Category Archives: Dominican Republic

Fernando Meireles – Latin American presidents and their oversized government coalitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Haiti – The end of the transition

After a year of crisis and uncertainty, Jovenel Moise was sworn in as the 58th president of Haiti on February 7. The ceremony marks the end of the transition period that began on the same date last year with the departure of President Martelly. In a stunning reversal of fortunes, his party (the PHTK) went from being tossed out of power to now securing the control of the two branches of government: the Legislative (both chambers) and the Executive. Elections that were expected to mark the burial of the legacy of PHTK’s politicians turned out to be ones that vindicated the previous administration. In this post, we point out some obstacles that might lie ahead of the new government, despite the triumphal appearance of the last few days.

Despite having won at the first round of the election by a healthy margin (55.6% versus 19.5% for his nearest competitor) and which should give President Moise some much needed room in which to maneuver, certain structural weaknesses might prevent him from benefiting from his seeming popularity. The truth of the matter is that he has won by default, with little support of the elegible voters, with an opposition that is already questioning his legitimacy, and an accusation of money laundering pending in the judicial system.

Table I shows the level of participation in the last presidential election. On average, only 18% of citizens went to the polls. That average is lower in two key Departments, Ouest and Artibonite, where most voters are concentrated (54% of the total voters). These two regions are also known as the two most active areas for protests and political demonstrations. In fact, the mobilization against Martelly was mostly confined to Port-au-Prince, the capital and the most important city in the Ouest.

Table I. Participation in the elections of November 2016, by Department

Department # elegible citizens # of votes cast Turnout (%)
Ouest 2,407,133 361,496 15,01
Sud-Est 317,884 72,037 22,6
Nord 573,179 122,355 21,3
Nord-Est 230,734 53,051 23
Artibonite 760,153 129,831 17,07
Centre 392,791 81,425 20,7
Sud 444,955 82,043 18,4
Grande-Anse 241,974 54,916 22,6
Nord-Ouest 308,988 58,030 18,7
Nippes 193,659 47,655 24,6
Total 5,871,450 1,062,839 18,1

Jude Célestin, Moise Jean Charles, and Maryse Narcisse (who together won 39.6% of the votes) used the courts to challenge the electoral results. After the verification of the results, the Electoral Council (CEP) confirmed the election of Jovenel Moise. However, supporters of all three former candidates took to the street to contest the decision. In the end, they failed to generate widespread protests against the CEP’s decision. Nonetheless, they have declared the election of Moise illegitimate and have vowed to oppose his government by any means. So far, they have avoided any form of contact with the president elect (and since February 7 the president) and decided not to participate in his inauguration ceremony.

If recent history can serve as a blue print for what might come in the future, it is worth remembering that the allegations against the legitimacy of a president has been used in the past for waging permanent protests against the incumbent administration. In the case of President Aristide in 2004, these protests led lead to his premature departure. In other cases, chronic instability was the result.

As president elect, Jovene Moise has been forced to declare before an investigating judge that, as an entrepreneur, he might have commited the crime of money laundering. The accusations were floated during the electoral campaign in a report from the Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (UCREF), which is responsible for investigating financial fraud in Haiti. Moise denied the accusations and his allies argue that they were orchestrated by the government to discredit their candidate. Independently of the veracity of the allegations, the fact is that the president has taken office and the judge has not yet completed the investigation. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that the accusations could come back to haunt the president. If the judge decides not to proceed any further, the opposition will denounce the role of the judicial system and if the decision is to indict the president, the next new political crisis will be on the horizon.

In a nutshell, the inauguration of Jovenel Moise as the 58th president of Haiti means that the transition is now complete. Power has changed hands peacefully and a president and legislators chosen in the polls are in charge of the country. In contrast to his predecessor, the new president can count on his party and allies to use their majority in both chambers to take swift actions to redress the economy and make important changes in the lives of the citizens. But, as we have seen in this post, many challenges lied ahead. The legitimacy won from the polls will not suffice to govern.

Johannes Freudenreich – The Formation of Cabinet Coalitions in Presidential Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

The most note-worthy empirical results are:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leiv Marsteintredet – Mega-elections in the Dominican Republic: Consolidating a dominant party system?

This is a guest post by Leiv Marsteintredet, Associate professor Latin American Studies, University of Oslo, and Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, Twitter: @leivm_academic

The Dominican Republic held what was locally dubbed as a mega-election on May 15, 2016. For the first time since 1994 the country organised local, congressional and presidential elections on the same day. This year the 6.7 million registered voters could go to the polls to elect a president, 222 members of both chambers of Congress, 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament, and around 4,000 new members of municipal councils and mayors. Elections were synchronised in the 2010 Constitution in an attempt to avoid the constant electoral campaigns resulting from midterm elections. The sheer size of the elections combined with outdated electoral laws, poor administration and preparation by the Central Electoral Board made for a chaotic electoral day and counting process. Although the opposition cried fraud and protested several congressional and local results, most observers judged the election as free and fair, but also that the quality of the electoral process and organisation had clearly deteriorated compared to earlier elections.

Dominican voters voted for continuity this year, reelecting the incumbent President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). Medina won handsomely with 61.7% of the votes over his main opponent Luis Abinader of the newly created Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), a splinter from the traditional Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). The PLD also kept its majority control over both chambers of Congress, a majority it has held since 2002. Participation was around 70% in both congressional and presidential elections.

Background and campaign

The Dominican party system is among the least polarised ideologically in Latin America, and electoral campaigns seldom deal with issues and ideology, but rather become conflicts about persons and positions. Instead of campaign promises and programmes, voters mostly see accusations and negative messages, in addition to a series of caravans with politicians touring cities with large followings of all types of vehicles. This year’s campaign was no exception, and the greatest conflicts and controversies over positions occurred within rather than between parties.

Besides a new national security plan presented by Abinader and his security advisor Rudy Guiliani(!), the former mayor of New York, and the first ever presidential candidate debate in the country, which President Danilo Medina declined to participate in, the campaign was relatively uneventful. President Medina has since his election in 2012 been among the most popular presidents in Latin America, and his reelection was never in danger. Medina campaigned on a promise of stability and continuity. Supported by a positive macro-economy, and abundant state and private resources Medina and PLD managed to run an effective campaign. A splintered opposition led by Abinader who lacked charisma and ideas in the confrontation with Medina, never stood a chance to challenge the PLD in the presidential or congressional elections.

The real campaign, however, had already occurred within the political parties. In 2012, when Medina was elected, there was a constitutional ban on immediate presidential reelection.[1] Using his popularity, political capital, and backroom deals, Medina managed in April 2015 to win the support of the Political Committee of the PLD to support a constitutional reform to allow for his immediate reelection. The result surprised many since a constitutional reform would come at the expense of three times former president and undisputed PLD leader Leonel Fernández, who otherwise would have been PLD’s presidential candidate for 2016. At the time, Fernández was already campaigning for the presidency, and he strongly lobbied against the reform. Although a terrible loss for Fernández, who suddenly lost control over the party he had led since 1994, the deep conflict did not split the PLD, and the party’s tradition of maintaining unity prevailed.

The PRD, however, holds a long tradition of splintering after conflicts. The nominally social-democratic PRD is the oldest party in the country, founded in exile during the Trujillo regime in 1937, and has split several times throughout history. The PLD is in fact a splinter party from the PRD, founded in 1973 when Juan Bosch left the party he founded. PRD also experienced serious splits in the late 1980s and in 2004. The most serious splinter, however, occurred in 2013-2014 when the majority of the party left, or was expulsed from, the PRD to found the PRM. The conflict was about the leadership of the PRD, in the hands of the unpopular Miguel Vargas Maldonado since 2009. In 2013 Vargas Maldonado refused to organise a party convention to elect a new president (an election he would most certainly have lost). Vargas Maldonado bunkered in to keep control over the PRD, while the majority of the party’s leaders and followers left to organise the new PRM. While PRM managed to overcome a split over the presidential candidacy, a very weakened PRD ended up supporting Medina’s constitutional reform for immediate reelection, and becoming part of Medina’s electoral coalition. Given the historical enmity between the PRD and the PLD resulting from bad blood from their split in1973, their coalition is historic in Dominican politics. It was also historic that the PRD for the first time since 1974 (and before that since 1962) did not present a presidential candidate.

The split in the PRD thus strengthened the PLD and Medina, and weakened what was left of the opposition. These conflicts in the opposition helped Medina not only win the presidency handsomely, but the PLD won 55.8% of the seats in the Lower Chamber, and 81% of the seats in the Senate, after receiving 41.8% of the votes in the congressional elections. With its allies in Congress, PLD holds a 2/3 majority in the Lower Chamber (127 of 190 seats), and a full 91% of the seats in the Senate.

Towards a dominant party system?

Kenneth Greene defines a dominant party system as a hybrid that combines “meaningful electoral competition with continuous executive and legislative rule by a single party for at least 20 years or at least four consecutive elections”.[2] The PLD has now won the last four presidential elections, and enjoyed a handsome majority in both chambers of Congress since 2002 (also over four elections). According to Greene’s definition, the PLD is on its way to consolidate as a dominant party. The last 12 years have increased the asymmetry in terms of resources, professionalism and expertise between the PLD and the other parties. From the government the PLD has managed to co-opt parts of the opposition, first the Reformist party (PRSC), and now the PRD, and both opposition parties have suffered self-inflicted splits: Thus the PLD has ruled almost unopposed since 2004. Now it is within the party organisation the important decisions are made, not Congress or the presidency. For instance, this July it was the PLD’s Political Committee that selected the leadership of both chambers of Congress a month before the new Congress was sworn in.

PLD’s control over the Senate has enabled the party to select its supporters to all the high courts and autonomous state institutions since the 2010 Constitutional reform, which called for a renewal of these institutions, so that it now dominates all parts of the state. Controversial decisions in the Central Electoral Board, and the other high courts in favour of the PLD and its high-ranking members have served to strengthen the accusations of politicisation of these institutions. The controversies surrounding the 2016 elections is yet another example that the nominally autonomous institutions of the state are slowly deteriorating.

Although the PLD in power has managed to secure growth and macro-economic stability, ruling unopposed is never good for democracy. This year’s election consolidated the PLD’s hold on power and control over what we now can call the PLD-state. The weak opposition, on its hand, is becoming increasingly desperate to gain influence over politics, and has started questioning the democratic merits of the government and state institutions. The question is whether the opposition will win elections before or after the PLD’s uncontrolled power converts into abuse of power and mismanagement. Right now the opposition is fighting an ever-increasing uphill battle.


[1] This is also a result of the 2010 Constitutional overhaul. The Dominican Republic has changed its presidential reelection rules a total of four times since 1994.

[2] Kenneth F. Greene (2007). Why Dominant Parties Lose. Mexico’s Democratization in Comparative Perspective. (Cambridge University Press): p. 12