Tag Archives: presidentialism

Steffen Ganghof – On consistently defining forms of government: A reply to Robert Elgie

This is a guest post by Steffen Ganghof, Chair of Comparative Politics at the University of Potsdam

I recently introduced the concept of semi-parliamentary government as part of a comprehensive typology of democratic forms of government 1 (Ganghof 2018). The typology sees “semi-parliamentary government” as one of six basic ways to structure the principal-agent relationship in a democracy (Table 1). It exists when the legislature is divided into two parts, both of which are directly elected, but only one of which has the constitutional right to dismiss the cabinet in a vote of no-confidence.

The typological innovation had three related goals: (1) to apply the existing typological approach more consistently, (2) to highlight semi-parliamentary systems as a neglected form and (3) to theorize new semi-parliamentary designs as reform options in democratic nation-states as well as the European Union. Here I will focus on the first goal.

One worry raised by Robert Elgie (2018, blog post) is that my approach has too many classificatory clauses or dimensions. Yet we must not conflate two separate issues. One is whether we should include criteria other than the origin and the survival of the executive, in particular the rules of assembly dissolution. As I never proposed this (see Table 1), there is no disagreement here and no need for adjectives like “semi-fixed”.

The real disagreement concerns what the consistent application of the established criteria requires (Ganghof et al. 2018b). Robert maintains in his post that “[i]f we stick to the separate origin and survival of the executive and legislature, we get the three standard categories (presidentialism, semi-presidentialism and parliamentarism).” I think this statement is incorrect and that it shows the predicament of the existing approach.

To see this, let us first ignore the internal divisions within both the executive and legislature. The focus on the origin and survival then gives us a four-fold table (consisting of the two outer columns in Table 1). It distinguishes pure parliamentarism and pure presidentialism from the two “mirror hybrids” that exist in Switzerland (assembly-selected fixed-term cabinet) and existed in Israel (directly-elected but assembly-dependent prime minister). In this elegant and consistent typology neither semi-presidentialism nor semi-parliamentarism are distinct types; both are merely sub-types of parliamentarism.

To delineate semi-presidentialism as a distinct type, as Robert wants to do, he has to make a further distinction between “single” and “dual” executives in otherwise parliamentary systems. Indeed, other leading scholars like Samuels and Shugart (2010: 27) first distinguish between systems with single and dual executives and then use the fourfold table to subdivide the single-executive systems. This two-step classification procedure is straightforward, but also somewhat ad hoc and inconsistent. For if we introduce the internal division of the executive into the typology or classification, we ought to do the same for the legislature. After all, just as only one part of the executive may be dependent on assembly confidence, only one part of the legislature may be required to supply it. There is a logical symmetry here that existing classifications neglect. Their asymmetric focus on the internal division of the executive would at least have to be justified, but I am not aware of any such justification.

The same asymmetry and inconsistency shows when we consider the criterion used to distinguish semi-presidential from parliamentary systems. The criterion is the direct election of the president. This criterion is usually not justified explicitly and, again, not applied consistently. If direct election is used as a criterion for an agent’s sufficient democratic legitimacy – for being a primary rather than subsidiary agent of voters – then it ought to be applied to the legislature as well. This is what my typology and the concept of semi-parliamentarism do. They systematically consider the role that direct election plays in constituting a typologically relevant internal division within executive and legislature.

In sum, I contend that the proposed typology results from a symmetric application of long-established criteria. In contrast to Robert, I think it is inconsistent to treat semi-presidentialism and semi-parliamentarism differently. Either both are sub-types of parliamentarism or both are distinct types. The two forms of hybridization can also be combined, as is the case in the Czech Republic, but there is no logical reason to see the semi-presidential characteristic of this case as being conceptually prior to its semi-parliamentary characteristic.

As mentioned, the proposed typology has two other goals. One is to conceptualize and analyze a neglected form of government. A recent symposium in the Australian Journal of Political Science has confirmed the usefulness of the concept of semi-parliamentarism in this regard. For example, Marija Taflaga (2018: 252) states that it “better describes politics as it really is practiced” and offers a “simpler and more coherent description of the Australian system.”

The other goal, and the most important one for me, is to guide our thinking towards new semi-parliamentary designs as reform options for democracies, not only but especially for presidential systems (Ganghof 2016, 2018). In my view, this heuristic function is an important purpose of typologies. And if this is the purpose, the number of democracies that fall into each category is quite irrelevant. The current empirical predominance of democracies with directly (or at least popularly) elected presidents certainly tells us nothing about their normative justifiability.

A crucial insight of the analysis of semi-parliamentary constitutions is that they can potentially reap all the alleged benefits of presidential systems highlighted in the political science literature – constitutional separation of powers, pre-electoral identifiability, post-electoral clarity of responsibility, cabinet stability, a single system-wide constituency, and issue-specific coalition building in the legislature – but without the cost of concentrating massive executive power in a single human being and thereby “presidentializing” political parties (Samuels and Shugart 2010).

This raises deep and thorny questions about the democratic justifiability of presidentialism. As Josep Colomer (2013) and others have reminded us, presidentialism has deep monarchical roots. Maybe it is time for us to think about how we can separate what is good about presidentialism from what is dangerous for the quality and survival of democracy. The analysis of semi-parliamentarism would not be a bad place to start.


Colomer, Josep M. 2013. “Elected Kings with the Name of Presidents. On the origins of presidentialism in the United States and Latin America.” Revista Lationamericana de Politica Comparada 7:79-97.

Ganghof, Steffen. 2016. “Combining proportional and majoritarian democracy: An institutional design proposal.” Research & Politics 3 (3):1-7.

———. 2018. “A new political system model: Semi-parliamentary government.” European Journal of Political Research (57):261-81.

Ganghof, Steffen, Sebastian Eppner, and Alexander Pörschke. 2018a. “Australian Bicameralism as Semi-Parliamentarism: Patterns of Majority Formation in 29 Democracies.” Australian Journal of Political Science 53 (2):211-33.

———. 2018b. “Semi-parliamentary government in perspective: concepts, values, and designs.” Australian Journal of Political Science 53 (2):264–9.

Samuels, David, and Matthew Shugart. 2010. Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers – How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Taflaga, Marija. 2018. “What’s in a name? Semi-parliamentarism and Australian Commonwealth executive-legislative relations.” Australian Journal of Political Science 53 (2):248-55.

On defining regime types (II) Clauses and Conditions

Steffen Ganghof has recently introduced the concept of semi-parliamentarism. For him, parliamentarism is where all the directly elected chambers of the legislature (whether one or two) have the constitutional right to hold the government collectively responsible, whereas semi-parliamentarism is where only one of the directly elected chambers of the legislature can do so. In other words, under semi-parliamentarism there are two directly elected chambers, but one of them (usually the upper house) does not play a part in the collective responsibility of the PM and cabinet. There are currently two semi-parliamentary countries in the world – Australia and Japan.

I like this definition. It allows us to reliably classify a set of countries merely by applying certain rules to publicly available constitutional information.

Two points. First, I understand why Steffen wants to identify semi-parliamentarism as a separate category, but I wonder if it might not be better to think of it as a sub-category of parliamentarism. This allows us still to see the interesting constitutional feature of the Australian and Japanese cases without losing sight of the basic feature of parliamentarism in both, namely the government’s survival in office is not separate from the legislature. If so, we might think of Australia and Japan as being semi-parliamentary parliamentary regimes. (That is not a typo).

Second, it raises the question of how many consequential classificatory clauses we should include when defining regimes. If we stick to the separate origin and survival of the executive and legislature, we get the three standard categories (presidentialism, semi-presidentialism and parliamentarism). We’ve now added a semi-parliamentary clause. Yet, the semi-parliamentary clause also applies to semi-presidential regimes too. So, the Czech Republic could be classed as a semi-parliamentary semi-presidential regime. Actually, though, we might think of the Czech Republic as a semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regime (i.e. a semi-parliamentary sub-type of the premier-presidential sub-type of semi-presidentialism). We could go further still. There are currently only two semi-parliamentary regimes in the world, but there is a potentially important classificatory difference between them. In Japan, the lower house of the legislature can be dissolved early but the upper house cannot, whereas in Australia there can be a double dissolution of the two houses. So – and bear with me – let’s add a classificatory clause and label Japan a semi-fixed regime and Australia a flexible regime. If so, then Japan would be a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary regime or, perhaps, a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary parliamentary regime. Accordingly, the Czech Republic would be a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regime.

There is a beautifully Linnaean aspect to this exercise that I find extremely attractive. The classification of the Czech Republic as a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regime is reliable. It is based merely on the application of certain rules to publicly available constitutional information. There’s another aspect to this Linnaean-type classificatory exercise that could also be attractive. It’s not impossible to think that it might have empirical implications. Perhaps the Czech Republic’s combination of constitutional features is consequential relative to countries with a different combination of features. We would need some theories to tell us what we might expect from any particular combination relative to others. But we might end up with some hypotheses that could be empirically tested.

That said, I doubt that the classification of the Czech Republic as a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regime is going to catch on very soon. More than that, there is no particular reason why we could not add other classificatory clauses too. Last week, I discussed the addition of a super-majority clause to constitutional classifications. It would be easy to think of other clauses that could be added. However, by the time we combine classificatory clauses, we can quickly end up with very small numbers of real-world examples. The number of semi-parliamentary parliamentary regimes in the world is already only two. The number of semi-fixed (and fixed) semi-parliamentary regimes in the world is just one. The number of semi-fixed semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regimes is also only one (I think). This is not empirically helpful.

The only way to reliably classify regimes is through the application of certain rules to publicly available constitutional information. Only by doing so can we avoid subjective, contestable, sometimes even esoteric country classifications. For sure, if we rely on only a small number of classificatory clauses, the resulting regimes can include a very heterogenous set of countries that render empirical application problematic. However, if we add more clauses, then we have a more homogenous set of countries in each category, but we can very quickly end up with the n = 1 problem that also renders empirical application problematic.

To me, the solution is to accept that there is a basic Linnaean-like classificatory exercise. This exercise is purely taxonomic. It does not necessarily generate categories that are empirically useful, but then that is not its purpose. This is how ‘Duverger’ problem was solved 20 years ago when it came to defining semi-presidentialism. It is also to accept, though, that there is a separate empirical exercise. Here, we need to be pragmatic. Sometimes, the Linnaean-like classificatory categories may be useful empirically, but sometimes they may not. So, we have theories whereby it can still make sense for us to compare the effects of presidentialism relative to parliamentarism, as well as premier-presidentialism relative to president-parliamentarism. However, I cannot imagine a theory whereby it would make sense for us to compare the effects of the heterogenous set of semi-presidential countries relative to anything else. Equally, comparing the effects of semi-parliamentary countries relative to others is problematic when currently the n = only 2. That said, we can, for example, compare the effects of semi-presidentialism relative to parliamentarism conditional upon some measure of presidential power. This condition allows us to disaggregate the heterogenous set of semi-presidential countries in a way that doesn’t undermine the Linnaean-Like classificatory exercise and that could still be empirically useful. By the same token, we can certainly have theories that tell us what the relative effect of semi-parliamentarism might be, even if the number of cases is currently so small that valid conclusions about those effects are difficult to reach.

Chad changes constitution – from semi-presidentialism to a presidential system

Today Chad’s National Assembly is scheduled to vote on a new constitution that will change the country’s political system from semi-presidential to presidential. The text adopted in a cabinet meeting on April 10 is based on recommendations from participants in an eight-day forum held in March, boycotted by the opposition.

The outcome of the vote is fairly certain, given that President Idriss Déby’s party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), controls a solid majority of seats – 117 out of 188 seats or 62 percent – in a legislature that has not been renewed since 2011. Two allied parties of the MPS hold an additional 14 seats (7.5 percent), totaling more than the two thirds required to adopt constitutional changes by legislative vote, without going through a referendum. The move to bypass a referendum is criticized by opposition political parties as well as civil society groups as “illegitimate,” notably given that the National Assembly’s mandate is itself questionable. Chadian Catholic Bishops have also called for a referendum, noting that “a large part of the Chadian population is unaware of what is happening.”

The new supreme law of the country will inaugurate the IVth Republic, replacing the previous constitution governing the IIIrd Republic in place since 1996. The 1996 text was a result of the 1993 national conference organized by Déby in an effort to legitimize his rule after ousting former President Hissène Habré in 1990. As was the case in other former French colonies in Africa that undertook political openings in the early 1990s, Chad adopted a semi-presidential constitution closely modeled on that of the Vth French Republic [May and Massey 2001, p.15]. It was amended in 2005 to remove presidential term limits, and again in 2013 to allow the president to belong to a political party and making it possible for the executive to remove judges.

So what prompted this change of constitution? Why abandon semi-presidentialism and return to a presidential system, given that the existence of a dual executive does not appear to have cramped Déby’s style thus far? Déby – in power since 1990 – has had an impressive list of prime ministers – incumbent Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacké is number 16. One of his predecessors – Delwa Kassiré Koumakoye – even served twice in the role, with 12 years of interval. On average, prime ministers of Chad have stayed less than two years (no one has reached three years). This frequent circulation has prevented prime ministers from establishing their own power base and ignite presidential ambitions. By completely eliminating the prime minister function, Déby does away with a position that could be used by a potential competitor to launch a bid for the presidency in the next election.

Déby promised during his campaign for reelection in 2016 to reintroduce presidential term limits [see previous blog post here]. The new constitution does in fact limit presidential terms to two, while lengthening their duration from 5 to 6 years. However, term limits are not retroactive, meaning that when Déby ends his current term in 2021, he can run for another cumulative 12 years.  This kicks the issue of succession a long way down the road. Déby – 65 years old today – would by 2033 be 81.

Changes, in addition to the removal of the prime minister post and the reintroduction of term limits, include:

  • Raising the age limit for presidential candidates from 35 to 45 years, leading to accusations of “gerontocracy” in a country where life expectancy for men is 49 years and for women 52. The move is intended to “avoid us having our Macron,” quipped one observer on social media.
  • Making it easier for the president to dissolve the National Assembly: before, under the semi-presidential constitution, the president’s ability to dissolve the legislature required that the National Assembly dismiss the government twice in one year; now, the constitution only makes vague reference to “persistent crises between the executive power and the legislative power.”
  • Limiting the number of independent oversight institutions by reducing the Constitutional Council, the Court of Accounts and the High Court of Justice to chambers under the Supreme Court. The High Court of Justice in particular used to be an independent institution with responsibility for voting on the impeachment of the president.

So to conclude, Déby appears to have bought himself some peace of mind with the new constitution. He will be the sole leader of the executive, no longer having to change prime ministers every two years or so to keep the ambitions of potential challengers in check. The issue of succession is shelved for the next 15 years with the introduction of non-retroactive term limits, and the pool of potential contestants has been reduced significantly by the 10-year increase in the minimum age for presidential candidates. Finally, the ability of other institutions to check his powers while he prolongs his stay in the presidential palace has been reduced. The question remains whether popular dissatisfaction and the power of the street could succeed in bringing about Déby’s downfall, as happened in Burkina Faso when Blaise Compaoré sought to further extend his presidency. Déby has strong support among European powers and the US given Chad’s role as a lynchpin in the fight against terrorism. The US took Chad off its travel ban list earlier this month. The position taken by the Chadian security forces would be crucial for the outcome of any attempted uprising.

On defining regime types (I) Including a super-majority clause

In a recent post, I linked to a new time-series, cross-sectional dataset on semi-presidentialism. The dataset provides an annual, cross-national coding of semi-presidential countries since 1900. V2.0 is available here.

The dataset contains two codings of semi-presidentialism. One conforms to – let’s call it – the standard definition. Here, semi-presidentialism is where the constitution provides for a directly (or popularly) elected president and a prime minister and cabinet that are collectively responsible to the legislature. The other adds another clause. Here, semi-presidentialism is where the constitution provides for a directly (or popularly) elected president and a prime minister and cabinet that are collectively responsible to the legislature other than by a super-majority vote. The second coding was added to V1.0 along with codings for countries that conform to – let’s call them – the standard definitions of premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism plus countries that confirm to those definitions with the addition of an equivalent super-majority clause.

Where does the need for a coding that includes a super-majority clause come from? I have been aware for some time that Samuels and Shugart (2010, p. 30, fn 4) excluded countries, such as Madagascar, from their list of semi-presidential regimes because of the introduction in the Constitution at a certain time of a super-majority requirement. In fact, they classed Madagascar as presidential for this reason (e.g. ibid. p. 33 and p. 258). Yet, I don’t remember seeing any definition of semi-presidentialism that explicitly includes this clause. Also, as far as I am aware, it isn’t part of any formal definition of the concept that Samuels and Shugart provide and the equivalent clause isn’t included in their (or Shugart and Carey’s) definition of premier-presidentialism or president-parliamentarism. So, it seems to be post-definitional add-on, or an implicit assumption of the formal definition.

In one sense, I’m indifferent as to whether a super-majority clause should be included as part of the definition of semi-presidentialism, because even if it is included it still allows for the reliable classification of countries. No expert knowledge is needed to determine whether a country should be classed as semi-presidential or not. We just need to apply certain rules to publicly available constitutional information. This reliability is the most important part of the classification process.

Three points, though. First, if it is to be operationalised, then I think the clause should be stated as part of the definition. If it isn’t stated, then for me semi-presidentialism still includes countries with a super-majority requirement. If it is stated, then it obviously excludes them. In other words, we should avoid post-definitional add-ons or implicit definitional assumptions.

Second, I think it is still better to class countries with a super-majority requirement as semi-presidential (or as a sub-category of semi-presidentialism) rather as presidential. After all, the constitution does still allow the legislature to bring down the government, whereas under presidentialism, by definition, it does not. Sure, it might take an extraordinary and almost unimaginable set of circumstances for, say, a two-thirds majority to come together and bring a government down, but constitutionally it could happen. (Think how opposing parties can vote together to end a nominally fixed-term legislature). In other words, whether or not it happens is a matter of politics not the constitution. If we are classing countries on the basis of constitutions, which is the only reliable way of doing so, then surely it is better to think of a country with a super-majority clause as being semi-presidential not presidential? The survival of one part of the executive is still not separate from the legislature.

Third, a super-majority requirement has implications for the classification of parliamentary regimes too. Maybe there are no examples, but what if there was a super-majority clause in a nominally parliamentary regime? For me, this would still make the country with such a clause parliamentary, although we might want to think about classifying the country as a sub-category of parliamentarism. Whatever the choice, I would be wary of classifying that country as presidential.

This is all very nerdy. But why stop there? Next week, I am going to discuss the classificatory implications of introducing other clauses.

Victor Araújo, Andréa Freitas, and Marcelo Vieira – The partisan logic of government formation in presidential democracies: evidence from Latin America

This is a guest post by Victor Araújo, Andréa Freitas, and Marcelo Vieira. It is based on their article in Revista Ciencia Política and is available here.

In presidential democracies, constitutions empower the head of the executive branch as the main actor responsible for the composition of ministerial portfolios. Once elected, the president has the prerogative to directly appoint the high-level members of the government. The invited parties, in turn, must also decide whether to accept the offer. This decision, similar to the decision in parliamentary multiparty systems, involves costs and benefits. However, there are few studies that examine the reasoning behind parties’ decisions to join coalitions in presidential systems.

In our recent article The Presidential Logic of Government Formation in Latin American Democracies, we argue that the decision over whether to join or reject the government’s coalition is related to the party leaders’ evaluations regarding how much political resources their party will gain from the policies. By analyzing 12 Latin American presidential democracies, we test whether the presence of institutional incentives that allow political parties to influence policies in the legislative arena is related to parties’ decision to join government coalitions.

Theoretically, we assume that decentralization of the legislative decision-making process creates institutional mechanisms for sharing the policy formulation competence among different actors, strengthening the system of legislative commissions and allowing those parties to use this decision arena to change the policies that interest them. Thus, decentralized parliaments tend to empower opposition parties and increase the probability of minority governments.

Considering that state resources are finite and political actors prefer policies closer to their ideal points, parties need to set strategies on how to access resources from the public machine. Therefore, the question that emerges is: In which arenas can parties act to have their preferences considered in policies to be implemented by the government? In democratic contexts, parties have three options:
1. To systematize, vocalize and organize their preferences in deliberative instances of the decision-making process within the legislative branch;

2. To use mechanisms of preference alignment during the formulation process of public policies or;

3. To occupy ministry offices and positions in the structure of the executive power, attempting to aggregate their preferences to the executive’s policy agenda.

If, in contexts such as 1 and 2, a parties’ chances of influencing the policy-making process are reduced, then its incentives pursue option 3 increase. In other words, if a party does not expect to be the formateur party, it is more advantageous to join the government and have the chance to actively participate in the public policy formulation process. Those contexts vary according to the set of political institutions in two dimensions based on the centralization or decentralization score of the legislative power and the executive power. These two dimensions regulate the capacity of each branch to influence the political agenda. That is, to aggregate their preferences into the decision-making process.

Figure 1. Policy aggregation preference arenas and incentives to integrate into government coalitions

Source: Elaborated by the authors

In the first context (I), the area to aggregate preferences according to the two arenas (executive and legislative) is equivalent (L<=>E). In this case, the institutional arrangement gives equal capacity to the executive and legislative branches to influence the decision-making process. In other words, the possibility that parties influence public policies through the process of formulation and control of the implementation of public policies, which occurs both in the legislative arena and in the executive arena, is open. Consequently, the party that expects to be the formateur party of the cabinet in the short and medium run – and other parties that choose to not integrate cabinet -, will have an equivalent executive capacity to influence the agenda. In this context, formed coalitions will be either minimum winning or even minority coalitions, depending on the political/ideological parties that form the legislature.

In the second context (II), there is a non-equivalence relationship in the aggregation of preferences between both arenas of power (E>L). Therefore, the capacity of the legislative branch to aggregate its preferences is reduced by an excessive centralization of decision-making power in the hands of the executive branch and president. In other words, not being a member of the government cabinet means having restricted access to the formulation process of public policies, due to the legislative branch’s reduced capacity to aggregate parties’ preferences. In this context, all parties invited by the president that do not aim, in the short term, to assume the presidency, tend to accept the president’s coalition offer.

The third context (III) describes a situation in which the president has fewer agenda-setting powers and a reduced autonomy to manage resources — positions and budget — as well as a decentralized legislature (L>E). In this context, the capacity of the executive branch to influence the decision-making process is reduced, making it less attractive to legislative parties. In such a context, coalitions will seldom be formed. Because parties can aggregate their preferences in the legislative branch, they will not risk the potential costs of being associated with the government.

The Latin American countries analyzed in our article represent each of the three contexts described above. Chile and Panama are examples of the first context (L<=>E). In those cases, although the executive power has considerable influence over the legislative process, processes in the legislature are decentralized and there is an open space for aggregating preferences in this arena. Colombia and Ecuador can be included in the second context (E>L). In those democracies, the executive has considerable capacity to aggregate preferences in the formation of policy, while there is also a relatively low degree of decentralization of the legislative process. Finally, Costa Rica and Paraguay are included in the third context (L>E). In both countries, the presidency has a reduced prerogative that limits the executive’s ability to dominate legislative agenda. There is also a high degree of decentralization of legislative activity in these cases.

We use information from 12 Latin American Countries, comprising 68 governments and 112 cabinets, formed between 1979 and 2011. We conducted a panel data analysis in which we considered the variation among government’s cabinets both between and within democracies. We tested the impact of the decentralization score of the legislative activity on the probability of parties joining a government’s coalitions in presidential systems.

Our results suggest that the existence of parliaments with greater influence on the legislative process consistently reduces the incentives of parties to join the government. Figure 2 graphically shows the predicted effect of the degree of decentralization on the size of the cabinet. By varying the degree of decentralization and keeping all other variables constant (at their means), we are interested in assessing the expected size of the government’s coalition when we observe different values for legislative decentralization. A basic interpretation of the figure indicates a linear and negative relationship between both decentralization and the proportion of legislative parties within the cabinet. As the variable decentralization increases, the proportion of legislative parties that join the coalition decreases.

Figure 2. Predicting the size of the government coalition according to the decentralization of the legislative process in 12 Latin American Countries

Source: Elaborated by the authors

Therefore, our findings reinforce the idea that offices in the structure of the executive branch are only one path, among others, used by parties to influence the policy decision-making process. Our results suggest that parties adopt a policy-seeking orientation in presidential systems. This does not mean that we assume the unrealistic premise that all parties pursue programmatic goals. Our assumption means that, even if a specific party has clientelistic and patronage aspirations, political and monetary resources are crucial elements to accomplish their objectives, and that the only way to access such resources is through control over policies. There are at least three clear advantages in assuming the premise of policy-seeking behavior of parties:) it considers all dimensions where parties can express their preferences; 2) it takes into consideration the role and preferences expressed by the voters, and; 3) it enables analyses of different aspects of the decision-making process, avoiding simplistic conceptions based on, for example, the idea of patronage.


Victor Araújo is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP, Brazil) and a Research Associate at Center for Metropolitan Studies.
Email: victor.asaraujo@usp.br Website: http://www.victor-araujo.com

Andréa Freitas is Professor of Political Science at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP, Brazil), and coordinator of the Center for Political Institutions and Elections Studies (CEBRAP, Brazil). Email: amfrei@g.unicamp.br

Marcelo Vieira is Professor of Political Science at the Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo (UFES, Brazil), and coordinator of Comparative Politics Center (CPC, UFES).
Email: marcelo.m.vieira@ufes.br

Adrián Albala – How Bicameralism patterns the formation and dissolution of coalitions in presidential regimes

This is a guest post by Adrián Albala, University of Brasilia, Brazil. Contact: adrian.albala@gmail.com. It is based on a paper published in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations

In recent years, there have been huge advances in coalition theories, particularly concerning coalitions in parliamentary systems. However, much of the literature dealing with coalitions under presidential regimes has tended limit itself to reproducing and importing models from the work on parliamentary regimes, without considering the particularities of presidentialism.

Three features of presidentialism may interfere with the coalition process. First, the main particularity of presidentialism is the “winner-takes-all” principle. This states that the election determines a clear winner.

This feature makes it almost impossible for there to be any surprise in identifying the president-elect[1]. This is quite different from most parliamentary regimes in which the identification of a clear winner may be more difficult, and the subsequent composition of the government is, often, very hard to predict. Indeed, under parliamentary regimes elections consist of a “photograph” that depicts the strength of each party or coalition in parliament in order to determine which will have a majority for forming a government. Figure 1 sets out this difference between the two processes.

Figure 1: Election processes in parliamentary regimes/ presidential regimes

The example of Belgium in 2011-2012, where negotiations lasted almost a year and a half, during which the country had no formal government, constitutes a paradigmatic example of this feature. However, this is a recurrent feature of parliamentary politics and has happened = again in Belgium (2015), but also in the UK (2010), Ireland (2016), Spain (2016-17), Germany (2017-18), Italy (2013) and Greece (2014-2015).

The second particularity of presidentialism is the principle of the presidential mandate. This implies that both the inauguration and the conclusion of the presidential mandate are settled by the constitution. This supposes that on the day of the inauguration of the presidency the president has to have his government formed. Moreover, the termination of the mandate should not, theoretically, be dependent on a majority (re)alignment in the congress. Recent events in Brazil have shown that this principle is not deterministic: a president can be impeached for political and opportunistic motivations.

Finally, the third particularity of presidential regimes is symmetrical bicameralism. As a matter of fact, bicameral congresses under presidentialism used to be symmetric, i.e. both chambers used to have the same powers and attributes. This is quite different from parliamentary regimes, where most of the upper chambers – except in Italy – have a mere consultative role.

This is of particular importance as bicameralism supposes a two-round procedure in the policymaking process for the president, thus increasing what Lupia and Strøm (2008) call “the shadow of the unexpected”. For this reason, it is reasonable to state that for those polities with a bicameral congress, holding a bicameral majority is a relevant condition for both the policymaking process and coalition governance (Hiroi and Rennó 2014). By the same token, controlling only one of the two chambers by the president might not be sufficient to ensure that policies get approval, or even to guarantee the survival of the coalition.

When considering coalition cabinet formation and dissolution, I argue that this third particularism is strongly linked to the first two. Indeed, for too long, scholars have studied coalitions under presidential regimes as they did under parliamentarism: assuming that the executive needed to look for allies in only one chamber. However, symmetric bicameralism makes such an assumption untenable. In fact, bicameralism, particularly symmetrical bicameralism in presidential regimes, may contain significant constraints for policymaking and coalition duration. Indeed, controlling one of the two chambers may not be sufficient for the president to ensure policy approval.

This misconsideration is particularly true when reviewing the literature about coalition cabinets under presidential regimes. More particularly, an important number of works have modeled the president’s ability to govern based on his/her legislative strength, or on the distribution of portfolios following Gamson’s law (i.e based on the proportionality principal of the strength of each party in the legislative branch), also known as “coalition congruence”. However almost every study dealing with this issue has measured the legislative strength or coalition congruence, based only on their observation of the lower chamber. In other words, almost no study has ever considered the upper chamber (i. e the Senate) as a relevant actor in the coalition process. We need to consider both bicameralism and bicameral majorities as relevant variables for the understanding of coalition cabinets under presidential regimes. The only work on this topic in parliamentary regimes reaches contradictory conclusions (Eppner and Ganghof 2016; Druckman et al. 2005; Diermeier et al. 2007; Druckman and Thies 2002)

This is what this paper tries to explore, focusing on Latin American presidential regimes that have experienced coalition cabinets.

First of all, half of Latin American countries (9/18) have a bicameral legislature. Bicameralism is not a trivial issue. This number is even higher if we compute every government since the third wave of democratization in the region, which began in 1979. Indeed, I have considered 134 governments in the region, i.e., cabinets following electoral processes. Of these, 54.47% (74) were formed in bicameral polities.

Moreover, when focusing on the occurrence of coalition cabinets, the relevance of bicameralism becomes even more central. Indeed, based on a strict but common definition of coalition cabinets (see Albala 2016), I have computed 31 newly formed coalition cabinets since 1980. That is 31 cabinets that were coalitions on the day of the president assumed office (See Table 1).

Of those 31 coalitions, 29 (93,5%) were formed in bicameral polities. Only Ecuadorian coalitions were formed in polities with a unicameral congress. In other words, for every ten coalitions to be formed in Latin American presidential regimes, more than nine occurred in polities with a bicameral congress. Why has no-one ever considered this feature?

The bicameral condition

I stated above that bicameral congresses under presidential regimes used to be symmetric, that is to say that the two houses (House of Deputies and the Senate) used to share similar attributes and powers. Thus, to ensure governability, a president-elect prefers to enjoy a bicameral majority rather than a partial majority (only one chamber) or no majority.

I have stated also the principle of a fixed presidential mandate. The president’s mandate not only concerns the end of the administration but also the beginning. Thus, the process of cabinet formation under presidentialism is limited in time, running from the proclamation of the result of the election to the inauguration day, generally fixed by the constitution. This feature supposes that the president will have formed his/her cabinet by inauguration.

Then, in order to determine how the combination of those two features (bicameralism + fixed mandate) may affect the coalition formation process, I compared the parliamentary strength of the coalitions after the election day of the president, with their strength at inauguration day.

We may, thus, theoretically, expect that presidents-elect who could not get a bicameral majority on the day of their election would seek to enlarge their parliamentary support including newcomers to their electoral alliance.

Results and findings

In Table 2, I identify 29 presidents-elect, comparing their legislative strength at election day with their strength at inauguration day. I simplified the operationalization of the legislative strength into three categories: i) no presidential majority at all ; ii) a legislative majority in one House; and, iii) a bicameral majority.

The data clearly confirms the hypothesis. Indeed, only 37.93% (11/29) of the presidents-elect had a bicameral majority (2) at election day. Nevertheless, the rate raises at 65.6% (19/29) at inauguration day, indicating that 8 presidents-elect proceeded to open negotiations with other parties to form a coalition or enlarge their electoral coalition. In other words, 8 presidents-elect who could not obtain a bicameral majority via the election, decided to include new members before their inauguration in order to get a bicameral majority. Conversely, the rate of minority coalitions (full or partial) fell from 62,06% ( 0= 31,03% + 1= 31.03%) to 34,4% (10,3% +24,13%).

Additionally, among the presidents who failed to obtain bicameral majorities, the first three Chilean presidents since the return of democracy (Aylwin, Frei and Lagos) had to deal with a particular constitutional feature inherited from the Pinochet rule: the existence of 9 designated senators, mostly from the military forces, who prevented the government from reaching a majority in the Senate.

By contrast, the data shows that bicameralism has been a central feature for presidents-elect who were not able to reach a bicameral majority while running alone. Indeed, among the three cases that ran alone on election day, all of them negotiated with new partners and achieved a bicameral majority.

In the cases where the length of time between election day and and inauguration day is longer – Uruguay and Brazil – there was a high degree of coalition enlargement and only one president-elect failed to achieve a bicameral majority (Lula I). However, among the polities with the shortest of time between election day and and inauguration day we can distinguish between Bolivian presidents-elect who have always managed to obtain a bicameral majority and Argentinian presidents-elect, who led coalition cabinets, but who have never enjoyed majorities in the two houses. Therefore, the timing condition deserves further attention.

We also found that in the cases where president-elect won a majority in only one chamber, the chamber in which the president-elect was unable to reach a majority was systematically the Senate. Hence, the upper chamber seems to be harder to conquer for presidents. This finding should also open a new line of investigation.

Finally, we also found that a bicameral majority makes it easier for the coalition governance generally and, thus, constitutes a sufficient, but not necessary, condition for enduring coalition agreements.

In this work, I have highlighted the need to adapt the study of coalition cabinets under presidential regimes to the particularities of such regimes. Indeed, I have shown out that presidentialism has a critical impact on the timing of the coalition formation process. Moreover, bicameralism is a central feature for the presidents-elect. These elements, in turn, open up new fields of study. For instance, no study has ever considered the role of the vice-president. However, vice-presidents can play a key role, especially when when (e.g. Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela) they are also the chair of the upper house.


[1] There are, however, some exceptions. For example, Bolivia used to have a system that could lead to “surprises”. Indeed until 2008, when no candidate reached the absolute majority, the run off used to take place in parliament leading to parliamentary bargains. Sometimes, the president-elect was not the one who won the plurality at the popular election.


Albala, A. (2016) Coalitions Gouvernementales et Régime Présidentiel. Sarbruken: Editions Universitaires Europ­éennes.

Diermeier D, Eraslan H, and Merlo A (2007) Bicameralism and Government Formation. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2(3): 227–252.

Druckman J N, Martin L, and Thies M (2005) Influence without Confidence: Upper Chambers and Government Formation. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 30(4): 529- 548.

Druckman JN., and Thies M (2002) The Importance of Concurrence: The Impact of Bicameralism on Government Formation and Duration. American Journal of Political Science, 46(4): 760-771.

Eppner S, and Ganghof S (2016) Institutional veto players and cabinet formation: The veto control hypothesis reconsidered. European Journal of Political Research. DOI: 10.1111/1475-6765.12172.

Eppner S, and Ganghof S 2015. Do (weak) upper houses matter for cabinet formation? A replication and correction. Research and Politics. 2(1): 1–5.

Hiroi T and Rennó L (2014) Dimensions of Legislative Conflict: Coalitions, Obstructionism, and Lawmaking in Multiparty Presidential Regimes. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 39(3): 357-386.

Lupia A and Strøm K (2008) Bargaining, Transaction Costs and Coalition Governance. In Strøm K, Müller W and Bergman T (eds) Cabinet and coalition bargaining. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 51-84.

Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach

Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach
Robert Elgie
Palgrave Macmillan, 2018

This book provides a philosophically informed, institutionalist account of political leadership. It is rooted in a Peircean version of the American pragmatist philosophical tradition and privileges the study of institutions as a cause of leadership outcomes. The study includes identifying the psychological effects of presidentialism and parliamentarism on leader behavior, a study of the impact of institutions on electoral accountability for economic performance, studies of president/cabinet conflict in Europe, presidential control over cabinet composition in France, and constitutional choice in France and Romania. It adopts a multi-method approach, including a lab experiment, large-n statistical tests, and Qualitative Comparative Analysis, as well as two in-depth process-tracing case studies. The aim is to show that an institutional account has the potential to generate well-settled beliefs about the causes of leadership outcomes.

In this post, we outline the work in one chapter. In this chapter, we re-examine Hellwig and Samuels’ (2007) article on economic voting and the clarity of institutional responsibility. Like Hellwig and Samuels, we are interested in the relative effect of parliamentary and semi-presidential institutions on electoral accountablility for economic performance. We are also interested in exploring the effect of variation in presidential power on economic voting in this context. In short, we are interested in whether institutions condition the extent to which presidents and prime ministers are rewarded/blamed for good/bad economic performance.

To address this issue, we update Hellwig and Samuels dataset, noting certain revisions to the way in which they record the vote at elections with the aim of maximising the reliability of the values in the dataset. We then use exactly the same estimation technique as Hellwig and Samuels.

There is insufficient room here to go through the results in depth. (Which is just an ill-disguised invitation to buy the book). There is also no space to describe how the variables have been operationalised. Again, all that material is in the book. Here, we just wish to provide a flavour of the results.

We find support for Hellwig and Samuels’ basic finding that electoral accountability for economic performance is greater under high-clarity elections, i.e. where there is a single-party government, than low-clarity elections where there is not.

More interestingly, our results also show support for Hellwig and Samuels’ finding that the electoral accountability of the president’s party for economic performance is significantly greater during periods of unified government relative to cohabitation. Figure 1 reports the basic results of our models in the same way that Hellwig and Samuels present them in their paper.

Figure 1    The conditional effect of cohabitation in semi-presidential regimes on economic accountability

However, there are some differences between Hellwig and Samuels’ results and ours. Perhaps most notably, we find that electoral accountability for economic performance is significantly greater at presidential elections than legislative elections. This makes sense. At presidential elections, the clarity of responsibility is likely to be clearer because voters can hold a single person/party responsible for the state of the economy. This is the result that Hellwig and Samuels expected to find in their work, but which was not returned. Using the updated version of their dataset, we now find support for their intuition. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2         The conditional effect of the type of election on economic accountability

While we are concerned with re-testing Hellwig and Samuels’ thesis, we are really interested in exploring how presidential power shapes the clarity of responsibility for economic voting. Hellwig and Samuels do not follow up on this issue in their article. So, we are trying to build on their work by integrating presidential power into their analysis.

We find that presidential power does help us to understand how institutions shape electoral accountability for economic performance. For example, when we include presidential power in the model we find that there is significantly greater economic voting at presidential elections with strong presidents. Again, this makes sense. When there is a strong president, the clarity of responsibility should be higher. Voters know better whom to reward or blame. By contrast, when there is a weak, non-executive presidency, we would not necessarily expect the incumbent president or their party to be held accountable for economic performance. (See Figure 3 relative to Figure 2).

Figure 3        The conditional effect of presidential power and type of election on economic accountability

In addition, we also find that electoral accountability for economic performance is conditional upon presidential power during cohabitation. In these periods, there is significantly greater economic voting during periods of unified government when there is a strong president. (See Figure 4 relative to Figure 1). In other words, the combination of unified government and presidential power shapes economic voting at elections under semi-presidentialism.

Figure 4         The conditional effect of presidential power and cohabitation in semi-presidential regimes on economic accountability

These are only a flavour of the results in the chapter. Spoiler alert, not all results are as expected. Most, though, are.

We would like to thank Hellwig and Samuels for supplying their dataset for replication purposes. Obviously, all results presented here and in the book are the author’s responsibility alone.


Hellwig, Timothy, and David Samuels (2007), ‘Electoral Accountability and the Variety of Democratic Regimes’, British Journal of Political Science, 38: 65-90.

New publications

Yonatan L. Morse, ‘Presidential power and democratization by elections in Africa’, Democratization, Online first pp. 1-19.

Yonatan L Morse, ‘Electoral authoritarianism and weak states in Africa: The role of parties versus presidents in Tanzania and Cameroon’, International Political Science Review, Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2018, pp. 114–129.

Marino De Luca, ‘The end of the French primary? Measuring primary election impact on electoral performance in the 2017 French presidential election’, French Politics, Online First.

Cynthia McClintock, ‘Reevaluating Runoffs in Latin America’, Journal of Democracy, Volume 29, Number 1, January 2018, pp. 96-110.

Fortunato Musella, Political leaders Beyond Party Politics, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Battal Yılmaz, The Presidential System in Turkey: Opportunities and Obstacles. Palgrave, 2018.

Dan Slater, ‘Party cartelization, Indonesian-style: presidential power-sharing and the contingency of democratic opposition’, Journal of East Asian Studies, Online First.

Sarah Shair-Rosenfield and Alissandra T. Stoyan, ‘Gendered Opportunities and Constraints: How Executive Sex and Approval Influence Executive Decree Issuance’, Political Research Quarterly, Online First.

Gregory J. Love and Leah C. Windsor, ‘Populism and Popular Support: Vertical Accountability, Exogenous Events, and Leader Discourse in Venezuela’, in Political Research Quarterly, Online First.

Marina Costa Lobo, ‘Personality Goes a Long Way’, Government and Opposition, 53(1), 159-179, 2018.

Łukasz Jakubiak, ‘Formulas of cohabitation in rationalised parliamentary systems of government. The cases of France and Poland’, Journal of Comparative Politics, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 51-65, Jan. 2018.

Rolando Tarchi, ‘La forma di governo del Messico: dal presidenzialismo imperiale alla “parlamentarizzazione” del presidenzialismo?’ [The Mexican form of government: from the “imperial presidentialism” to a parliamentarization of the presidential system?], Vol. 33, No. 4, (2017): DPCE Online 4-2017, available at: http://www.dpceonline.it/index.php/dpceonline/article/view/468

Machiko Tsubura, ‘“Umoja ni ushindi (Unity is victory)”: management of factionalism in the presidential nomination of Tanzania’s dominant party in 2015’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, Online first pp. 1-20.

Turkey – The President’s Decree Power in the New Presidential System

Last year, Turkey changed its 1982 Constitution and adopted a presidential form of government. These changes will be implemented after the first scheduled presidential and assembly elections which will take place on the same day in 2019, unless early elections are called. There was only a limited debate about what type of presidential system there would be before the referendum in 2017 and there has been no public debate afterwards. It is still unclear for many people what to expect from the so-called ‘Turkish type of presidential system’.

There are different ways of distributing power in presidential systems. The president’s legislative powers are especially important, since those powers challenge the very logic of the separation of powers by delegating legislative power to the sole executive authority. According to Cheibub, Elkins and Ginsburg, high legislative powers separate the Latin American version of presidentialism from the US model.1 Presidential decrees that have the force of law are one important instrument of a president’s legislative power. It is also one that is easily abused and that can lead to a hyper-presidential system in the hands of populist presidents.2

In this respect, the 2017 reform created an important new instrument (presidential decrees) that Turkish presidents will be able to use for many different purposes. Under the new amendments, there are three different types of presidential decrees.

The first replaced the former type of executive decrees. Previously, the Council of Ministers3 could issue decrees with the force of law after the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) had passed a framework enabling law. Such decrees had to be presented before the TGNA on the same day they were published in the Official Gazette and reviewed by assembly upon presentation. Now, the president may issue decrees without an enabling law or presenting them before the TGNA. The new version abolishes any assembly control over the executive law making. However certain limitations relating to the topics that are allowed to be regulated are similar to the older version. The new Article 104 states that they can be issued for all areas relating to executive authority except individual and political rights, though the president can still issue decrees on economic and social rights.

According to the amended Article 104, presidential decrees cannot be issued on topics that are clearly regulated by legislation. If there were to be a contradiction between the two, legislation would overrule presidential decrees. Presidential decrees would be annulled if the TGNA were to adopt a law on the same topic. Does this mean that presidential decrees are secondary in the hierarchy of rules? The answer is “no”. This is because subordinate rules obtain legality because they comply with the higher rules. Their existence depends on the continuity in the chain of rules. Here, though, we have a special regulation giving legislative power to the president. These decrees supplement legislation in cases when the assembly is unable to legislate. Presidential decrees can be issued when there is no legislation or no clear legislation in a particular area. Bear in mind that the president has the power to veto legislation which is passed by a simple majority. In that case, the president’s veto can be overruled only by an absolute majority. So, presidents could delay or at least make it difficult for the assembly to regulate a particular topic and meanwhile could issue decrees overnight.

This situation might occur in a presidential system if the president’s party were a minority in a divided assembly. If no single party controlled the legislative agenda, the president could rule by decree. However, if the president’s party controlled the assembly, then the majority could gladly surrender its legislative power to the president simply by not doing anything. The Turkish party system, which is now a hegemonic party system,4 previously has had predominant, moderate and extreme pluralist phases since 1950s. These two scenarios are the most likely outcomes considering the previous or current state of the Turkish party system. In sum, presidential decrees resemble supplementary or temporary laws until the assembly regulates the topic clearly. It is also highly likely that the situation where an area is not clearly regulated by legislation could cause a legal confusion which could be misused by presidents.

The second type of presidential decree are ones with an exclusive jurisdiction. For example, creating or abolishing ministerial offices, the powers and responsibilities of ministerial offices, organizing central and local institutional structures, the procedures and rules regarding appointment and dismissal of higher civil servants will be regulated by presidential decrees exclusively under the new Articles 104 and 106. Public legal personalities can be also created by presidential decrees. All structural decisions regarding National Security Council and State Supervisory Council are also to be made by presidential decree (Art.118 and 108).

These two presidential decrees can be reviewed by the Constitutional Court and only a very limited group of people (the majority and second biggest political party group in the assembly or one fifth of the assembly) can bring these decrees to the Constitutional Court, the majority of whose members (12 of 15) are also appointed by the president.

The final type of presidential decree replaces emergency decrees. They are no limitations to them except the emergency situation. The president may declare a state of emergency alone  and then issue regulations that could suspend, interfere with, or limit all basic rights without any constitutional review. The only control here is supposed to be undertaken by the Assembly within three months. If not they are terminated automatically.

In sum, presidents are given quite strong legislative power constitutionally in the new system and the TGNA has lost a large portion of its leverage over presidents compared to its previous position under the 1982 constitution.


1. J. Cheibub, Z. Elkins and T. Ginsburg, “Latin American Presidentialism in Comparative and Historical Perspective” , Texas Law Review vol.89/7, 2011.
2. See R. Ackerman,D.A. Desierto and N. Volosin, “Hyper-Presidentialism: Seperations of Powers without Checks and Balances in Argentina and the Philipines”, Berkley Journal of International Law, Vol.29/1, 2011.
3. The signature of the president of the republic was also required formally.
4. See G. Sartori, Parties and Party Systems a Framework for Analysis, Cambridge Uni Press, 2005, p. 204-211.

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.