Must-Read: Juan Linz’s “The Perils of Presidentialism” is a rather good analysis of Richard Nixon and his situation, but a rather bad analysis of. Juan Linz is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Social and Political Science Dylan Matthews: When you wrote “The Perils of Presidentialism,” the. institutions can be fatal to democratic politics, especially during a transition to democracy, or so Juan Linz () and others (Riggs ; Stepan and Skatch.

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Most of these constitutional difficulties were actually predicted from the time Latin America emerged from its latest bout of military dictatorship during the s. And these charges are in themselves fairly spurious: She is accused of “manipulating” national accounts, allegedly in order to mask the country’s true economic conditions.

And Greeks should congratulate themselves for having a president who is not directly elected; given the country’s terrible economic conditions, direct elections for a Greek head of state would have resulted in the rise of an extremist populist, precisely what is happening in another European country, Austria.

The lesson seems to be that directly elected strong presidencies imply long-term constitutional changes which are often unpredictable, and frequently unwelcome. The current Brazilian arrangement oresidentialism a US-like presidency on steroids.

The perils of ‘presidentialism’, Opinion News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Still, her defiance came to nothing: And in other European countries such as Poland, or the Czech Republic which only recently introduced direct elections for its presidency, frequent clashes between governments and presidents are the staple fare for all politicians, and take more time than debating new legislation. A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times ths May 23,with the headline ‘The perils of ‘presidentialism”.

In short, Brazil’s first woman president lost office as a result of political manoeuvring, one made worse by a faulty constitutional system. Skip to main content.

The perils of ‘presidentialism’

She forgot that, regardless of the direct electoral mandate she enjoyed, the Brazilian Congress possessed another power copied from the US – that of being able to impeach her, to remove pdrils from office.

It was then that Professor Juan Linz, a distinguished Latin American expert and political science academic at Yale University, wrote his seminal works, warnings against “the perils of presidentialism”.

Nevertheless, it is striking that European states in which heads of state have limited powers and are not elected or are elected indirectly have tended to do better in handling national crises.

A recent study from the German Institute for Global and Area Studies concludes that the problems of strong “presidentialism” in Latin America are here to stay; “the probability of a blanket change to parliamentary democracy is close to zero”, claims the report.

It acts as a reminder of the perils and limitations of constitutional systems in which both the head of state and the Parliament are directly elected, potentially blurring the distinction between the powers of the two.

And, far from being the most perfect example of democracy in action, ceremonial presidents who are directly elected are also less able to handle real national crises, in comparison with heads of state who may be indirectly elected, but who can tower over the rest through the sheer force of their exemplary personal conduct.


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When presidents and prime ministers belong to different parties, France is often in the awkward position of being represented by two people at various European Union meetings. Two out of the 11 presidents chosen by the German Parliament since World War II had od resign from office because their conduct was called into pegils. Countries which elect their presidents indirectly through Parliament are not immune tbe problems: Ms Rousseff has been found guilty of no crime; her suspension merely allows legislators to evaluate charges against her.

France has had a powerful executive presidency since the late s, and has frequently paid the price: Prime ministers are invariably used as perlis for French presidents and, as a result, they either plot how to become presidents themselves, or try to discredit the president instead. Sadly, however, that’s the exception rather than the rule, for the reality is that in many other Latin American countries, the clash over “hyper-presidentialism”, between all-powerful presidents and resentful Parliaments, is endemic.

But unlike the US, where Congress has presidentjalism been dominated by only two parties, the Brazilian Congress is home to over 30 parties, with none of the US traditions of mediating disputes between Parliament and head of state. The person is not only head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but also appoints all Cabinet ministers and can even issue laws.

And there are a few examples where an executive and elected head of state slowly accepts that he has to share more powers with Parliament: Nobody listened to him then, as one Latin American country after another rushed to create directly elected presidencies. That’s what happened when Finland joined the European Union and the country’s president accepted that the prime minister would represent it in daily European Union activities.

There are examples when a ceremonial but directly elected head of state works very well with an all-powerful parliamentary government: Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, aged 90 and chosen only by Parliament, proved to be the only person with sufficient authority to manage his country’s domestic ghe meltdown over the past few years. After the party of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was defeated in the legislative elections last December, Mr Maduro simply packed the country’s constitutional court with new judges who proceeded to approve the President’s decision to ignore Parliament altogether.

Prof Linz cautioned Latin America against ignoring this model and going instead for a directly elected powerful presidency, because he believed that this would generate trouble with Parliaments, which will be competing for the same popular legitimacy.

Ireland is such a case. His was an undiplomatic but understandable admission of frustration, shared by many in Latin America. At least half of Brazil’s legislators are suspected of corruption.


Ms Rousseff was impeached and suspended from office by the Brazilian Congress. Ultimately, Ms Rousseff fell because she was a poor communicator and proved incapable of engaging with her Congress. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs. Still, just the question of electing a ceremonial head of state by a popular vote creates its own difficulties.

But the late Perilw Linz’s warnings were prophetic. And that’s a condition which exists in other countries as well, giving rise to constitutional difficulties which can presidentialisn dormant for decades, until they suddenly erupt, paralysing the life of nations. Interestingly, however, the temptation to view a directly elected head of state as the highest form of democracy has proven irresistible in some European countries as well.

Prof Linz observed that most of the stable regimes in Europe and Britain’s former colonies around the world are parliamentary systems in which the president performs just ceremonial duties and is therefore not elected directly, but chosen indirectly through some parliamentary procedure. King Felipe VI is the only man with the legitimacy to keep Spain on a steady course, as the country staggered on without a government over the past six months, and now faces fresh elections.

So they are tempted instead to pledge things over which they have no responsibility, such as promising to “improve the economy”, something which they can’t deliver. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles.

Nor are those about presidenntialism judge her morally qualified: Candidates for such ceremonial presidencies have little to say during their electoral campaigns apart, perhaps, from promising juah cut ribbons in a better way than their opponents.

One would have thought that a country which has experienced six Constitutions and three military coups in one century would be extra careful about distributing political power, but Brazil’s current Constitution gives the nation’s president huge prerogatives: And monarchies, which don’t elect a head of state at all, offer no automatic guarantee against bad governance either. It is tempting to argue that Brazil is an isolated case; in neighbouring Argentina, an equally vast Latin American country, power was recently transferred from one directly elected president to another smoothly.

The fact that the leader of the world’s seventh-biggest economy could be pushed out of office in this way is noteworthy in itself. The saddest current example of a similar clash between Parliament and a directly elected president is, of course, Venezuela.

The result is utter chaos and a constitutional disintegration, which ultimately seems likely to be resolved only by a revolution or a coup, and neither is likely to be bloodless. Still, Professor Detlief Nolte and Dr Mariana Llanos, the authors of the study, are right to point out that what happens in Latin America now is “relevant to policymakers and scholars beyond this region”.