Category Archives: Presidentialism

Ignacio Arana Araya – The “personal” versus the “institutional” presidency: An artificial divide

This is a guest post by Ignacio Arana Araya, Institute for Politics and Strategy, Carnegie Mellon University

Mainstream media and political analysts seem obsessed covering the eccentricities and peculiarities of the occupant of the White House, adventuring how Trump’s limitations as a statesman may have undesired impacts on executive governance. Trump’s unpredictable behavior and decision-making style have stunned many observers, but both recent and historical presidents of the Americas also had flamboyant personalities (and performances). Idiosyncratic presidents, in fact, have always existed. Not so long ago, Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (1999-2013) and Abdalá Bucaram of Ecuador (1996-1997) used to hit international headlines for their extravagances. Bucaram, popularly nicknamed “El Loco,” was eventually impeached by Congress for – officially – being a madman. What these eccentric characters remind us is that those who hold the most important political offices in their countries bring their unique personalities to power with them, and such uniqueness has an impact on their performance. However, students of the presidency have generally failed to quantitatively measure how the personality traits of the leaders may impact executive governance.

Arguably, this failure occurs mainly because students of the presidency have failed to absorb research on differential psychology. This brand of psychological research studies the individual differences of humans, or how people differ from each other in how they feel, act, think and behave. Absorbing the theoretical, empirical, and methodological contributions of the differential psychology literature would also allow integrating the research of scholars who focus on the “personal” presidency and those who center on the “institutional” presidency.

Both research streams have run through parallel corridors, leading to conflicting views on how the presidency works. The president-centered (also called “personality-centered”) approach examines decision making in the executive branch based on presidential behavior. Scholars from this group examine the ability of presidents to persuade individuals and organizations to accommodate policy making to their preferences. They argue that the heads of government have plenty of room to act and decide at their own discretion. Since the individual attributes of the leaders influence policy outcomes, it is necessary to analyze the personal characteristics of the leaders to understand executive politics (Neustadt 1960; Barber 1972; Greenstein 2009).

In contrast, presidency-centered (also called “institutional presidency”) studies minimize the importance of presidents as individuals and center the explanation of policy outcomes on the institutional setting in which heads of government work (e.g., Moe 1993; Dickinson 2004; Lewis 2008). The central assumption in this approach is that different presidents will behave similarly in identical contexts. It regards the study of the characteristics of the leaders as unworthy because more explanatory leverage is -supposedly- gained when scholars analyze the effect of institutional factors on policy outcomes.

The opposing theoretical views have contributed to a divide of students of the presidency along two methodological lines with little interconnection. While presidency-centered researchers mainly conduct statistical or game-theoretic analyses, most president-centered studies are qualitative.

I argue that the division wall between presidency-centered and president-centered explanations of the presidency is built on unsound foundations. Presidency-centered scholars have assumed that the personal characteristics of presidents 1) are of little relevance to understand their behavior and that 2) such features cannot be systematically measured because they are idiosyncratic. Although president-centered researchers do not share these assumptions, they have also failed to recognize that 1) on differential psychology there is a broad consensus on what human personality is, and that 2) personalities tend to be stable over time.

These misconceptions have had profound consequences. Presidency-centered researchers claim that presidents cannot be used as units of analysis in quantitative studies (e.g., King 1993) and that analytically little is lost leaving the uniqueness of the heads of government aside. However, a vast corpus of psychological research contradicts the assumption that the specificity of presidents is irrelevant to understand their behavior. The literature on differential psychology has shown that all individuals have stable personality differences and that these differences strongly explain their behavior (Judge et al. 1999; Goldberg 1990; McCrae and Costa 1997; Costa and McCrae 1992). Since personality traits are stable, they can be systematically studied. Presidents can be treated as units of analysis in statistical analyses. Although president-centered scholars recognize the importance of the personal characteristics of the presidents, they have often discussed psychological attributes of the leaders arbitrarily, paying little attention to psychological research (e.g., Greenstein 2009).

I propose that to have a deeper understanding of the presidency, we need to start testing hypotheses that include presidency-centered and president-centered paradigms. To do so, it is necessary to reposition the individual differences of leaders as a central cause of political phenomena in quantitative research. And we cannot do that unless we absorb the knowledge produced from the discipline that has studied how humans differ from each for the last 130 years.


Barber, James D. 1972. The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Costa, Paul T. Jr., and Robert R. McCrae. 1992. “Normal personality assessment in clinical practice: The NEO Personality Inventory.” Psychological assessment 4(1): 5-13.

Dickinson, Matthew J. 2004. “Agendas, agencies and unilateral action: new insights on presidential power?” In Congress & the Presidency: A Journal of Capital Studies 31(1):99-109.

Goldberg, Lewis R. 1990. “An Alternative ‘Description of Personality’: The Big Five Factor Structure.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59(6): 1216-1229.

Greenstein, Fred I. 2009. Inventing the job of president: leadership style from George Washington to Andrew Jackson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Judge, Timothy A., Chad A. Higgins, Carl J. Thoresen, and Murray R. Barrick. 1999. “The Big Five Personality Traits, General Mental Ability, and Career Success across the Life Span.” Personnel Psychology 52: 621–652.

King, Gary. 1993. “The Methodology of Presidential Research,” in George Edwards, III, John H. Kessel, and Bert A. Rockman, eds., Researching the Presidency: Vital Questions, New Approaches. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh: 387–412.

Lewis, David E. 2008. The politics of presidential appointments: Political control and bureaucratic performance. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

McCrae Robert R., Paul T. Costa Jr. 1997. “Personality Trait Structure as a Human Universal.” American Psychologist 52(5): 509-516.

Moe, Terry M. 1993. “Presidents, Institutions, and Theory.” In George C. Edwards III, John H. Kessel and Bert A. Rockman, eds., Researching the Presidency: Vital Questions, New Approaches. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Neustadt, Richard. 1960. Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership. New York: Wiley and Sons.

Nigeria — Bandwagoning, Election Sequencing, and an Executive-Legislative Tug of War

What has happened:

On February 6, Nigeria’s Senate voted in favor of amendments to Nigeria’s Electoral Act, the law which governs key aspects of the manner in which Nigeria’s national elections are conducted. Though the proposed amendments contain a number of interesting provisions, one provision in particular —which relates to the sequencing of Nigeria’s presidential, state, and parliamentary elections —has become a source of controversy.

At the heart of ongoing debate is the fact that the bill approved in the Senate proposes to upturn the order in which elections are held such that elections for members of Nigeria’s National Assembly will now be conducted first while State elections and Presidential polls will subsequently be held.

Nigeria’s electoral management bureau, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has already released its polling time-table which, drawing on precedent, stagger the national elections—with the Presidential election holding first followed by those for the State and National Assembly. If the bill is passed the INEC will therefore be forced to reverse its calendar. The implications of this reordering have been the cause of much speculation and scrutiny given the fact that Nigeria’s next national elections, scheduled for February 2019, are barely a year away.

Moreover, passing these amendments brings the Senate in line with the House of Representatives, Nigeria’s lower chamber of parliament, which unanimously assented to the same amendments in January. Their approval in the Senate thus means that the President Buhari’s signature is the final hurdle in the path for the acceptance of the amendments into law.

What is at stake:

The passage of this amendment in both chambers of Nigeria’s National Assembly sheds light on a number of important developments. Firstly, as has been noted in the Nigerian press, the proposals reveal the National Assembly’s recognition of the importance of the ‘bandwagon effect’ in Nigerian elections. The bandwagon effect is a phenomenon wherein voters cast their ballots in favor of the party they consider the most likely winner of an election. [i] This effect has been particularly pronounced in national elections in Nigeria where elections are staggered, and where it is common for the party which wins the Presidential election, typically held first, to not only win a majority in subsequent State and National Assembly elections but also to win over members of the opposition party who frequently defect to the winning side [ii]. Given President Buhari’s popularity and his likelihood to seek a second term, this is a factor which could have a significant impact on the composition of the next National Assembly. The current National Assembly’s decision to pass this amendment thus appears to signal its desire to at least limit, if not reverse, the influence which the outcome of the next Presidential elections will have on the National Assembly races.

These amendments also signal increasing factionalism in Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). President Buhari is the de facto leader of the APC, which has reportedly endorsed him for a second term. The APC also commands a majority in both the Senate and the House of representatives and is represented in the leadership of both houses. The fact that this bill nonetheless garnered enough APC votes in order to pass in both Houses suggests that APC members in the legislature may no longer see their fate as tied to that of the President. Instead — and perhaps as a third implication of the passage of the amendment — this suggest that members of the legislature are seeking increased independence from the influence and control vested in the executive branch. An increasingly independent legislature would mark a significant development in Nigeria’s Democracy, in which, given its enormous powers, executive influence has typically been all-but-insurmountable.

What happens next:

For precisely the above reasons, it is safe to assume that President Buhari is likely to veto the National Assembly’s proposed amendments. The president will see the upcoming election as an opportunity  to shore up his support in the legislature and to limit the sort of independence which has allowed the National Assembly propose this amendment in the first place. Assenting to the proposed electoral schedule which could rob the president of influence is for this reason certain to be a none-starter.  In the event of a presidential veto, it is also likely that the legislature will seek to override the president, a highly plausible scenario given the bill’s popularity in the National Assembly thus far. What is likely to happen beyond this point is difficult to precisely estimate. However, whichever direction the resolution of this debate ultimately falls will certainly play a significant role in the management and outcome of Nigeria’s upcoming elections.

[i] Morton, R. B., Muller, D., Page, L., & Torgler, B. (2015). Exit polls, turnout, and bandwagon voting: Evidence from a natural experiment. European Economic Review, 77, 65-81.

[ii] Omilusi, O., P. (2015). “The Nuances and Nuisances of Party Defection in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.” International Journal of Multidisciplinary Academic Research, Vol. 3, No. 4.

Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach

Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach
Robert Elgie
Palgrave Macmillan, 2018

This book provides a philosophically informed, institutionalist account of political leadership. It is rooted in a Peircean version of the American pragmatist philosophical tradition and privileges the study of institutions as a cause of leadership outcomes. The study includes identifying the psychological effects of presidentialism and parliamentarism on leader behavior, a study of the impact of institutions on electoral accountability for economic performance, studies of president/cabinet conflict in Europe, presidential control over cabinet composition in France, and constitutional choice in France and Romania. It adopts a multi-method approach, including a lab experiment, large-n statistical tests, and Qualitative Comparative Analysis, as well as two in-depth process-tracing case studies. The aim is to show that an institutional account has the potential to generate well-settled beliefs about the causes of leadership outcomes.

In this post, we outline the work in one chapter. In this chapter, we re-examine Hellwig and Samuels’ (2007) article on economic voting and the clarity of institutional responsibility. Like Hellwig and Samuels, we are interested in the relative effect of parliamentary and semi-presidential institutions on electoral accountablility for economic performance. We are also interested in exploring the effect of variation in presidential power on economic voting in this context. In short, we are interested in whether institutions condition the extent to which presidents and prime ministers are rewarded/blamed for good/bad economic performance.

To address this issue, we update Hellwig and Samuels dataset, noting certain revisions to the way in which they record the vote at elections with the aim of maximising the reliability of the values in the dataset. We then use exactly the same estimation technique as Hellwig and Samuels.

There is insufficient room here to go through the results in depth. (Which is just an ill-disguised invitation to buy the book). There is also no space to describe how the variables have been operationalised. Again, all that material is in the book. Here, we just wish to provide a flavour of the results.

We find support for Hellwig and Samuels’ basic finding that electoral accountability for economic performance is greater under high-clarity elections, i.e. where there is a single-party government, than low-clarity elections where there is not.

More interestingly, our results also show support for Hellwig and Samuels’ finding that the electoral accountability of the president’s party for economic performance is significantly greater during periods of unified government relative to cohabitation. Figure 1 reports the basic results of our models in the same way that Hellwig and Samuels present them in their paper.

Figure 1    The conditional effect of cohabitation in semi-presidential regimes on economic accountability

However, there are some differences between Hellwig and Samuels’ results and ours. Perhaps most notably, we find that electoral accountability for economic performance is significantly greater at presidential elections than legislative elections. This makes sense. At presidential elections, the clarity of responsibility is likely to be clearer because voters can hold a single person/party responsible for the state of the economy. This is the result that Hellwig and Samuels expected to find in their work, but which was not returned. Using the updated version of their dataset, we now find support for their intuition. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2         The conditional effect of the type of election on economic accountability

While we are concerned with re-testing Hellwig and Samuels’ thesis, we are really interested in exploring how presidential power shapes the clarity of responsibility for economic voting. Hellwig and Samuels do not follow up on this issue in their article. So, we are trying to build on their work by integrating presidential power into their analysis.

We find that presidential power does help us to understand how institutions shape electoral accountability for economic performance. For example, when we include presidential power in the model we find that there is significantly greater economic voting at presidential elections with strong presidents. Again, this makes sense. When there is a strong president, the clarity of responsibility should be higher. Voters know better whom to reward or blame. By contrast, when there is a weak, non-executive presidency, we would not necessarily expect the incumbent president or their party to be held accountable for economic performance. (See Figure 3 relative to Figure 2).

Figure 3        The conditional effect of presidential power and type of election on economic accountability

In addition, we also find that electoral accountability for economic performance is conditional upon presidential power during cohabitation. In these periods, there is significantly greater economic voting during periods of unified government when there is a strong president. (See Figure 4 relative to Figure 1). In other words, the combination of unified government and presidential power shapes economic voting at elections under semi-presidentialism.

Figure 4         The conditional effect of presidential power and cohabitation in semi-presidential regimes on economic accountability

These are only a flavour of the results in the chapter. Spoiler alert, not all results are as expected. Most, though, are.

We would like to thank Hellwig and Samuels for supplying their dataset for replication purposes. Obviously, all results presented here and in the book are the author’s responsibility alone.


Hellwig, Timothy, and David Samuels (2007), ‘Electoral Accountability and the Variety of Democratic Regimes’, British Journal of Political Science, 38: 65-90.

New publications

Robert Elgie, Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Robert Elgie, ‘The election of Emmanuel Macron and the new French party system: a return to the éternel marais?’, Modern & Contemporary France, pp. 1-15,

Tapio Raunio and Thomas Sedelius, ‘Shifting Power-Centres of Semi-Presidentialism: Exploring Executive Coordination in Lithuania’, Government and Opposition, pp. 1-24, 2017 doi:10.1017/gov.2017.31.

António Costa Pinto and Paulo José Canelas Rapaz (eds.), Presidentes e (Semi)Presidencialismo nas Democracias Contemporâneas, Lisbon, ICS, 2017.

Rui Graça Feijó, ‘Perilous semi-presidentialism? On the democratic performance of Timor-Leste government system’, Contemporary Politics, Online first, available at:

Special issue on Perilous Presidentialism in Southeast Asia; Guest Editors: Mark Thompson and Marco Bünte. Contemporary Politics, Papers available Online first at:

Jung-Hsiang Tsai, ‘The Triangular Relationship between the President, Prime Minister, and Parliament in Semi-presidentialism: Analyzing Taiwan and Poland’, Soochow Journal of Political Science, Vol. 35, Iss. 2, (2017): 1-71.

Nicholas Allen, ‘Great Expectations: The Job at the Top and the People who do it’, The Political Quarterly. doi:10.1111/1467-923X.12447.

Farida Jalalzai, ‘Women Heads of State and Government’, in Amy C. Alexander, Catherine Bolzendahl and Farida Jalalzai (eds.), Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Across the Globe, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Aidan Smith, Gender, Heteronormativity, and the American Presidency’, London: Routledge, 2018.

Special issue on Protest and Legitimacy: Emerging Dilemmas in Putin’s Third Term, Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, Volume 25, Number 3, Summer 2017.

Marcelo Camerlo and Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo (eds.), Government Formation and Minister Turnover in Presidential Cabinets: Comparative Analysis in the Americas, Routledge, 2018.

Michael Gallagher, ‘The Oireachtas: President and Parliament’, Politics in the Republic of Ireland, 6th Edition, Routledge, 2018.

João Carvalho, ‘Mainstream Party Strategies Towards Extreme Right Parties: The French 2007 and 2012 Presidential Elections’, Government and Opposition, pp. 1-22, 2017, doi:10.1017/gov.2017.25

Sidney M. Milkis and John Warren York, ‘Barack Obama, Organizing for Action, and Executive-Centered Partisanship’, Studies in American Political Development, 31(1), 1-23. doi:10.1017/S0898588X17000037.

Pål Kolstø and Helge Blakkisrud, ‘Regime Development and Patron–Client Relations: The 2016 Transnistrian Presidential Elections and the “Russia Factor”’, Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, Volume 25, Number 4, Fall 2017, pp. 503-528.

Manuel Alcantara, Jean Blondel and Jean-Louis Thiébault – The influence of the presidential system on the character of Latin American democracy

This is a guest post by Manuel Alcantara, Jean Blondel and Jean-Louis Thiébault. It is based on their recent book, Presidents and Democracy in Latin America, London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

The aim of this book is to study the effect of the presidential form of government on democracy in Latin America. The adoption of the presidential system, specifically the personality type of those who have occupied the presidential office, the leadership style of those presidents, and the type of government they have led, helps to explain the consolidation of democracy there.

In this study, six countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) were chosen. They were chosen because they have successfully completed the process of democratic consolidation. Within each of the six countries, two presidents were chosen, reflecting broad trends in the political and electoral life of these countries. The goal was to select presidents belonging to one of the key political ‘families’ of the country, grouped under the banner of a political party, or who were representative of two particular approaches to the same problem in the same political family. These presidents were in office in the 1990s or the first decade of the 21st century. Some were liberal or conservative, left-wing or right-wing populists, socialists or social democrats, leaders of a political party or ‘outsiders,’ members of parliament or technocrats. They are:

  • Carlos Menem (July 1989-December 1999) and Nestor Kirchner (May 2003-December 2007) for Argentina.
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso (January 1995-December 2002) and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (January 2003-December 2010) for Brazil.
  • Patricio Aylwin (March 1990-March 1994) and Ricardo Lagos (March 2000-March 2006) for Chile.
  • Cesar Gaviria (September 1994-September 2004) and Alvaro Uribe (August 2002-August 2010) for Colombia.
  • Ernesto Zedillo (December 1994-November 2000) and Felipe Calderon (December 2006-December 2012) for Mexico.
  • Alan García (July 1985-July 1990 and July 2006 to July 2011) and Alberto Fujimori (July 1990-November 2000) for Peru.

In practice, these presidents were all center-right or center-left leaders. They were not members of the military, dictators, or revolutionaries. Right-wing populist presidents (Menem, Fujimori and Uribe) were chosen based on the idea that populists can be either on the right or on the left. However, García and Kirchner were chosen as moderate populists, claiming to be an Aprist and a Peronist respectively; both represent different periods. These choices make it possible to analyze processes in a consolidated democracy, but not in military regimes or in dominant party systems.

From the 1930s to the 1980s, these Latin American countries had a long period of instability. Argentina wavered between three types of political regimes: military dictatorship, a populist-corporatist regime, and restrictive democracy. From 1930 to the reestablishment of liberal democracy in 1983, there were six major military coups (1930, 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966 and 1976). There were eighteen presidents, and all those elected were overthrown except one, Peron, who died less than a year after his election. Governments in Peru have been more unstable than in any other South American country. Between 1945 and 1992, Peru’s government was civilian and constitutional almost 60 percent of the time, and a military regime 40 percent of the time. There were nearly two decades of military rule in Brazil and Chile. A military coup overthrew President Goulart in 1964 and began the longest period of authoritarian rule in Brazil’s history. With the collapse of democracy in September 1973, Chile was abruptly transformed from an open and participatory political system into a repressive and authoritarian one. General Pinochet was selected as the junta’s president by virtue of his position as leader of the oldest military branch. Unlike many of its continental neighbors, Colombia has avoided military rule, but there was intense violence between members of the two major parties in the late 1940s and 1950s, known as « la violenca » (the violence). A coalition government resulted from party negotiations. From 1958 to 1974, all governments in Colombia consisted of a bipartisan coalition. The main factors commonly associated with good prospects for democracy have long persisted in Mexico without producing full democracy.

Presidential regimes in Latin America are now a success, despite the pessimistic comments directed at this form of government. There are indeed manifest reasons why the Latin American presidential government should be considered a success. Latin American countries have overcome the fundamental dangers to which they were exposed. Although difficulties continue in a number of countries, presidential government in the region is no longer interrupted as it so frequently was in the past. Democratic development also mean that the number of countries regularly holding free and fair elections has increased. Executive governments are often elected by voters mobilized by clientelistic ties or by a candidate’s personality, rather than programmatic, appeal, all in the context of weak parties that are, moreover, rejected by citizens. The presidential elections of Zedillo in 1994 and Calderon in 2006 were intricate and controversial. Both involved critical moments of acute social tension and political instability that produced distinctive results.

Latin American governments have been influenced by the adoption of the presidential system. They set up institutions drawn largely from the US constitutional model. But Latin American presidents represent another type of executive. In the United States, there is a president, but there is no government. Latin America has a large number of presidential regimes characterised by a high degree of consistency and similarity. They constitute a type of intermediary regime, comprising many elements of presidential regimes, but with some of the features of parliamentary systems with coalition governments so as to ensure a majority in congress. For almost twenty years, Brazil has been considered an extraordinary case of « coalition presidentialism ». This explains why the president’s leadership is important and has an impact on the nature of government. The Brazilian party system is highly fragmented. Dealing with loosely disciplined parties is thus a major problem for presidents because it makes the formation of stable congressional majorities much harder to achieve due to the excessive number of party factions. But there were also the broad multi-party coalition governments seen in Chile. Presidents of these countries have demonstrated leadership skills, arising from a good political performance and cohesive majority coalitions that support them: Aylwin and Lagos in Chile, Cardoso in Brazil. It is impossible to explain the stability of these coalitions without referring to the various mechanisms of coalition management and to presidential leadership. Most importantly, these three presidents facilitated the transition to democracy following the failure of authoritarian regimes in Chile and Brazil. They did not have the same authority as Lula, but they showed great skills of conciliation and moderation during the difficult transition period, namely the restoration and the consolidation of the democratic regime in Chile and Brazil.

This explains why the presidential leadership is important and has an impact on the nature of government. The key feature of the popular election of the president has been the inherent tendency of Latin American countries to emphasize the role of personalities in political life. Latin American political regimes have been markedly affected by patronage and clientelism; with the extension of the right to vote, elections were deeply influenced by these practices. The impact of personalities on the political life of Latin American countries has continued to this day, but it is less substantial. There is a decline in the extent to which Latin American presidentialism is personalized compared to the extent it had been previously. In the past personalization undoubtedly rendered presidential rule more chaotic and less rule-based. The fact that, on the whole, presidencies have tended to follow previously adopted rules during the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first century has surely resulted in the personalization of presidents being been less marked than in the past. Whereas presidents often enjoy high levels of popularity, these levels vary from president to president as well as over time in the case of each president. One president exhibited exceptional leadership boosted by his personal dominance: Lula. His performance was strengthened by the fact that he had an interesting experience as founder and president of the Workers’ Party. He is often regarded as one of the most popular politicians in the history of Brazil, boasting approval ratings over 80 percent and, at the time of his mandate, one of the most popular in the world.

A new type of personalised populism emerged with the appearance of formulas promoting demobilization and anti-political behavior. Fujimori in Peru, Menem in Argentina, and Uribe in Colombia. These three presidents have adopted a more or less authoritarian manner, being hostile to or even repressing the opposition. They used exceptional means, such as a state of emergency or government by decree, to implement their economic and social policies, as well as the fight against armed rebellions and drug trafficking. However, these exceptional means did not enable them to achieve the expected results. Their presidency was characterized by an authoritarianism and corruption. The populism of Carlos S. Menem in Argentina was strengthened by the political machine of the historic Justicialita Party. Carlos Menem governed within the framework of « peronism » and enjoyed remarkable popular support. Menem’s economic policy involved profound structural reforms, including the privatisation of public enterprises, economic deregulation and the opening up of the economy to foreign trade and investment. This policy created the conditions for monetary stability and remained in force after Menem left office in 1999 and until the crisis of December 2001. However, the policies of the Menem era led to a deepening of social inequality and a rise in unemployment. However he was considered a true peronist. He was the main player in the political regime, with a negative view of parliament and the judiciary. Menem’s leadership has been labelled neopopulist and delegative due to the continuous use of unilateral measures and emergency legislation. It was of a different nature to the populism of Fujimori in Peru. Fujimori sought to distance his government from politics, disdaining the social and/or political mobilization that could have been mounted through some movement or party. Fujimori outlined a strategy in which criticism of the traditional parties was a part of his discourse. He decided to confront the political class instead of building bridges with it. Instead, he expressly renounced such mobilizations, and depoliticized all the other political bodies. Uribe presented himself as the saviour of a Colombia that seemed to be on the brink of destruction. He portrayed himself as a messiah who would redeem Colombia of all its evils and built a strategy around certain core components. He adopted a radical discourse against armed groups and proposed resolving the internal conflict through war and the subjugation of guerrillas. He withdrew from the Liberal Party, to which he had belonged throughout his political life. He spoke out against the parties and the political class despite having belonged to both and adhering to their norms and rules throughout his political career.

Some presidents demonstrated weaker leadership skills (Kirchner in Argentine, Gaviria in Colombia, Zedillo and Calderon in Mexico). They came to power without holding important positions in the governments headed by their predecessors. They have become second-rate candidates, indirectly because of events that have upset or disrupted the appointment of the first office holder. They have never been able to exercise strong authority, muddling through in the face of significant obstacles and divisions.

The fact that the presidential system had become ‘established’ in Latin America by the second half of the 20th century does not mean that these countries have not suffered serious problems. In the 1990s, democracy spread across the region, even if Colombia, Brazil and Mexico experienced marked political violence, the state being unable to maintain order and public security. What is clear is that, in the context of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil in particular, one very serious problem was identified: violence, and this problem affected the regular development of the presidential system in these three countries. The amount of violence that has affected Colombia has been huge, to the extent that it is surprising that the regular conduct of the electoral process has not been prevented from taking place. The policies of the two Colombian presidents, Gaviria and Uribe, were fundamentally different, the first having pursued the ‘war effort’ against the rebels, whereas the second attempted (unsuccessfully) to find a peaceful solution: his successor was able to make substantial progress in that direction, however. In Colombia it has thus been possible, rather surprisingly, to maintain the main electoral rules of the liberal democratic process, although, at least in a substantial part of the country, confrontation has taken in effect the form of a civil war.

In recent decades, presidential elections have taken place regularly in Latin America. Certainly, some presidents have been more popular than others. Some have been unable to conclude their terms. Others have gradually learned to adjust to the particularities of the institutional system. Overall, though, the presidential form of government has gradually begun to function smoothly. The fact that presidents have tended to follow democratic rules has resulted from the presence of patterns of parliamentary presidentialism. In spite of serious problems (political violence, corruption), the emergence of these tools (coalitional presidentialism, the (de-) institutionalization of party systems, the internal organization of the executive branch) must be seen as having constituted the key institutional development of democracy in Latin America.

Tajikistan – Preparing a Succession in Power or Coping with a Severe Regime Crisis?

Tajikistan, the poorest Eurasian country besides Kyrgyzstan, is also one of the least free countries in a region where democracy generally faces a bleak prospect. Over the course of the last two years, President Emomali Rahmon, who has led the country since 1992, has taken a couple of measures that have been widely interpreted as preparation for an orderly, albeit undemocratic, transition of power to a handpicked successor, in all likelihood, his son Rustam.

In Tajikistan, like everywhere in the post-Soviet space, politics is based on the interaction of broad informal networks that pervade the state, economy and society. These networks consist of individuals and groups, such as extended families or business firms that strive for access to wealth and power. Whereas Eurasia’s more competitive regimes are vulnerable, displaying frequent reshufflings of network alliances and transfers of presidential power that are not always peaceful, the politically more closed regimes, such as Tajikistan’s, appear to be much more consolidated. Here, elite networks are integrated into comprehensive, nationwide “power pyramids,” which are led by presidents who enjoy the privilege of an often constitutionally granted status of the “Leader of the Nation.” They rely on a carefully calibrated mix of patronage and oppression vis-à-vis the elite and are eager to maintain a high level of popularity among their citizens.

In Tajikistan, the President’s home base is his extended family and the Kulob District, the region of the winning faction of Tajikistan’s civil war (1992–1997). This war was brought to an end by a power-sharing agreement, guaranteeing the opposition, led by the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), thirty percent of government positions. However, since the beginning of the new millennium, Rahmon has steadily reneged on this deal, clearing the government and the country of political opponents and getting a firm grip on the regime as its uncontested ultimate patron. As the opposition was being crowded out of legal politics, loyal networks were coopted into the regime. As a result, observers perceived the country to be increasingly stable, even though domestic security incidents continued to flare up from time to time on the country’s periphery. In September 2015, the IRPT was banned as an “extremist and terrorist organization,” and a May 2016 constitutional amendment prohibited political parties based on religion. Since then, Human Rights Watch reports an ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression and the political opposition; between mid-2015 and the end of 2016, more than 150 activists have been imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Thus, one of the few international success stories of peace and reconciliation after a civil war has finally failed.

The Achilles heel of consolidated patronage-based regimes is succession in power. While monarchies are based on the principle of hereditary succession and democracies elect their leaders, Eurasia’s regimes face a double challenge. First, elections are crucial for legitimation, but the smooth operation of the power pyramid requires that the successor be a regime insider who enjoys the loyalty of the most powerful networks. Thus, replacing the leadership is precarious, and leaving it to the voter is not a viable option. Instead, presidents work to stay in office for life, which is why they tinker with the constitutionally mandated restrictions of their tenure. In Tajikistan, the original limitation of two five-year terms was turned into a single seven-year term by a 1999 referendum. A subsequent referendum in 2003 provided for two seven-year periods, simultaneously starting a new countdown for the sitting president. Most recently, the 2016 referendum on constitutional reform granted Rahmon the right to run for an unlimited number of terms.

Second, since even the most authoritarian president is not immortal, succession issues are inevitable at some point. When this moment approaches, the regime comes under stress. The elite may be fragmented into rival groups that are waiting for their chance to seize power as the incumbent weakens or dies. Thus, succession must be settled within the elite, the decision being submitted for confirmation to popular elections after the fact. Clever presidents groom handpicked successors to whom they can transfer power when the time comes. However, such plans are not without risk for the incumbent. If the wait becomes too long, the designated inheritor may get impatient and try to remove the patriarch. Moreover, after ascending to power, he or she may give in to the temptation to eliminate the predecessor in order to forcefully lend credibility to the claim of being the new chief patron.

From this it follows that the least dangerous strategy for an incumbent president is to prudently pave the way for a son or a daughter. The father’s popularity may rub off on his heir, who hopefully cherishes him so much that he or she will never be disloyal, and the elites get a strong signal of regime continuity that may deter quarrels over power. So far, this strategy has worked successfully in Azerbaijan but failed in Uzbekistan. At present, it is not sure or even likely that Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev (77), the oldest incumbent in the region, will designate a successor. By contrast, the presidents of Belarus and Turkmenistan, 63-year-old Alexander Lukashenko and 60-year-old Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, respectively, are quite openly grooming their young sons.

Even more evident are the efforts of Tajikistan’s Emomali Rahmon, who recently turned 65, to invest in the next generation. In the past two years, four of his nine children have received promotions. While the younger daughters Rukhshona and Zarina, both in their twenties, were appointed Deputy Heads in a department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the country’s largest commercial bank respectively, in January 2016 now 39-year-old Ozoda, the President’s second oldest daughter, was elevated to a critical position in government, becoming Chief of the Presidential Administration. In May 2016, she was also unanimously elected to the Majlisi Milli, the upper chamber of the parliament.

However, the biggest jump up the career ladder has been made by Rahmon’s eldest son, Rustam Emomali. He had been chief of the country’s Customs Service since 2013 and of the State Agency for Financial Control and Measures against Corruption since March 2015. In January 2017 he was appointed mayor of Dushanbe, the country’s capital. Not surprisingly, Rahmon’s move fueled widespread speculation about Rustam being groomed to replace his father in office in the near future. Again, this interpretation is supported by the 2016 constitutional reform, which lowered the minimum eligibility age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 and also made 30 the new minimum age for being elected to the Majlis Milli. Obviously, this is a tailor-made clause for Rustam, who was born in December 1987. It would enable him to run for the presidency in the next election scheduled for 2020, and as a next step before that happens, it is expected that he will be elected speaker of the Majlis Milli, rising to the second highest post in Tajikistan, a position still held by the former mayor of Dushanbe.

However, as solid as these steps for the “completion of the transition to a consolidated monarchy-styled regime” may seem, managing the succession problem might be less than half of the story. What looks like Tajikistan’s definitive transformation into a family-run business may also signal a desperate effort to address serious cracks within the regime itself. Thus, analysts and independent media speculate about feuds within the extended family and regionally based political networks over political influence and resources.

Signs of clashes within the power apparatus, or “clan infighting,” as observers have labeled it, are indeed evident. Rustam Emomali’s appointment as the capital’s mayor ended the political career of Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, the second most influential person in Tajikistan, who has been both a powerful ally of Rahmon and his main rival since the early 1990s. He held this position for twenty years, but was released, together with all his deputies and the chiefs of Dushanbe’s city districts, in January 2017. Only weeks after his dismissal, the Anticorruption Agency launched a corruption investigation against the former mayor, initiated by the President’s son. Probably as a response to this move, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) began an anti-corruption sweep against the Anticorruption Agency itself as well as against the Customs Service, that is, against the two bodies that were formerly led by Rustam Emomali. As a result, fourteen leading officials of these agencies were recently convicted of fraud and bribery and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

The brittleness of the cohesion within the elite may be also illustrated by the defection of Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, a long-term close associate of Rustam Emomali. In 2015, the US-trained commander of the special forces of the Ministry of the Interior to combat criminals and terrorists joined the Islamic State, where he received a promotion to the position of the Minister of War.  This calls into question the capacity of the regime to retain the loyalty of even high-ranking members of the elite.

To sum up, Tajikistan’s recent political evolution raises some doubts about whether President Rahmon has a firm grip on power, meaning that he is about to elevate the succession problem as the most pressing issue of the day. His strategy of promoting close family members can also be understood as an attempt to place the most loyal core of his power network in the regime’s key positions in the face of the ongoing disintegration of Tajikistan’s power pyramid and to prevent the collapse of his rule.

Saskia P. Ruth – Do populist presidents always pose a threat to liberal democratic institutions?

This is a guest post by Saskia P. Ruth at the Department of Political Science, University of Zurich. It is based on her recent article recent paper in Political Studies, ‘Populism and the Erosion of Horizontal Accountability in Latin America’. Her webpage is here.

In my article “Populism and the Erosion of Horizontal Accountability in Latin America” I explore which factors enable or hinder populist presidents in Latin America to pursue a radical strategy of institutional change to erode horizontal checks and balances in their respective countries. Prominent examples in Latin America that increased the power of the executive vis-à-vis the legislative branch are Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. But are populists in power always as consequential to democracy as these prominent cases imply? Looking at other populist presidents in Latin America, we can also find examples where the threat to liberal democracy did not materialize, like Alan Garcia in Peru or Fernando Collor de Mello in Brazil.

While comparative research is important to unpack the ambiguous relationship between populism and (liberal) democracy highlighting how populist governments differ from non-populist governments, I focus on the systematic analysis of the conditions under which populists in power pose a threat to democracy or not. Only if we know when and how populists engage in eroding liberal democratic institutions, can we begin to design strategies to countervail their impact. To answer this question, I take an actor-centred approach focusing on specific constellations in the political arena that shape populist presidents’ incentives and their ability to engage in institutional change.

Following the minimalist ideational approach towards populism (see Hawkins and Rovira Kaltwasser forthcoming) – I argue that the antagonistic nature and the moralistic style of a populist discourse are often directed against liberal democracy, which is based on political pluralism and the constitutional protection of minorities. This inherent tension between populism and liberalism is the reason why populists are perceived as a threat to democracy itself (see Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2012). More specifically, especially in presidential systems, like those in Latin America, populist ideas clash with one core principle of liberal constitutionalism, namely horizontal accountability (here defined narrowly as executive-legislative checks and balances).

I argue that the rise of populism to power opens a unique window of opportunity for institutional change, but that the success of populist presidents to increase the power of the executive to their advantage depends on the potential power of other political actors to defend the status quo. I identify three conditions that constitute the political opportunity structure of institutional change, and thereby, either condition the incentive or the capability of populist presidents to erode horizontal accountability. These conditions are: First, the absence of unified government between the executive and the legislature, second, the existence of a ‘power vacuum’ in the political arena, and third, high public support in favour of the president.

These hypotheses are then tested by means of a Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) which is specifically suited for research designs with a low- or medium number of cases (Ragin 1987). Therefore, I compiled an original dataset covering all populist presidents elected under democratic rule in Latin America from 1979 until 2014. To identify presidents deploying a populist discourse in their electoral campaign I proceeded in two steps: First, using the ideational definition of populism as a benchmark I conducted an intensive literature review. Second, to validate this coding the dataset was sent to several experts in the field to benefit from their expertise.[1] This led to the inclusion of the following 16 presidents in the analysis: Carlos Menem and Néstor Kirchner in Argentina; Evo Morales in Bolivia; Fernando Collor de Mello in Brazil; Hipólito Mejía in the Dominican Republic; Jaime Roldós, Abdalá Bucaram, Lucio Gutiérrez, as well as Rafael Correa in Ecuador; Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua; Mireya Moscoso in Panama; Alan García (both in the 1980s and in the 2000s) and Alberto Fujimori in Peru; as well as Rafael Caldera and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

As to the results – the QCA identified a complex causal path towards the erosion of horizontal accountability, indicating that successful populist presidents had strong incentives to undermine the power of opposing traditional elites if they fell short of a supporting majority in Congress. However, they were only capable to do so if they were able to exploit the bad reputation of traditional elites and at the same time uphold high popular support levels in favour of their agenda of institutional change. Among the five cases that are covered by this causal path are some of the most prominent populist presidents in the region: Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, Alberto Fujimori, Carlos Menem, and Evo Morales.

Moreover, the analysis also enabled me to investigate factors that might hinder populists to successfully engage in the depletion of liberal democratic institutions. For one, the analysis highlights the importance of party systems with stable social roots as safeguards against radical institutional change. If populists come to power as candidates of traditional parties, their own party organization may keep them from inducing institutional change processes. Moreover, the analysis also highlights a combined impact of non-unified government and low levels of popular support on the absence of institutional depletion by populist presidents. This substantiates Hochstetler’s plea (2006) not to underestimate the power of the public in executive-legislative conflicts. Popular mobilization is a crucial factor with respect to populist presidents’ success in restructuring liberal democracy.

While these results are a first step to uncover different political opportunity structures that may increase or tame the threat of populism to democracy, further research needs to be done. For example, this study only highlights the effect of populism on executive-checks and balances, while other institutions of horizontal accountability, like the role of the judiciary or other independent state agencies have been excluded. Moreover, with populist candidates globally on the rise it is impervious to identify when and how populist engage in illiberal behaviour and how to countervail their intentions to destabilize liberal democracy beyond the Latin American region. The results of this study may travel to other regions in the world, most likely, to other presidential systems like the USA or semi-presidential systems like France.


Hawkins, Kirk, and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser. forthcoming. “The Ideational Approach to Populism.”  Latin American Research Review.

Hochstetler, Kathryn. 2006. “Rethinking Presidentialism: Challenges and Presidential Falls in South America.”  Comparative Politics 38 (4):401-418.

Mudde, Cas, and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, eds. 2012. Populism in Europe and the Americas. Threat or Corrective for Democracy? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ragin, Charles. 1987. The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies. Berkeley: University of California Press.


[1] Experts have been selected based on their publication record as well as their comparative knowledge of populism in Latin America. The survey has been sent to six experts of whom three – Kirk Hawkins, Steven Levitsky and Carlos de la Torre – responded with their evaluations of the case selection.

Armenia – The others and Russia: Walking the complementarity tightrope

In the last months, Armenia has been remarkably active in developing and enhancing its international ties. However, Russia has not stopped keeping in check its “small brother”. Armenia’s sudden withdrawal from NATO’s Agile Spirit exercise in Georgia is illustrative of the pressures and challenges it faces. Rather than being confined to the foreign policy realm, these developments have some domestic implications.

Over the summer, Armenia was working towards the strengthening of the relationship with a plurality of actors. Such diplomatic activism can be interpreted as being in line with its main foreign policy guideline, namely complementarity. That means cultivating ties with as many international partners as possible, within the leeway consented by Russia. Concerning the relationship with the EU, Yerevan and Brussels are expected to sign the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), whose details were finalized in March. Both Piotr Switalski, the head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, and the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, are confident about a successful outcome. In the words of Mr Sargsyan: “We have no reason to not sign that document”. A similar statement was also made by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian. Other than interacting with the EU, Armenian officials had discussions with their Iranian counterparts about the implementation of a free-trade zone. Additionally, Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan and the Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov pledged to reinforce their bilateral ties. These developments, and some prior diplomatic moves, have domestic implications. Thus, they can be understood as being linked to the September 2016 Government reshuffle, and to the need to promote foreign investments and sustainable developmen[1].

Focusing on the relationship with the EU, CEPA can be interpreted as the last episode of a complex interaction. In addition to being an upgrade in bilateral relations, the signature of CEPA is relevant since at the last minute, in September 2013, Armenia withdrew from the Association Agreement (AA) talks with Brussels and announced instead its decision to join the Russian-led Eurasian Union. Even though most analysts suspect this U-turn to be the result of Kremlin pressure, Armenian political elites have never publicly admitted that this was the case. For instance, in recent times President Sargsyan denied any such external interference, saying that: “We negotiated with both the EEU and the EU, since initially both sides said that one does not interfere with one another. But, what should we do when the European Union said that it hinders?”[2] In other words, it was hinted that the EU, rather than Armenia, suddenly departed from what had been previously agreed. However, in spite of this official rhetoric, the influence of Russia seems clear[3].

The withdrawal from the Association Agreement shows that Russia can be an unpredictable and capricious “big brother”. Thus, while there should be no objection to signing CEPA[4], the Kremlin still keeps a close eye on its South Caucasian ally. In this regard, notwithstanding the diplomatic activism of the past months, the last-minute withdrawal from the NATO’s Agile Spirit exercise in Georgia, which took place between September 3 and September 11 was remarkable.

Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). However, the country has been developing ties with NATO, as per the Individual Partnership Action Plan and the Partnership for Peace program. Within this framework, some Armenian troops took part in NATO’s peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo[5]. Aware of the possible tensions and misunderstandings arising from this situation, Armenian cadres often specified that cooperation with NATO neither interfered with the CSTO’s commitments nor involved any future plan of membership. For instance, during an interview in July 2017, President Sargsyan ruled out any ambition to join NATO[6].However, in spite of these precautions, the withdrawal from the NATO drill seems indicative of some misunderstanding between Moscow and Yerevan.

Armenian policymakers said that their participation was never confirmed. Notably, Armenian Deputy Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov also remarked that, notwithstanding cooperation with NATO, CSTO plays a crucial role for the security of Armenia[7]. However, that does not mean cutting ties with NATO. In this regard, presidential spokesperson Vladimir Akopyan stated that missing the military exercise did not prelude a reconsideration of the relationship with NATO (i.e. cooperation without membership)[8]. It must be added that it is not the first episode of this kind. In 2009 Armenia, after confirming its involvement in a NATO exercise, also pulled out at the last moment[9].

Despite the aforementioned declarations, some doubts are in order. Georgi Kajarava, the Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman, said that this decision was highly unexpected[10]. Even more explicitly, the Armenian expert Ruben Mehrabyan bluntly said that: “A simple comparison of realities that have taken shape in the region and Armenian-Russian relations simply rule out any theories for the exception of Russia resorting to brazen blackmail and the Armenian leadership back-pedalling.” Mr Mehrabyan also ruled out that the withdrawal of Armenia could be attributed to the participation of Azerbaijan. First, Baku announced its involvement at the very last minute. Second, both Armenia and Azerbaijan participated in games organized and hosted by Russia[11].

The hypotheses about Russian pressure= are reinforced by an analysis of the Russian press. The pro-government newspaper “Pravda” used the expression “common sense prevailed” when commenting on Armenia’s sudden refusal to participate in the NATO drill. In the same article, which also hinted at the unhappiness of Russia with the cooperation between NATO and Armenia, it was plainly stated that: “We would also like to remind our Armenian friends that it was Vladimir Putin (not Angela Merkel) who stopped the offensive of Azerbaijani troops in Nagorno-Karabakh in April [2016][12]”.

While these dynamics relate to the international sphere, they are also relevant to the understanding of domestic developments, first and foremost the future of Serzh Sargsyan[13]. As reported in this blog, Mr Sargsyan declared that in the future he would like to be involved in security affairs. However, he prudently refrained from commenting on the NATO issue. Due to the constitutional reform of 2015[14], Mr Sargsyan could extend his position in power by becoming premier. Given that, his silence could be interpreted as a way to avoid tensions with a crucial partner.

In addition to this prudence in international affairs, an analysis of domestic dynamics also seems to confirm the unwillingness of Mr Sargsyan to quietly retire. While he refrains from declarations about his future, Galust Sahakian, a deputy chairman of President Sargsyan’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), declared that the President should stay in power after the end of his second presidential mandate (i.e. should become Prime Minister), since no other leader could take up such a responsibility.

In conclusion, Armenia needs to find a balance between its desire for investments and modernization, and its need for not displeasing Russia. Turning to the current leadership, prudent decisions seem connected to their permanence in power.


[1] Refer to Erik Davtyan’s analysis for more insight on Armenia recent diplomatic moves and their implications.

[2] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Kiesler: European Union is ready to sign agreement on extended and comprehensive partnership with Armenia”, September 12 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[3] This author conducted expert interviews in Armenia in Summer 2015 and Summer 2015. All her respondents agreed on Russia having strongly influenced that decision. For further insights, refer to: Loda, C. (2016, May). Perception of the EU in Armenia: A View from the Government and Society. In Caucasus, the EU and Russia-Triangular Cooperation?. Nomos Nomos. Pp 131-152.

[4] BMI Research. 2017. “New EU Deal No Game Changer”, Armenia Country Risk Report, October 1 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[5] Thai News Service. 2017. “Armenia: Armenian presidential spokesman comments on relations with NATO”, September 8 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[6] Thai News Service. 2017. “Armenia: Armenian presidential spokesman comments on relations with NATO”, September 8 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[7] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2017. “Programme summary of Armenian Public TV news 1700 gmt 4 Sep 17”, September 5 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[8] ITAR-TASS. 2017. “Armenian presidential spokesman says no plans to review relations with NATO”, September 07 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[9] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Dashnaktsakan: Armenia is an independent state, and can independently decide in which exercises to take part, and in which there is no”, September 04 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[10] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Armenia to participate in the training “Combat Commonwealth 2017” within the framework of the CIS against the backdrop of refusal to participate in NATO exercises”, September 4 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[11] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2017. “Pundit: Armenia misses US-led drills due to Russia’s “brazen blackmail””, September 6 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[12] Stepushova, Lyubov. 2017. “Russia tells Armenia where to sit”, Pravda.Ru, September 7,

[13] BMI Research. 2017. “New EU Deal No Game Changer”, Armenia Country Risk Report, October 1 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[14] In 2015, a constitutional referendum reduced the powers of the President and enhanced those of the Prime Minister. Considering the political implications of this change, it has been observed that it would enable President Sargsyan, who is serving his second and last presidential mandate, to extend his permanence in power by becoming Premier. This blog extensively covered this topic, focusing on the details of the reform, the campaign before the vote and the relevant debate in 2016 and 2017.

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.


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.


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