Category Archives: Presidentialism

Thomas Sedelius and Jonas Linde – Democracy and Government Performance: Parliamentarism, Premier-Presidentialism, President-Parliamentarism, and Presidentialism

This is a guest post by Thomas Sedelius, Dalarna University, and Jonas Linde, University of Bergen. It is a summary of their co-authored article that was recently published in Democratization. The full text article is free to download here.

Do semi-presidential regimes perform worse than other regime types? Following the classical argument once raised by Juan J. Linz (1990; 1994) that presidentialism and semi-presidentialism are less conducive to democracy than parliamentarism, a number of studies have empirically analysed the functioning and performance of semi-presidentialism. With the notable exception of Elgie (2011), however, there is a lack of large-N studies where democracy and government performance are actually measured across the two subtypes of semi-presidentialism (premier-presidential and president-parliamentary regimes). Robert Elgie’s systematic and comprehensive study offers several important findings on the performance of two types of semi-presidentialism, but it does so in isolation from parliamentary and presidential regimes. Our study is an attempt to address this gap in the literature.

By using indicators on regime performance and democracy from a dataset containing 173 countries, we examine the performance records of premier-presidential and president-parliamentary regimes in relation to parliamentarism and presidentialism.

Guided by Linz’s argument on the “perils of presidentialism”, and by Matthew S. Shugart and John M. Carey’s (1992) proposition that president-parliamentary regimes are more perilous to democracy than other regime types, we test three basic hypotheses.

H1: Parliamentarism performs better than other regime types in terms of democracy and government performance.

H2: Premier-presidentialism performs better than president-parliamentarism and presidentialism in terms of democracy and government performance.

H3: President-parliamentarism performs on a par with, or worse, than presidentialism in terms of democracy and government performance.

For measuring democracy, we select four frequently used indicators: Freedom House’s index of civil liberties and political rights and Polity IV combined, Polity IV on its own, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy, and the Executive Constraints indicator from Polity IV, which refers to the extent of institutionalized constraints on the decision-making powers of chief executives. For measuring government performance, we use the Government Effectiveness indicator from the Worldwide Governance Indicators, the Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, the Empowerment Rights Index from CIRI Human Rights Data Project, and the Human Development Index from UNDP.

Following a series of descriptive reports, we run some basic multivariate analyses with a conventional set of controls including GDP/capita, population size, ethnic fractionalization, proportional representation, and different world regions.

Overall, our findings do not support the proposition that parliamentarism performs better than all other regime types in terms of democracy and government performance (H1). Rather we observed a pattern where premier-presidentialism performs almost as good – and on some measures even better – as parliamentary regimes. Neither the measures of democracy nor the measures of government performance show significantly better records for parliamentary regimes than for premier-presidential ones. This indicates that a parliamentary constitution with an indirectly elected president does not necessarily go along with better political performance than a premier-presidential one with a popularly elected but weak or medium weak president. Thus, to the extent that we think about semi-presidentialism in terms of premier-presidential regimes, we have reasons to question strong propositions about the “perils of semi-presidentialism”.

However, the picture certainly looks different with regard to president-parliamentary regimes. While premier-presidential regimes are closer to parliamentary regimes, president-parliamentary regimes display performance records more similar to pure presidentialism, and it performs even worse on most indicators (H2, H3). When it comes to the level of democracy, the only regime type to perform significantly worse than the parliamentary one – on four separate measures and with conventional controls – is the president-parliamentary regime type. The differences in terms of government performance are less pronounced. Although there is a tendency of slightly poorer performance by presidential-parliamentary regimes also in terms of government performance, and significantly so on one indicator, our results demonstrate that the type of constitutional system seems to affect democracy more strongly than government performance.

Shugart and Carey’s general recommendation to stay away from the president-parliamentary form of government certainly finds support in our data. In our study, we mostly refrain from making claims about causal mechanisms behind the observed pattern. However, we allow some general comments on the importance of presidential powers in relation to the four regime types. We show how variation in presidential powers follow closely the four regime types – weakest among the parliamentary regimes and strongest among the president-parliamentary regimes. We know that case studies on e.g. post-Soviet countries where the system has shifted from president-parliamentary to premier-presidential constitutions provide additional support to the negative impact of president-parliamentarism on democracy. For instance, Elgie and Moestrup (2016) show that reduced presidential powers and a shift to a more balanced semi-presidential system have been associated with better democracy records in e.g. Armenia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. A general trend among the post-Soviet countries is that the presidents have used their control over the administration to curb the opposition and thereby directing the trajectory of constitutional developments in their own favor. The outcome has been increased power of already powerful presidents – a straight road to the consolidation of autocracy.

Our study is limited to the extent that it draws on cross-sectional data only, and we acknowledge the need for more sophisticated analyses. In addition, the study can make no valid claims of having disentangled endogeneity challenges regarding institutions and political outcomes. Yet, we reveal a general pattern with regard to the four regime types on performance. Based on our findings, we claim that democratic performance is likely to be better with a parliamentary or premier-presidential form of government. If the most positive accounts about semi-presidentialism are relevant, such as executive flexibility, power-sharing, and a uniting president, those are most likely to be identified under the premier-presidential form of government. Our data give no support for general recommendations to avoid dual executives or popularly elected president with limited powers.

Finally, and well in line with more recent scholarship, we argue that discussions about the pros and cons of semi-presidentialism should include the distinction between its sub-categories as well as considering dimensions of presidential power.

References

Elgie, Robert. Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Elgie and Sophia Moestrup (Eds.). Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Linz, Juan J. “The Perils of Presidentialism.” Journal of Democracy 1, no. 1 (1990): 51-69.

Linz, Juan J. “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference?” In: Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela. (Eds.) The Failure of Presidential Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, 3-87.

Shugart, Matthew S. and John M. Carey. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Thomas Sedelius is Associate Professor in Political Science at Dalarna University, Sweden. His research covers semi-presidentialism, political institutions, transition, democratisation, and East European politics. His work on semi-presidentialism has appeared in journals such as Democratization, Government and Opposition, and East European Politics, and also include The Tug-of-War between Presidents and Prime Ministers: Semi-Presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe (Örebro Studies, 2006). Thomas currently leads a research project (2015-2018) financed by the Swedish Research Council on semi-presidentialism and governability in transitional countries.

Jonas Linde is Professor of Political Science at the Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, Norway. His research has dealt with different aspects of political support, perceptions of corruption, quality of government, e-government and post-communist democratization. Linde’s works have been published in journals such as Governance, European Journal of Political Research, International Political Science Review, Political Studies, Government Information Quarterly and Government and Opposition.

André Borges and Mathieu Turgeon – Presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislative support is central to “survive” in office

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

What do political scandals do?

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

Social mobilisations

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

Final remarks

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

Christopher A. Martínez holds a PhD in Political Science from Loyola University Chicago. He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Political Science, Temuco Catholic University, Chile. His current research interests include the executive branch, government survival, institutional performance and democratic consolidation in Latin America. He can be reached at christopher.martinez@fulbrightmail.org and @martineznourdin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notes

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

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

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

Turkey – Two weeks until the most important referendum in the country’s constitutional history

With two weeks to go until the most important referendum in Turkey for decades, the situation is looking increasingly tense and people are more and more divided. The stakes are high for both sides. If the “no” vote wins, this would shake Erdoğan’s long-standing populist rule. However, if Turkish voters prefer a “yes” vote this would  mean not only leaving behind the parliamentary tradition, but also turning the country’s back on basic European ideals, including liberal democracy.

The proposed Turkish type of presidential system would grant President Erdoğan the power to redesign the country’s state structure and rule pretty much as he pleases. This system has been promoted as a neo-ottomanist, pro-Islamist reform that would create a national, home-grown system.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, Turkey has adopted a model of modernisation. But now, such a modernisation process, which involves the secularisation of state and society, is increasingly being presented by the ruling party, the AKP, as being different from the country’s Islamic culture, despite the fact that Islam was itself an import from the Arab world. The constitutional reform is defended and legitimised as marking the reversal of an unlucky history and the resurrection of the Ottoman Empire, even though the real Ottomans are now long gone. Anyone who is against the reform is portrayed as being either a traitor or a terrorist. This simple and rather superficial propaganda has been repeated so often by President Erdoğan and other AKP politicians that it has dangerously increased the level of polarisation in the country, and which has already been at a very high level for the past 10 years. One journalist who is close to Erdoğan has branded Turks who believe in western ideals as partly alien to their native culture and claimed that even so, if the “yes” vote wins they will be granted the right to live as a sign of generosity since they are good Muslims. This type of thinking hints at the general ideology that is feeding Erdogan’s one-man rule. He is being portrayed as the saviour of Islam who will end the secular republic founded by Atatürk’s revolution.

Erdoğan has based his campaign on strong nationalist and Islamist ideals, and has used polarisation as a tool to consolidate conservative right-wing votes. To this end, not only has he promoted internal divisions against both secularists and religious and ethnic minorities, but he has also labeled everyone who rejects his vision of Turkey as being on the same side as the terrorists. His aggressive rhetoric is not limited to internal affairs. He regularly targets the Western world. After Germany, Austria and Holland restricted the AKP’s political rallies in their countries, he had the much needed opportunity to exploit nationalist feelings by attacking the governments of those countries as Nazis, despite the fact that the Turkish law itself bans Turkish political parties from campaigning abroad. His tactical choice of using aggressive, popular and polarising language has paid off in previous elections, given he has not lost since 2002. However, it is not certain how the Turkish public will react to this type of rhetoric now. Economic and political ties with Europe are too strong to be suddenly cut off without any consequences.

Erdoğan and other AKP politicians hardly mention the details of the reform. They only claim that a presidential system will make Turkey great and more democratic. There will be no coalitions; therefore the system will bring political stability and economic growth.

Erdoğan is not alone in his campaign. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahçeli, is also on his side, campaigning for a presidential system even though some of his party’s current and former MPs have openly declared that they will say “no” to the change. Also, recent polls have suggested that a majority of the party’s voters are likely to to vote “no”. Bahçeli argues that a presidential system will help to keep Turkey together and that all terrorists will be destroyed if the new system is passed.

Using polarisation as a weapon to unite conservative voters is not the only tried and trusted method of Erdoğan and his supporters. Silencing the opposition has been another aspect of their competitive authoritarian rule for some time. According to a report from the Union for Democracy, an NGO, regarding air time from 1-20 March, the “yes” coalition got 486 hours, the main opposition party, CHP, got 45.5 hours, and the pro-Kurdish HDP got zero hours. In addition, the state of emergency since the failed coup attempt in July is still in force, and opposition rallies and meetings have regularly been cancelled because on security grounds. Systematic obstruction, including physical attacks and death threats, have been commonplace. Yet, despite the uneven competition, polls suggest that this referendum may not be as easy to win as previous elections.

The main opposition party has chosen a softer approach and avoided polarisation. They have not used their party symbols and have tried to unite different groups by emphasising that it is a national matter that is above party politics. They argue that this change will create one-man rule, will weaken the Grand National Assembly, diminish judicial independence, and destroy democracy, which has already had a troubled time in Turkey.

The leaders of the other opposition party, HDP, and many of its MPs are currently imprisoned, and others have been silenced by the mainstream media. This party has also quietly campaigned for a “no” vote, even though there are people claiming that HDP voters of Kurdish origin have lost interest in being part of Turkey’s future and may not prefer to vote at all. The overall picture is not that of a free or fair campaign for the opposition and confirms that Turkey is competitive authoritarian regime as defined by Levitsky and Way in their 2010 book “Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War”. If this proposed hyper-presidential system is approved by the majority of people, avoiding competitive authoritarianism will become much more difficult.

Miguel Carreras – The Rise of Political Newcomers in Presidential Systems

This is a guest post by Miguel Carreras at UC, Riverside. It is based on a forthcoming article in European Journal of Political Research

In the wake of the euphoria generated by the Third Wave of democratization during the 1980s, a group of scholars studying Latin America were more pessimistic about the prospects for democratic consolidation of the countries in the region. These scholars argued that there were a series of “perils of presidentialism” that created obstacles for the healthy functioning of democratic regimes in countries with presidential systems. Among the main perils of presidentialism, these scholars mentioned the dual democratic legitimacy, the temporal rigidity of presidentialism, the winner take all logic of presidential elections, and the principle of non-reelection (Lijphart, 1992; Linz, 1990, 1994). Since the early 1990s, several scholars of political institutions and Latin American politics tested most of these claims. The current consensus is that these perils of presidentialism were greatly exaggerated in these early studies (Carreras, 2012). However, the critics of presidentialism also claimed that the rise of political newcomers is a peril associated with presidential systems. This issue has been neglected until recently, and the main implication –i.e. newcomers are more likely to come to power in presidential systems– has never been tested empirically.

In a forthcoming article in the European Journal of Political Research (Carreras, fortcoming), I take on that task and I analyze whether the election of political newcomers is more likely in presidential systems. In my work, I define political newcomers in national executive elections as “candidates who lack substantial political experience in the legislative or the executive branches of government.” As for the operationalization, heads of government are considered as “political newcomers” when they had at most three years of political experience before reaching office –combining executive and legislative experience.[1] Using this definition and operationalization, I have identified 73 political newcomers elected (or selected) as heads of government following national elections around the world in the period 1945-2015. The sample includes 870 democratic national elections around the world. In other words, more than 8% of national elections in democratic countries have led to the election of a political newcomer as head of government.[2]

I assessed the impact of presidentialism on the success of political newcomers in national elections by estimating a series of random effects logistic regressions (this estimator is appropriate because the dependent variable is binary –1 if the elected head of government is a newcomer, 0 otherwise–). I also controlled for several other factors that might be related with the rise of political newcomers according to previous research (party system stability, economic performance, age of democracy, quality of democracy, and compulsory voting). The results of the main empirical model in the paper are presented below.

The empirical analysis demonstrates that Linz and the other critics of presidentialism were right about this particular claim. The variable “presidentialism” is positive and statistically significant in the statistical analysis, and this result is robust under different specifications and different operationalizations of the dependent variable. It appears that the personalized nature of presidential elections indeed facilitates the rise of politically inexperienced outsiders. But how exactly can presidentialism lead to the rise of political newcomers? I postulate that there are three causal mechanisms that may explain the connection between presidentialism and the electoral success of political newcomers. First, the organizational efforts that are necessary for leaders to become contenders for the top executive position differ significantly in presidential and parliamentary democracies. Political newcomers need to create a formidable party organization and have to recruit viable legislative candidates in many districts in order to have a chance to become prime ministers. Politically inexperienced candidates in presidential elections do not face equally insurmountable obstacles. Presidential elections are much more personalized, and political newcomers may win with very little support in the legislature (and without the support of any traditional party), especially in moments of deep economic and sociopolitical crisis that create a loss of confidence in the political establishment.

The second, and related, factor is the impossibility of popular inexperienced candidates to transmit their charisma or popularity. The deep popular dissatisfaction with the political establishment tends to be embodied by one or a few political leaders. Legislative candidates may ride on the coattails of very popular political newcomers irrespective of the type of political system, but the probability of them winning is always lower than the probability the charismatic candidate has of obtaining an electoral victory. Thus, in parliamentary systems the probability of an allied legislator winning a seat is always lower than the probability of the political newcomer winning a seat. In presidential systems, a charismatic neophyte candidate may become the president even if the party represented by the newcomer obtains poor results in legislative elections.

The third factor is the possibility to split the ticket in presidential elections. In presidential systems, voters normally have the possibility to vote for a legislative candidate of one party and for the presidential candidate of another party. Sometimes, this leads to a high discrepancy between the votes received by a party in concurrent legislative and presidential elections (Ames, Baker, & Renno, 2009; Helmke, 2009). The possibility to split the vote facilitates the election of a political newcomer in presidential systems, because it allows ambitious politically inexperienced public figures to run in presidential elections with a new party or a new electoral movement. These candidates may win, even if they are not associated with a single legislative candidate.

Notes

[1] The empirical results do not change if we adopt a more restrictive operationalization of “political newcomer.”

[2] The list of newcomer presidents and prime ministers  in the period 1945-2015 is  available in the supplementary information in the EJPR website: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/1475-6765.12181/suppinfo

References

Ames, B., Baker, A., & Renno, L. R. (2009). Split-ticket voting as the rule: Voters and permanent divided government in Brazil. Electoral Studies, 28(1), 8-20.

Carreras, M. (2012). The Evolution of the Study of Executive-Legislative Relations in Latin America: Or How Theory Slowly Catches Up with Reality. Revista Ibero-Americana de Estudos Legislativos(2), 20-26.

Carreras, M. (fortcoming). Institutions, governmental performance and the rise of political newcomers. European Journal of Political Research.

Helmke, G. (2009). Ticket splitting as electoral insurance: The Mexico 2000 elections. Electoral Studies, 28(1), 70-78.

Lijphart, A. (1992). Introduction Parliamentary versus Presidential Government. New York: Oxford University Press.

Linz, J. J. (1990). The Perils of Presidentialism. Journal of Democracy, 1(1), 51-69.

Linz, J. J. (1994). Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference? In J. J. Linz & A. Valenzuela (Eds.), The Failure of Presidential Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

New book series – Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics: Robert Elgie and Gianluca Passarelli (series editors)

We are announcing a new book series, Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics. The series is edited by Robert Elgie and Gianluca Passarelli and the books will be published by Palgrave Macmillan. The series will include books on all aspects of presidential politics. We are currently accepting proposals for books in the series. The first volume, authored Philipp Köker, will be published in 2017.

Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics will include books on contemporary presidencies, including presidential powers, the administrative presidency, and presidential advisers, as well as the history of presidential offices, and presidential biographies. The series will also include books on presidential elections, including presidential party politics, and the media and presidential communication.

The series will focus on presidents throughout the world including the US, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, including both directly elected and indirectly elected presidents. The series will publish single-country and comparative studies of presidential politics. The series will also publish books on individual presidents. The series will focus primarily on empirical studies of presidential politics, but it could include volumes on conceptual or theoretical aspects, such as how to measure presidential power.

The series will publish books that look at the reform of presidential politics, e.g. the reform of presidential elections. However, it will not publish obviously partisan, clearly normative, or personally critical studies of presidents or presidential politics. The series will have a disinterested, academic focus.

The series will normally take the form of 80,000-word monographs, or edited volumes. However, shorter books, or Palgrave Pivots, will also be considered. To submit a proposal, you should complete a proposal form. These are available from Ambra Finotello (ambra.finotello@palgrave.com), or from the series editors.

For further information about the series and to submit a proposal for consideration, please contact Ambra Finotello (ambra.finotello@palgrave.com) at Palgrave, or the series editors, Robert Elgie (robert.elgie@dcu.ie), and Gianluca Passarelli (gianluca.passarelli@uniroma1.it).

Feel free to send an informal e-mail to the series editors if you wish to discuss a book idea prior to the formal submission of a proposal. We look forward to hearing your ideas for books and to receiving your submissions.

Victor Araújo, Thiago Silva, and Marcelo Vieira – New Perspectives on Executive Decision-Making Processes in Presidential Systems

This is a guest post by Victor Araújo, Thiago Silva, and Marcelo Vieira. It is based on their paper ‘Measuring Presidential Dominance over Cabinets in Presidential Systems: Constitutional Design and Power Sharing’ that was recently published in the Brazilian Political Science Review

araujosilvavieira-illustrativepicture

The third wave of democratization approaches its 40th anniversary in Latin America in 2018. The process started with the Ecuadorian Constitution of 1978, promulgated after the withdrawal of the military power in the previous year. Like Ecuador, most Latin American countries opted for a presidential system of government in their new journey for consolidation of a democratic political regime.

From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, comparativists wrote extensively on the contrast between presidential and parliamentary systems, rushing to conclusions and predictions about the undesirable institutional choices of Latin American democracies. In the search for predictions, assumptions were taken as evidence and black boxes remained intact, undermining our ability to understand the real differences and similarities between systems of government, particularly among presidential systems.

The different criteria suggested by the literature of the 1980s and 1990s for the definition of presidential and parliamentary systems are well known. However, it is worth mentioning one aspect of it here developed by Arend Lijphart and sustained by Giovanni Sartori. For these authors, the executive power in presidential systems has a sole character: being the head of government and the head of the state, the president would be the only relevant actor in the executive decision-making process in these systems. The idea is that the president derives a dominant role in the executive decision-making process from its discretionary powers of selection and ministerial removal, in a context in which his/her tenure is independent from parliamentary confidence. The premise suggested by Lijphart, taken for granted by scholars of systems of government, is that the vertical nature of presidential cabinets contrasts with the horizontal character of most parliamentary cabinets (i.e., primus inter pares cabinets in Sartori’s definition).

In a recent article published in the Brazilian Political Science Review, we challenge the studies mentioned above, arguing that the assumption of a vertical executive decision-making process in presidential systems underrates variations that may exist regarding the degree of dominance exercised by the chief executive over cabinets. Although conventionally characterized as a non-collegial decision-making process, led by the president, we reveal that the sole executive of presidential systems is not a distinctive feature of this system of government. Instead of analyzing the process of executive decision-making in parliamentary and presidential democracies dichotomously—based on collegial and non-collegial processes, respectively—we should, as suggested by Vercesi (2012) evaluate the possibility that the power sharing of the executive decision-making process systems varies continuously across systems of government.

Building on this idea, our study develops an index to help scholars analyze how powerful the president is vis-à-vis cabinet members, according to specific constitutional rules that verticalize or horizontalize the executive decision-making process in presidential democracies. More precisely, we created a summation index of codified constitutional rules regarding executive powers raging from 0 to 5, with a value of 0 indicating the absence of presidential dominance over cabinets, and the value of 5 indicating the absolute dominance of the president over cabinets.

araujosilvavieira-figure1

As we can see in Figure 1, our index reveals significant variation of presidential dominance over cabinets in Latin America presidential constitutions. We inferred at least three clear standards. Presidential democracies can have: a decentralized (e.g. Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay), a shared (e.g. Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica), or a centralized (e.g. Brazil, Mexico and Panama) executive decision-making process. In sum, the executive decision-making processes in presidential systems are not necessarily vertical, and the presidential powers over ministers are not necessarily unrestricted or unbounded.

These results have important implications for the literature on comparative politics comparing systems of government. First, our study strengthens the argument suggested by Elgie (1997) that the power sharing within executive decision-making processes should be evaluated empirically and not assumed by scholars. Our results for Latin America reveal that, regarding executive decision-making process, there are more similarities between different systems of governments than conventionally assumed by the literature. In another study, by analyzing more than 50 countries we also show that the degree of dominance of the chief executive in presidential and parliamentary democracies can be very similar.

Second, our study reveals that the costs of presidential decision-making may vary depending on other factors such as institutional rules that restrict the “selection” or “removal” of ministers, a dimension not systematically explored in the literature yet. A more careful analysis of this topic could explore, for example, how ministerial survival rates can be affected by constitutional rules that determine the distribution of authority among the members of the cabinet.

Third, our findings can lead to exploration of new topics such as ministers as veto players in presidential systems. In contexts where the president depends on the consent of ministers to be able to propose policies, the stability of the coalition might depend on the chief executive considering the preferences of the parties of different ministers. We could ask, for example, how pivotal are minister’s parties in maintaining the presidential coalition in the legislature.

Fourth, given that the distribution of resources for policy-making in the cabinet is directly related to the degree of influence the parties can exert on the composition of the coalition, our results encourage scholars to investigate what preferences are being expressed in the policy-making process, instead of assuming that policies express only the preference or the agenda of the president.

In sum, the results from our study on how powerful the president is vis-à-vis cabinet members lead us to ask several new questions and hypotheses worthy of further empirical investigation, such as: How powerful are the ministers in presidential systems? How can cabinet veto players affect ministers reshuffle and cabinet survival? How does the distribution of authority between the chief executive and cabinet members affect the content of the executive policy agenda?

Contributors

Victor Araújo is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.
E-mail: victor.asaraujo@usp.br
Website: http://www.victor-araujo.com

Thiago Silva is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University, United States.
E-mail: nsthiago@tamu.edu
Website: http://people.tamu.edu/~nsthiago

Marcelo Vieira is a Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Espírito Santo, Brazil.
E-mail: mmarvieira@gmail.com

Seychelles – President Michel announces resignation after first election victory for the opposition in 40 years

After having dominated Seychellois politics for nearly 40 years, on September 10th the Seychelles People’s Party (Parti Lepep in Creole) lost the parliamentary elections in the small Indian Ocean archipelago. The election victory of the opposition (the Seychelles Democratic Alliance – Linyon Demokratik Seselwa) constitutes a dramatic political shift in the country, and can be regarded as a major step in its development towards a consolidated democracy. The recent parliamentary elections were preceded by a presidential election in December 2015, which produced a razor-thin victory (50,15% of votes) for the incumbent president, James Alix Michel. After his party’s defeat in the parliamentary elections, Michel – who has been president of Seychelles since 2004 – announced his resignation, and his intention to hand over powers to the vice president, Danny Faure. The resignation of the 74-year old president – announced via a surprise address on national television – came as a major shock to the island nation.

The People’s Party and its predecessor, the Seychelles Peoples Patriotic Front (SPPF), have controlled Seychellois politics for virtually the entire post-independence period. Seychelles obtained independence from the United Kingdom in 1976, but within a year after the attainment of sovereignty, the Marxist SPPF, headed by its charismatic leader France-Albert René, staged a successful coup d’état with help from socialist African countries like Libya and Tanzania. Between 1977 and 1993, Seychelles was ruled as a single-party dictatorship, and human rights abuses were commonplace. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union instigated a transition to multi-party democracy, and Seychelles has been an electoral democracy since the early 1990s. However, the SPPF and René continued to win all subsequent elections, and international observers remained very critical of Seychellois democracy, highlighting the political fusion between the state and the ruling party as particularly problematic. Under René’s guidance Seychelles reached an impressive level of economic growth, as a result of which it is now one of the wealthiest countries of Africa. This economic success undoubtedly contributed to the continuing support for the SPPF, also after René transferred powers to Michel in 2004, and the SPPF was transformed into the People’s Party.

While the political opposition had boycotted the penultimate parliamentary elections in 2011 due to concerns about unequal campaign finance, in advance to last September’s election four opposition parties joined forces in a political alliance (the Seychelles Democratic Alliance), which managed to win 19 of the 33 parliamentary seats. Since the presidency of the country remains in the hands of the People’s Party, the tiny archipelago now enters a period of divided government. Both the newly designated president and the political leadership of Seychelles Democratic Alliance have declared their intention to cooperate with each other, but how this cooperation will play out in the coming years remains to be seen. While the two political parties are ideologically similar and do not have many disagreements regarding economic policies, the relationship between them has been marked by strong and sometimes personal antagonism.

Sun Woo Lee – The Politics of Prosecution Service Reform in New Presidential Democracies

This is a guest post by Sun-Woo Lee, a post-doctoral researcher of the College of Social Science, Seoul National University. It is a summary of his paper ‘The politics of prosecution service reform in new presidential democracies: The South Korea and Russia cases in comparative perspective’ that is being published by the Journal of Eurasian Studies.

Recently, the political distortion of criminal justice by prosecutors has arisen as a serious dilemma in several new democracies, though this issue has received somewhat less attention than the judicialization of politics by courts. Indeed, prosecutors of civil-law countries must receive more attention in that they generally initiate criminal investigations, command police officers during the investigations, terminate the criminal cases at their disposal, and indict the criminal suspects for trials in the centralized and inquisitorial criminal justice system (e.g. Germany, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea). Thus civil-law prosecutors can exercise enough power to manipulate pre-trial criminal proceedings, not only in order to stigmatize a certain political faction as immoral or criminal suspect, but also to grant immunity to another.

Of course it cannot be concluded that civil-law prosecutors always have chances to distort criminal proceedings for political purposes. Under consensual forms of government in Continental Europe, a suprapartisan coalition has been required to select top-ranking judicial officers. Moreover, the composition of an incumbent government unpredictedly changes when an assembly dissolves, regardless of regular elections, or when a shift of power occurs within a ruling party. Hence, civil-law prosecutors also tend to exercise their far-reaching power not in favor of a particular political faction, but in a depoliticized manner, for their career development.

By contrast, in several young democracies adopting a presidential system, which gave the president almost exclusive control over high-ranking prosecutors’ career, along with the Third Wave of democratization, civil-law prosecutors have a strong incentive to exercise their extensive power in favor of an incumbent president during most of his or her fixed tenure, but to betray him or her at his or her last phase, for their career progress. In practice, Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Chen Shui-bian in Taiwan, Young-Sam Kim and Dae-Jung Kim in South Korea and Boris Yeltsin in Russia dominated that office during most of their tenure but experienced prosecutorial defection at their final phase. However, an interesting point is that a civil-law prosecution system could hardly be reformed, although there were several attempts to correct the dilemma of the politicized prosecutors, in the new presidential democracies. Why?

In presidential democracies, civil-law prosecutors can enjoy a favorable political opportunity for deflecting reform against them and protecting their powers and position, even though politicians actually attempt such a change. An incumbent president will at times pursue a long-term interest in reform against the prosecutors, particularly owing to the possibility of their habitual betrayal before and after his or her retirement. Nonetheless, the prosecutors can easily defeat the president’s reform either by lobbying or placating the president, given that he or she is bound to fear political losses resulting from their defection. In fact, unless the prosecutors guard an incumbent president, he or she may become the most vulnerable political actor to the politicization of criminal justice, considering the probability that the president would be involved in corruption is much higher than for any other politician. Thus an incumbent president is likely to abandon prosecution service reform readily or be satisfied only with small achievements, but to seek his or her short-term interest in forming alliance with this power agency. In this usual circumstance, opposition parties would more often have the long-term interest in prosecution service reform than the president. Nevertheless, as long as the alliance between the president and prosecutors is sustained, the opposition forces will be persecuted and therefore cannot accomplish the reform.

However, if an incumbent president dares to launch major reform against civil-law prosecutors repeatedly, they are likely to resist his or her attempts vigorously. This is clearly a rational option for the prosecutors, because the cost his or her reform would impose on them is heavy, whereas the effect their resistance could provide is great, because of the political opportunity structure favorable for them. Since curtailment of the prosecutors’ great powers as prerogatives runs sharply against their collective interest, all the members can be motivated to engage in collective action. Moreover, the high-ranking prosecutors’ loss, when becoming a traitor to their own organization, is no less than their individual benefit from career advancement in exchange for their loyalty to the reformist president. On the other side, an incumbent president in fact has no way to protect his or her faction members from the prosecutors’ willful investigation or indictment. In addition, opposition parties which have pursued to reform the prosecution system would also reverse their previous position in order to take advantage of the conflict between the president and prosecutors. That is, they would no longer have a strong incentive to support prosecution service reform, given that political scandals involving the president’s faction are being intentionally disclosed by the agency. Then vigorous competition among the media to get the first reports of political scandals could also enhance the prosecutors’ political influence.

Indeed, this logical development may not spontaneously be applied to the prosecutorial reform cases of consensual parliamentary countries. A coalition government relying on parliamentary majority can more easily make an agreement between various political forces, on the curtailment of extensive power of the prosecution service, and therefore enforce the agency to abandon its prerogatives, while the government would essentially have relatively less incentive to attempt such a reform, as noted above. By contrast, an incumbent president would be unable to maintain the momentum for large-scale reform against the prosecutors, encountering their strong resistance, and correspondingly the latter could succeed in protecting their privileges from the former.

Even in presidential countries, nonetheless, the political opportunity enabling the prosecutors to make effective resistance to a reformist president would be gone, if the president becomes no longer vulnerable to the political manipulation of criminal justice. We can assume that a hegemonic party would dominate domestic politics, or a semi-authoritarian regime would emerge in new democracies. Then political competition would be significantly weakened for quite a while. But an important point is that even a semi-authoritarian president would pursue the long-term interest in curtailing the power of civil-law prosecutors and consequently in making them politically impartial, for fear of the time whenever he or she loses his or her own hegemony, as long as regular elections are formally held. Indeed, the more power an authoritarian ruler holds in his or her hands, the more interests he or she has in undermining any power base for future challengers. Under the weak political competition in a semi-authoritarian regime, however, an incumbent president can succeed in the prosecution service reform, differently from the case of competitive democracies. This is because the president would become much freer from losing moral foundations and public support than in competitive electoral democracies, even if the prosecutors intentionally institute criminal proceedings against his or her faction members. As a consequence, the prosecutors are likely to abandon their resistance against the president, and correspondingly to accept even unfavorable changes imposed on them. In June 2007, this occurred in Russia.

Although more empirical research on other countries would be beneficial, this means that a civil-law or inquisitorial country adopting presidentialism along with its democratization, “ironically,” may not be successful in correcting the dilemma of the politicization of the prosecution service until a semi-authoritarian regime reappears.

Sun-Woo Lee obtained PhD (Politics) from University of Glasgow (UK) in 2014. And he is currently a post-doctoral researcher of the College of Social Science, Seoul National University. His research interests are comparative politics, Russian politics, Korean politics and Northeast Asian international relations. He has published several papers in many academic journals, such as Development and Society, and Journal of Politics and Law