Tag Archives: presidentialism

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.

Notes

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.

Christopher A. Martínez – Democratic tradition and Lucio Gutiérrez’s ‘survival’ in office

This is a guest post by Christopher A. Martínez from Temuco Catholic University

In a previous post, I briefly described the main findings of a quantitative analysis that showed a significant (and consistent) effect of a country’s democratic tradition on presidential survival (Martínez 2017a). However, that study does not delve into how both variables are theoretically or empirically connected. I tackle this issue by analysing how Ecuador’s democratic tradition, along with other determinants of presidential survival, affected the chances of former President Lucio Gutiérrez staying in office (Martínez 2017b).

Ecuador has been historically known for its feeble democratic institutionalisation, undisciplined parties and a highly volatile party system. Zamosc (2007: 8) states that during the 1990s, even after 10 years of civilian government, Ecuadorean political actors remained weakly committed to abiding by democratic rules and that the electorate still lacked a well-developed ‘political culture.’ Bearing this in mind, I use the case of Gutiérrez to closely study how democratic tradition might have contributed to his political demise.

Democratic tradition: radicalism, normative preferences for democratic institutions and institutional equilibria

I argue that a country’s democratic tradition may have important effects on how political actors behave. Countries with stronger, longer democratic experiences are less likely to witness chief executives ousted from power. I posit that a country’s democratic tradition is a distant force, one that unfolds through three more proximate causes: level of radicalism, normative preferences for democratic institutions, and institutional equilibria (see Table I).

First, radicalism is observable when actors pursue political goals that dramatically deviate from the status quo. When these radical objectives cannot be attained through institutional mechanisms, actors may use non-institutional or even violent methods to accomplish them. These actions naturally spawn political friction and polarisation among those who oppose, which may increase political instability (Pérez-Liñán and Polga-Hecimovich 2017). Second, actors’ behaviour may also be driven by the values and attitudes they hold toward democracy. Weak normative preferences for democratic institutions would make actors more inclined to break the rules of the game if they interfere with their goals (Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán 2013). Thus, it may come as no surprise if actors resort to non-institutional or even illegal means to unseat a standing president. Finally, it might also be the case that actors do not intend to pursue radical goals and even value democratic institutions but still decide to break the rules and seek dramatic political changes. This may occur when negative institutional equilibria are in place in which ‘cheating’ is the equilibrium strategy (Greif and Kingston 2011; Calvert 1995), an arrangement that does not favour presidential survival.

Table I. Democratic tradition and its three proximate causes

I hypothesise that countries with shorter democratic traditions are more likely to witness political actors attempting to achieve rapid and dramatic changes to the status quo, displaying scant regard for democratic rules, and being prone to ‘cheat’ when other actors do so. These conditions tend to produce highly polarised and unstable scenarios which may pose insurmountable obstacles for presidents attempting to hold on to power.

The Gutiérrez case:

Following the steps of Abdalá Bucaram (August 1996 – February 1997) and Jamil Mahuad (Agustu 1998 – January 2000), Lucio Gutiérrez became the third consecutive elected Ecuadorian president to be unseated before completing his constitutional term. Still, the failed presidency of Gutiérrez is a curious case since he was ousted amid a period of mild economic bonanza. Shortly after taking office, President Gutiérrez betrayed his campaign promises and turned to the right. Following the left-leaning indigenous Pachakutik party’s walkout from the ruling coalition, Gutiérrez—with few parties willing to support him and after facing an ill-fated impeachment attempt—packed the Supreme Court with friendly judges so as to allow former President Abdalá Bucaram to return from exile as part of a deal struck with Bucaram’s party. In the following months, social discontent, which had been building up since Gutiérrez packed the Supreme Court in December 2004, led to widespread protests after Bucaram finally arrived in Ecuador in April 2005. Demonstrators took over the streets of Quito and broke into Congress, beleaguering the president who found himself politically isolated and struggling to hold on to power. After a couple of weeks of strong social mobilisations and lacking support from the military, the legislative opposition seized the opportunity and dismissed Gutiérrez after declaring his abandonment of office and appointed his vice-president in his place.

Ecuador’s democratic tradition and Gutiérrez’s ‘failure’:

Before and during the presidential crisis, Ecuador’s main political players exhibited low normative preferences for democratic rules. For instance, the temporary withdrawal of charges against Bucaram in exchange for political support and how Gutiérrez was irregularly voted out are clear examples of actors considering their goals to be far more important than the mechanisms to achieve them. Similarly, Gutiérrez blatantly intervening the Supreme Court in December 2004 represented a serious threat to the system of checks and balances, another sign of weak attitudes toward democracy and its institutions.

Still, a question worth asking is what would have happened if Gutiérrez had not packed the Supreme Court. He would have probably been out of office months earlier than he actually was. This means that ‘intervening’ in the Supreme Court was a very rational decision for the president and his political ‘survival.’ Analogously, had protestors not taken to the streets and broken into Congress, Gutiérrez would have stayed in office longer. Both moves cannot be considered fully democratic in the sense that they bypassed institutional mechanisms, at the very least, but they can still be regarded as rational.

Unreliable parties, erosion of legislative coalition and legislative shield

In addition to the effects of democratic tradition, Gutiérrez’s failure was also influenced by Ecuador’s undisciplined political parties. A remarkable sign of this was that apart from Gutiérrez’s own party, Partido Sociedad Patriótica (PSP), all of the largest parties were members of both the president’s coalition and the opposition at different moments during his administration.

Given that democratic tradition gradually changes over time, and undisciplined political parties are not new in Ecuador, why did presidential failures only occur after 1996? Mejía-Acosta and Polga-Hecimovich (2011) argue that before that time, presidents resorted to gastos reservados (discretionary budget allocations) which helped oil executive-opposition relations that reduced the likelihood of presidential failures. Nevertheless, a constitutional reform in 1996 took away the gastos reservados from the president; thus, negotiations between the ruling coalition and the opposition became increasingly difficult.

Final comments

The ouster of Lucio Gutiérrez was chiefly driven by institutional and political factors. Ecuador’s notoriously undisciplined parties, lack of incentives for executive-legislative collaboration and weak democratic tradition posed a challenging scenario for the president. Specifically, the behaviour of parties, protestors and Gutiérrez himself was influenced by the existence of a negative institutional equilibrium which rewarded cheating rather than complying with rules and a frail intrinsic commitment with democratic institutions, all of which heightened the risk of presidential failure.

Christopher A. Martínez holds a PhD in Political Science from Loyola University Chicago. He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Political Science, Temuco Catholic University, Chile. His current research interests include the executive branch, government survival, institutional performance and democratic consolidation in Latin America. He can be reached at christopher.martinez@fulbrightmail.org and @martineznourdin.

New Publications

Manuel Alcántara, Jean Blondel, Jean-Louis Thiébault (eds.), Presidents and Democracy in Latin America, Taylor and Francis, 2017.

Stephen Gardbaum, ‘Political Parties, Voting Systems, and the Separation of Powers’, The American Journal of Comparative Law, Volume 65, Issue 2, 2017, Pages 229–264, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcl/avx030.

Huang-Ting Yan, ‘Comparing democratic performance of semi-presidential regimes in the post-communist region: Omnipotent presidents and media control’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Available online 12 October 2017.

Chong-Sup Kim and Seungho Lee, ‘Regime types, ideological leanings, and the natural resource curse’, Constitutional Political Economy, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10602-017-9245-y

Ludger Helms, ‘When less is more: ‘Negative resources’ and the performance of presidents and prime ministers’, Politics, Online First, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0263395717738964.

John Ishiyama, Marijke Breuning and Michael Widmeier, ‘Organizing to rule: structure, agent, and explaining presidential management styles in Africa’, Democratization, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2017.1391793.

Marina Costa Lobo, ‘Personality Goes a Long Way’, Government and Opposition, Online First, doi:10.1017/gov.2017.15.

Fabian Burkhardt, ‘The institutionalization of relative advantage: formal institutions, subconstitutional presidential powers, and the rise of authoritarian politics in Russia, 1994–2012’, Post-Soviet Affairs, Volume 33, 2017, Issue 6, pp. 472-495.

Steven Fish, ‘ The Kremlin Emboldened: What Is Putinism?’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 46-59.

Myung-bok Bae, ‘Tackling the Imperial Presidency: The Case for Constitutional Amendment’ (South Korea), Global Asia, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 24-28.

Chrtistopher A. Martínez, ‘Democratic Tradition and the Failed Presidency of Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Online first.

Raymond Kuhn (ed.), The 2017 French Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, special issue of Modern and Contemporary France, vol. 25, no. 4, 2017.

Chris Edelson, ‘Could President Trump Rely on Legal Advice to Order the Offensive Use of Military Force at His Discretion?’, PS: Political Science & Politics, Volume 50, Issue 4, October 2017, pp. 953-957.

Gi-Wook Shin and Rennie J. Moon, ‘South Korea After Impeachment’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 117-131.

Ioannis N. Grigoriadis, Democratic Transition and the Rise of Populist Majoritarianism. Reform and Transition in the Mediterranean: Constitutional Reform in Greece and Turkey, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Saskia P. Ruth – Do populist presidents always pose a threat to liberal democratic institutions?

This is a guest post by Saskia P. Ruth at the Department of Political Science, University of Zurich. It is based on her recent article recent paper in Political Studies, ‘Populism and the Erosion of Horizontal Accountability in Latin America’. Her webpage is here.

In my article “Populism and the Erosion of Horizontal Accountability in Latin America” I explore which factors enable or hinder populist presidents in Latin America to pursue a radical strategy of institutional change to erode horizontal checks and balances in their respective countries. Prominent examples in Latin America that increased the power of the executive vis-à-vis the legislative branch are Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. But are populists in power always as consequential to democracy as these prominent cases imply? Looking at other populist presidents in Latin America, we can also find examples where the threat to liberal democracy did not materialize, like Alan Garcia in Peru or Fernando Collor de Mello in Brazil.

While comparative research is important to unpack the ambiguous relationship between populism and (liberal) democracy highlighting how populist governments differ from non-populist governments, I focus on the systematic analysis of the conditions under which populists in power pose a threat to democracy or not. Only if we know when and how populists engage in eroding liberal democratic institutions, can we begin to design strategies to countervail their impact. To answer this question, I take an actor-centred approach focusing on specific constellations in the political arena that shape populist presidents’ incentives and their ability to engage in institutional change.

Following the minimalist ideational approach towards populism (see Hawkins and Rovira Kaltwasser forthcoming) – I argue that the antagonistic nature and the moralistic style of a populist discourse are often directed against liberal democracy, which is based on political pluralism and the constitutional protection of minorities. This inherent tension between populism and liberalism is the reason why populists are perceived as a threat to democracy itself (see Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2012). More specifically, especially in presidential systems, like those in Latin America, populist ideas clash with one core principle of liberal constitutionalism, namely horizontal accountability (here defined narrowly as executive-legislative checks and balances).

I argue that the rise of populism to power opens a unique window of opportunity for institutional change, but that the success of populist presidents to increase the power of the executive to their advantage depends on the potential power of other political actors to defend the status quo. I identify three conditions that constitute the political opportunity structure of institutional change, and thereby, either condition the incentive or the capability of populist presidents to erode horizontal accountability. These conditions are: First, the absence of unified government between the executive and the legislature, second, the existence of a ‘power vacuum’ in the political arena, and third, high public support in favour of the president.

These hypotheses are then tested by means of a Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) which is specifically suited for research designs with a low- or medium number of cases (Ragin 1987). Therefore, I compiled an original dataset covering all populist presidents elected under democratic rule in Latin America from 1979 until 2014. To identify presidents deploying a populist discourse in their electoral campaign I proceeded in two steps: First, using the ideational definition of populism as a benchmark I conducted an intensive literature review. Second, to validate this coding the dataset was sent to several experts in the field to benefit from their expertise.[1] This led to the inclusion of the following 16 presidents in the analysis: Carlos Menem and Néstor Kirchner in Argentina; Evo Morales in Bolivia; Fernando Collor de Mello in Brazil; Hipólito Mejía in the Dominican Republic; Jaime Roldós, Abdalá Bucaram, Lucio Gutiérrez, as well as Rafael Correa in Ecuador; Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua; Mireya Moscoso in Panama; Alan García (both in the 1980s and in the 2000s) and Alberto Fujimori in Peru; as well as Rafael Caldera and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

As to the results – the QCA identified a complex causal path towards the erosion of horizontal accountability, indicating that successful populist presidents had strong incentives to undermine the power of opposing traditional elites if they fell short of a supporting majority in Congress. However, they were only capable to do so if they were able to exploit the bad reputation of traditional elites and at the same time uphold high popular support levels in favour of their agenda of institutional change. Among the five cases that are covered by this causal path are some of the most prominent populist presidents in the region: Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, Alberto Fujimori, Carlos Menem, and Evo Morales.

Moreover, the analysis also enabled me to investigate factors that might hinder populists to successfully engage in the depletion of liberal democratic institutions. For one, the analysis highlights the importance of party systems with stable social roots as safeguards against radical institutional change. If populists come to power as candidates of traditional parties, their own party organization may keep them from inducing institutional change processes. Moreover, the analysis also highlights a combined impact of non-unified government and low levels of popular support on the absence of institutional depletion by populist presidents. This substantiates Hochstetler’s plea (2006) not to underestimate the power of the public in executive-legislative conflicts. Popular mobilization is a crucial factor with respect to populist presidents’ success in restructuring liberal democracy.

While these results are a first step to uncover different political opportunity structures that may increase or tame the threat of populism to democracy, further research needs to be done. For example, this study only highlights the effect of populism on executive-checks and balances, while other institutions of horizontal accountability, like the role of the judiciary or other independent state agencies have been excluded. Moreover, with populist candidates globally on the rise it is impervious to identify when and how populist engage in illiberal behaviour and how to countervail their intentions to destabilize liberal democracy beyond the Latin American region. The results of this study may travel to other regions in the world, most likely, to other presidential systems like the USA or semi-presidential systems like France.

References

Hawkins, Kirk, and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser. forthcoming. “The Ideational Approach to Populism.”  Latin American Research Review.

Hochstetler, Kathryn. 2006. “Rethinking Presidentialism: Challenges and Presidential Falls in South America.”  Comparative Politics 38 (4):401-418.

Mudde, Cas, and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, eds. 2012. Populism in Europe and the Americas. Threat or Corrective for Democracy? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ragin, Charles. 1987. The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Note

[1] Experts have been selected based on their publication record as well as their comparative knowledge of populism in Latin America. The survey has been sent to six experts of whom three – Kirk Hawkins, Steven Levitsky and Carlos de la Torre – responded with their evaluations of the case selection.

Turkey – A drastic transformation into a hyper-presidential, competitive authoritarian state

According to President Erdoğan, last year’s coup attempt by Fetö (an organisation led by a clerk called Fettullah Gülen who previously was closely allied to the president Erdoğan) was a blessing from God. This statement may sound like an odd claim since the President’s life was also said to be targeted on the night of July 15, 2016. However, sadly it is true that it gave Erdoğan an opportunity to declare a state of emergency, pass 28 decrees with the force of law reorganising many institutions without being bound by the constitution, and that violated many human rights conventions that Turkey has ratified such as the ECHR.

Many of these emergency decrees passed by the government are not even related to the cause of the crisis, even though under the constitution the subject of an emergency decree has to be limited to the cause of the given emergency. Despite their apparent violation of many articles of the constitution, and the ECHR, the constitutional court, two members of which were dismissed from their posts a year ago as a result of one of those decrees, refused to examine the constitutionality of the decrees, waiving its previous jurisdiction stating that the emergency decrees are limited to matter related only to the cause of emergency, and that they may be applied only during an emergency.

The Constitutional Court’s free pass merely reflects the country’s current repressive climate created by the emergency laws. These decrees reregulated public institutions including the National Intelligence Service, the army, local municipalities, and served to dismissed== more than 103000 public servants, university lecturers, appointed trustees replacing elected mayors and other local authorities (mostly pro-Kurdish HDP’s). They enforced new policies at full speed in the light of the AKP’s Islamist political beliefs, such as changing school system to promote religious schools as tools of transformation into a more Islamic country, closing down more than 150 media outlets, 1000 associations and foundations, and seizing private companies worth more than 10 billion dollars. But the most crucial change is the reorganisation of the judiciary, the ministry of justice and criminal enforcement. Currently, more than 4300 judges have been dismissed for being related to the Fetö organisation, some based on their previous decisions. Any judge who passes a judgement contradicting the President’s goals will be accused of being a member of Fetö, and can be easily dismissed since the president has a full control of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, which are appointed by him and the majority of the members of the Grand National Assembly which the AKP controls.

Since the coup attempt, more than 50.000 people and 166 journalists have been imprisoned as a result of the government’s crack-down operations. This has created a serious climate of fear and intimidation reflected in the number of people who are seeking asylum. In this climate one important change has also been made; the constitutional reform package introducing a hyper-presidential system was adopted by the AKP and its partner, the MHP, and was approved in a referendum in April that was neither free nor fair. Despite the huge advantages that the government forces enjoyed, their proposal was accepted by the margin of only one percent and with the help of the High Election Council, which ignored Law number 298, article 101 which openly states that unsealed ballot paper are invalid, thus accepting an unknown number of invalid votes that otherwise would not have been counted. The High Election Council’s decision was taken after the actual counting had started. This sparked a reaction that the counting was also not fair. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe’s observers criticized the referendum process for not living up to the democratic standards, including the counting procedure. The main opposition party, the CHP, also claimed that “no votes” were in fact in the majority and that unsealed ballot papers were fakes, filing a case before the European Court of Human Rights. The case is still pending.

This summary of events tells only the final part of Turkey’s transformation from parliamentary democracy into hyper-presidential autocracy within a decade under AKP rule.

President Erdoğan is free from any checks and balances. He enjoys full control of every state institution and most of the media. Due to the state of emergency, constitutional guarantees of basic rights are currently suspended, giving the president the opportunity to transform a formerly parliamentary democracy into an hyper-presidential system (changing laws to fit the new regime such as election law, parliamentary rules and procedures, laws of political parties etc) which will be fully in force in 2019 after the elections to be held then.

Thomas Sedelius and Jonas Linde – Democracy and Government Performance: Parliamentarism, Premier-Presidentialism, President-Parliamentarism, and Presidentialism

This is a guest post by Thomas Sedelius, Dalarna University, and Jonas Linde, University of Bergen. It is a summary of their co-authored article that was recently published in Democratization. The full text article is free to download here.

Do semi-presidential regimes perform worse than other regime types? Following the classical argument once raised by Juan J. Linz (1990; 1994) that presidentialism and semi-presidentialism are less conducive to democracy than parliamentarism, a number of studies have empirically analysed the functioning and performance of semi-presidentialism. With the notable exception of Elgie (2011), however, there is a lack of large-N studies where democracy and government performance are actually measured across the two subtypes of semi-presidentialism (premier-presidential and president-parliamentary regimes). Robert Elgie’s systematic and comprehensive study offers several important findings on the performance of two types of semi-presidentialism, but it does so in isolation from parliamentary and presidential regimes. Our study is an attempt to address this gap in the literature.

By using indicators on regime performance and democracy from a dataset containing 173 countries, we examine the performance records of premier-presidential and president-parliamentary regimes in relation to parliamentarism and presidentialism.

Guided by Linz’s argument on the “perils of presidentialism”, and by Matthew S. Shugart and John M. Carey’s (1992) proposition that president-parliamentary regimes are more perilous to democracy than other regime types, we test three basic hypotheses.

H1: Parliamentarism performs better than other regime types in terms of democracy and government performance.

H2: Premier-presidentialism performs better than president-parliamentarism and presidentialism in terms of democracy and government performance.

H3: President-parliamentarism performs on a par with, or worse, than presidentialism in terms of democracy and government performance.

For measuring democracy, we select four frequently used indicators: Freedom House’s index of civil liberties and political rights and Polity IV combined, Polity IV on its own, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy, and the Executive Constraints indicator from Polity IV, which refers to the extent of institutionalized constraints on the decision-making powers of chief executives. For measuring government performance, we use the Government Effectiveness indicator from the Worldwide Governance Indicators, the Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, the Empowerment Rights Index from CIRI Human Rights Data Project, and the Human Development Index from UNDP.

Following a series of descriptive reports, we run some basic multivariate analyses with a conventional set of controls including GDP/capita, population size, ethnic fractionalization, proportional representation, and different world regions.

Overall, our findings do not support the proposition that parliamentarism performs better than all other regime types in terms of democracy and government performance (H1). Rather we observed a pattern where premier-presidentialism performs almost as good – and on some measures even better – as parliamentary regimes. Neither the measures of democracy nor the measures of government performance show significantly better records for parliamentary regimes than for premier-presidential ones. This indicates that a parliamentary constitution with an indirectly elected president does not necessarily go along with better political performance than a premier-presidential one with a popularly elected but weak or medium weak president. Thus, to the extent that we think about semi-presidentialism in terms of premier-presidential regimes, we have reasons to question strong propositions about the “perils of semi-presidentialism”.

However, the picture certainly looks different with regard to president-parliamentary regimes. While premier-presidential regimes are closer to parliamentary regimes, president-parliamentary regimes display performance records more similar to pure presidentialism, and it performs even worse on most indicators (H2, H3). When it comes to the level of democracy, the only regime type to perform significantly worse than the parliamentary one – on four separate measures and with conventional controls – is the president-parliamentary regime type. The differences in terms of government performance are less pronounced. Although there is a tendency of slightly poorer performance by presidential-parliamentary regimes also in terms of government performance, and significantly so on one indicator, our results demonstrate that the type of constitutional system seems to affect democracy more strongly than government performance.

Shugart and Carey’s general recommendation to stay away from the president-parliamentary form of government certainly finds support in our data. In our study, we mostly refrain from making claims about causal mechanisms behind the observed pattern. However, we allow some general comments on the importance of presidential powers in relation to the four regime types. We show how variation in presidential powers follow closely the four regime types – weakest among the parliamentary regimes and strongest among the president-parliamentary regimes. We know that case studies on e.g. post-Soviet countries where the system has shifted from president-parliamentary to premier-presidential constitutions provide additional support to the negative impact of president-parliamentarism on democracy. For instance, Elgie and Moestrup (2016) show that reduced presidential powers and a shift to a more balanced semi-presidential system have been associated with better democracy records in e.g. Armenia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. A general trend among the post-Soviet countries is that the presidents have used their control over the administration to curb the opposition and thereby directing the trajectory of constitutional developments in their own favor. The outcome has been increased power of already powerful presidents – a straight road to the consolidation of autocracy.

Our study is limited to the extent that it draws on cross-sectional data only, and we acknowledge the need for more sophisticated analyses. In addition, the study can make no valid claims of having disentangled endogeneity challenges regarding institutions and political outcomes. Yet, we reveal a general pattern with regard to the four regime types on performance. Based on our findings, we claim that democratic performance is likely to be better with a parliamentary or premier-presidential form of government. If the most positive accounts about semi-presidentialism are relevant, such as executive flexibility, power-sharing, and a uniting president, those are most likely to be identified under the premier-presidential form of government. Our data give no support for general recommendations to avoid dual executives or popularly elected president with limited powers.

Finally, and well in line with more recent scholarship, we argue that discussions about the pros and cons of semi-presidentialism should include the distinction between its sub-categories as well as considering dimensions of presidential power.

References

Elgie, Robert. Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Elgie and Sophia Moestrup (Eds.). Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Linz, Juan J. “The Perils of Presidentialism.” Journal of Democracy 1, no. 1 (1990): 51-69.

Linz, Juan J. “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference?” In: Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela. (Eds.) The Failure of Presidential Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, 3-87.

Shugart, Matthew S. and John M. Carey. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Thomas Sedelius is Associate Professor in Political Science at Dalarna University, Sweden. His research covers semi-presidentialism, political institutions, transition, democratisation, and East European politics. His work on semi-presidentialism has appeared in journals such as Democratization, Government and Opposition, and East European Politics, and also include The Tug-of-War between Presidents and Prime Ministers: Semi-Presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe (Örebro Studies, 2006). Thomas currently leads a research project (2015-2018) financed by the Swedish Research Council on semi-presidentialism and governability in transitional countries.

Jonas Linde is Professor of Political Science at the Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, Norway. His research has dealt with different aspects of political support, perceptions of corruption, quality of government, e-government and post-communist democratization. Linde’s works have been published in journals such as Governance, European Journal of Political Research, International Political Science Review, Political Studies, Government Information Quarterly and Government and Opposition.

André Borges and Mathieu Turgeon – Presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism

This is a guest post by André Borges and Mathieu Turgeon, both of whom are assistant professors of political science at the University of Brasília. It is based on a recent article in Party Politics.

Research on coalitional presidentialism has focused mostly on post-electoral coalition formation, neglecting the  pre-electoral origins of cabinets  in many – if not most – presidential countries with multiparty systems (Albala 2014; Chasquetti 2008; Freudenreich 2016). Kellam (2015) analyzed pre-electoral coalition formation in presidential elections in eleven Latin American countries from the 1980s to the late 2000s, and found that 35% of all presidential candidates that obtained at least 10% of the national vote formed a coalition with one or more parties. Although pre-electoral coalitions in presidential elections are a rather frequent phenomenon, there is a paucity of research on the causes and consequences of these pre-electoral alliances. In particular, the literature on presidential coattails has failed to consider the potential impacts of multiparty alliances on party system formation, assuming that parties entering the presidential race as members of an alliance do not obtain electoral gains (Mainwaring and Shugart 1997; Shugart and Carey 1992; West and Spoon 2015). That is, the coattail effect benefits only parties that enter the race with a candidate of their own, as voters rely on the party of their preferred presidential candidate as an information shortcut to help them decide how to vote in legislative election (Golder 2006). But, if allied parties do not benefit from presidential coattails and they actually risk losing credibility and weakening their party base if the coalition is not perceived as adequate , why would they support a presidential candidate from another party in the first place? Even if parties believe that entering a pre-electoral coalition will increase their chances of entering the presidential cabinet, they cannot be sure of the supported candidate’s victory in the presidential contest (Freudenreich 2016).

In a recent article (Borges and Turgeon 2017), we challenge the conventional wisdom on presidential coattails and pre-electoral coalitions.  By focusing on coattails from the president-elect party—the coalition formateur—we argue that presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism benefit not only the party of the president-elect but also the coalition party members, which has  important implications for coalition formation in presidential systems. This is what we label a diffused coattail effect.

In multiparty presidential systems, parties that are viable contenders in the presidential election are likely to “presidentialize”, shifting resources away from their legislative campaigns and focusing on the presidential race (Samuels 2002). To secure the necessary votes to win the presidency, large parties form electoral coalitions with smaller parties and adopt broad campaign strategies. Specifically, they avoid pure partisan campaign strategies and campaign, instead, on behalf of the coalition to mobilize as many voters as possible for the presidential election.

Coalition fomateurs understand that there are costs for parties to join their coalition and are disposed to make important concessions to convince them to join forces. These concessions include, in part, supporting coalition party members in simultaneous, lower-level elections and by making sure that candidates from the coalition formateur party do not “invade” the electoral strongholds of the other coalition party members. Moreover, presidential candidates campaign on behalf of the whole coalition and not only for their own party, especially in other simultaneous, lower-level electoral contests like legislative elections. In exchange, coalition party members aggregate valuable organizational and financial resources to help the formateur party reach segments of the electorate otherwise less accessible but necessary to win the presidential election.

We believe coalition party members benefit from presidential coattails because the parties involved in the coalition work together to coordinate their campaign strategies at all levels (presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial and lower chamber races). But coalitions are not all created equal and the effects they carry over election results depend, in part, on the ability of coalition party members to coordinate effectively with the formateur party. Specifically, we believe that coalition party members that coordinate more effectively with the formateur party should benefit more from presidential coattails than those who don’t. We classify coalition party members into core and peripheral coalition party members. Core coalition party members are defined as those that are close ideologically to the formateur party and that have adopted consistent strategies in the governing and electoral arenas in the past.

Coalition party members that have participated in the past governing coalition can benefit from the president’s popularity during the election by claiming credit for key government programs, tying their fortunes with that of the incumbent president. Moreover, coalition party members that have participated in previous electoral coalitions with the same formateur party should be associated more strongly to the said coalition by voters than those coalition party members that have not. Finally, we believe that coalition party members will coordinate more forcefully the closer they are ideologically to the coalition formateur because, in that scenario, both can tailor campaign messages courting ideologically similar voters.

We test two hypotheses. First, we argue that presidential coattails are diffused, benefiting the president’s party but also her coalition party members. Second, we claim that The diffused coattails effect in coalitional presidentialism should benefit more strongly core coalition party members, as compared to peripheral coalition party members.

To evaluate the two hypotheses we analyze data from Brazil and Chile. These two countries are widely studied cases of coalitional presidentialism where multiparty coalitions play a fundamental role in the governing and electoral arenas. Overall, Chile represents a most-likely case for diffused presidential coattails because its governing and electoral coalitions are stable and ideologically coherent. Brazil, on the other hand, represents a least-likely case for diffused presidential coattails because it shows much less congruence between its governing and electoral coalitions and its electoral coalitions are unstable and generally not ideologically coherent. We believe that such design allows for robust testing of our hypotheses of presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism. Finding only weakly supportive evidence (or no evidence at all) of diffused coattails in Chile would seriously undermine or lead to outright rejection of our theoretical claims.  On the other hand, if we succeeded in finding evidence of diffused coattails in Brazil, this should strongly support the view that presidential coattails exhibit dynamics of their own in coalitional presidentialism.

Our statistical analysis of coattail effects using data on district-level electoral returns in Brazil and Chile shows that presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism are diffused, benefiting the president’s party and her core coalition party members. Presidential coattails, however, do not affect coalition party members equally. Core coalition party members, that is, those that are more strongly associated with the coalition formateur, are the sole beneficiaries of presidential coattails. No presidential coattail effect is discernible for peripheral coalition parties.

Admittedly, we cannot make claims about the presence or not of similar diffused presidential coattails in other cases of coalitional presidentialism. We have very good reasons to believe, however, that this phenomenon extends beyond the Chilean and Brazilian cases. In particular, both Chile and Brazil are open-list PR systems. In closed-list PR systems, which are most commonly found in other cases of coalitional presidentialism, intra-coalition coordination is profoundly facilitated. Under such electoral rules, parties can more easily divide the expected seats among coalition partners by ordering the candidates’ names on party lists in each district in a way that benefits more fairly coalition party members (Cruz 2010; Leiras 2007).

Future research should explore further the broader implications of the diffused coattail effect for coalitional presidential systems and party systems, more generally. One such possibility deals with the relationship between electoral and governing coalitions. Our results, for example, suggest that the electoral success of peripheral coalition party members is not tied to that of the coalition formateur party. Consequently, their behavior within the governing coalition could be distinct than that of core coalition party members and could potentially affect the stability of governing coalitions. Thus we may ask: are peripheral coalition party members less loyal and possibly more demanding than core coalition party members? Similarly, are threats to leave the governing coalition more credible than those made by core coalition party members? These are other interesting questions to be explored.

Finally, diffused presidential coattails may also contribute to maintain or even increase party fragmentation in the lower chamber. That is, different from traditional arguments on presidential coattails and party systems, the theoretical argument and empirical evidence presented in this paper indicate that presidential coattails, when diffused, foster instead the survival and growth of small parties. Contrary to West and Spoon’s (2015) findings about electoral coalitions, it is not clear whether this will always and necessarily lead to lower fragmentation in legislative elections. These questions should be of great interest to comparativists given the spread of coalitional presidentialism in Latin America, Africa and the former Soviet Union.

Bibliography:

Albala, Adrian. 2014. “The Timing Effect of Presidentialism on Coalition Governments: evidence from Latin America.” In 23rd IPSA World Congress, Montreal, CA.

Borges, André, and Mathieu Turgeon. 2017. Presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism. Party Politics: 1-11.

Chasquetti, Daniel. 2008. Democracia, presidencialismo y partidos políticos en América Latina: evaluando la” difícil combinación”. Ediciones Cauce-CSIC.

Cruz, Facundo. 2010. Relaciones e interacciones partidarias en coaliciones de gobierno. Los casos de la Alianza, la Concertación y el Frente Amplio. Revista Debates Latinoamericanos 8: 15.

Freudenreich, Johannes. 2016. The Formation of Cabinet Coalitions in Presidential Systems. Latin American Politics and Society 58 (4): 80-102.

Golder, Matt. 2006. Presidential Coattails and Legislative Fragmentation. American Journal of Political Science 50 (1): 34-48.

Kellam, Marisa. 2015. Why Pre-Electoral Coalitions in Presidential Systems? British Journal of Political Science 47: 391-411.

Leiras, Marcelo. 2007. Todos los caballos del rey: la integración de los partidos políticos y el gobierno democrático de la Argentina, 1995-2003. Prometeo libros.

Mainwaring, Scott, and Matthew Soberg Shugart. 1997. Presidentialism and democracy in Latin America. . Cambridge University Press.

Samuels, David. 2002. Presidentialized Parties: The separation of powers and party organization and behavior. Comparative Political Studies 35 (4): 461-83.

Shugart, Matthew, and John M. Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional design and electoral dynamics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

West, Karleen Jones, and Jae-Jae Spoon. 2015. Coordination and presidential coattails Do parties’ presidential entry strategies affect legislative vote share? Party Politics: 1-11.

Christopher A. Martínez – Why political institutions matter for presidential survival

This is a guest post by Christopher A. Martínez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Political Science, Temuco Catholic University, Chile

There is no crisis here, nor problems” Fernando de la Rúa (resigned, December 2001)
I’ll continue to govern” Lucio Gutiérrez (dismissed by Congress, April 2005 )

Since 1979, thirteen South American chief executives have been unable to complete their constitutional terms. These failed presidencies occur when a popularly elected president is forced to leave office early, though the ouster is not followed by a democratic breakdown. Some presidents have been impeached (e.g., Collor and Rousseff in Brazil, Pérez in Venezuela, Cubas and Lugo in Paraguay); others could not withstand massive and widespread street protests (e.g., Alfonsín and De la Rúa in Argentina, Siles Zuazo and Sánchez in Bolivia, and Fujimori in Peru); while other leaders were unseated via unorthodox mechanisms (e.g., Bucaram, Mahuad, and Gutiérrez in Ecuador). Being forced to leave office early represents a dramatic deviation from a central goal of all political leaders, which is to maintain power. Thus, failing to fulfil a presidential term should be an exceptional political event in a presidential democracy.

I used survival analysis to quantitatively study 65 South American presidencies between 1979 and 2012. My results show that the most important forces driving presidential survival are institutional ones: legislative support for the president, and a country’s democratic tradition. Interestingly, inflation, economic recessions, and scandals have no significant impact on presidential survival, whereas violent social mobilisations exhibit a rather weak effect.

Some presidents are “safer” than others: Why a country’s democratic tradition matters

Previous studies have not established whether democracy had any impact, be it positive or negative, on the occurrence of presidential failures. Rather than focusing on current levels of democracy, in my research I used a new measure of democracy which represents a country’s past records with democratic and authoritarian politics: democratic tradition. Figure 1 illustrates how different a country’s current level of democracy (Polity2) and democratic tradition truly are. For instance, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay all had low levels of democracy in 1980. Nevertheless, only Chile and Uruguay stand out for their accumulated experience with democracy.

When considering democracy’s effects over extended periods of time, my findings show that the larger the democratic tradition of a country, the more likely the president will “survive.” That is to say, countries with a well-established democratic track provide a “safer,” less threatening environment for presidential survival. Unlike countries with poor democratic experiences, in these type of polities, political actors—presidents, legislators, parties, among others—are discouraged from pursuing questionable courses of action and are more likely to settle political disagreements through negotiation and accommodation, all of which reduces the risk of early government termination.

Figure 1: Democratic Stock and Polity2 Score of Democracy, 1900-2012

Legislative support is central to “survive” in office

In theory, chief executives in presidential systems do not require a legislative majority to stay in office; however, presidents need legislators’ support more than they may think. Passing relevant legislation is a central task for most executives, but hanging on to power is unquestionably a far more important goal for any president. If presidents are to complete their terms in office, they must ensure the backing of a disciplined contingent of members of congress. This “legislative shield” (Pérez-Liñán 2007) would especially come in handy during dire economic circumstances and intense social mobilisations, as loyal legislators may undermine the opposition’s attacks and criticism against the executive. As in previous studies, my research maintains legislative support for the president as the most consistent and strongest predictor of presidential survival in South America.

What do political scandals do?

Results have been mixed about the relationship between political scandals and failed presidencies. Unlike Hochstetler (2006) and Pérez-Liñán (2007), my findings show that corruption scandals do not reduce presidential survival in South America. Presidents’ involvement in scandals may be frowned upon and weaken their approval ratings, yet they do not directly or necessarily force them to step down. True, some presidents have been deposed because of corruption accusations (for example, Collor in Brazil and Pérez in Venezuela). Nevertheless, political scandals are not exceptional in the region, and many of them have not triggered presidential interruptions (e.g., Menem in Argentina, Samper in Colombia, among others). What scandals can do, especially in cases of fragile president-party relations, is to undermine the ruling coalition and/or reduce the president’s chances to form a new one. Such an instance is what I argue occurred with Fernando De la Rúa’s bribery scandal in Argentina (Martínez 2017) and Lucio Gutiérrez’s alleged links with a drug trafficker in Ecuador (Martínez forthcoming).

Social mobilisations

Though it may come as a surprise, my results show that street protests have only a weak—if any—effect on presidential survival. This is true of both general strikes and social mobilisations aimed at the executive. On the other hand, violent demonstrations such as riots do increase the risk of early presidential removals; nonetheless, their impact is significantly weakened when one analyses a president’s legislative support. That is to say, when it comes to “surviving” in office, the role of congress outweighs any type of social mobilisation, even the bloody ones. An alternative explanation for the weaker-than-expected effects of public demonstrations is that it is their intensity, rather than their simple occurrence, that matters.

Final remarks

Even though a president’s popularity may be negatively affected by economic recessions, street protests, and political scandals, their “survival” in office largely hinges upon legislative support and democratic tradition. The role of congress is likened to the proverbial two-edged sword: it may either shield the president or turn against him/her. Presidents, thus, ought to cultivate smooth relations with their ruling partners should they indeed want to hold onto office. Moreover, chief executives ruling over countries with a weak democratic tradition may have fewer chances to “survive” to begin with, as most political actors in those countries may be more accustomed to bend the rules of the game, which would heighten the risk of presidential failures.

Christopher A. Martínez holds a PhD in Political Science from Loyola University Chicago. He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Political Science, Temuco Catholic University, Chile. His current research interests include the executive branch, government survival, institutional performance and democratic consolidation in Latin America. He can be reached at christopher.martinez@fulbrightmail.org and @martineznourdin.

Turkey – Two weeks until the most important referendum in the country’s constitutional history

With two weeks to go until the most important referendum in Turkey for decades, the situation is looking increasingly tense and people are more and more divided. The stakes are high for both sides. If the “no” vote wins, this would shake Erdoğan’s long-standing populist rule. However, if Turkish voters prefer a “yes” vote this would  mean not only leaving behind the parliamentary tradition, but also turning the country’s back on basic European ideals, including liberal democracy.

The proposed Turkish type of presidential system would grant President Erdoğan the power to redesign the country’s state structure and rule pretty much as he pleases. This system has been promoted as a neo-ottomanist, pro-Islamist reform that would create a national, home-grown system.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, Turkey has adopted a model of modernisation. But now, such a modernisation process, which involves the secularisation of state and society, is increasingly being presented by the ruling party, the AKP, as being different from the country’s Islamic culture, despite the fact that Islam was itself an import from the Arab world. The constitutional reform is defended and legitimised as marking the reversal of an unlucky history and the resurrection of the Ottoman Empire, even though the real Ottomans are now long gone. Anyone who is against the reform is portrayed as being either a traitor or a terrorist. This simple and rather superficial propaganda has been repeated so often by President Erdoğan and other AKP politicians that it has dangerously increased the level of polarisation in the country, and which has already been at a very high level for the past 10 years. One journalist who is close to Erdoğan has branded Turks who believe in western ideals as partly alien to their native culture and claimed that even so, if the “yes” vote wins they will be granted the right to live as a sign of generosity since they are good Muslims. This type of thinking hints at the general ideology that is feeding Erdogan’s one-man rule. He is being portrayed as the saviour of Islam who will end the secular republic founded by Atatürk’s revolution.

Erdoğan has based his campaign on strong nationalist and Islamist ideals, and has used polarisation as a tool to consolidate conservative right-wing votes. To this end, not only has he promoted internal divisions against both secularists and religious and ethnic minorities, but he has also labeled everyone who rejects his vision of Turkey as being on the same side as the terrorists. His aggressive rhetoric is not limited to internal affairs. He regularly targets the Western world. After Germany, Austria and Holland restricted the AKP’s political rallies in their countries, he had the much needed opportunity to exploit nationalist feelings by attacking the governments of those countries as Nazis, despite the fact that the Turkish law itself bans Turkish political parties from campaigning abroad. His tactical choice of using aggressive, popular and polarising language has paid off in previous elections, given he has not lost since 2002. However, it is not certain how the Turkish public will react to this type of rhetoric now. Economic and political ties with Europe are too strong to be suddenly cut off without any consequences.

Erdoğan and other AKP politicians hardly mention the details of the reform. They only claim that a presidential system will make Turkey great and more democratic. There will be no coalitions; therefore the system will bring political stability and economic growth.

Erdoğan is not alone in his campaign. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahçeli, is also on his side, campaigning for a presidential system even though some of his party’s current and former MPs have openly declared that they will say “no” to the change. Also, recent polls have suggested that a majority of the party’s voters are likely to to vote “no”. Bahçeli argues that a presidential system will help to keep Turkey together and that all terrorists will be destroyed if the new system is passed.

Using polarisation as a weapon to unite conservative voters is not the only tried and trusted method of Erdoğan and his supporters. Silencing the opposition has been another aspect of their competitive authoritarian rule for some time. According to a report from the Union for Democracy, an NGO, regarding air time from 1-20 March, the “yes” coalition got 486 hours, the main opposition party, CHP, got 45.5 hours, and the pro-Kurdish HDP got zero hours. In addition, the state of emergency since the failed coup attempt in July is still in force, and opposition rallies and meetings have regularly been cancelled because on security grounds. Systematic obstruction, including physical attacks and death threats, have been commonplace. Yet, despite the uneven competition, polls suggest that this referendum may not be as easy to win as previous elections.

The main opposition party has chosen a softer approach and avoided polarisation. They have not used their party symbols and have tried to unite different groups by emphasising that it is a national matter that is above party politics. They argue that this change will create one-man rule, will weaken the Grand National Assembly, diminish judicial independence, and destroy democracy, which has already had a troubled time in Turkey.

The leaders of the other opposition party, HDP, and many of its MPs are currently imprisoned, and others have been silenced by the mainstream media. This party has also quietly campaigned for a “no” vote, even though there are people claiming that HDP voters of Kurdish origin have lost interest in being part of Turkey’s future and may not prefer to vote at all. The overall picture is not that of a free or fair campaign for the opposition and confirms that Turkey is competitive authoritarian regime as defined by Levitsky and Way in their 2010 book “Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War”. If this proposed hyper-presidential system is approved by the majority of people, avoiding competitive authoritarianism will become much more difficult.