Presidential Coalitions in Comparative Perspective

A few months ago, on the pages of this blog, Magna Inácio discussed presidential coalitions in Brazil. In her post, she analysed the effect multiparty coalitions had on the internal structure of the presidency in Brazil. Her post indicated the importance of coalition politics for our understanding of presidential systems.

Brazil, and Latin America in general, have received the most attention in the studies of coalitional presidentialism. But as readers of this blog know, multiparty coalitions are not unique to Latin America. Presidents, who faced fragmented legislatures in the former Soviet Union as well as Africa, have also frequently formed interparty alliances. For the past three years, I have been a part of the project, led by Paul Chaisty, Nic Cheeseman and Timothy Power, which studies coalitional presidentialism in comparative perspective. As we approach the end of our data collection, this is a good opportunity for a bit of self-promotion.

The Coalitional Presidentialism Project is motivated by the surprising sustainability of multiparty presidentialism in Africa, Latin America, and postcommunist Europe. Despite predictions to the contrary, presidents have been remarkably successful at winning legislative support from fragmented legislatures. The project has two principal objectives: (1) to identify the tools that presidents use to govern in concert with multiparty legislatures and (2) to assess the effects of these tools on horizontal accountability in new democracies. To investigate these questions, we interviewed 350 members of parliament in nine emerging democracies in three regions – in Africa (Benin, Kenya, Malawi), Latin America (Brazil, Chile, Ecuador), and the former Soviet Union (Armenia, Russia, Ukraine). We also collected legislative data such as composition of presidential coalitions and cabinets, data on legislative output as well as support for executive initiatives in these countries between 1979 and 2010. Data collection alone has been a Herculean task as in many of these countries (e.g. Armenia, Benin) such data have never been collected before.

Although an accepted concept in Latin America, coalitional presidentialism has had little impact on the study of legislative politics in Africa and even less so in the former Soviet Union. For instance, in the case of Ukraine, the extant literature has argued against the significance of legislative coalitions due to both (1) the view that the role of the president as the chief formateur was an obstacle to the establishment of meaningful alliances in legislature; and (2) the absence of incentives needed to maintain coalitions. However, we find that between 2000 and 2012 there were four distinct coalitions and Ukrainian presidents used a range of resources to form them – e.g. the sharing of cabinet portfolios with their coalition partners. The majority of MPs that we have interviewed in Ukraine agreed that presidential coalitions carried some positive benefits such as increased law–making decisiveness. However, similar to Brazil, presidential coalitions have also attracted their fair share of bad press. The resources that presidents have used to bind coalitions, especially informal tools of influence, have become the main focus of criticism, leading our respondents to doubt the ability of these coalitions to increase the quality of democracy in the country [1].

For more information about the project please visit our website here.

[1] Chaisty, Paul and Svitlana Chernykh. “Coalitional Presidentialism and Legislative Control in Post-Soviet Ukraine.” Forthcoming in Post-Soviet Affairs.

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