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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Nor are those about to judge her morally qualified: But the Brazilian episode is of greater significance.

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

presidentialissm The current Brazilian arrangement is a US-like presidency on steroids. Skip to main content. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, aged 90 and chosen only by Parliament, proved to be the only juann with sufficient authority to manage his country’s domestic political meltdown over the past few years. 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.

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. 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.

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. And these charges are in themselves fairly spurious: 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.

Prime ministers are invariably used as scapegoats for French presidents and, as a result, they either plot how to become presidents themselves, or try to discredit the president instead.

The saddest current example of a similar clash between Parliament and a directly elected president is, of course, Venezuela.


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. And that’s a condition which exists in other countries as well, giving rise to constitutional difficulties which can lie dormant for decades, until they suddenly erupt, paralysing the life of nations.

At least half of Brazil’s legislators are suspected of corruption.

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”. France has had a powerful executive presidency since the late s, and has frequently paid the price: The lesson seems to be that directly elected strong presidencies imply long-term constitutional changes which are often unpredictable, and frequently unwelcome. 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.

Interestingly, however, the temptation to view a directly elected head of state as peris highest form of democracy has proven irresistible in some European countries as well.

But the late Prof Linz’s warnings were prophetic. 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”.

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

Ms Rousseff has been found guilty of no crime; her suspension merely allows legislators thr evaluate charges against her. Ireland is such a case. Still, just the question of electing a ceremonial head of state by a popular vote creates its own difficulties.

But unlike the US, where Congress has always been dominated by only two parties, the Brazilian Congress is home to over 30 parties, with none of the Jan traditions of mediating disputes between Parliament and head of state. 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 perils of ‘presidentialism’

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. 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.


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. Nobody listened to him then, as one Latin American country after another rushed to create directly elected presidencies. Most of these constitutional difficulties were actually predicted from the time Latin America emerged from its latest bout of military dictatorship during the s.

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. There are examples when a ceremonial but directly elected head of state works very well with an all-powerful parliamentary government: Candidates for such ceremonial presidencies have little to say during their electoral campaigns apart, perhaps, from promising to cut ribbons in a better way than their opponents.

Countries which elect their presidents indirectly through Parliament are not immune to problems: The Brazilian crisis is a classic example of what happens when the vanity and incompetence of politicians collides with the reality of a poorly written Constitution.

Still, her defiance came to nothing: 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.

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: She is accused of “manipulating” national accounts, allegedly in order to mask the country’s true economic conditions.

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: Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles.

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 or.