Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bolivia and the Misadventures of Presidential Regimes

Hi class,

As I go over the Latin American newspaper before our class I was able to find several clips on the ongoing crisis in Bolivia. I could be willing to say that we are fortunate to have this crisis as a prime example of the problems and tensions that presidential regimes face and create due to their institutional design, if I were not haunted immediately by the idea of how costly are these kinds of situations for the region, and more costly for the poorest country of South America.

Part of the reason why presidential regimes are less efficient and more expensive, derives from the fact that in situations like the one Bolivia faced during the weekend and the first days of this week, the country as such enters in a cycle of social mobilization and protest that creates by itself too many problems: investment, production, planning, classes, are just a few examples of the kinds of problems that countries entering a crisis face.

The question, of course is, what could it happened if, facing the exact same type of situation Bolivia were a parliamentary regime? Fortunately, we have enough evidence from Europe during the 1970s and 1980s, to know how parliamentary regimes deal with situations of crisis.

Italy faced endless number of cabinet crises during the 1970s and 1980s. Several governments were created and ceased to exist as a consequence of such crises. However, the economy, the country as such, was able to keep working. Uncertainty was minimal, since the government, meaning the bureaucratic layers of it, was able to keep the show running with little or no interference, because of the provisions in the legal framework.

The problem with the crisis in Bolivia, on the other hand, as well as the crises that Argentina, Ecuador, and many other countries in the region have faced in recent years, is that once deadlock among political elites emerges, there is no way out. Then, the only possible solutions are (1) a clash of political forces, armwrestling to see who is able to put more people out in the streets (Bolivia and Ecuador); (2) the resignation of the President (Argentina, with president Fernando de la Rúa); (3) a coup d'Etat (Mexico in 1913 or Chile in 1973); (4) the president ruling by decree, with or without the support of the Congress (Colombia during the 1970s and 1980s, which creates much more tensions); or (5) an authoritarian regime like the one that existed in Mexico from 1934 to 2000, where deadlock was impossible because of the legal and meta-legal powers of the President.

As I mentioned in class and in my previous postings in this blog, it is impossible to assume that the experience of the United States is somehow replicable in Latin America, so do your best to detach yourselves from the relatively succesful experience of the U.S. and try to understand that Latin American economies are much more fragile, and that any political crisis inflicts severe damages to our economies.

Moreover, if you consider the information published so far about the kind of agreement that Carlos Mesa was able to reach with the Congress, you will be able to see that it has been extremely costly: almost six months in a deadlock, with continuous popular mobilization, deployment of police and army, uncertainty, erosion of an already battered economy.

Here I present you excerpts from Latin American constitutions on the issue of the resignation of the President.


Think also, that the presidents are not elected by the congresses, so the idea of resigning before the Congress is a last resort kind of thing. If you go over the Mexican Constitution, as an example considers the possibility of a resignation only in the case of:

SECTION 86. The office of President of the Republic can be resigned only for grave cause, which shall be passed upon by the Congress of the Union, to which the resignation must be presented.

That is all the instruction contained in the Constitution. There is no specific rule, and no clear definition of what constitutes a "grave cause".


The Constitution of Argentina offers no improvement:

SECTION 88. In case of illness, absence from the Capital City, death, resignation, or removal of the President from office, the Executive Power shall devolve upon the Vice-President of the Nation. In case of removal, death, resignation, or inability of the President and the Vice-President of the Nation, Congress shall determine the public officer who shall exercise the Presidency until the ceasing of the grounds of inability or the election of a new President.


The Bolivian Constitution is even more criptic when it comes to the issue of the resignation of the President. Here I use the Spanish original since there is no available translation (or at least I was unable to find it):

ARTICULO 93º I. En caso de impedimento o ausencia temporal del Presidente de la República, antes o después de su proclamación, lo reemplazará el Vicepresidente y, a falta de éste y en forma sucesiva, el Presidente del Senado, el de la Cámara de Diputados o el de la Corte Suprema de Justicia.

II. El Vicepresidente asumirá la Presidencia de la República si ésa quedare vacante antes o después de la proclamación del Presidente Electo, y la ejercerá hasta la finalización del período constitucional.

III. Cuando la Presidencia y Vicepresidencia de la República queden vacantes, harán sus veces el Presidente del Senado y en su defecto, el Presidente de la Cámara de Diputados y el de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, en estricta prelación. En este caso se convocará de inmediato a nuevas elecciones generales que serán realizadas dentro de los siguientes ciento ochenta días de emitirse la convocatoria.


In Peru the situation does not change significantly:

Artículo 113º La Presidencia de la República vaca por:
1. Muerte del Presidente de la República.
2. Su permanente incapacidad moral o física, declarada por el Congreso.
3. Aceptación de su renuncia por el Congreso.
4. Salir del territorio nacional sin permiso del Congreso o no regresar a él dentro del plazo fijado. Y
5. Destitución, tras haber sido sancionado por alguna de las infracciones mencionadas en el Artículo 117 de la Constitución.

Artículo 114º El ejercicio de la Presidencia de la República se suspende por:
1. Incapacidad temporal del Presidente, declarada por el Congreso, o
2. Hallarse éste sometido a proceso judicial, conforme al Artículo 117 de la Constitución.


On the other hand, the Ecuadoran Constitution includes a more detailed explanation of the process, however, the basic arrangement is the same:

Art. 130.- El Congreso Nacional tendrá los siguientes deberes y atribuciones:
Presionar al Presidente y Vicepresidente de la República proclamados electos por el Tribunal Supremo Electoral.
  1. Conocer sus renuncias, destituirlos, previo enjuiciamento político;
  2. establecer su incapacidad física o mental o abandono del cargo, y declararlos cesantes.
  3. Elegir Presidente de la República en el caso del Art. 168, inciso segundo, y Vicepresidente, de la terna propuesta por el Presidente de la República, en caso de falta definitiva.
Art. 167.- El Presidente de la República cesará en sus funciones y dejará vacante el cargo en los casos siguientes:
  • Por terminación del período para el cual fue elegido.
  • Por muerte.
  • Por renuncia aceptada por el Congreso Nacional.
  • Por incapacidad física o mental que le impida ejercer el cargo, legalmente comprobada y declarada por el Congreso Nacional.
  • Por destitución, previo enjuiciamiento político.
  • Por abandono del cargo, declarado por el Congreso Nacional.
Art. 168.- En caso de falta definitiva del Presidente de la República, le subrogará el Vicepresidente por el tiempo que falte para completar el correspondiente período constitucional.
Si faltaren simultánea y definitivamente el Presidente y el Vicepresidente de la República, el Presidente del Congreso Nacional asumirá temporalmente la Presidencia y convocará al Congreso Nacional para que, dentro del plazo de diez días, elija al Preside nte de la República que permanecerá en sus funciones hasta completar el respectivo período presidencial.

Notice that the Ecuadoran Constitution includes provisions that ultimately put the President at the mercy of the Congress. This comes as a consequence of the impeachement process (enjuiciamiento político), which opens the door for any majority in the Congress able to gather enough votes to defrock the President.

If any of you needs a more precise translation of a any of these constitutional sections, I will be very happy to do it for you. We will continue this dialogue later.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Presidential Regimes and Institutional Designs II

I have found more information that can help us understand a little bit better the negative consequences of presidential regimes in Latin America, and why it is hard--to say the least--to assume that the succesful example of the U.S. can be used as a benchmark for the rest of the countries with that kind of political regime.

First, I would like to suggest a study that is particularly relevant for Rosemary. Their subject is the impact of political institutions on corruption. The authors Daniel Lederman, Norman Loayza, and Rodrigo Reis Soares summarize their article as a study that:
[U]ses a cross-country panel to examine the determinants of corruption, paying particular attention to political institutions that increase political accountability. Previous empirical studies have not analyzed the role of political institutions, even though both political science and economics theoretical literatures have indicated their importance in determining corruption. The main theoretical hypothesis guiding our empirical investigation is that political institutions affect corruption through two channels: political accountability and the structure of provision of public goods. The main results show that political institutions seem to be extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption. In short, democracies, parliamentary systems, political stability, and freedom of press are all associated with lower corruption. Additionally, we show that common results of the previous empirical literature on the determinants of corruption––related to openness and legal tradition––do not hold once political variables are taken into account.
In their analysis of the data, the authors were able to find that:

... the most consistent results regarding the political variables are related to democracy, presidential systems, time of democratic stability, and freedom of press. The estimated coefficients in columns (4) to (8) imply the following relations between these variables and perceived corruption: democracy reduces corruption by 0.7 points; presidential systems in a democracy, as opposed to parliamentary systems, increase corruption by 0.8 points; each additional 20 years of uninterrupted democracy reduce corruption by 0.5 points; and 50 points more in the freedom of press index (as from the level of Turkey to the level of the United Kingdom) reduces corruption by 0.5 points. These main results are robust to the inclusion of the government wages variable in the right hand side, which typically reduces the sample to less than 200 observations.
Go over the article to get the full analysis. Many of you could benefit from it. You can find it here.

Other relevant reading for our understanding on presidential and parliamentary regimes summarizes why is so hard for other countries than the U.S. to run stable presidential polities. The author, Seymor Martin Lipset is one of the heavyweights of social and political science in the United States, and this particular article ("The social requisites of democracy revisited") is a classic of political analysis.

The article, according to its abstract, deals with:

The factors and processes affecting the prospects for the institutionalization of democracy throughout the world are discussed. Because new democracies have low levels of legitimacy, there is a need for considerable caution about the longtermprospects for their stability.

When explaining the failure in Latin America and its success in the United States, Lipset states:

In considering the relation of government structure to legitimacy it has been suggested that republics with powerful presidents will, all other things being equal, be more unstable than parliamentary ones in which powerless royalty or elected heads of state try to act out the role of a constitutional monarch. In the former, where the executive is chief of state, symbolic authority and effective power are combined in one person, while in the latter they are divided. With a single top office, it is difficult for the public to separate feelings about the regime from those held toward the policy makers.

The difficulties in institutionalizing democracy in the many Latin American presidential regimes over the last century and a half may reflect this problem. The United States presents a special case, in which, despite combining the symbolic authority and power into the Presidency, the Constitution has been so hallowed by ideology and prolonged effectiveness for over 200 years, that it, rather than those who occupy the offices it specifies, has become the accepted ultimate source of authority.

This constitutional (legal-rational) legitimacy took many decades to develop. Strong secessionist efforts occurred a number of times before the Civil War (e.g., by New England states during the War of 1812, by South Carolina in 1832, and by leading abolitionists in the 1840s who rejected a Constitution that upheld slavery). The Civil War and subsequent long-term economic growth legitimated the American constitutional regime.
You can find the article here.

Samuels and Eaton published in 2002 "Presidentialism And, Or, and Versus Parliamentarism: The State of the Literature and an Agenda for Future Research". The authors explore these three hypothesis:

  • H1: institutions promoting unilateral executive power and separation of purpose are more likely under presidentialism;
  • H2: the core institutional differences between regime types are necessary and sufficient causes of differences in political output;
  • H3: similar configurations of non-core institutions have a greater impact under presidentialism, thus generating additional differences in political output.

Particularly, this article is valuable, among many other reasons, because it subscribes the claims made by Lederman, Loayza, and Reis Soares about the consequences that presidential regimes have for corruption (take notice Rosemary), but also about the costs of policy building and policy implementation in presidential regimes as compared to parliamentary ones.

[D]espite variation within both presidential and parliamentary regimes, the unity of survival in parliamentary systems limits how responsive legislators can be to lobbies. In contrast, in all presidential systems, separate survival allows legislators to more aggressively court interest groups without risking the fall of the government and losing their jobs. Even in systems where presidents have high powers, the simple right to review legislation in combination with separate survival can lead legislators to demand substantive modifications in response to interest group and other pressures (Eaton 2002). As suggested in our earlier analysis of “resoluteness,” a greater number of entry points for interest groups in presidentialism suggests that the costs to building legislative support for policy-making may be more costly in presidential systems, under both unified and divided government (however, see Persson and Tabellini 1999).

Using a similar logic, scholars have also suggested that corruption may be greater in presidential systems (see e.g. Gerring and Thacker 2001; Kunicova and Rose-Ackerman 2001; Kunicova 2001). This in turn suggests an unexplored answer to the issue of democratic breakdown: holding everything else constant (including fragmentation and polarization), perhaps the separation of powers increases the costs in terms of side-payments of maintaining support for the incumbent government and thus the existing regime. (pp. 36-7)
In other words, presidential regimes are more expensive and less efficient than parliamentary ones. You can access this article here.

Also, for Rosemary, Christina, and Brianne I suggest this piece about Mexico. It is not an article, but a proposal. However, it has plenty of information about recent changes in Mexico that could be helpful for the development of your papers.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Presidential Regimes and Institutional Designs

One of the main problems that Latin American polities have faced over the years has been the instability of their political regimes. Instability is critical to understand the problems that region confronts for several reasons and forces us to raise questions about its origins. Above all, instability is extremely expensive for the countries suffering it.

Instability has negative consequences for the countries suffering it because:
  • It induces uncertainty in the political processes, in the management of public goods and services,
  • It delays and in some cases cancels the development and implementation of policies,
  • It contributes to inflationary cycles (and we have already consider the nature of inflation as a regressive tax in previous postings),
  • It prevents local and foreign long term investment,
  • It exacerbates radical positions on both extremes of the political spectrum,
  • Even when it comes as a consequence of democratic procedures, puts democracy at risk

Yi Feng, of the School of Politics and Economics of Claremont Graduate University, developed a detailed analysis of the consequences that political instability has for policy uncertainty, political freedoms, the formation of human capital, and economic growth. The title is: "Political Freedom, Political Instability, and Policy Uncertainty: A Study of Political Institutions and Private Investment in Developing Countries". It was published by the International Studies Quarterly (June 2001, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 271-294(24)). You can get access to it through the Ebsco-Host link of the Library's website.

Now, since the only known political regime in the region has been presidential, we can assume that it has at least some consequences for the performance of the governments, and the outcomes that the political systems produce.

If we are unwilling to consider this feature, then the finding a possible answer to the issue of instability needs to go to other features: the so-called "political culture", the Iberian and indigenous legacies, the racial or ethnic features, and the like.

If we assume that this is an issue of "political culture", following the rationale of S. P. Huntington or Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, then we will have to ask if there is a solution to it. From the "clash of civilizations" perspective developed by Huntington, there is no way out. "Culture", and "political culture" in particular cannot be changed, they are the consequence of the "corrupted" legacies that reside at the very core of Latin American identities: Iberian and indigineous for cases like Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay; Iberian and Gaucho for cases like Argentina, Uruguay, and to a certain extent Brazil, and even worse for countries with a triple "negative" legacy like the Dominican Republic, Panamá, Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela, and regions of Peru: Iberian, indigenous, and African.

From this approach, identities have existed as such since the days of the Protestant Reformation and the colonization of Latin America, and people like myself, mestizo, Catholic, and Latin American are little more than beasts, unable to conduct ourselves according to the needs of a democratic polity. Of course, a new problem arises for this approach when we consider the experiences of Spain and Portugal in the 20th century, but then again, perhaps since they are European and there is less or no trace of indigenous or African legacies there they have been successful when compared with Latin American failures.

As you can imagine, I have several reasons to reject these kinds of explanations. The most important of them is that it leaves more than 500 million persons without any possible redemption.

Then, if you reject the cultural and racial explanations (that ultimately are one and the same), we need to figure out other possible explanations for the current situation, and to avoid similar situations in the future. Again, because of the consequences of instability.

Since presidential regimes are the only known regime in the region and the Presidency as such concentrates so much legal and extra-legal powers, you cannot rule it out as a source of instability.

Moreover, consider beyond the successful experience of the U.S. (which would require and entirely separate explanation) the ammount of scholarship produced on the subject in recent years. Just going over the citations and references of the articles by Arturo Valenzuela and Joe Forewaker, gives you an idea of how relevant it is, how intense is the debate.

Consider also the fact that, even if there is no agreement among the two authors considered about the possibility of inducing a radical change in the political regimes (going from presidential to parliamentary regimes--my own personal Mexican utopy), both agree on the need to introduce major changes in the institutional designs of the region to prevent instability. Moreover, both agree that without those changes Latin American democracies are at great risk.

Forewaker provides a superb account of the kinds of outcomes that the Latin American presidential systems produce. He also provides insights about possible ways to improve the systems' performance and overall outcomes. Valenzuela's identifies for the most part similar sources of instability, but he is more ambitious when proposing possible solutions and more aggressive in the analysis of the Latin American presidencies. Reread pages 14 and 15 of his article, when he compares "minority presidents" (those with less than 45% of the Legislative) with "majority presidents" and how, in Venezuela's case, Carlos Andrés Pérez was unable to control his own party in the Congress.

For those interested in the topic and able to read Spanish, I suggest to read Bruce Ackerman's article "¿Hacia una síntesis latinoamericana?" published as a part of the book Contribuciones para el debate. Contribuciones ... is part of the studies commisioned by the United Nations Programme on Development for the study Democracy in Latin America. We read in session two a summary in English of that study.

When comparing presidential and parliamentary regimes (p. 93 of Contribuciones para el debate) Ackerman says:

I propose to put aside the academic debate about the advantages or disadvantages of presidential regimes for democratic politics, and consider the impact that it has in the functioning of the courts and the bureaucracies of a country.

To enhance our understanding of the problem, I will use Guillermo O'Donnell's distinction between regime and State. As far as the organization of their political regime, Latin Americans refused the possibility of following the European model of parliamentary democracy to pick, instead, the presidential system following the U.S. style. But as far as the State, the Latin Americans were much more eurocentrist to organize their bureaucracies and tribunals, following an ethno-nationalist model. Hence, we are before a typical Latin American synthesis: a regime following the U.S. model within a European like State. Is this peculiar synthesis particularly propitious or particularly disastrous?

I am sorry to spell it out, but my approach is the gloomiest.

Ackerman's argument is extremely useful to understand both the outcomes of presidential regimes, the instability that affects them. I will try to find if he has published a similar piece in English.

Not only Ackerman. Other heavyweights of political analysis in the region discuss this topic and many other topics, so try to read it. You can get it here.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Hypothesis Building in Latin American Contexts

Hi class,

After today's class I went over your hypotheses. Some of them are ready to be the cornerstone of your final paper, some others need some work, but overall I am happy with what we have been able to accomplish so far.

Also, I have been trying to find additional readings for those of you having problems or interested in improving or developing your abilities to conceptualize and develop hypothesis.

I was able to find a reading by Michael Coppedge ("Theory Building and Hypothesis Testing: Large- vs. Small-N Research on Democratization"). He is a professor at Notre Dame University. Moreover, he is an "area specialist" with specific interests in Venezuela and Mexico, so the paper I am suggesting for you to read is mostly concerned with issues and examples from the region.

Moreover, Coppedge discusses hypothesis testing and building for case studies, which is what many of you are trying to do for this course, so it should be helpful for your own research.

Go over it, try to relate with the discussions that we have had in our course, and above all relate it with your own final paper.

Enjoy the weekend.