This is a guest post by Magna Inácio and Mariana Llanos from the Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais and GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies respectively
It is based on the following article recently published by the authors: INACIO, Magna and LLANOS, Mariana. The Institutional Presidency from a Comparative Perspective: Argentina and Brazil since the 1980s. Bras. Political Sci. Rev. [online]. 2015, vol.9, n.1, pp. 39-64. Available here.
Even the most influential chief executives need the political support and technical assistance of trusted advisors, technical staff, and government agencies. The scholarly literature has documented the increasing centralization of authority around the person of the chief executive and the steady movement toward the institutional reinforcement of the political core executive as developments that have taken place in most advanced industrial countries in the last forty to fifty years. Students of the United States’ presidency, on their part, have shown that presidents have had incentives for creating and strengthening technical, administrative, and advisory presidential support bodies both to confront critical junctures and to help face the challenges that are posed in a system characterized by separate institutions sharing powers.
In Latin America, presidents enjoy significant policy-making powers in multiple policy realms as a means to influence the legislative agenda, control the allocation of resources, appoint and dismiss thousands of different government officials, and respond directly to the demands of their electorate. However, the distinction between executive leadership and the institutional nature of the modern presidency has not been really addressed yet, despite there having been a significant expansion of studies on presidentialism. Our work sheds light on this under researched topic by focusing on the presidencies of Argentina and Brazil since redemocratization in the 1980s.
In particular, our study concentrates on the “institutional presidency”, that is, the cluster of agencies that directly support the chief executive. These agencies are part of the bureaucracy of the executive branch, but they are not located within the executive cabinet; their defining characteristic is that they operate under the direct authority of the president and are responsible for supporting the presidential leadership. Following the specialized literature, we argue that the growth of the institutional presidency is connected to developments occurring in the larger political system – that is, to the governmental and political challenges that presidents face.
Likewise, we argue that the type of executive cabinet – a factor that until now has not played a significant role in presidential studies, which are mostly based on the US case – poses various challenges to presidents and, thus, impacts differently on the structure of the presidency. Our empirical references, the presidencies of Argentina and Brazil and typical cases of single-party and coalitional presidentialism, respectively, allow us to test the impact of the aforementioned factor. In effect, we expect to find greater centralization –a shifting of the functions of the wider executive branch to the core executive – under coalition presidentialism because presidents must share cabinet positions, negotiate, and manage relations with coalition partners. In single-party governments, meanwhile, presidents can more freely assert themselves over the whole executive structure; in other words, centralization should be less necessary. Similarly, we expect the type of government to affect the types of agencies that form the institutional presidency, with coalition presidents building a more complex and varied presidential organization.
To test our hypotheses we first collected information on the number of agencies under presidential authority in Argentina and Brazil per year from 1984 until 2010. Our data show reverse developments having taken place over these years, where the institutional presidency has at times been expanded and at other times reduced – and we thus inquire into the causes of such evolutions. We then estimated the effects of a set of political variables on those agency developments: we included the type of executive cabinet, and the extent of political support for the president, among other political and economic control variables. Our assumption was that the institutional presidency grows in response to the constraints of a political environment that can be a potential challenge to the presidential leadership. Our findings confirm our expectations. The regression analysis shows that as the number of parties in the cabinet increases, so does the size of the institutional presidency. It is also confirmed that when governing parties hold a legislative majority the number of presidential units decreases. Among the contextual variables, the model shows that economic reforms pose risks to presidents that translate into incentives to enlarge the institutional presidency.
Agency movements have not only affected the size of the institutional presidency but also the types of agencies that form it. Our analysis shows that the monolithic Brazilian presidency of the 1980s has since been substituted by an internally differentiated and specialized institution, including a diversity of policy units, advisory bodies, and the strengthening of core units –those supporting administrative, legal, and institutional tasks. Instead, in Argentina, the internal makeup of the presidency is today less differentiated, as important functions such as coordination haven been decentralized in the wider executive.
In short, our analysis provides evidence indicating that the type of government – coalitional or single-party – matters, for the variations in the architecture of the presidency. This is both a hitherto unexplored area of research vis-à-vis Latin America and an interesting agenda for the presidential literature in the future.
Magna Inácio is an associate professor at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG). Her research interests include coalition governments, the institutional presidency, and legislative parties. Currently, her research is concerned with the institutional development of the Presidency in Brazil and Latin American. She has published co-edited books: Legislativo Brasileiro em Perspectiva Comparada (with Lúcio Rennó). (Ed. UFMG); Elites Parlamentares na America Latina. (Argvmentvm Ed, 2009) and chapters in “Algo más que Presidentes. El papel del Poder Legislativo en América Latina”. (co-edited by Manoel Alcantara Saez e Mercedes Garcia; Fundación Manuel Gimenez Abad 2011); O Congresso por Ele Mesmo. (edited by Timothy Powers e Cesar Zucco; Ed. UFMG 2011). She has published in journals such as America Latina Hoy and Jounal of Politics in Latin America. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mariana Llanos is a Senior Research Fellow at the GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies. Her main research field is comparative political institutions, especially in Latin America. She has worked on presidentialism, presidential breakdowns, president-congress relations, president-judiciary relations, judicial appointments. She is also currently working on the institutional presidency in comparative perspective. Full details of all her publications and current porject can be found here.