on Brazil, spanning from 1979 to 2012. To this end, I gathered data on cabinet composition[2] from several sources to calculate the size of each government coalition in the sample: if a coalition had at least one party that could be removed without hampering the majority status of the government in the lower house in a given year, I classified it as an oversized coalition.

Specifically, I examined three main factors that, according to previous research, should incentivize presidents to include more parties in their coalitions than necessary to ensure majority support: 1) the motivation party leaders have to maximize votes, which would make joining the government attractive to opposition parties (vote-seeking); 2) the motivation presidents have to avoid coalition defections to implement their policy agendas (policy-seeking); and 3) the institutional context, considering the effects of bicameralism, qualified majority rules, and party system format on government coalition size.

The results support some of the hypothesis suggested by the literature. First, presidents are more prone to form oversized coalitions at the beginning of their terms, which shows that the proximity to the election affects Latin American presidents’ decision to form, and opposition parties to accept being part of, large coalitions – as others studies argue, this is mainly due to parties defecting from a coalition to present themselves as opposition when elections are approaching. Second, party fragmentation also has a positive effect on the emergence of oversized coalitions, consistent with the hypothesis that presidents might include additional parties in their coalitions anticipating legislative defections. Yet on the other hand, presidential approval, party discipline, and ideological polarization do not have the same positive effects on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

The factor that has the most impact on the occurrence of oversized coalitions, however, is the legislative powers of the president. As the literature points out, legislative decrees and urgency bills could be used by skilled presidents to coordinate their coalitions, facilitating horizontal bargaining between coalition partners. The comparative results show that this is the case in Latin America: the difference in the predicted probability of a president with maximum legislative powers in the sample forming an oversized coalition and another with minimum powers is about 32 percent points.

By exploring the Brazilian case in more depth, I also found that bicameralism dynamics and qualified majority rules impact the emergence of oversized coalitions. With two chambers elected through different electoral rules, parties in Brazil are often unable to secure the same seat share in both houses; to make things worse for presidents, party switching is still widespread in the country. In this context, as my results uncovered, differences in the number of seats controlled by the government in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate positively affect the emergence of oversized coalitions. Finally, as some bills require supermajorities to be approved, such as constitutional amendments, reformist presidents also tend to form and maintain larger coalitions: the maximum value in this variable predicts increases by up to 10 percentage points on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

Taken together, these results show a more nuanced picture of why and how presidents form multiparty government coalitions in Latin America: often, obtaining a legislative majority is not enough to implement their legislative agendas, and so they might resort to a complementary strategy: to form larger coalitions. And presidents with greater legislative power, at the beginning of their terms or facing fragmented party systems, are in the best position to pursue such a strategy. In this way, both electoral and programmatic factors, as well as the institutional context, become key to understand variations in the size and the composition of government coalitions in presidential countries.


[1] These countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

[2] The criteria employed to identify a government coalition is the party affiliation of the ministers of the principal ministerial portfolios in each country – taking into account that ministers are not always recruited due to their connections or their congressional influence, and that in some cases they are not recognized by their parties as legitimate representatives of the same.

Johannes Freudenreich – The Formation of Cabinet Coalitions in Presidential Systems

This is a guest post by Johannes Freudenreich, Postdoctoral research fellow at the Geschwister-Scholl-Institut für Politikwissenschaft at the University of Munich. It is based on an recent article in Latin American Politics and Society

In the beginning of the 21st century, prospects of Latin American presidential democracies were good. The dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s had vanished, economies were constantly growing, and comprehensive social welfare programs were implemented. Many political scientists link these successes to the ability of Latin American presidents to form, maintain and manage cabinet coalitions (Cheibub 2007). The differences between presidential and parliamentary systems of government seemed to have become rather marginal. Both presidents and prime ministers achieved legislative majorities by forming broad cabinet coalitions and critics of the presidential form of democracy, such as Juan Linz (1994), seemed to be proven wrong. However, soon presidential impeachments became the new pattern of political instability in the region (Pérez Liñan 2007). Cabinet reshuffling remains constantly high and broad corruption schemes, directly linked to coalition politics, have been disclosed, such as the Mensalão Scandal in Brazil, where the ruling party of President Lula da Silva used illegal side payments to secure the legislative support of members of the ruling coalition.

My recent article in Latin American Politics and Society takes a systematic look at the formation of cabinet coalitions in presidential systems over the past 25 years. It analyzes the extent to which presidents in 13 Latin American countries have formed coalitions that increase their law-making capabilities, and whether presidents form coalitions tailored to find majorities in Congress especially when presidents have low independent influence over policy based on their institutional law-making powers.

The study complements the perspective that cabinet coalitions are largely an instrument for finding legislative majorities with the idea that presidents use cabinet posts to honor pre-electoral support. The reason is the following: presidential elections provide strong incentives for electoral coordination because they tend to favor two-candidate competition. In a multi-party setting, this means that parties have incentives to form pre-electoral coalitions to present joint presidential candidates. When negotiating pre-electoral pacts, parties are likely to agree on how to share the benefits of winning including cabinet posts. After the election, presidents find it difficult to abandon these agreements as they need the trust and support of other parties within and outside of their coalition during their presidential term. Thus, it is expected that cabinet coalitions are likely to be based on the electoral team of presidents and that other legislative parties are invited to join the cabinet only additionally to parties of the existing pre-electoral coalition.

The study further argues that parties attractive as pre-electoral coalition partners are not necessarily the ones that would achieve cabinet participation if the negotiations of cabinet posts were an unconstrained post-electoral process. For example, in a one-dimensional policy space, extreme parties, parties more extreme than the president to the median legislator, are relatively unimportant for legislative decisions and thus unlikely to be included in the cabinet for legislative reasons. In a presidential race, however, extreme parties can provide valuable votes and campaign resources and therefore have far stronger blackmailing power. Furthermore, presidential contests produce a strong antagonism between the president and the parties of the president’s electoral rivals. Since the president’s survival in office is not contingent on the support of other parties in parliament, parties that present a strong presidential candidate are likely to be excluded from the cabinet, even if their inclusion is rational from a lawmaking perspective. It is therefore expected that the party of the runner-up is generally excluded from the presidential cabinet and that the overall explanatory power of variables of legislative bargaining increases once one controls for the effects of pre-electoral coalition formation and competition.

The study empirically evaluates this argumentation on the basis of so-called conditional logit models, presenting a new empirical strategy to analyze cabinet formation under this type of regime. The tests are conducted on a new dataset of 107 democratic cabinets in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Based on the new method and data, this study presents the most comprehensive test yet of the determinants of the partisan composition of presidential cabinets.

The most note-worthy empirical results are:

First, presidents try to form majority coalitions, but it is the upper house majority not the lower house majority which makes cabinet coalitions significantly likely to from. One potential explanation for this phenomenon is that there are generally fewer parties in the upper than in the lower chamber, due to the disproportionality of electoral systems used to elect upper chambers in Latin America. Thus, the president’s party is often overrepresented in the upper house, which makes it easier for presidents to find majorities. Furthermore, upper chambers are generally strong in Latin America (Nolte and Llanos 2004), and controlling an upper chamber is often sufficient for the president to prevent a veto override.

Second, contrary to expectations in the literature, extensive presidential decree powers decrease the probability of the occurrence of cabinets which control only a minority of seats in the lower house of congress. A potential explanation for this phenomenon is similar to the argument developed by Strøm (1990) for minority governments in parliamentary systems. Parties prefer to stay in opposition when the government has a weak independent influence on policy. The other explanation is that pre-electoral coalition formation is more prevalent when presidents’ institutional authority is high, as political actors make a relatively simple calculation about the benefits and the costs of coordination in presidential elections. The more powerful the president, the higher the incentives for pre-electoral coalition formation (Hicken and Stoll 2008; Freudenreich 2013). And if the a coalition is in power anyway, it is easier to extend this coalition to secure a majority in the lower house of congress.

Third, considerations of governability and pre-electoral bargaining describe two distinct yet compatible sets of factors that influence cabinet formation in presidential systems. Many cabinet coalitions in Latin America are congruent or extended versions of the pre-electoral coalition of the president and parties of the main presidential competitor are generally excluded from the cabinet, but these factors are distinct to the incentives of legislative bargaining. The explanatory power of variables associated with governability increases once variables of pre-electoral bargaining are included in the statistical model. For example, cabinet coalitions are more likely to form when they include the median party in the lower chamber of congress, but this effect is only statistically significant when one controls for the effects of pre-electoral bargaining.

Overall, the paper tries to show that an inclusive approach is necessary to study coalition dynamics in presidential systems. Pre-electoral commitments strongly affect cabinet formation and thereby also confound the relationship between cabinet formation, legislative bargaining and governability.


Cheibub, José A. 2007. Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Freudenreich, Johannes. 2013. Coalition Formation in Presidential Systems. Ph.D. diss., University of Potsdam.

Hicken, Allen, and Heather Stoll. 2008. Electoral Rules and the Size of the Prize: How Political Institutions Shape Presidential Party Systems. Journal of Politics 70, 4: 1109–27.

Linz, Juan J. 1994. Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference? In The Failure of Presidential Democracy: The Case of Latin America, ed. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 3–89.

Nolte, Detlef/Mariana Llanos. 2004. “Starker Bikameralismus? Zur Verfassungslage lateinamerikanischer Zweikammersysteme.” Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen 35: 113-131.

Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press: New York.

Strøm, Kaare. 1990. Minority Government and Majority Rule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Farida Jalalzai – Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties?

This is a guest post by Farida Jalalzai, the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma State University

In his article “On Election Day, Latin America Willingly Trades Machismo for Female Clout” New York Times contributor Simon Romero asserts “Up and down the Americas, with the notable exception of the United States, women are soaring into the highest political realms” (Romero 2013). In exploring this development making headlines, my book, Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties? (Routledge 2016) analyzes four recent women presidents also known as presidentas: Michelle Bachelet (Chile, 2006-2010; 2014-), Cristina Fernández (Argentina, 2007-2015), Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica, 2010-2014) and Dilma Rousseff (Brazil, 2011-2016).  Given the powers presidentialism affords presidents, women’s increasing tendency to play these very strong political roles present a puzzle.  Since institutional factors account heavily for women’s success and presidentialism appears the most difficult system for women to break through (Jalalzai 2013), how can we explain women’s ability to gain the presidency in Latin America?  Historically, women leaders in presidential systems (particularly women directly elected by the public) were generally limited to relatives of male leaders and this proved to be a personal factor linking women presidents worldwide, including those from Latin America. With the election of Michelle Bachelet in Chile, these traditional patterns appeared to be shifting.  What conditions, therefore, allowed for a broadening of routes, beyond family ties, for women in Latin America?  While an important question, I was also interested in the larger implications the election of powerful women posed. Once in office, do the presidentas make positive changes on behalf of women? My findings were primarily based on responses derived from over 60 elite interviews conducted between 2011 and 2014 in these countries. Respondents included political elites and experts of diverse partisan leanings such as cabinet ministers, legislators, party leaders, consultants from think tanks and academics, and a sitting president (Chinchilla)..  I supplemented interviews with data from public opinion polls, media and scholarly analyses, and information from governmental and non-governmental organizations.

In addressing my first question, I found that all presidentas benefitted from centralized and exclusive presidential nomination procedures (see also Hinojosa 2012). Not only were they essentially handpicked by their predecessors, their publics’ were largely supportive of the outgoing president’s policies.  While benefitting from continuity, with the exception of Fernández (as the former first lady, the only political wife in the group) they did not enjoy top placement or independent bases within their parties.  As such, their nominations were perceived as somewhat surprising and occasionally met with party resistance.  Yet, their outsider statuses likely explain why they were viewed as appropriate successors in the first place.  Critically, Chinchilla, Bachelet, and Rousseff also campaigned on how they would change the face of politics.  The combined approach of change and stability proved fruitful.

Regarding their impact, I examined three types of potential effects of their leadership on women:

  1. Appointing more women to political offices
  2. Positively influencing levels of political engagement and participation, political orientations, and support for women in politics among the general public
  3. Supporting policies on behalf of women

Throughout, I compared women to their male predecessors.  Because of their strong ties to the outgoing presidents, we might have expected the presidentas to behave fairly similarly.  Yet, as women, they may have done more to empower women than their male counterparts. My analysis identified mixed evidence.   While presidents Bachelet and Rousseff prioritized appointing more women than did their male counterparts, this did not seem to hold true for either Chinchilla or Fernández. In analyzing data from representative surveys and from my interviews, findings confirmed key differences between the presidentas.  More positive shifts in public opinion and participation were linked to Rousseff’s presidency (my book only covered her first term—it does did not account her cataclysmic fall from grace and subsequent impeachment) while Bachelet’s showed little consistent or significant effects.  In interviews, respondents easily identified positive influences Rousseff’s and Bachelet’s presidencies offered.  In contrast, both the representative surveys and interviews concerning Chinchilla and Fernández regularly indicated backsliding.  Support for women’s policies proved most prevalent in Bachelet’s presidencies.  Rousseff, to a lesser degree, also made women’s issues an important part of her first term.  While many programs were extensions of Lula’s, Rousseff added more depth to existing programs.  She also connected seemingly gender neutral policies to women, particularly poor women.  We see little prioritization of women’s issues, in contrast, during Fernández’s and Chinchilla’s presidencies, affirming the variability in positive effects of presidentas on women.

Three years after the article quoted above was published, another journalist for the New York Times, Jonathan Gilbert, posed the following question: “What has happened to the powerful women of South America?”  The previous fervor had given way to disappointment as the presidentas analyzed here encountered plummeting approval ratings, much of which is related to economic travails, and nearly all were ensnared in corruption scandals. While this book suggested mixed effects of women presidents, I wonder if women face greater scrutiny for their lackluster performances or alleged engagement in inappropriate behavior. These remain open questions, but ones worth pursuing in future investigations as enhanced scrutiny shapes women’s abilities to exercise power generally and behalf of women specifically. These questions will be even more salient with the United States on the brink of electing its first woman president. As Hillary Clinton is a former First Lady, her path to power is not very puzzling.  Still, no doubt this historic moment will soon give way to investigations regarding what Clinton’s presidency offers women and whether she too receives undue scrutiny because of her gender.


Gilbert, Jonathan. “South America’s Powerful Women Are Embattled. Is Gender a Factor?” The New York Times. May 14, 2016.

Hinojosa, Magda. 2012. Selecting Women, Electing Women: Political Representation and Candidate Selection in Latin America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Jalalzai, Farida. 2016. Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties? New York: Routledge Press.

Jalalzai, Farida. 2013.  Shattered, Cracked or Firmly Intact? Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Romero, Simon. “On Election Day, Latin America Willingly Trades Machismo for Female Clout.” The New York Times. December 14, 2013.

Farida Jalalzai is the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science. Dr. Jalalzai’s research analyzes the representation and behavior of women and minorities in politics and the role of gender in the political arena. Her work focuses on women national leaders. Her first book Shattered, Cracked and Firmly Intact: Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide (Oxford University Press 2013, updated paperback 2016) offers a comprehensive analysis of women, gender, and national leadership positions. Her second book, Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties?  (Routledge 2016) examines several case studies of the behavior of women national leaders including presidents Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica), President Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Cristina Fernández (Argentina). Her current projects include a co-edited volume “Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Worldwide” (with Amy C. Alexander and Catherine Bolzendahl, under contrast at Palgrave) a co-authored book Senhora Presidenta: Women’s Representation in Brazil during Dilma Rousseff’s Presidency (with Pedro dos Santos), and  “Blood is Thicker than Water: Family Ties to Political Power Worldwide,” a global analysis of the prevalence of family connections among executive political office holders (with Meg Rincker).

André Borges and Ryan Lloyd – Presidential Coattails and Electoral Coordination in Multilevel Elections: Comparative Lessons from Brazil

This is a guest post by André Borges and Ryan Lloyd based on their recent article in Electoral Studies

The literature on presidential coattails has, until now, focused mainly on the role played by presidential elections in shaping national legislative races.  Comparative research has demonstrated that in the presence of a sufficiently low number of candidates running for president, concurrent presidential and lower chamber elections deflate the national party system. Presidentialism, however, is often associated with federal institutions, which should complicate party aggregation by introducing the issue of vertical integration.

In a recent paper (Borges and Lloyd, 2016), we argue that the coattails effect may operate not only “horizontally,” by shaping national legislative elections, but also “vertically,” by shaping elections held at lower levels of government. All else being equal, concurrent national (presidential) and subnational (gubernatorial) elections will foster coordination because parties and voters are aware that the presidency is the most important electoral prize in a presidential regime. No candidate for subnational executive office receives as much media attention or as many campaign contributions as the top presidential contenders do. Voters also recognize the overwhelming importance of the presidency in comparison to other political offices in presidential regimes, and they typically pay more attention to presidential candidates than those running for other offices (Golder, 2006).

Our central claim is that the congruence between national and subnational elections increases when elections are temporally proximate and the effective number of presidential candidates is sufficiently low. On the one hand, parties running for president have strong incentives to coordinate strategies between national and subnational electoral arenas because they are required to mobilize a national majority of the vote to win, which in turn requires coordination with local candidates. On the other hand, parties that lack viable presidential candidates will respond strategically to the deflation of the presidential party system by coalescing around one of the major presidential contenders because supporting third candidates (or not participating in the presidential election) may cost them votes in subnational races.

As coordination efforts are repeated over time and national party divisions are successfully reproduced at the subnational level, voters should respond accordingly and make congruent choices in national and regional elections. This is especially true because party coordination provides an external cue for voters in subnational elections. Given that voting is an information- and time-intensive activity, voters are likely to rely on national policies and national party dynamics as a cognitive heuristic for making decisions about subnational elections (Rodden and Wibbels, 2011). Our second hypothesis is ,therefore, that a presidential coattails effect should exist at the individual-voter level when coordination is effective and leads to vertical party linkage.

We evaluate these hypotheses using district-level data from Brazilian gubernatorial and presidential elections from 1945 to 2010. We complement our time-series cross-sectional (TSCS) analysis by running a series of logit regressions on survey data in order to assess the effects of presidential coattails on Brazilian gubernatorial elections. Our logit regressions use surveys from two electoral periods that were characterized by distinct levels of presidential party fragmentation: 2002 and 2010.

Brazil is an ideal case study for analyzing the effects of presidential elections and federalism on party linkage between levels of government because rules governing presidential and gubernatorial elections were changed relatively recently. From 1945 to 1962, presidential and gubernatorial elections concurred on only a few occasions, and not in all states. Lower-chamber elections concurred at the same time as presidential elections in 1945 and 1950, but not for the two elections immediately afterwards (1955 and 1960). In contrast, all elections to national and state-level posts have occurred concurrently since 1994, thereby greatly increasing the stakes of the presidential race. Given that the major traits of Brazil’s political system (presidentialism, federalism, electoral system and legislation on political parties) have mostly remained constant across these two periods, Brazil’s case allows us to test our first hypothesis with a quasi-experimental design.

Our empirical findings indicate that concurrent elections have a negative effect on dissimilarity as long as the effective number of presidential candidates is sufficiently low. Party system incongruence does decrease when presidential and gubernatorial elections concur, but this effect disappears as fragmentation of the presidential vote at the district level surpasses 2.6.

These results are fully independent from subnational dynamics. Previous work on Brazil claimed that reverse coattails exert a substantial impact on the presidential vote, as presidential candidates depend on the support of state party leaders and their political machines (Samuels, 2003). If this hypothesis were correct, we would expect to see low dissimilarity whenever the main contenders in the presidential race count on the endorsement of subnational party organizations. To control for such effects, we created a dummy variable that indicates whether or not the incumbent governor’s party was a member of either one of the two largest coalitions disputing the presidential race. As a proxy for incumbent parties’ strength at the state level, we included a measure of terms completed in gubernatorial office.  Overall, although subnational party dynamics does have an impact on dissimilarity – the presence of a coalition incumbent governor does decrease dissimilarity, especially for mean levels of continuity in office – this effect pales in comparison with effect of concurrent races.

Our logit analysis of survey data on the 2002 and 2010 elections was supportive of our second hypothesis. Multilevel electoral coordination between parties does indeed seem to be reinforced and reflected in individual-level data, as we find evidence that presidential evaluations have significant effects on the probability that one will vote for that the gubernatorial candidate of the presidential candidate’s coalition. In other words, presidential coattails voting exists at the level of the individual voter in gubernatorial elections.

To ensure that our estimates did not suffer from simultaneity bias because of the possible effects of a reverse coattails effect, we ran several tests. First, we used a bivariate probit model with the same control variables as our normal model, specifying it with the presidential and gubernatorial votes as our joint dependent variables. This specification allowed us to account for a possible correlation between the presidential and gubernatorial votes by not assuming that errors in the two equations were uncorrelated. Even accounting for this potential correlation, the presidential evaluation had a strong, significant effect on the gubernatorial vote for both the Workers’ Party (PT) and the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party).

Second, we ran a logit model using our individual survey data with votes in second-round gubernatorial elections in 2002 and 2010 as our dependent variable. The advantage of this latter specification is that it allows for the inclusion of controls for voters’ preferences in the gubernatorial election (the first-round vote for governor) that are not simultaneous with the (second-round) vote for president. In the presence of reverse coattails, presidential evaluations would be strongly correlated with the first-round gubernatorial vote and would therefore contribute little to the explanation of the second-round vote for both president and governor. This, however, is not the case: our models show that the first-round vote and presidential evaluations both have significant effects, suggesting that the coattails effect existed even with these controls.

Interestingly, we found that the coattails effect was stronger for PT candidates than for PSDB candidates, which is consistent with our hypothesis. Because the Workers’ Party coordinated its national and regional strategies more effectively, this induced greater congruence in voters’ choices. The PT’s presidential candidate, for instance, faced no internal resistance in either 2002 or 2010, whereas the PSDB dealt with internal leadership disputes in both years. It is therefore plausible that fractiousness in the PSDB led to less effective coordination in 2002 and 2010 in comparison to the PT. Furthermore, these differences cannot be attributed to higher levels of partisanship among PT supporters, as both models control for party identification.

The article presents important contributions for two distinct literatures. First, we develop a novel set of hypotheses building on the literature on vote congruence and second-order elections, that had previously focused almost solely on parliamentary countries. We demonstrate that multilevel electoral coordination in presidential systems has some important peculiarities that had not yet been incorporated into theoretical models. Second, we contribute for research on presidential elections and party systems, by incorporating issues of vertical party linkage and multilevel electoral coordination into the analysis.

Our empirical findings indicate that the choice of electoral rules for electing presidents and governors is key for building effective federal institutions, as long as it may have a relevant impact on the degree of party integration. When parties and party systems are poorly integrated policy coordination across levels of government will be harder to achieve. Although we do not claim that concurrent elections have produced an integrated, nationalized party system in Brazil, as dissimilarity has remained high in the recent democratic period, we believe that, in the absence of vertical simultaneity of elections, the Brazilian party system would likely be much more volatile and unstable. Furthermore, because Brazil is a least-likely case in which extreme multiparty system, decentralized party and electoral institutions, and low levels of party institutionalization all conspire against effective coordination, we expect such effects to be stronger in other, more favorable settings. In any case, our findings suggest that no account of party system formation in multilevel presidential systems will be adequate without an analysis of coordination across national and subnational electoral arenas and related coattail effects.


Borges, André, and Ryan Lloyd. 2016. “Presidential coattails and electoral coordination in multilevel elections: Comparative lessons from Brazil.” Electoral Studies no. 46:104-114.

Golder, Matt. 2006. “Presidential Coattails and Legislative Fragmentation.” American Journal of Political Science no. 50 (1):34-48.

Rodden, Jonathan, and Erik Wibbels. 2011. “Dual accountability and the nationalization of party competition: Evidence from four federations.” Party Politics no. 17 (5):629-653. doi: 10.1177/1354068810376182.

Samuels, David. 2003. Ambition, federalism, and legislative politics in Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thomas C. Bruneau – The Impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff: Old Politics Meets New Standards in Brazil

This is a guest post by Thomas Bruneau, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School

On May 28, 2016, the Brazilian Minister of Defense, Raul Jungmann, gave a long interview with the Estado de São Paulo newspaper. In the long interview he barely touched upon military or defense issues, merely lauding the military’s neutrality in the current chaotic political situation. However, he did highlight an important aspect of Brazilian politics. He noted that while the Constitution of 1988 strengthened accountability institutions, naming specifically the Public Ministry, the Federal Police, and the Judiciary, politics had not changed. In his terms, politics is a hostage to itself.

These observations by a seasoned politician, one who has twice served as both federal minister and federal deputy, permit us to better understand the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.  Despite allegations by President Rousseff that she was deposed in a golpe, a coup, the process is in accord with the Constitution of 1988. This is notwithstanding the fact that many other issues have contributed to the situation, including her narrow reelection in 2014, lackluster governance, dubious economic policies, exposes of massive graft and corruption, and miserable public opinion poll rating.  While President Rousseff cannot be blamed for all of these problems, she is being held to answer for at least one of the 37 charges levied against her, which is a “crime of fiscal responsibility”: fiddling with government accounts to facilitate her reelection in 2014.

Scholars who study the process whereby the Constitution of 1988 was formulated and the resulting document are extremely critical.  In my writing I argue that the Constitution did not represent an “elite settlement” ensuring democratic consolidation, as was the case in Spain, for example. Law professor, Keith S. Rosenn, states the following: “The process by which Brazil’s 1988 Constitution was adopted practically assured that the end product would be a hodgepodge of inconsistent and convoluted provisions.” [i] Despite the 245 articles and 70 transitional provisions, the framers were unable to resolve whether Brazil would be a monarchy or republic, and if the latter, a presidential or parliamentary system.  These fundamental decisions were left for a referendum in 1993 that favored a presidential republic.  The framers of the constitution, which were the 559 members of the Brazilian Congress, maintained intact both the institutional defects of the political system and the extensive prerogatives of the armed forces that governed Brazil between 1964 and 1985.  Whereas the institutional defects of the political system continue until the present, since the system is, as Jungmann puts it, hostage to itself, the prerogatives of the armed forces have been diminished and the accountability institutions have become robust and active.  These three processes, the diminishing of the prerogatives of the military, the vicious circle of the political system, and the emergence of strong accountability institutions are the foci of this paper.

Both Rosenn and I detail the extensive prerogatives of the armed forces that resulted from the negotiated transition from military to civilian rule and the reliance of President Sarney on the armed forces during his five year tenure (1985 – 90).  The most extensive work on this topic, however, is found in Alfred Stepan’s Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone where he demonstrates, by describing 11 prerogatives, that Brazil had little progressed between military and civilian rule.  More recently, twenty – eight years after Stepan published his book, scholars demonstrate that the prerogatives that were mainly high when Stepan wrote are today either low or moderate.  Some of the high points of the process whereby the prerogatives were diminished or eliminated include the creation of a civilian – led ministry of defense in 1999, which resulted in the decrease of military – led ministries from six to zero, and a large package of laws in 2011 which further delimited and restricted the autonomy of the armed forces. Today, the armed forces receive 1.29 % of GDP and 73% of this goes to salaries and pensions, and the political influence of the armed forces is minimal.  Illustrative of the change from the military regime to the present day is the elimination of the National Information Service, (Serviço Nacional de Informações SNI), which was the intelligence arm of the military regime, by President Collor in 1990, and the creation, only after nine years, of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência ABIN).  ABIN is prohibited from conducting intercepts, has a minimal budget, and lacks a direct link to decision – makers.  In short, the politicians had incentives to diminish the influence and roles of the armed forces, thereby increasing their own.

While the Constitution of 1988 included a great many items that could lead to an improved socio – economic situation for Brazilians, it changed nothing regarding the political institutions that put those 559 politicians into the position of writing the constitution, and have made only most minimal changes in the intervening 28 years.  As Rosenn states “The constituent assembly also did nothing to reform the malfunctioning of the political party system, which is one of the world’s worst.” [ii] They did not establish a minimum number of votes for a party to be recognized, resulting in the current situation with 35 political parties at the national level with 19 having deputies in the lower house, the Câmara. They did not change the open – list system of proportional representation in which each state is a single, and at – large multi – member district.  They did not change the gross misrepresentation whereby all states, and the federal district, have three senators or the provision stipulating that all states, regardless of population, would have a minimum of eight and a maximum of seventy deputies.

There was supposed to be a wholesale revision of the Constitution in 1993 that would require only an absolute majority of the deputies.  That revision never happened.  Instead, there have been piecemeal revisions. In reviewing the various initiatives to revise the constitution between 1988 and today, they amount to very little.  This is the consensus view of the experts on the issue including David Fleischer, Alfredo Montero, Timothy Power, and Keith Rosenn.  The Constitution of 1988 was full of contradictions. The issue of parliamentary vs. presidential form of government was never resolved, neither in the constituent assembly nor after. On the one hand the constitution gave the congress a role in approving annual budgets and allowed them to overrule presidential vetoes with absolute majorities rather than a two-thirds vote. On the other hand, it gave the presidency the exclusive right to initiate and execute annual budgets and to force 45 – day limits on the congress to review bills defined as “urgent” by the president, the power to appoint a cabinet, subject to Senate approval, and the power to issue executive decrees (medidas provisórias) which had the force of law while congress had 30 days to review the measure.  Post – 1990 presidents utilized these measures, and others, to govern.

Even with these gimmicks, the need to assemble a coalition, since no president since the first directly elected, President Collor, has belonged to a party with a majority in either house of congress, all presidents would have to attract the support of other parties.  Brazil has one of, if not the most fractured, party system of any democracy. This form of government, commonly called coalitional presidentialism (presidencialismo de coalizão), could, and did, easily evolve into corruption. The most famous, but not the only, corruption scandal of President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva –Lula (2002 – 2010) was the “big monthly” (as in big monthly payments to members of congress to support his government’s policies in the congress), mensalão scandal.  Alfred Montero has this to say on this topic. “The need to engage in vote – buying emerged from the limited options the Lula administration had for composing the same kind of legislative coalition that Cardoso enjoyed.” [iii]  Several top Workers’ Party (PT) officials were implicated in this vote – buying scheme.  The scandal ultimately led to the convictions of twenty-five people, including Lula’s former chief of staff, José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva, who has more recently been sentenced to 23 years in jail in the Lava Jato corruption scheme.

There are so many corruption scandals currently in play in the investigation and sentencing phases, that only the experts can keep straight the modalities of Mensalão, Lava Jato, Petrolão, Zelotes, and Operation Aequalis to mention only the biggest and most current. So far the wave of illegal, extralegal, and simply corrupt practices have resulted in the impeachment hearing of President Rousseff, the investigation of ex-President Lula, the conviction of 84 persons for crimes associated with Lava Jato, the majority of them politicians and businessmen. While not all of the crimes involve politicians, most of them do, and virtually all of them involve sources of funds, as in Petrobras, under the control of the Brazilian State, and thus of necessity involve politicians.

It must be acknowledged that corruption is nothing new in Brazil.  In fact, according to the late Samuel Huntington in his influential Political Order in Changing Societies corruption is seen in positive terms in the process of modernization.  Huntington calls specific attention to Brazil.  Further, there is a very influential article published in 1990 in the important Revista de Administração Pública of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas by Anna Maria Campos that argues in great detail why there is no concept or meaning to the term “accountability” in Portuguese. Most Brazilian and foreign authors refer to the Brazilian propensity to use “angles” or “gimmicks”, jeitinhos, to get around laws. Or, as was said in positive terms of a mayor of São Paulo, he robs but he accomplishes things. Rouba mas faz.

And, in line with Jungmann’s observations above, while politics has not changed, including the use of corruption to govern, what is now permissible in politics and business in general in Brazil is changing.  There is no single cause for the change, and I have identified at least five.

First, the 1988 Constitution created, or recreated, a large spectrum of oversight and investigation mechanisms, and these have been expanded in number during the intervening 28 years. Today they include the Comptroller General, the Accounting Tribunal, the Federal Police, the Public Ministry, and the courts.  There is a huge literature on these institutions in both Portuguese and English, and the approach that I find most convincing to explain their increasing influence, culminating in the current wave of imprisonments, is that of Sérgio Praça and Matthew M. Taylor who demonstrate that the capacity of these institutions increases not by a single event or factor, but through bureaucratic interaction.  The capacity increase is contingent and interactive.  In short, these oversight, investigatory, and punishment institutions can only be understood in a specific national and international context, which is why I include the following four factors.

Second, whereas in the past, the main weakness of the accountability mechanisms was the inability or unwillingness of the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, to process and convict individuals, today this is changing due to personalities and the gradual modification of processes similar to those noted in the prior paragraph.  This change is best highlighted by the actions of Judge Sérgio Moro of Curitiba who has taken the lead in the Lava Jato scandal. He is extremely active not only in pursuing corruption, but also in writing on the importance of plea – bargaining and the Italian experience in countering the mafia.

Third, much of the momentum to impeach President Rousseff is related to allegation of corruption involving the Workers’ Party, and was established by the information provided by Senator Delcídio do Amaral, who was the leader of the party in the Senate. He was arrested, and due to plea –  bargaining (delação premiada) he provided information on the spread of corruption throughout the Brazilian government.  Those familiar with criminal law in the United States are aware that plea – bargaining is probably the single most important mechanism for gathering evidence on white – collar crime. Plea- bargaining was established in Brazil only in 2013 with law 12,850/2013. I have been informed by lawyers involved in the introduction of plea – bargaining that it was one of several laws that were required for Brazil to reach OECD standards.  Since June 2015 there was a Co-Operation Agreement in place between Brazil and the OECD, which has been followed by an OECD-Brazil Programme of Work.

Fourth, Brazil’s population of over 200 million is increasingly invested in the system. An important indicator of this vesting is their paying taxes. According to one source, in 2013 over 50% of those who declared income, paid income tax, whereas a decade earlier only 36% paid income tax. [iv] Just as important, according to data analyzed by the Instituto Brasileiro de Planejamento e Tributação, of the thirty countries where taxes are the highest, Brazil is the worst in terms of return to the population in investments in the quality of life.

Fifth, Brazilians are today very much aware of the low return on investment for their high taxes. Indeed, the huge anti – government demonstrations in June 2013 were mainly caused by this awareness of high taxes, mediocre services in health, education, and transportation, while the government invested massively in stadiums and other infrastructure for the World Cup in soccer in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.  In addition to all – pervasive radio and television stations there is today extremely high penetration by social media. According to comScore, which claims to be the global leader in digital analysis, Brazil leads the world with a 99.9% reach of social media. And, with 8.8 hours of use in the month of June 2015, Brazil is the world leader in that similar data for Europe is 6.1 hours, and the U.S. 5.2 hours. [v]

In sum, traditional politics, in which the lubricant is public funds, has now encountered a wide spectrum of accountability mechanisms, supported by processes and attitudes, which no longer tolerate the traditional lackadaisical approach to ethics in politics.  While the incentives to reform politics are not as obvious as they were to assert control over the armed forces and intelligence services, they are nevertheless present in the expectations of the Brazilian population and international organizations.


Bruneau, Thomas (1992) “ Brazil’s political transition,” in John Higley and Richard Gunther, eds., Elites and Democratic Consolidation in Latin America and Southern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 257 – 281.

Bruneau, Thomas C. and Scott D. Tollefson (2014) “Civil – Military Relations in Brazil: A Reassessment,” Journal of Politics in Latin America, pp. 107 – 138.

Bruneau, Thomas C. (2015) “Intelligence Reform in Brazil: A Long, Drawn – Out Process,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, pp. 502 – 519.

Campos, Anna Maria (1990) “Accountability: Quando Poderemos Traduzi-La Para O Português?” Revista de Administração Pública, pp. 30 – 50.

Couto, Cláudio G. and Rogério B. Arantes, (2008) “Constitution, Government and Democracy in Brazil,” World Political Science Review, pp. 1 – 33.

Fleischer, David (2016) “Attempts at Political Reform: (1985 – 2015): Still a ‘Never Ending Story’” Paper Presented at BRASA Conference, Brown University, March 31 – April 2, 2016.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1968) Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968)

Instituto Brasileiro de Planejamento e Tributação “Estudo sobre a Carga Tributária/PIB X IDH Maio 2015. Available at Accessed May 30, 2016.

Montero Alfred P. (2014) Brazil: Reversal of Fortune (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 2014)

Power Timothy J. and Matthew M. Taylor, eds. (2011) Corruption and Democracy in Brazil: The Struggle for Accountability (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011).

Power, Timothy J. (2010) “Brazilian Democracy as a Late Bloomer: Reevaluating the Regime in the Cardoso – Lula Era,” Latin American Research Review, pp. 218 – 247.

Praça Sérgio and Matthew M. Taylor, (2014) “Inching Toward Accountability: The Evolution of Brazil’s Anticorruption Institutions, 1985 – 2010,” Latin American Politics and Society, pp. 28 – 48.

Rosenn, Keith S. (2010) “Conflict Resolution and Constitutionalism: The Making of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988,” in Laurel E. Miller, editor, with Louis Aucoin, Framing the State in Times of Transition: Case Studies in Constitution Making (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 2010).

Rosenn, Keith S. (2014) “Recent Important Decisions by the Brazilian Supreme Court, Inter-American Law Review, pp. 297 – 334.

Stepan, Alfred (1988) Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).


[i] Keith S. Rosenn, 2010, “Conflict Resolution and Constitutionalism: The Making of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988,” in Laurel E. Miller, editor, with Louis Aucoin Framing the State in Times of Transition: Case Studies in Constitution Making (Washington, D.C. United States Institute of Peace, 2010), p. 458.

[ii] Ibid, p. 458.

[iii] Alfred P. Montero, Brazil: Reversal of Fortune (Cambridge, Mass: Polity Press, 2014), p. 43

[iv] Pulsamérica available at accessed June 2, 2016.

[v] ComScore & Shareablee (2015) “The State of Social in Brazil” available at Accessed June 2, 2016.

Thomas Bruneau is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He joined the Department in 1987 after having taught in the Department of Political Science at McGill University. Dr. Bruneau became Chairman of the Department in 1989, and continued in that position until 1995. He became Director of the Center for Civil Military Relations in November 2000, a position he held until December 2004. He left U.S. Government service in early 2013. He has six recently published books. He is co-editor, of Who Guards the Guardians and How: Democratic Civil – Military Relations (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006). His second book, also published by University of Texas Press, with CDR Steve Boraz, is Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness. His third co-edited book, with Harold Trinkunas, Global Politics of Defense Reform, was published by Palgrave – Macmillan in February 2008. His single authored book, Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security was published by Stanford University Press in mid-2011. His co-edited book, with Lucia Dammert and Elizabeth Skinner, Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America was published by the University of Texas Press in late 2011. His last co-edited book, with Cris Matei, The Routledge Handbook of Civil-Military Relations was published by Routledge in London in late-2012. He writes the annual report on Portugal for the Bertelsmann Foundation Sustainable Governance Indicators publication. His two most recent scholarly publications are “Impediments to Fighting the Islamic State: Private Contractors and US Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 2015 and “Intelligence Reform in Brazil: A Long, Drawn-Out Process,” International Journal of Intelligence andCounterIntelligence Fall 2015. Between 1998 and 2001 he served as rapporteur of the Defense Policy Board that provides the Secretary of Defense and his staff with independent advice on questions of national security and defense policy.

Mariana Llanos and Detlef Nolte – Brazil, Venezuela, and the Many Faces of Latin American Presidentialism

This is a guest post by Mariana Llanos and Detlef Nolte, both from the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies, on their new paper, The Many Faces of Latin American Presidentialism.

In 1990 Juan Linz published an influential article in the Journal of Democracy entitled “The Perils of Presidentialism” in which he did not make many favourable prognoses for the recently established democratic, and presidential, regimes of Latin America. He argued that the instability of presidential regimes was connected to its essential features – that is, the principle of dual legitimacy, according to which both the president and the legislature equally derive their power from the vote of the people, and the fixed mandates for both elected institutions. The fixed term introduced rigidities to the system that made crisis and conflict resolution more difficult, and the direct election of the executive and legislative powers gave both president and congress direct democratic legitimacy, thus inducing inter-institutional struggles and making it unclear which would prevail in the event of lack of majorities and a conflict between the two.

Although Latin American democracy survived, and the problems that Linz attributed to presidentialism turned out to be less pervasive than he had initially thought, they did not disappeared. In effect, since the beginning of 2016 the region has witnessed two major political crises, in Venezuela and Brazil, which despite being extreme are predictable crises within presidential regimes. In these two cases the presidents face an adverse majority in Congress: in Brazil, congress is using the constitutional mechanism of impeachment to oust President Rousseff, while in Venezuela President Maduro is manipulating the rules of the decision-making process to disempower congress and to avoid a recall referendum that would take him out of the presidency.

While presidentialism may be prone to producing political stalemates, political actors are responsible for creating and resolving these stalemates. Brazil and Venezuela represent two different presidential traditions within the region, and the institutional mechanisms being used to solve the current impasse situations differ accordingly. We should bear in mind, though, that crises are profound in these countries and will persist beyond the short-term solutions to stalemate. It appears that the period of fine-weather democracy may be coming to an end and that some of the “perils” and less pleasant traits of presidential democracy may be resurging.

Coalition Presidentialism and Presidential Breakdowns

“Coalition presidentialism” is the consensual Latin American variant of presidentialism that is practiced in Brazil. Under this scheme, the directly elected president serves as a coalitional formateur and uses his/her appointment prerogatives to recruit ministers from other parties in order to foster the emergence of a legislative cartel that could support her/his proposals in congress for overcoming political deadlocks. Alongside the distribution of cabinet posts, presidents use a wide range of agenda-setting powers and pork-barrelling to maintain control of the legislative process.

Coalitions have helped overcome inter-institutional conflicts, but they are demanding for presidents, particularly when they face other challenges. A tough economic situation, scandals, popular discontent, and public mobilisation, expose the weakness of the presidential leadership and may lead to his/her demise. During the third wave of democratization, many presidents have been challenged and 17 presidents have actually been forced to leave before finishing their constitutionally fixed mandates under the pressure of unfavourable majorities in congress and often also of protests in the streets. A few weeks ago, the Brazilian Senate initiated an impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff who is suffering from extremely low popularity as a result of a serious recession, high inflation and unemployment rates, in addition to the Petrobras affair, a corruption scandal that involves her party (the PT) and many others and that has infuriated the public and motivated protests. Due to these events, latent rivalries among coalition members became apparent, leading to a major break between the PT and the main coalition partner, the PMDB, and giving impulse to the impeachment process. The impeachment resembles previous presidential breakdowns where the president had to leave power prematurely. In these solutions to stalemate where congress prevails, the president has to go and the succession line is activated, but democracy persist.

The Autocratic Phase of Presidentialism

The Venezuelan case belongs to another variant of presidentialism, one based on presidential dominance that has a long tradition in Latin America. It is characterized by the exalted status of the presidency, particularly when the presidential party controls the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Presidents may also use their formal powers to either bypass or manipulate the legislative and judicial branches. Presidents prone to unilateral excursions enjoying strong political backing have populated the regional landscape – for instance, as part of the pink tide during the first decade of this century. Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales have exemplified a delegative and hyperpresidential style of government, notwithstanding their participatory discourses.

In Venezuela, the president’s loss of a majority after congressional elections at the end of 2015 has left in evidence the autocratic tendencies of the regime. President Maduro managed that his outgoing majority appointed 13 new judges by blatantly violating the constitution. The new supreme court has since then proved to be a tremendous functional instrument for serving the executive and disempowering the opposing Congress. The latest of several controversial measures was to hold up the constitutionality of the two-month state of emergency that had been rejected by congress and that gave Maduro extra powers to impose tough security measures and to deal with an uneasy social context characterized by food and medicine shortage, the economy shrinking by 8 per cent, and an inflation rate of up to 500 per cent.

The congressional attempts to get approval for a recall referendum, the constitutional mechanism to depose the president, are also being boycotted by the president-controlled electoral judiciary. We understand that the way in which Maduro is prevailing in the conflict with congress has crossed the line in the direction of authoritarianism. This solution to the gridlock closely resembles the autogolpe solutions (such as that in Peru in 1992), where we saw congress unilaterally closed by the executive and the democratic regime break down. It is quite difficult to predict how the political stalemate, the partisan polarisation, and the economic crisis in Venezuela can be overcome. What would the military reaction be if they were asked to intervene?

For a More Sincere Solution to Gridlock

Whether a presidential triumph in case of gridlock may lead to an authoritarian variant of presidentialism, a congressional triumph also entails the risks of leading to more political polarisation. The latter is connected to the fact that impeachment concerns a president’s misconduct or violation of norms while, in the end, it is the size of the presidential majority that determines his/her fate. It would be more honest if impeachments were replaced by votes of non-confidence (by a two-thirds majority): the political debate would be framed less in normative and more in political-programmatic terms. Certainly, the call for earlier elections would be a more embracing solution for critical stalemate situations. We believe that either of these semi-presidential solutions to gridlock, which have often informally prevailed in similar crises during the last thirty years, are preferable to old-style Latin American authoritarian rule.

Mariana Llanos is a lead research fellow at the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies and head of GIGA’s Accountability and Participation Research Programme.

Detlef Nolte is the vice president of the GIGA, the director of the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies, and a professor of political science at the University of Hamburg.

Link to the Article:

Magna Inácio – Collapse of Brazilian coalitional presidentialism?

This is a guest post by Magna Inácio from the Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais

Twenty-four years after the impeachment of the first elected president since redemocratization, Collor, a new trial has suspended the current president, Dilma, from her powerful seat as the senate votes whether or not to impeach her. Two events of this magnitude, in six presidential mandates, have called into question the capacity of Brazilian presidentialism to maintain stable governments. Further, they have rekindled interest in the adoption of semipresidencialism or parliamentarism.

Brazilian presidents build coalitions and govern through them. Scholars have seen this as a cooperative solution to legislative-executive relations that might mitigate the risks of legislative gridlocks and democratic breakdowns. Since ongoing political crisis challenges this view, it is inevitable to ask: is it a crisis of coalitional presidentialism in Brazil? Alternatively, is it a crisis of a coalition and the president’s failures in its management?

The current crisis seems to describe the typical scenario of those crises that magnify the rigidity of a system without exhaust valves for inter-branch conflicts: an unpopular and recalcitrant president and decisional paralysis spasms provoked by greater activism of the legislative parties. After a hard-won victory, Dilma pushed the government into the crossfire of the opposition and discontented supporters. Diverging from her electoral platform, which was based on redistributive policies, a different economic outlook was revealed when a fiscal adjustment program and deep budgetary cutbacks were adopted in the first days of her second term. Two years after reaching a record presidential approval rating (65%), in her first term, Dilma’s popularity fell to the lowest level (8%) achieved by any recent presidents.

Cross-pressured by these ambiguous signals, her legislative majority has become increasingly hostile and volatile. The conflicts within the coalition deepened, feeding the opposition’s attractiveness and political polarization in the legislative arena and on the streets. The legislative gridlocks and intense opposition, exacerbated by the Chamber of Deputies’ Speaker and member of the major coalition partner, made the fracture of the legislative cartel, led by the president, very obvious. Corruption scandals and a massive investigation (“Operation Car Wash”) touched important leaders of the president’s party, including former president Lula as well as other coalition partners, and deepened these conflicts as uncertainty about the future of government spread.

Why did these political conflicts evolve into an impeachment trial? Some scholars have identified the impeachment events as a heterodox political solution to the lack of exhaust valves in the presidentialism. Recent literature has pointed to the new political instability in Latin America at the government level, but not at the regime level (Pérez Liñan, 2007). Given the fragility of horizontal controls to constrain, ex-ante, the abuse of presidential powers, impeachment could work as a mechanism, ex-post, to interrupt it. In this, context matters. According to Carlin et al. (2015, 2016), such breakdowns reveal a conditional accountability: presidential unpopularity and scandals can feed protests, but they will be decisive in the collapse of governments when economic insecurities magnify political uncertainties. From this perspective, the corruption scandals became decisive to Dilma’s impeachment trial because they occurred simultaneously with the disastrous economic performance of government: high inflation (10%), high unemployment rates (11%), and negative GDP growth in the last year (-3.80%).

External shocks are relevant factors, but I consider that the effects of the scandals, plummeting popularity and declining economic outlook on the collapse of the government are all dependent on the lack of coalition management ability of the presidency. Powerful Brazilian presidentialism is strong, and not only because the president relies on a broad array of institutional powers. Its strength is variable: it depends on the coordinating ability of the presidency to use these resources in the management of the coalition and, jointly with legislative parties, to pave the way for sustainable governance. However, it should be noted that, although coalitional presidentialism is a recurrent practice in Brazil, there is a lack of institutional mechanisms of coalition leadership or a collective decision-making committee, as a coalition or party summit. Therefore, cabinet governance strongly depends on presidents’ strategies and abilities to manage their multiparty alliance.

In a fragmented party system, the profile of coalition makes its management cost variable. Brazilian presidents count on a diverse toolbox for dealing with these costs (Raile et al., 2011). This includes legislative agenda powers, ministerial positions, budget, etc. In addition to the distribution of these resources, whether with partisan bias or not, the model of coalition governance also varies according to the degree of centralization of decision-making in the hands of the presidency and its staff (Inácio & Llanos, 2014).

Although presidential powers have remained relatively stable since redemocratization, the performance of the presidencies on cabinet coordination varies considerably. Only when the president´s coordinating capacity declined below a critical threshold did the impeachment take place. Thus, the collapse of government seems to require both endogenous and exogenous factors, affecting the process of government. Then, impeachment is not inevitable.

Since 1986, Brazilian presidents have faced severe economic crises, presidential popularity has remained at oscillating and moderate levels, and scandals have been frequent. The most stable periods of coalition governance in Brazil correspond to power-sharing cabinet-presidency relations. The governments of Itamar (successor to Collor), Cardoso and Lula coordinated their coalitions in such a way as to internalize management costs and the processing of conflicts behind the closed doors of the executive. Cardoso and Lula faced serious crises that weakened the operational ability of the coalitions to sustain government decisions. However, both presidents managed their resources to surmount these crises through cabinet reshuffling, centralization, pork goods, policy concessions, and administrative strategies to keep tabs on their partners and keep them together, in order to avoid a single-party cabinet or the collapse of the government as reversion outcomes.

The financial and energy crises in Cardoso’s second term led him to make concessions on high-priority policy agendas and to give more attention to clientelistic demands from his allies. With less presidential leverage, the president dealt with these constraints and postponed the reversion outcome. It effectively occurred with the rupture of his coalition, opening space for PSDB’s electoral defeat on his succession. Halfway through his first term, Lula faced a profound crisis with the “mensalão” scandal in 2005. Legislative threats to begin impeachment proceedings and declining popularity put Lula’s re-election at risk. However, the president handled these risks through cabinet reshuffling (three times in a semester), redesign of the hypertrophied presidential office (and reduction of the partisan bias favoring PT) and sharing the management of legislative-executive relations with coalition partners. After distancing himself from those PT members involved in the mensalão scandal, Lula assumed a more active role for himself in both cabinet coordination and the mobilization of his supporters.

Differently, presidents Collor and Dilma demonstrated clear limits in the coordination of their cabinets, endogenously fostering the escalation of interbranch and intracoalition conflicts. They both resorted to a model of centralized cabinet governance, restricting interparty and interbranch negotiations. It made them more vulnerable to political crises, particularly when allegations of corruption and the “crime of responsibility” opened space for impeachment trials.

Governing unilaterally from a minority and single-party cabinet, headed by a centralized presidency, Collor implemented a radical economic reform agenda. The unpopular policies and their distributive costs quickly pushed the legislative parties into the arms of discontented voters and economic groups. After revelations of Collor’s involvement in a corruption scheme, the dissatisfied congress impeached him quickly and almost unanimously.

Dilma’s first term was relatively stable throughout the first three years. However, legislative-executive relations were continuously tense. Although the ruling coalition has been the same as that of Lula’s administrations, these tensions deepened with the centralized decision-making process headed by Dilma, particularly in the economic area. The “new matrix” of economic policies pursued by the government, based on continued expanding credit and government spending, reinforced criticisms about the insulated decision-making process[1]. When the first signs of the failure of her economic policies and the new constraints from global economy were made clear, the administration strongly resisted changing the route on the eve of the president seeking re-election[2]. As a candidate, Dilma rejected the need for this policy shift in her campaign and condemned her opponents’ proposals about this agenda. This strategy had high reputational costs for Dilma, when she pursued did it after her re-election. The president did not explain to the voters the reasons for this turning point, nor did she open negotiations with those sectors and groups affected by these policies.

The delay of this policy shift reduced the leeway for policy-makers to implement reforms in a context of economic stagnation, fiscal deficit and low government credibility. Facing a more fragmented and polarized Congress, Dilma did not receive legislative support for her economic and fiscal reforms after reelection. Even the leaders of cabinet parties walked away from the executive agenda, revealing a real minority from this centrifugal dynamic. At this juncture, the corruption scandals, low approval ratings and economic stagnation pushed the political crisis to a point of no return. Could it be avoided?  Maybe we have to pay more attention to the management of the coalition, beyond the use of the presidential toolbox. It could mitigate the effects of exogenous shocks on the president’s fate. It could allows the president not only to foster cooperation in good times, but also to overcome political crises by widening their choices in bad times. But this management must not depend only the president’s wisdom. It must be a by-product of institutional, power-sharing mechanisms that support coalition leadership. Such strong dependency on presidential leadership is, maybe, a risk-taking feature of Brazilian presidentialism. Exhaust valves are important during extreme crises, but there is still room for institutional innovations that fill the gap between presidential and coalition leadership.


CARLIN, Ryan E.; LOVE, Gregory J.; MARTÍNEZ-GALLARDO, Cecilia. 2015. “Cushioning the Fall: Scandals, Economic Conditions, and Executive Approval.” Political Behavior, 37(1):109-130.

INÁCIO, Magna; LLANOS, Mariana. 2016. The Institutional Presidency in Latin America: A Comparative Analysis. Presidential Studies Quartely (forthcoming)

PÉREZ-LIÑÁN, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

RAILE, Eric D.; PEREIRA, Carlos; POWER, Timothy J. 2011. “The Executive Toolbox: Building Legislative Support in a Multiparty Presidential Regime.” Political Research Quarterly 64 (2): 323- 34.

[1] These policies undermined the confidence of the private sector in the government, as it was seen as deepening state interventionism and departing from the policies of fiscal responsibility, inflation targeting and a floating exchange rate pursued by Cardoso and Lula.

[2] Dilma is accused of the “crime of responsibility” for allegedly having violated budgetary laws by illegally covering budget shortfalls.


Magna. InacioMagna Inácio is an associate professor at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG). Her research interests include coalition governments, the institutional presidency, and legislative parties. Currently, her research is concerned with the institutional development of the Presidency in Brazil and Latin American. She has published co-edited books: Legislativo Brasileiro em Perspectiva Comparada (with Lúcio Rennó). (Ed. UFMG); Elites Parlamentares na America Latina. (Argvmentvm Ed, 2009) and chapters in “Algo más que Presidentes. El papel del Poder Legislativo en América Latina”. (co-edited by Manoel Alcantara Saez e Mercedes Garcia; Fundación Manuel Gimenez Abad 2011); O Congresso por Ele Mesmo. (edited by Timothy Powers e Cesar Zucco; Ed. UFMG 2011). She has published in journals such as America Latina Hoy and Jounal of Politics in Latin America. E-mail: