Category Archives: Brazil

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.

Literature

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.

References

Gilbert, Jonathan. “South America’s Powerful Women Are Embattled. Is Gender a Factor?” The New York Times. May 14, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/world/americas/dilma-rousseff-michelle-bachelet-cristina-fernandez-de-kirchner.html?_r=0

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. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/world/americas/on-election-day-latin-america-willingly-trades-machismo-for-female-clout.html?_r=0

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.

Bibliography:

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.

References

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 www.idpt.com.br 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).

Notes

[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 http://www.pulsamerica.co.uk/2013/02/25/brazil-over-12-million-currently=pay-income-tax/ accessed June 2, 2016.

[v] ComScore & Shareablee (2015) “The State of Social in Brazil” available at https://www.comscore.com 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: https://www.giga-hamburg.de/en/publication/the-many-faces-of-latin-american-presidentialism

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.

References

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.

Bios

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: magna.inacio@gmail.com.

Lucas González and Miguel Ignacio Mamone – Who Distributes? Presidents, Congress, Governors, and the Politics of Distribution in Argentina and Brazil

This is a guest post by Lucas González, researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) and professor at the Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA) and Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM) in Buenos Aires, Argentina

s200_lucas.gonzalez

In the last decade, federal expenditures in public housing, sanitation, roads, and urban works rose by 108% in Brazil and 429% in Argentina, becoming one of the most important redistributive tools in the hands of the federal government. Those funds represented almost 8% of the total budget in Argentina and 3% of the total Brazilian budget. Investment in public infrastructure has a highly redistributive impact and constitutes a budget item over which the federal government has large discretion. Redistribu­tive funds are those that can generate potentially large economic and social externalities in the loca­lities or regions where they are invested. The regional distribu­tion of infrastructure funds is a mechanism through which  money can be redistributed from the regions that pay taxes that finance these funds to others in which the investment is actually made.

In a recent paper (Gonzalez and Mamone 2015), we studied the main factors that affect distributive politics in Argentina and Brazil, two highly unequal presidential federations in Latin America and where redistribution has historically been a sensitive and politically divisive issue. Using original data on federal infrastructure spending for the 24 provinces in Argentina and the 27 states in Brazil for the period 1999-2011, we asked what is the role of presidents and governors when it comes to allocating federal monies to subnational units in developing federal democracies.

Although most researchers recognize a crucial role to presidents, legisla­tors, and state politicians, we are limited in our under­standing of the factors that shape distribution. Existing scholarship studies the federal resource allocation across regions by focusing almost exclu­sively on the role of congress and its internal ope­rations, such as committee composition and par­tisan configuration. However, more recently, some studies have begun to explore the influence presidents have over the allocation of federal outlays (Larcinese et al., 2006; Berry et al., 2010). But there is little agreement on how presi­dents influence the distribution of federal outlays. Some argue presidents influence the budgetary pro­cess by following electoral expectations: they allo­cate more funds in districts were they expect larger electoral benefits and returns (Dixit and Londregan 1996). In contrast, Cox and McCubbins (1986) argue that the optimal strategy for risk-averse candidates is to dis­tribute to their reelection constituency and over-in­vest in their closest supporters to maintain existing political coalitions.

In Latin America, most presidential systems put lar­ge powers and responsibilities in the hands of pre­sidents. Presidents in Latin America can introduce bills, veto laws, legislate by decree during emergen­cies, and have preeminence in the making of annual budgets. As a result, presidents have been endowed with larger legislative powers to get their policy agenda passed and this has helped the executive to win greater leve­rage vis-à-vis the legislature over time. We therefore claim that presidents prefer to invest in districts where their party is strongest, not to shore up swing areas, and certainly not to waste money where the party does not have a chance. Although this argument stresses the relevance of partisan links, it does not identify which partisan links are relevant to explain distributive outcomes: it may be those between pre­sidents and federal legislators, national and regio­nal party leaders, federal ministers or high-ranking federal officials and state politicians, or between presidents and governors.

Our empirical findings indicate there is large variation between Argentina and Brazil in the relevance of the partisan links between presidents and governors, and the influence of congress and its committees. Ceteris paribus, allied sub­-national units in Argentina and Brazil received substantially more funds than opposition districts. Provinces and states are also more likely to get more funds if they are electorally secure and not swing districts, when controlling for third variables. They get more funds when the difference between the share of votes of the governor and the main party in the opposition is larger. Presidents favor more secure provinces controlled by allied governors in Argentina. Due to the closed-list proportional representation electoral system, governors are decisive in defining the list of candidates for their party tickets, so they exercise a decisive influence over provincial delegations in the federal congress

In contrast, the in­teraction term between the swing and allied variables for the Brazilian sample is statistically insignificant and moves in the opposite direction than expected. Scholars claim that gover­nors are indeed influential (especially before 1994) due to the centrifugal configuration of Brazilian fe­deral institutions, electoral laws such as the open-list proportional representation system (which weakens party leadership and promotes fragmentation and regionalization of the party system), the decentra­lized organization of national parties, the powers governors have over policymaking, their control of resources for patronage and pork, and the influen­ce governors have over career prospects for federal legislators. However others contend that governors’ influence has been increasingly weakening since the 1988 and 1994 constitutional reforms: from the legislative powers of the president and the cen­tralized legislative organization in congress, to structural factors such as pro-poor growth that favored the Left at the national level and eroded conservative parties’ support at the local level. In our results for the Brazilian case, the coefficients for allied and secure districts move as expected. Allied and secure states tend to receive more funds, signaling that presidents compensate secure districts, irrespective of them being in the core of the presi­dential coalition.

Our results also indicate that infrastructure distribution in Argentina is mainly decided by the national and provincial executives and not the federal legislatu­re. Congressio­nal committees do not affect the outcome, but con­gressional delegations do matter in Brazil. Individual and collective amendments are the key negotiating tool between presidents and legislators and a mechanism throu­gh which the president crafts legislative support in exchange for pork in both chambers of congress. Furthermore, we observe that elections are not relevant in explaining distribution in either of the two cases and that presidents are mostly motivated by political considerations.

How can we explain the differences between Argen­tina and Brazil? Why are governors more relevant in Argentina and congressional delegations more in­fluential in Brazil? We can only risk some hypotheses that need to be further developed and analyzed systematically. In Argentina, governors have a large influence over the forma­tion of legislative party lists and exercise a deci­sive influence over provincial delegations in the federal congress. Consequently, presidents need to negotiate legislative support with governors, especially tho­se in their coalition. Moreover, presidents depend on governors as they are more effective in mobilizing the electorate and building up federal electoral support than national party delegates. As a result, some re­gions of the country may receive federal funds not only from their congressional representatives doing constituency service. Presidents may also compen­sate governors for their territorial political support and their capacity to deliver votes and seats. In relation to the differences in the relevance of congress, one possible answer could point out to the degree of concentration of political power in the hands of the president and the need to build up legislative coalitions. When presidents get enough political support from their own parties (in terms of seats and discipline) to pass crucial legislation in congress, they may have fewer incentives to form broad legislative coalitions. Under those circumstances, presidents would be more likely to concentrate decisions on how to distribute and to force cooperation from the legislature. On the contrary, when presidents do not get enough political support from their own par­ties and need to build up legislative coalitions with other parties, congress will be more likely to play a more relevant role. After all, this is the crucial arena for inter-party bargaining. Presidents in Argentina have received 2.5 times more support in congress from their own parties in the period under study than in Brazil (42.4 percent versus 17.2 percent).

We also found that programmatic factors, such as equity and efficiency criteria, play a secondary role in distributive politics, especially in Argentina. Most of the efficiency criteria are not relevant factors to explain the allocation of infrastructure funds in the two ca­ses. Only urbanization rate moves as expected and receives empirical support in Brazil. In Argentina, the statistically significant criteria move in the op­posite direction than expected: more industrialized provinces receive less federal infrastructure funds. In Brazil, states with a larger share of poor people receive fewer funds but so do richer states in terms of per capita GDP. Combined results for poverty and income in Brazil seem to indicate that more overre­presented, less populated, middle and lower income states with fewer average poor households received more public works. Northern and Midwest states are the ones that resemble those structural characte­ristics. Why does Brazil seem to be more programmatic than Argentina? Why does Argentina not seem to clearly follow equity or efficiency criteria in the distribu­tion of federal infrastructure spending? Possible clues could point to some usual suspects: institutions, parties, or the bureaucracy. It may well be that the president has formal rules that allow him/her more discre­tion in Argentina than in Brazil. In Argentina, the president has legal authority to reallocate budget transfers. This discretion has been used to form and sustain crucial territorial governing coalitions, to some extent crafted through the distribution of public infrastructure spending. The question would be, then, why does Argentina have these rules and not Brazil? It may also well be that Brazil has more programmatic parties in government (the Workers Party) than Argentina (the Justicialista Party, whi­ch is more ideologically heterogeneous and more fragmented territorially), and this obviously in­fluences programmatic decisions in government. Or we can also point to the state and its bureaucracy, and claim that merit-based bureaucratic planning offices in Brazil have more say and influence over presidential decisions than in Argentina.

References:

Berry, Christopher, Barry Burden, and William Howell. 2010. The President and the Distribution of FederalSpending, American Political Science Review (104)

Cox, Gary, and Mathew McCubbins. 1986. Electoral Politics as a Redistributive Game, The Journal of Politics (48)

Dixit, Avinash and John Londregan. 1996. The Determinants of Success of Special Interests in Redistributive Politics, The Journal of Politics (58)

González, Lucas and Ignacio Mamone. 2015. Who Distributes? Presidents, Congress, Governors, and the Politics of Distribution in Argentina and Brazil, Revista Ibero-Americana de Estudos Legislativos (4)

Larcinese, Valentino, Leonzio Rizzo, and Cecilia Testa. 2006. Allocating the U.S. Federal Budget to the States: The Impact of the President, The Journal of Politics (68)

Lucas González holds a PhD in political science at the University of Notre Dame. He is researcher at the Na- tional Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) and professor at the Universidad Católica Ar- gentina (UCA) and Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is currently a postdoctoral visiting fellow at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Watson Institute, Brown University. He has coauthored two books and written articles, the last ones published in The Journal of Po- litics, Latin American Research Review, Latin American Politics and Society, Publius: The Journal of Federa- lism, América Latina Hoy (Spain), Revista de Ciencia Política (Chile), and Desarrollo Económico: Revista de Ciencias Sociales (Argentina). Email: lgonzalez@unsam.edu.ar.

Miguel Ignacio Mamone is PhD student in political science at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella and an Assis- tant Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Universidad Catolica Argentina. He holds a doctoral scho- larship at the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) of Argentina. He specializes in Latin American politics, federalism, public spending, and redistribution.

Magna Inácio and Mariana Llanos – The Institutional Presidency in Argentina and Brazil

This is a guest post by Magna Inácio and Mariana Llanos from the Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais and GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies respectively

It is based on the following article recently published by the authors: INACIO, Magna and LLANOS, Mariana. The Institutional Presidency from a Comparative Perspective: Argentina and Brazil since the 1980s. Bras. Political Sci. Rev. [online]. 2015, vol.9, n.1, pp. 39-64. Available here.

Even the most influential chief executives need the political support and technical assistance of trusted advisors, technical staff, and government agencies. The scholarly literature has documented the increasing centralization of authority around the person of the chief executive and the steady movement toward the institutional reinforcement of the political core executive as developments that have taken place in most advanced industrial countries in the last forty to fifty years. Students of the United States’ presidency, on their part, have shown that presidents have had incentives for creating and strengthening technical, administrative, and advisory presidential support bodies both to confront critical junctures and to help face the challenges that are posed in a system characterized by separate institutions sharing powers.

In Latin America, presidents enjoy significant policy-making powers in multiple policy realms as a means to influence the legislative agenda, control the allocation of resources, appoint and dismiss thousands of different government officials, and respond directly to the demands of their electorate. However, the distinction between executive leadership and the institutional nature of the modern presidency has not been really addressed yet, despite there having been a significant expansion of studies on presidentialism. Our work sheds light on this under researched topic by focusing on the presidencies of Argentina and Brazil since redemocratization in the 1980s.

In particular, our study concentrates on the “institutional presidency”, that is, the cluster of agencies that directly support the chief executive. These agencies are part of the bureaucracy of the executive branch, but they are not located within the executive cabinet; their defining characteristic is that they operate under the direct authority of the president and are responsible for supporting the presidential leadership. Following the specialized literature, we argue that the growth of the institutional presidency is connected to developments occurring in the larger political system – that is, to the governmental and political challenges that presidents face.

Likewise, we argue that the type of executive cabinet – a factor that until now has not played a significant role in presidential studies, which are mostly based on the US case – poses various challenges to presidents and, thus, impacts differently on the structure of the presidency. Our empirical references, the presidencies of Argentina and Brazil and typical cases of single-party and coalitional presidentialism, respectively, allow us to test the impact of the aforementioned factor. In effect, we expect to find greater centralization –a shifting of the functions of the wider executive branch to the core executive – under coalition presidentialism because presidents must share cabinet positions, negotiate, and manage relations with coalition partners. In single-party governments, meanwhile, presidents can more freely assert themselves over the whole executive structure; in other words, centralization should be less necessary. Similarly, we expect the type of government to affect the types of agencies that form the institutional presidency, with coalition presidents building a more complex and varied presidential organization.

Presidency

Number of Institutional Presidency Units and Core Units Argentina and Brazil, 1984–2010

To test our hypotheses we first collected information on the number of agencies under presidential authority in Argentina and Brazil per year from 1984 until 2010. Our data show reverse developments having taken place over these years, where the institutional presidency has at times been expanded and at other times reduced – and we thus inquire into the causes of such evolutions. We then estimated the effects of a set of political variables on those agency developments: we included the type of executive cabinet, and the extent of political support for the president, among other political and economic control variables. Our assumption was that the institutional presidency grows in response to the constraints of a political environment that can be a potential challenge to the presidential leadership. Our findings confirm our expectations. The regression analysis shows that as the number of parties in the cabinet increases, so does the size of the institutional presidency. It is also confirmed that when governing parties hold a legislative majority the number of presidential units decreases. Among the contextual variables, the model shows that economic reforms pose risks to presidents that translate into incentives to enlarge the institutional presidency.

Agency movements have not only affected the size of the institutional presidency but also the types of agencies that form it. Our analysis shows that the monolithic Brazilian presidency of the 1980s has since been substituted by an internally differentiated and specialized institution, including a diversity of policy units, advisory bodies, and the strengthening of core units –those supporting administrative, legal, and institutional tasks. Instead, in Argentina, the internal makeup of the presidency is today less differentiated, as important functions such as coordination haven been decentralized in the wider executive.

In short, our analysis provides evidence indicating that the type of government – coalitional or single-party – matters, for the variations in the architecture of the presidency. This is both a hitherto unexplored area of research vis-à-vis Latin America and an interesting agenda for the presidential literature in the future.

Bios

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: magna.inacio@gmail.com.

llanos_1503Mariana Llanos is a Senior Research Fellow at the GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies. Her main research field is comparative political institutions, especially in Latin America. She has worked on presidentialism, presidential breakdowns, president-congress relations, president-judiciary relations, judicial appointments. She is also currently working on the institutional presidency in comparative perspective. Full details of all her publications and current porject can be found here.

Brazil – Corruption Scandals, Protests and Calls for Impeachment

On Sunday, Brazil witnessed widespread public demonstrations across the country in protest against government corruption involving the Brazilian state energy behemoth, Petrobras. This follows an even larger demonstration in March when it was estimated that more than 1.5 million people took to the streets in anger at the government. Worryingly for President Dilma Rousseff in particular, protestors marched in support of her impeachment.

This colossal corruption scandal centers on the state energy giant Petrobras, which was allegedly used in an elaborate kick-back scheme, where money from inflated contracts was channeled back to the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), in addition to more straightforward allegations of bribery where energy officials received large cash payments in return for contracts. Thirty-five people, including top executives from Petrobras, have already been charged, and earlier this month, the Supreme Court approved the investigation of a further 54.

Currently, despite the efforts of the opposition, Dilma has remained above the scandal. She denies any knowledge of the kickback scheme, just as Lula did during the Mensalão scandal and she has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the attorney general. However, opposition groups claim that much of this bribery occurred while she was Minister of Energy (2003-2005) and therefore, must have been aware of the bribery scheme given its size and extent. For some members of the opposition (and a majority of the public), this justifies the initiation of impeachment proceedings.

Is this really likely to happen? Since the return to democracy, large sustained street protests, motivated by allegations of corruption, have acted as the trigger for a number of presidential impeachments and forced resignations. Consider the early resignations of Raúl Alfonsín and Eduardo Duhalde in Argentina in the face of popular mobilization. Or the collapse of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s presidency in Bolivia amidst persistent unrest and clashes between the police and protesters. Or the removal of Abdalá Bucaram in Ecuador. Or Carlos Andrés Pérez in Venezuela. Or even Fernando Collor de Mello, the only Brazilian president since the return to democracy to have been impeached (and who is now under investigation again as part of this corruption scandal).

Dilma’s popularity is at an all time-low. In March, a public opinion poll indicated an approval rating of just 13 per cent for the beleaguered president. Results from a public opinion survey from only two days ago suggest that 63 per cent of Brazilians believe that impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff should begin. It is quite possible that part of this dissatisfaction reflects unhappiness with the state of the domestic economy. Inflation and unemployment are rising and growth in 2014 was a paltry 0.1 per cent. This year the real has fallen 14 per cent against the dollar, a precipitous decline that has only been accelerated by the recent political turbulence.

However, as long as Dilma can maintain her coalition in the house, her impeachment, or even her resignation, remains unlikely. An excellent literature has now provided solid empirical evidence that presidential impeachment in Latin America lies at the intersection between popular protest and vanishing partisan support in the legislature (obviously two things that are not mutually exclusive).[1] The combination of a corruption scandal and mass protests can, and indeed has, forced 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 secure support in the assembly, a ‘legislative shield,’ have proven very difficult to remove from office. For the moment, providing the economy does not deteriorate dramatically, Dilma should be OK.

One thing is for sure however. The president’s honeymoon period is over.

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

Latin America – Corruption and the Executive Office II

I have written before about the relationship between corruption and the executive office in Latin America. Across the region, presidents have often been accused and impeached for corruption while occupying the executive office. For example, this year alone, Guatemalan ex-President Alfonso Portillo was sentenced to five years in prison in the US for taking bribes from Taiwan. In April in El Salvador, it was announced that evidence had emerging linking former president Francisco Flores to illegal and hidden bank accounts. Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, appeared in court in June to respond to allegations that he illegally halted bankruptcy proceedings against a company that he supposedly had an interest in.

Explanations for the persistence of corruption in the presidential office in Latin America range from history and the evolution of a permissive political culture across the region to the combination of PR electoral systems and presidentialism.[1] Latin American executives often need to deal with uncooperative legislatures and so at times, corruption can appeal as the easiest way for the executive to pursue their agenda. The prototypical example of this dynamic can be found in the Mensalão scandal in Brazil.

Given this level of corruption in the highest political office, it is no surprise that many Latin American countries languish in the bottom half of Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index.

Now, two new cases of alleged corruption, which are related to the executive office in Latin America, have come to light. The first of these involves the embattled president of Mexico, Enrqiue Peña Nieto. Peña Nieto was already facing huge political pressure over the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala. Now, his wife and former soap star, Angélica Rivera, has become embroiled in a scandal concerning a mansion she purchased in 2012, and Grupo Higa, a government contractor. In November, Higa, as part of a larger consortium, was awarded a US$4 billion contract to construct a high-speed rail project. It has now emerged that Rivera purchased her house form a unit of Higa, and she has yet to hand over a sizable portion of the asking price. Higa still hold the deeds to the house. As a recent news story succinctly put it: “So the first lady’s mansion is owned by a construction company that has bid successfully for government contracts.” The government has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. The story is not going away however. On Friday, the Mexican Finance Minister, Luis Videgaray, was implicated in a similar house buying scandal.

The other scandal is even larger. Petrobras, the Brazilian state energy behemoth, was allegedly used in an elaborate kick-back scheme, where money from inflated contracts was channeled back to the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). Thirty-five people, including top executives from Petrobras, have already been charged, and this schandal could have long-lasting and wide-ranging implications for the PT and president Dilma Rousseff. Currently, despite the efforts of the opposition, Dilma has remained above the scandal. She denies any knowledge of the kickback scheme, just as Lula did during the Mensalão scandal. It is expected that this story  will only get bigger.

One thing is for sure however. Corruption in the presidential office in Latin America remains a serious problem.

[1] For example, see For example, some of the chapters in Walter Little and Eduardo Posada-Carbó (eds.) 1996. Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America. Palgrave Macmillan or Jana Kunicová and Susan Rose-Ackerman. 2005. Electoral Rules and Constitutional Structures as Constraints on Corruption. British Journal of Political Science, 35: 573-606.