Tag Archives: Argentina

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.

Farida Jalalzai – Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties?

This is a guest post by Farida Jalalzai, the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma State University

In his article “On Election Day, Latin America Willingly Trades Machismo for Female Clout” New York Times contributor Simon Romero asserts “Up and down the Americas, with the notable exception of the United States, women are soaring into the highest political realms” (Romero 2013). In exploring this development making headlines, my book, Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties? (Routledge 2016) analyzes four recent women presidents also known as presidentas: Michelle Bachelet (Chile, 2006-2010; 2014-), Cristina Fernández (Argentina, 2007-2015), Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica, 2010-2014) and Dilma Rousseff (Brazil, 2011-2016).  Given the powers presidentialism affords presidents, women’s increasing tendency to play these very strong political roles present a puzzle.  Since institutional factors account heavily for women’s success and presidentialism appears the most difficult system for women to break through (Jalalzai 2013), how can we explain women’s ability to gain the presidency in Latin America?  Historically, women leaders in presidential systems (particularly women directly elected by the public) were generally limited to relatives of male leaders and this proved to be a personal factor linking women presidents worldwide, including those from Latin America. With the election of Michelle Bachelet in Chile, these traditional patterns appeared to be shifting.  What conditions, therefore, allowed for a broadening of routes, beyond family ties, for women in Latin America?  While an important question, I was also interested in the larger implications the election of powerful women posed. Once in office, do the presidentas make positive changes on behalf of women? My findings were primarily based on responses derived from over 60 elite interviews conducted between 2011 and 2014 in these countries. Respondents included political elites and experts of diverse partisan leanings such as cabinet ministers, legislators, party leaders, consultants from think tanks and academics, and a sitting president (Chinchilla)..  I supplemented interviews with data from public opinion polls, media and scholarly analyses, and information from governmental and non-governmental organizations.

In addressing my first question, I found that all presidentas benefitted from centralized and exclusive presidential nomination procedures (see also Hinojosa 2012). Not only were they essentially handpicked by their predecessors, their publics’ were largely supportive of the outgoing president’s policies.  While benefitting from continuity, with the exception of Fernández (as the former first lady, the only political wife in the group) they did not enjoy top placement or independent bases within their parties.  As such, their nominations were perceived as somewhat surprising and occasionally met with party resistance.  Yet, their outsider statuses likely explain why they were viewed as appropriate successors in the first place.  Critically, Chinchilla, Bachelet, and Rousseff also campaigned on how they would change the face of politics.  The combined approach of change and stability proved fruitful.

Regarding their impact, I examined three types of potential effects of their leadership on women:

  1. Appointing more women to political offices
  2. Positively influencing levels of political engagement and participation, political orientations, and support for women in politics among the general public
  3. Supporting policies on behalf of women

Throughout, I compared women to their male predecessors.  Because of their strong ties to the outgoing presidents, we might have expected the presidentas to behave fairly similarly.  Yet, as women, they may have done more to empower women than their male counterparts. My analysis identified mixed evidence.   While presidents Bachelet and Rousseff prioritized appointing more women than did their male counterparts, this did not seem to hold true for either Chinchilla or Fernández. In analyzing data from representative surveys and from my interviews, findings confirmed key differences between the presidentas.  More positive shifts in public opinion and participation were linked to Rousseff’s presidency (my book only covered her first term—it does did not account her cataclysmic fall from grace and subsequent impeachment) while Bachelet’s showed little consistent or significant effects.  In interviews, respondents easily identified positive influences Rousseff’s and Bachelet’s presidencies offered.  In contrast, both the representative surveys and interviews concerning Chinchilla and Fernández regularly indicated backsliding.  Support for women’s policies proved most prevalent in Bachelet’s presidencies.  Rousseff, to a lesser degree, also made women’s issues an important part of her first term.  While many programs were extensions of Lula’s, Rousseff added more depth to existing programs.  She also connected seemingly gender neutral policies to women, particularly poor women.  We see little prioritization of women’s issues, in contrast, during Fernández’s and Chinchilla’s presidencies, affirming the variability in positive effects of presidentas on women.

Three years after the article quoted above was published, another journalist for the New York Times, Jonathan Gilbert, posed the following question: “What has happened to the powerful women of South America?”  The previous fervor had given way to disappointment as the presidentas analyzed here encountered plummeting approval ratings, much of which is related to economic travails, and nearly all were ensnared in corruption scandals. While this book suggested mixed effects of women presidents, I wonder if women face greater scrutiny for their lackluster performances or alleged engagement in inappropriate behavior. These remain open questions, but ones worth pursuing in future investigations as enhanced scrutiny shapes women’s abilities to exercise power generally and behalf of women specifically. These questions will be even more salient with the United States on the brink of electing its first woman president. As Hillary Clinton is a former First Lady, her path to power is not very puzzling.  Still, no doubt this historic moment will soon give way to investigations regarding what Clinton’s presidency offers women and whether she too receives undue scrutiny because of her gender.

References

Gilbert, Jonathan. “South America’s Powerful Women Are Embattled. Is Gender a Factor?” The New York Times. May 14, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/world/americas/dilma-rousseff-michelle-bachelet-cristina-fernandez-de-kirchner.html?_r=0

Hinojosa, Magda. 2012. Selecting Women, Electing Women: Political Representation and Candidate Selection in Latin America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Jalalzai, Farida. 2016. Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties? New York: Routledge Press.

Jalalzai, Farida. 2013.  Shattered, Cracked or Firmly Intact? Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Romero, Simon. “On Election Day, Latin America Willingly Trades Machismo for Female Clout.” The New York Times. December 14, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/world/americas/on-election-day-latin-america-willingly-trades-machismo-for-female-clout.html?_r=0

Farida Jalalzai is the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science. Dr. Jalalzai’s research analyzes the representation and behavior of women and minorities in politics and the role of gender in the political arena. Her work focuses on women national leaders. Her first book Shattered, Cracked and Firmly Intact: Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide (Oxford University Press 2013, updated paperback 2016) offers a comprehensive analysis of women, gender, and national leadership positions. Her second book, Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties?  (Routledge 2016) examines several case studies of the behavior of women national leaders including presidents Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica), President Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Cristina Fernández (Argentina). Her current projects include a co-edited volume “Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Worldwide” (with Amy C. Alexander and Catherine Bolzendahl, under contrast at Palgrave) a co-authored book Senhora Presidenta: Women’s Representation in Brazil during Dilma Rousseff’s Presidency (with Pedro dos Santos), and  “Blood is Thicker than Water: Family Ties to Political Power Worldwide,” a global analysis of the prevalence of family connections among executive political office holders (with Meg Rincker).

Lucas González and Miguel Ignacio Mamone – Who Distributes? Presidents, Congress, Governors, and the Politics of Distribution in Argentina and Brazil

This is a guest post by Lucas González, researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) and professor at the Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA) and Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM) in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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In the last decade, federal expenditures in public housing, sanitation, roads, and urban works rose by 108% in Brazil and 429% in Argentina, becoming one of the most important redistributive tools in the hands of the federal government. Those funds represented almost 8% of the total budget in Argentina and 3% of the total Brazilian budget. Investment in public infrastructure has a highly redistributive impact and constitutes a budget item over which the federal government has large discretion. Redistribu­tive funds are those that can generate potentially large economic and social externalities in the loca­lities or regions where they are invested. The regional distribu­tion of infrastructure funds is a mechanism through which  money can be redistributed from the regions that pay taxes that finance these funds to others in which the investment is actually made.

In a recent paper (Gonzalez and Mamone 2015), we studied the main factors that affect distributive politics in Argentina and Brazil, two highly unequal presidential federations in Latin America and where redistribution has historically been a sensitive and politically divisive issue. Using original data on federal infrastructure spending for the 24 provinces in Argentina and the 27 states in Brazil for the period 1999-2011, we asked what is the role of presidents and governors when it comes to allocating federal monies to subnational units in developing federal democracies.

Although most researchers recognize a crucial role to presidents, legisla­tors, and state politicians, we are limited in our under­standing of the factors that shape distribution. Existing scholarship studies the federal resource allocation across regions by focusing almost exclu­sively on the role of congress and its internal ope­rations, such as committee composition and par­tisan configuration. However, more recently, some studies have begun to explore the influence presidents have over the allocation of federal outlays (Larcinese et al., 2006; Berry et al., 2010). But there is little agreement on how presi­dents influence the distribution of federal outlays. Some argue presidents influence the budgetary pro­cess by following electoral expectations: they allo­cate more funds in districts were they expect larger electoral benefits and returns (Dixit and Londregan 1996). In contrast, Cox and McCubbins (1986) argue that the optimal strategy for risk-averse candidates is to dis­tribute to their reelection constituency and over-in­vest in their closest supporters to maintain existing political coalitions.

In Latin America, most presidential systems put lar­ge powers and responsibilities in the hands of pre­sidents. Presidents in Latin America can introduce bills, veto laws, legislate by decree during emergen­cies, and have preeminence in the making of annual budgets. As a result, presidents have been endowed with larger legislative powers to get their policy agenda passed and this has helped the executive to win greater leve­rage vis-à-vis the legislature over time. We therefore claim that presidents prefer to invest in districts where their party is strongest, not to shore up swing areas, and certainly not to waste money where the party does not have a chance. Although this argument stresses the relevance of partisan links, it does not identify which partisan links are relevant to explain distributive outcomes: it may be those between pre­sidents and federal legislators, national and regio­nal party leaders, federal ministers or high-ranking federal officials and state politicians, or between presidents and governors.

Our empirical findings indicate there is large variation between Argentina and Brazil in the relevance of the partisan links between presidents and governors, and the influence of congress and its committees. Ceteris paribus, allied sub­-national units in Argentina and Brazil received substantially more funds than opposition districts. Provinces and states are also more likely to get more funds if they are electorally secure and not swing districts, when controlling for third variables. They get more funds when the difference between the share of votes of the governor and the main party in the opposition is larger. Presidents favor more secure provinces controlled by allied governors in Argentina. Due to the closed-list proportional representation electoral system, governors are decisive in defining the list of candidates for their party tickets, so they exercise a decisive influence over provincial delegations in the federal congress

In contrast, the in­teraction term between the swing and allied variables for the Brazilian sample is statistically insignificant and moves in the opposite direction than expected. Scholars claim that gover­nors are indeed influential (especially before 1994) due to the centrifugal configuration of Brazilian fe­deral institutions, electoral laws such as the open-list proportional representation system (which weakens party leadership and promotes fragmentation and regionalization of the party system), the decentra­lized organization of national parties, the powers governors have over policymaking, their control of resources for patronage and pork, and the influen­ce governors have over career prospects for federal legislators. However others contend that governors’ influence has been increasingly weakening since the 1988 and 1994 constitutional reforms: from the legislative powers of the president and the cen­tralized legislative organization in congress, to structural factors such as pro-poor growth that favored the Left at the national level and eroded conservative parties’ support at the local level. In our results for the Brazilian case, the coefficients for allied and secure districts move as expected. Allied and secure states tend to receive more funds, signaling that presidents compensate secure districts, irrespective of them being in the core of the presi­dential coalition.

Our results also indicate that infrastructure distribution in Argentina is mainly decided by the national and provincial executives and not the federal legislatu­re. Congressio­nal committees do not affect the outcome, but con­gressional delegations do matter in Brazil. Individual and collective amendments are the key negotiating tool between presidents and legislators and a mechanism throu­gh which the president crafts legislative support in exchange for pork in both chambers of congress. Furthermore, we observe that elections are not relevant in explaining distribution in either of the two cases and that presidents are mostly motivated by political considerations.

How can we explain the differences between Argen­tina and Brazil? Why are governors more relevant in Argentina and congressional delegations more in­fluential in Brazil? We can only risk some hypotheses that need to be further developed and analyzed systematically. In Argentina, governors have a large influence over the forma­tion of legislative party lists and exercise a deci­sive influence over provincial delegations in the federal congress. Consequently, presidents need to negotiate legislative support with governors, especially tho­se in their coalition. Moreover, presidents depend on governors as they are more effective in mobilizing the electorate and building up federal electoral support than national party delegates. As a result, some re­gions of the country may receive federal funds not only from their congressional representatives doing constituency service. Presidents may also compen­sate governors for their territorial political support and their capacity to deliver votes and seats. In relation to the differences in the relevance of congress, one possible answer could point out to the degree of concentration of political power in the hands of the president and the need to build up legislative coalitions. When presidents get enough political support from their own parties (in terms of seats and discipline) to pass crucial legislation in congress, they may have fewer incentives to form broad legislative coalitions. Under those circumstances, presidents would be more likely to concentrate decisions on how to distribute and to force cooperation from the legislature. On the contrary, when presidents do not get enough political support from their own par­ties and need to build up legislative coalitions with other parties, congress will be more likely to play a more relevant role. After all, this is the crucial arena for inter-party bargaining. Presidents in Argentina have received 2.5 times more support in congress from their own parties in the period under study than in Brazil (42.4 percent versus 17.2 percent).

We also found that programmatic factors, such as equity and efficiency criteria, play a secondary role in distributive politics, especially in Argentina. Most of the efficiency criteria are not relevant factors to explain the allocation of infrastructure funds in the two ca­ses. Only urbanization rate moves as expected and receives empirical support in Brazil. In Argentina, the statistically significant criteria move in the op­posite direction than expected: more industrialized provinces receive less federal infrastructure funds. In Brazil, states with a larger share of poor people receive fewer funds but so do richer states in terms of per capita GDP. Combined results for poverty and income in Brazil seem to indicate that more overre­presented, less populated, middle and lower income states with fewer average poor households received more public works. Northern and Midwest states are the ones that resemble those structural characte­ristics. Why does Brazil seem to be more programmatic than Argentina? Why does Argentina not seem to clearly follow equity or efficiency criteria in the distribu­tion of federal infrastructure spending? Possible clues could point to some usual suspects: institutions, parties, or the bureaucracy. It may well be that the president has formal rules that allow him/her more discre­tion in Argentina than in Brazil. In Argentina, the president has legal authority to reallocate budget transfers. This discretion has been used to form and sustain crucial territorial governing coalitions, to some extent crafted through the distribution of public infrastructure spending. The question would be, then, why does Argentina have these rules and not Brazil? It may also well be that Brazil has more programmatic parties in government (the Workers Party) than Argentina (the Justicialista Party, whi­ch is more ideologically heterogeneous and more fragmented territorially), and this obviously in­fluences programmatic decisions in government. Or we can also point to the state and its bureaucracy, and claim that merit-based bureaucratic planning offices in Brazil have more say and influence over presidential decisions than in Argentina.

References:

Berry, Christopher, Barry Burden, and William Howell. 2010. The President and the Distribution of FederalSpending, American Political Science Review (104)

Cox, Gary, and Mathew McCubbins. 1986. Electoral Politics as a Redistributive Game, The Journal of Politics (48)

Dixit, Avinash and John Londregan. 1996. The Determinants of Success of Special Interests in Redistributive Politics, The Journal of Politics (58)

González, Lucas and Ignacio Mamone. 2015. Who Distributes? Presidents, Congress, Governors, and the Politics of Distribution in Argentina and Brazil, Revista Ibero-Americana de Estudos Legislativos (4)

Larcinese, Valentino, Leonzio Rizzo, and Cecilia Testa. 2006. Allocating the U.S. Federal Budget to the States: The Impact of the President, The Journal of Politics (68)

Lucas González holds a PhD in political science at the University of Notre Dame. He is researcher at the Na- tional Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) and professor at the Universidad Católica Ar- gentina (UCA) and Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is currently a postdoctoral visiting fellow at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Watson Institute, Brown University. He has coauthored two books and written articles, the last ones published in The Journal of Po- litics, Latin American Research Review, Latin American Politics and Society, Publius: The Journal of Federa- lism, América Latina Hoy (Spain), Revista de Ciencia Política (Chile), and Desarrollo Económico: Revista de Ciencias Sociales (Argentina). Email: lgonzalez@unsam.edu.ar.

Miguel Ignacio Mamone is PhD student in political science at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella and an Assis- tant Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Universidad Catolica Argentina. He holds a doctoral scho- larship at the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) of Argentina. He specializes in Latin American politics, federalism, public spending, and redistribution.

Magna Inácio and Mariana Llanos – The Institutional Presidency in Argentina and Brazil

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.

Presidency

Number of Institutional Presidency Units and Core Units Argentina and Brazil, 1984–2010

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.

Bios

Magna. InacioMagna 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: magna.inacio@gmail.com.

llanos_1503Mariana 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.

Argentina – President May Face Judicial Investigation

In an extraordinary story that took another twist this weekend, the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, may face formal charges over a political cover-up involving a terrorist attack that occurred in Buenos Aires in the 1990s. An Argentine prosecutor has now officially requested that a federal judge formally investigate the president’s actions.

In Argentina’s worst ever terrorist attack, on July 18th 1995, a bomb placed in the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, killed 85 people and left hundreds wounded. To date, no one has been charged and the perpetrators remain the subject of speculation. In 2006, Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, accused the government of Iran of orchestrating the bombing, and Hezbollah of carrying the actual act out.

Then, in January of this year, Nisman issued a request that a judge interrogate President Fernández and her Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman. Nisman had prepared a 289-page report, which accused the president and foreign ministry of communicating with the Iranian government via diplomatic back channels and offering to cover-up the involvement of five Iranian suspects in the AMIA bombing in return for a deal which would see Argentine grain exchanged for Iranian oil. Argentina at the moment is facing potentially crippling energy shortages. In 2013, Iran and Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding, which established a joint investigation into the bombing, and more significantly, allowed Iranian officials to give evidence in Iran.

Reminiscent of a plot from a John le Carré novel, on January 19th, the day before he was due to present his evidence to Congress, Alberto Nisman, despite his supposed ten-man security detail, was found dead in his 13th story apartment. He had been shot in the head with a bullet from a Bersa handgun, which was found lying beside him. Whether his death was murder or suicide remains unknown and the subject of fevered speculation.

On Friday, prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita acted on Nisman’s 289-page report, and formally requested the federal judiciary, under the guidance of Judge Daniel Rafecas, to investigate the President, the foreign minister, and Andrés Larroque (an Argentine deputy).

President Fernández is not in any immediate danger of arrest. As President, she is immune from prosecution, unless impeached by the Argentine Congress. However, this is highly unlikely, given her majority in each house. An excellent literature has now clearly demonstrated that presidential impeachment in Latin America lies at the intersection of popular protest and vanishing partisan support in the legislature (obviously two things that are not mutually exclusive).[1] Protestors are taking to the streets of Buenos Aires, but even in the face of mass protests, presidents who can boast secure support in the assembly, a ‘legislative shield,’ become very difficult to remove from office.

Regardless, this is a political disaster for President Fernández. Although top government officials have dismissed the allegations and even suggested that the whole affair is an attempted coup, this has added to something of an annus horribilis for the president. Amidst spiraling inflation, acrimonious disputes with vulture funds over Argentine debt, and increasing pressure on Argentine bonds, in June Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, was forced to appear in court in order to respond to allegations of corruption. Clearly, although not unexpected, this is the last thing the president needs right now.

What happens next? It is difficult to say. About the only thing that is certain is that this will bring more turmoil to Argentina.

[1] See for example, Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press; Mainstrendet, Leiv. and Einar. Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions.” Comparative Politics, 41(1), pp. 83-101; Hochstetler, Kathryn. 2006. “Rethinking Presidentialism: Challenges and Presidential Falls in South America,” Comparative Politics 38 (4), pp. 401-418.

Argentina – Mid-term Legislative Elections

On Sunday, October 27th, Argentina went to the polls for mid-term legislative elections in order to elect 24 senators and 127 lower house deputies. Provisional results from the Dirección Nacional Electoral indicate that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente Para la Victoria (FpV) wing of the Peronists won 33.15 per cent of the vote, while the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) won 21.38 per cent, and Sergio Massa’s Frente Renovador (FR) won 17 per cent.

This election result provides a reasonably clear indication that the political heyday of both Cristina Fernández and the FpV is over.  Amid health problems, which prevented Cristina Fernández actively campaigning for her party, this election occurred against the backdrop of widespread discontent with crime, crumbling infrastructure in the capital of Buenos Aires epitomized by a train crash two weeks ago that left 99 people injured, and inflation of approximately 28 per cent.

The FpV are left with 132 seats (of 247) in the lower house, and 40 seats (of 72) in the senate, thereby granting the party a majority in both houses. However, this majority is far less than the two thirds that Cristina Fernández would need in order to change the constitution to allow her to run for a third term.

The composition of the new lower house looks like this:

FRENTE PARA LA VICTORIA Y ALIADOS 132
UCR, PARTIDO SOCIALISTA Y ALIADOS 54
FRENTE RENOVADOR Y ALIADOS 19
PRO Y ALIADOS 18
OTROS 15
UNEN 7
FIT Y ALIADOS 3
UNIÓN POR CÓRDOBA 3
UNIDOS POR LA LIBERTAD Y EL TRABAJO 3
MPN 3

More importantly, the big winner was Sergio Massa, the former cabinet chief of the Kirchner administration. His Peronist-based party, Frente Renovador, won 19 seats (16 of which were in Buenos Aires), but Massa personally beat Kirchner’s hand picked candidate, Martín Insaurralde, in the electoral district of Buenos Aires. Although presidential elections are still two years away, Massa is already being touted as a serious contender for the presidency.

Of course two years is a long-time, and Massa needs to decide whether he will remain within the Peronist architecture. Following the crisis of 2001/2002, the party system suffered a partial collapse, and while the Peronist Partido Justicialista (PJ) remained dominant, they split into a number of factions. Traditionally, peripheral party bosses, such as Carlos Menem or Néstor Kichner (the late husband of Cristina Fernández), when they became increasingly likely to gain the presidency, were able to solidify support for their factions amongst bandwagoning party members as a consequence of the lack of internal PJ rules and secure tenure patterns.[1] This is a possibility for Massa, but in the interim, he needs to deal with a recalcitrant FpV, angry international creditors, rising prices, and attacks from the right.

It suggests more uncertainty for Argentina in the short run.


[1] Levitsky, Steven. 2003. Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America: Argentine Peronism in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.