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The many faces of Latin American presidentialism

Die vielen Gesichter des lateinamerikanischen Präsidentialismus
[working paper]

Llanos, Mariana; Nolte, Detlef

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Corporate Editor GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies - Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien
Abstract Political developments in Latin America (LA) have repeatedly fuelled a rich, ongoing, and contentious academic debate about democracy and its deficits. LA is a region characterised by presidential democracies, a political system with arguably serious structural shortcomings. Brazil and Venezuela, both of which are currently undergoing severe political crises, are illustrative of both the perils of presidentialism and the institutional mechanisms that have enabled LA presidential democracies to survive, albeit with deficits. Latin America is home to various political models of presidential democracy, including several variants of majoritarian presidentialism and presidential dominance as well as coalition presidentialism and other ad hoc solutions for minority governments. Inter-institutional deadlocks due to presidents’ lack of adequate support in the respective Congress are perceived as a major shortcoming and a risk for presidential democracies. "Coalition presidentialism," as practiced in Brazil, has been an innovative LA solution for overcoming political deadlocks. However, the converse argument implies that without a coalition there might be no surviving president. While the Brazilian Congress is trying to remove President Rousseff by means of impeachment, Venezuelan president Maduro is orchestrating a constitutional coup to disempower Congress. In both cases the presidents face an adverse majority in Congress, but the solution to the deadlock situation is different for each case. Political stalemates between a congress and a president can be resolved by different means. On the one hand, presidents can try to sidestep and disempower the congress. On the other, minority presidents have sometimes been forced to resign, or removed by impeachment and other institutional equivalents to a "vote of non-confidence." Policy Implications If presidents are unable to control their parties or coalitions, their removal may become a real possibility, despite fixed presidential terms. Some scholars call for constitutional reforms to allow for earlier elections. We argue that impeachment should be replaced by a vote of non-confidence (by a two-thirds majority). Then the political debate would be framed less in normative terms (questioning the moral integrity of the incumbent president) and more in political-programmatic and partisan-related terms.
Keywords Latin America; political system; presidential system; democratization; separation of powers; coalition; majority rule; party system; political power; Brazil; Venezuela
Classification Political System, Constitution, Government; Political Process, Elections, Political Sociology, Political Culture
Document language English
Publication Year 2016
City Hamburg
Page/Pages 12 p.
Series GIGA Focus Lateinamerika, 1
ISSN 1862-3573
Status Published Version; not reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works