Posts tagged presidentialism

theeconomist:

Call him Queen Bee: Our Lexington columnist on why the myth of an omnipotent presidency makes it harder to get a competent one

If more Americans understood the difference between presidentialism and parliamentarism, they’d expect (and demand) less of presidents.

theeconomist:

Call him Queen Bee: Our Lexington columnist on why the myth of an omnipotent presidency makes it harder to get a competent one

If more Americans understood the difference between presidentialism and parliamentarism, they’d expect (and demand) less of presidents.

Contra fragmentsofasong:

pol102:

Via theatlantic:

Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours

BERLIN — It’s the day before the German election, and Stefan Liebich, a member of the Bundestag for the far-left Die Linke party, is standing on the sidewalk at a busy intersection, smiling and shaking hands. He has a boombox and an assistant who fills up crimson balloons that say “Really Red” — to differentiate them from the slightly-less-red balloons being inflated by their rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), who have a similar setup just a few feet away.
He’s in peak campaigning mode, yet he takes a 45-minute break to talk to a group of foreign journalists, including me, who can’t vote and don’t speak German.
Liebich’s casual arrangement seems fitting for someone running for, say, student council in the U.S., but he’s actually just a few thousand votes from losing his seat in parliament if Die Linke doesn’t garner a large enough percentage in the upcoming election. He says he is “excited” to see whether or not he makes it in.
It may seem barebones, but this is a typical last-day campaign event for a parliamentarian in Germany, where campaigns get government funding, parties are allocated TV advertising time, and microtargeting of voters is unthinkable.
To Americans who rarely get a respite from partisan vitriol, fundraising requests, and attack ads during campaign season, it’s almost enough to make you want to brush up on the college German and head to the visa office.
“It is completely different from the States,” Liebich said. “And I’m happy about it.”
Read more. [Image: Reuters]


US political campaigns are extremely expensive. And also inefficient (in terms of educating voters about issues and/or platforms). Why do so many other countries do it better? One reason: electoral system. The main difference isn’t just Germany’s campaign finance laws. After all, politicians vote for campaign finance laws. But in proportional representation systems, politics tends to focus less on personalities and more on party platforms. This is especially true in proportional representation parliamentary systems, where there isn’t a president on the ballot.
Note 1: Germany has a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, which does include single-member district candidates elected in plurality (or “first-past-the-post”) elections, just like in the US. But the whole system tends towards proportionality because of how the remaining seats are awarded. And Germany’s politics is even more “personalized” than politics in most other list-proportional systems.
Note 2: Germany does have a president, but this person only acts as head of state (like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II). Germany’s head of government is the Chancellor (currently Angela Merkel), who is elected by the legislature, not voters. Hence, Angela Merkel was elected by a majority coalition of German parties. Merkel’s alliance (CDU/CSU) won 49.4% of the vote, effectively reelecting her. But to govern, she’s seeking a coalition partner (either SPD or the Greens).

It’s also worth noting that even if the US had a German-style political system, it would NOT have German-style politics.  Even if we ignore some of the huge cultural and historical differences, there’s still that small matter of the US being, in comparison to Germany, huge.  There is less distance between being a local German politician and being a national German politician than there is between being a local US politician and a national US politician.  This means that German politics is almost by default more local, which allows for less of a mystique for the German chancellor than for the US president.  (For example, Germany has a vibrant film industry, but I can’t name a single German movie that is about the chancellor.  I can name about 10 US movies that are about the president.)  Another worthwhile thing to keep in mind is that this election was different than many previous German national elections in that I have not met a single person (of any political persuasion) who was really pleased with the options they were able to choose this time around.  Hardly anyone really liked what they voted for, in the end - and they from the beginning that they were not going to like their options.  That made for a sluggish campaign (Merkel did virtually no campaigning compared to her previous years) and a general disheartened mood.  So this election is not all that representative.What is true, and what is important to point out to several GOP congressmen, is the part about pragmatism and compromise.  German politics do have a tendency towards those, and from that the US could really, really learn something.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Look, I know a number of people who research German politics of a living. In fact, I’m on a research grant that includes two such people. And our grant is exclusively looking at legislative candidate selection across a range of countries. They will tell you that the evidence (and the conventional wisdom in the literature) is that German politics is national. In fact, they were surprised to find that even constituency delegates (those elected in actual districts using first-past-the-post) had a tendency to act like “list” politicians. 
Partly, that’s because I think you underestimate just how BIG Germany is. With more than 80 million people, it’s the 16th largest country in terms of population (we’re 3rd, with 300 million people).
You also misunderstand how parliamentary systems work. The German Chancellor doesn’t have the “mystique” of the American presidency, but that’s because prime ministers are less powerful (constitutionally) than presidents. But the argument is flawed. If the premise is that German politics is inherently “local” because it is “small,” then the Chancellor should have MORE mystique than the US president, because the Chancellor would be the top “local” politician. Your argument also ignores the powerful mystique of presidents in TINY presidential systems like El Salvador (pop. 6 million), Costa Rica (pop. 4.5 million), or even Uruguay (pop. 3 million).

Contra fragmentsofasong:

pol102:

Via theatlantic:

Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours

BERLIN — It’s the day before the German election, and Stefan Liebich, a member of the Bundestag for the far-left Die Linke party, is standing on the sidewalk at a busy intersection, smiling and shaking hands. He has a boombox and an assistant who fills up crimson balloons that say “Really Red” — to differentiate them from the slightly-less-red balloons being inflated by their rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), who have a similar setup just a few feet away.

He’s in peak campaigning mode, yet he takes a 45-minute break to talk to a group of foreign journalists, including me, who can’t vote and don’t speak German.

Liebich’s casual arrangement seems fitting for someone running for, say, student council in the U.S., but he’s actually just a few thousand votes from losing his seat in parliament if Die Linke doesn’t garner a large enough percentage in the upcoming election. He says he is “excited” to see whether or not he makes it in.

It may seem barebones, but this is a typical last-day campaign event for a parliamentarian in Germany, where campaigns get government funding, parties are allocated TV advertising time, and microtargeting of voters is unthinkable.

To Americans who rarely get a respite from partisan vitriol, fundraising requests, and attack ads during campaign season, it’s almost enough to make you want to brush up on the college German and head to the visa office.

“It is completely different from the States,” Liebich said. “And I’m happy about it.”

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

US political campaigns are extremely expensive. And also inefficient (in terms of educating voters about issues and/or platforms). Why do so many other countries do it better? One reason: electoral system. The main difference isn’t just Germany’s campaign finance laws. After all, politicians vote for campaign finance laws. But in proportional representation systems, politics tends to focus less on personalities and more on party platforms. This is especially true in proportional representation parliamentary systems, where there isn’t a president on the ballot.

Note 1: Germany has a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, which does include single-member district candidates elected in plurality (or “first-past-the-post”) elections, just like in the US. But the whole system tends towards proportionality because of how the remaining seats are awarded. And Germany’s politics is even more “personalized” than politics in most other list-proportional systems.

Note 2: Germany does have a president, but this person only acts as head of state (like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II). Germany’s head of government is the Chancellor (currently Angela Merkel), who is elected by the legislature, not voters. Hence, Angela Merkel was elected by a majority coalition of German parties. Merkel’s alliance (CDU/CSU) won 49.4% of the vote, effectively reelecting her. But to govern, she’s seeking a coalition partner (either SPD or the Greens).

It’s also worth noting that even if the US had a German-style political system, it would NOT have German-style politics.  Even if we ignore some of the huge cultural and historical differences, there’s still that small matter of the US being, in comparison to Germany, huge.  There is less distance between being a local German politician and being a national German politician than there is between being a local US politician and a national US politician.  This means that German politics is almost by default more local, which allows for less of a mystique for the German chancellor than for the US president.  (For example, Germany has a vibrant film industry, but I can’t name a single German movie that is about the chancellor.  I can name about 10 US movies that are about the president.)  
Another worthwhile thing to keep in mind is that this election was different than many previous German national elections in that I have not met a single person (of any political persuasion) who was really pleased with the options they were able to choose this time around.  Hardly anyone really liked what they voted for, in the end - and they from the beginning that they were not going to like their options.  That made for a sluggish campaign (Merkel did virtually no campaigning compared to her previous years) and a general disheartened mood.  So this election is not all that representative.
What is true, and what is important to point out to several GOP congressmen, is the part about pragmatism and compromise.  German politics do have a tendency towards those, and from that the US could really, really learn something.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Look, I know a number of people who research German politics of a living. In fact, I’m on a research grant that includes two such people. And our grant is exclusively looking at legislative candidate selection across a range of countries. They will tell you that the evidence (and the conventional wisdom in the literature) is that German politics is national. In fact, they were surprised to find that even constituency delegates (those elected in actual districts using first-past-the-post) had a tendency to act like “list” politicians. 

Partly, that’s because I think you underestimate just how BIG Germany is. With more than 80 million people, it’s the 16th largest country in terms of population (we’re 3rd, with 300 million people).

You also misunderstand how parliamentary systems work. The German Chancellor doesn’t have the “mystique” of the American presidency, but that’s because prime ministers are less powerful (constitutionally) than presidents. But the argument is flawed. If the premise is that German politics is inherently “local” because it is “small,” then the Chancellor should have MORE mystique than the US president, because the Chancellor would be the top “local” politician. Your argument also ignores the powerful mystique of presidents in TINY presidential systems like El Salvador (pop. 6 million), Costa Rica (pop. 4.5 million), or even Uruguay (pop. 3 million).

Evo Morales running for reelection in 2014?

From boliviapolitics:

The Inter-American Dialogue folks asked me to comment on the probability of Evo Morales being reelected to a third term as Bolivia’s president. I’ve commented on this before

But here’s a link to the PDF of the IAD’s weekly Latin American Advisor newsletter with my comments, as well as those by Carlos Mesa (former Bolivian president), Kathryn Ledebur (director of the Bolivia-based Andean Information Network), and Iván Rebolledo (president of Bolivian-American Chamber of Commerce).

(Comparative) Fact of the Week: Presidential Powers

This week’s (Comparative) Fact of the Week is related to last night’s presidential candidate debate in the United States.

Did you know that American presidents don’t have legislative powers? Well, they don’t. 

Typically, presidents are weaker than prime ministers. This is by design. In presidential systems (such as in the US) powers are generally divided between the executive and legislative branches of government. Typically, this actually gives legislature tremendous power. As in most presidential systems, presidents mostly sign into law (or they can try using their veto power) legislation passed by the legislators. 

There are some “strong” presidential systems, such as in Brazil, the president does have the power to actually initiate legislature (the US president doesn’t). In fact, the Brazilian constitution even gives the president the power to enact laws by decree, which stand unless the legislature acts within 60 days (though the period can be extended an additional 120 days). In Brazil, presidents have strong legislative and agenda setting powers.

There are, of course, a few presidential systems that are so strong, they give presidents the power to set budgets. In these cases, the role is reversed: the president drafts a budget, and the legislature can only vote it up or down.

In contrast, parliamentary systems give chief executives tremendous powers. But that’s only because (in all but the rare “minority government” case) prime ministers are also the leaders of a legislative majority. And, since they happen to also be legislators (only legislators can also be prime ministers), they have all the abilities of a majority leader without the hassle of having to submit what they pass for approval to another person. In fact, prime ministers are extremely powerful—so long as they retain their legislative majority.

Which leads me to an interesting question: Why so much attention to the presidential contest in the US? And, even more striking, why so much attention to the candidates’ domestic agendas? Shouldn’t we be asking those questions of the legislative candidates? Finally, why doesn’t anyone in the media bother to remind us that, despite all their good intentions, neither candidate can lower or raise our taxes. Because only Congress can. All presidents really do, is pick out the pen they want to use for the signing ceremony.

Talking about Chile’s party system today in INST 318 (a Croft seminar on “political parties in new democracies”). I like to show campaign adds from time to time. They seem to make the political systems more “real” to students. Here’s an ad from Michelle Bachelet’s presidential campaign.

The ad was called “Bachelet Estoy Contigo” and uses a diverse cast of Chileans to give a campaign speech.

Here’s a link to a campaign ad for Sebastian Piñera, Bachelet’s opponent in the 2005-06 election, who went on to win in 2009-10 (both elections went to a second round). Piñera was the first candidate from the right to win since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. In his ad, Piñera proclaims the need to move forward, and to set aside the past (“nostalgia”).

Both ads are from the same 2005-06 presidential contest.


Will the far right be the kingmaker in France’s presidential election? (+video) The Christian Science Monitor, csmonitor.com
French President Nicolas Sarkozy told roaring crowds last night that it is “crunch time” now that the presidential election has been narrowed down to a May 6 runoff between him and Socialist challenger François Hollande, to whom he lost by one point in the first round of elections yesterday.
A high 81 percent turnout rate in national elections combined, unusually, with low voter enthusiasm captured something of the political disillusionment. But also the high stakes for the future at a time when five governments in Europe have collapsed over fallout from the ongoing debt crisis. 
Continue reading

An interesting look at the French presidential election—with an emphasis on strategic party behavior. What is in Le Pen’s best interest? To push the French government further to the right (her policy preferences), but risk strengthening her center-right competitor? Or to allow the Socialists to win the presidency (contrary to her policy preferences), but weaken her only competitor on the right—and set herself up for a stronger position at the next election?

Will the far right be the kingmaker in France’s presidential election? (+video)
The Christian Science Monitor, csmonitor.com

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told roaring crowds last night that it is “crunch time” now that the presidential election has been narrowed down to a May 6 runoff between him and Socialist challenger François Hollande, to whom he lost by one point in the first round of elections yesterday.

A high 81 percent turnout rate in national elections combined, unusually, with low voter enthusiasm captured something of the political disillusionment. But also the high stakes for the future at a time when five governments in Europe have collapsed over fallout from the ongoing debt crisis. 

Continue reading

An interesting look at the French presidential election—with an emphasis on strategic party behavior. What is in Le Pen’s best interest? To push the French government further to the right (her policy preferences), but risk strengthening her center-right competitor? Or to allow the Socialists to win the presidency (contrary to her policy preferences), but weaken her only competitor on the right—and set herself up for a stronger position at the next election?


French presidential elections will be referendum on Sarkozy, the man The Christian Science Monitor, csmonitor.com
In France, to a degree unique in Europe, pres­i­dents wield enor­mous power. The posi­tion is only half-jokingly likened to an elect­ed monarch, a kind of British queen and prime min­is­ter com­bined.
This Sunday, April 22, French voters will decide among 10 candidates for that top job in the first round of an election that will finally be finalized on May 6 in a two-person runoff.
Every poll indicates incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy is likely to face the Socialist Party frontrunnerFrancois Hollande on May 6. But Mr. Sarkozy, who has regularly made international news since getting elected in 2007, faces a serious likability problem at home, where his approval rating is, at 36 percent, the lowest of any modern French president.
Continue reading

France’s election could be a bellwether for Europe. Only a few years ago, a number of center-right parties won or came to power across the region. One of the most notable was the Conservative victory in Britain. France has been governed by the center-right for two decades. A Socialist victory there—partly fueled by anti-austerity mobilizations—could signal a string of leftist and center-left victories throughout the continent.

French presidential elections will be referendum on Sarkozy, the man
The Christian Science Monitor, csmonitor.com

In France, to a degree unique in Europe, pres­i­dents wield enor­mous power. The posi­tion is only half-jokingly likened to an elect­ed monarch, a kind of British queen and prime min­is­ter com­bined.

This Sunday, April 22, French voters will decide among 10 candidates for that top job in the first round of an election that will finally be finalized on May 6 in a two-person runoff.

Every poll indicates incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy is likely to face the Socialist Party frontrunnerFrancois Hollande on May 6. But Mr. Sarkozy, who has regularly made international news since getting elected in 2007, faces a serious likability problem at home, where his approval rating is, at 36 percent, the lowest of any modern French president.

Continue reading

France’s election could be a bellwether for Europe. Only a few years ago, a number of center-right parties won or came to power across the region. One of the most notable was the Conservative victory in Britain. France has been governed by the center-right for two decades. A Socialist victory there—partly fueled by anti-austerity mobilizations—could signal a string of leftist and center-left victories throughout the continent.

Proposal to reform [Chile's] binomial system

Greg Weeks has an update on his previous post about possible reforms to Chile’s binomial electoral system, which I also discussed.

He outlines a joint proposal by the (centrist) Christian Democratic Party and the (center-right) Renovación Nacional:

  1. The president can dissolve the legislature
  2. The president chooses a prime minister who must be approved by a majority in the legislature
  3. Proportional representation in the legislature (with specifics to be worked out later)
  4. Term limits for all positions
  5. System of primaries
  6. Public financing of political parties

I agree with Greg: This is a radical departure for Chile. Personally, I would prefer Chile return to its pre-1973 “parliamentarized presidential” system (in which the legislature selects the president in the event no candidate wins a majority). Although I like the idea of greater “parliamentarization” by giving the president the power to call for new elections (though I would also like the legislature to have that power, as in parliamentary systems).

I’m not particularly a fan of semi-presidential systems. But it seems what is being discussed here is not a semi-presidential system, if Greg’s right that the prime minister (as in Peru) would be merely window dressing. 

However, one virtue of the existing Chilean system is that it encourages (or, some might say, forces) coalition governments. For better or worse, the binomial system has neatly divided Chile into two blocks: Christian Democrats and Socialists vs. Conservatives. I would worry that a list-PR electoral system combined with presidentialism would produce either weak executives or "delegative" executives.

Parliamentarized presidentialism worked well in Bolivia. It diffused extreme polarization in the 1980s and allowed for broad coalition governments that could govern effectively. It broke down in the late 1990s. Partly (as many journalistic observers argue) because of broad rejection of neoliberalism and/or lack of faith in the traditional (or “systemic”) parties. However, as I argue in my work (expanded upon in my dissertation), a major contributing factor was the adoption of a mixed-member electoral system.

Chile should reform its system, which his not fairly representative. But it should retain institutional levers that encourage coalition formation—especially if it allows for coalition-building to be more fluid than it currently is.

Presidential re-election in Latin America

From Two Weeks Notice:

Michael Penfold (who is critical of Hugo Chávez) has an interesting look at Henrique Capriles Radonski and the Venezuelan opposition in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Beyond the Venezuelan political context, however, he makes the following point:

Incumbents in Latin America rarely lose reelection bids. In the last three decades, there have been only two: Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Hipólito Mejía in the Dominican Republic.

Is this true? Augusto Pinochet lost his referendum to remain president, though it was not a re-election bid because he’d never been elected in the first place. In some countries, like Mexico and democratic Chile, presidents either can only serve one term or must wait one term before running again (thus making it impossible to be an incumbent).

Latin American presidents who might have lost a re-election bid have tended to resign or otherwise leave office (sometimes by force) before facing voters. Or they simply steal the election. Alberto Fujimori did both—he stole an election and then later resigned. The lack of a no-confidence vote means a string of coups, coup attempts, and forced resignations. Overall, it’s a pretty depressing statistic.

Probably a good time to revisit Juan Linz’s criticism of presidentialism, eh?

Populism in (Latin) America

NPR has a recent story on “America’s love affair with nationalism" that made me instantly think about my course on populism in Latin America. As someone who teaches comparative politics at an American public university, I frequently have to convince my audience (students) that understanding other countries is not just interesting in its own right, but because we can honestly learn something about our own country by understanding broader political, social, and economic phenomena beyond our borders.

My own interest in understanding populism—which stems primarily from a political sociology perspective coupled with my interest in modern democratic theory—makes me look at contemporary American politics through a very different perspective.

For example: Did you know that studies of Latin American politics suggest that presidential democracy has significant structural flaws that contribute to frequent cycles of democratic “breakdowns” (see, for example, Juan Linz’s seminal The Failure of Presidential Democracy)? I often wonder what a better appreciation of those lessons would do to political discourse in the United States.

If you want an eye-opening understanding of what populism is—and how it can be both a positive and negative force for democratic stability—you may want to check out some of the readings on my populism course syllabus. In particular, I recommend the edited volume Populism and the Mirror of Democracy. There’s a reason why both Hugo Chávez & Sarah Palin are huge social media users. (Also, did you know Hugo Chávez has his own television show—Aló Presidente—from which he does most of his governing?)