This is a guest post from Mariana Batista based on her recent article with Carlos Pereira, Sérgio Praça and Felix Lopez, ‘Watchdogs in Our Midst: How Presidents Monitor Coalitions in Brazil’s Multiparty Presidential Regime’, published in the Fall edition of Latin American Politics and Society. The full article can be found here.
In “Watchdogs in Our Midst: How Presidents Monitor Coalitions in Brazil’s Multiparty Presidential Regime” we analyze coalition politics from the perspective of what happens after government formation or what are the president’s strategies to manage “a government of strangers” (Heclo, 2011).
We argue that presidents in multiparty settings deal with the fundamental dilemma of delegating power to coalition partners while minimizing the risk of policy drift. Cabinet positions are the main currency of coalition politics and a fundamental part of coalition formation and survival. However, when trusting cabinet positions to coalition partners, the president runs the risk of being expropriated by their cabinet. There are some mechanisms to minimize the risk of expropriation in coalition governments such as coalition agreements, inner cabinets, centralized screening, and legislative oversight. In our article, we explore the strategy to reduce policy drift based on the appointment of junior ministers.
Junior ministers are the second in command in a ministry and may act as watchdogs on behalf of the president. When presidents cannot “choose whom to trust” (Martinez-Gallardo and Schleiter, 2015) they still may use their appointment powers to appoint a junior minister loyal to their preferences. By doing so, the president will have eyes and ears inside the ministry, even though a coalition partner is in control. This is a powerful way to “keep tabs on partners” (Thies, 2001) while holding the coalition together.
The role of junior ministers in the monitoring of coalition partners is a topic explored in parliamentary regimes, but not in the presidential setting where the president is the one at the top of the hierarchy. To analyze the presidents’ appointment strategies we focus in Brazil as a case study in the period from 1995 to 2010, exploring the partnering between ministers and junior ministers. We consider a junior minister a watchdog when the junior minister is not aligned to the minister. This may happen when the president appoints a junior minister from a different party or when the junior minister is a career bureaucrat. In these situations we expect the junior minister to be loyal to the president and to report on the ministers’ doings.
Figure 1 shows that presidents have the options of appointing 1) ministers from their party (PP), 2) from a coalition partner (CP), or 3) non-partisan ministers (NP). Non-partisan ministers are aligned with the president’s preferences by definition. However, partisan ministers have policy preferences of their own that may jeopardize the president’s agenda. For this reason, these are the ones that the president considers to monitor. Figure 1 shows that partisan ministers are monitored with the appointment of junior ministers. However, ministers from the other coalition parties are monitored more frequently.
Figure 1: Portfolio Allocation and Monitoring Through Junior Ministers, 1995–2010
Considering that appointing a watchdog is a direct control over the minister, the president will not implement this strategy indiscriminately as shown above. We expect that watchdogs will be used only when the costs of the delegation are high. We argue that these costs may be captured by three variables: ideological distance as a proxy for preference distance, portfolio salience, and the coalescence rate as a proxy for the degree of the coalition agreement.
We expected that the greater the ideological distance, the greater the probability of appointing a watchdog because ideological distance would represent preference divergence between the president and the minister. Knowing that the minister is not to be trusted, the president would appoint a hostile junior minister to keep control from the inside. Also, we expected that the most important ministries would be monitored closely with the appointment of watchdogs because the stakes are high. So, the greater the portfolio salience, the greater the probability of a watchdog. Lastly, we expected that the greater the coalescence rate, the smaller the probability of a watchdog because the coalescence would be a measure of the degree of the coalition agreement. This is especially important in presidential systems because there is evidence that coalitions reach some very different arrangements regarding the distribution of portfolios and the amount of power coalition partners will have in government (Amorim Neto, 2006). We expected that the greater this agreement, the smaller the incentives for coalition monitoring.
The results indicate that only ideological distance is important to explain the appointment of a watchdog junior minister, indicating that when policy preferences between the president and the minister are not aligned, the president will try to minimize agency losses and risks of policy drift by appointing a trusted junior minister. Figure 2 shows this relationship.
Figure 2: Predicted Probability Logistic Regression (with Controls): Ideological Distance (95 percent CIs
For a minister from the president’s party (an ideological distance of 0), the predicted probability of a watchdog junior minister to be appointed is 0.64. The predicted probability increases to 0.81 when the ideological distance between the minister and the president is 2, and to 0.95 when the ideological distance reaches 4.5, the maximum value in our distribution.
Analyzing the president’s monitoring strategies concerning coalition partners in Brazil, our main result is that the greater the ideological distance, the greater the probability of monitoring. Although we specifically investigate the political dilemma that Brazilian presidents have faced deciding how to monitor coalition partners, we hope that the particular results presented could travel well and extend to other multiparty presidential regimes elsewhere. We also expect that this discussion will increase interest in what happens after coalition formation or how coalitions actually govern in presidential systems.
Amorim Neto, Octavio. Presidencialismo e governabilidade nas Américas. FGV Editora, 2006.
Heclo, Hugh. A government of strangers: Executive politics in Washington. Brookings Institution Press, 2011.
Martínez-Gallardo, Cecilia, and Petra Schleiter. “Choosing whom to trust: Agency risks and cabinet partisanship in presidential democracies.” Comparative Political Studies 48.2 (2015): 231-264.
Thies, Michael F. “Keeping tabs on partners: The logic of delegation in coalition governments.” American Journal of Political Science (2001): 580-598.