II. Latin America

Latin American Politics Before and Beyond the Commodity Crisis: Representation, Institutional Design and Political Cycles

Introduction

Latin America’s recent history has seen many recurring economic and institutional crises. Since the transitions to democracy, this region has experienced periods of expansion and recession, as well as multiple political phenomena: the rise of neoliberalism, populism, crises of representation and both right and left turns. Sometimes political changes have been closely linked with economic cycles; in other cases they have been the result of internal situations such as institutional crises or domestic tensions.

Its heterogeneity makes Latin America an interesting region for study. Analysis of its evolution through recent decades until the present - drawing together its institutional designs, economic cycles and political dynamics - permits the construction of a complex map where ideology becomes a relevant and controversial variable. The meanings of ‘left’ and ‘right’ and, above all. their importance to the study of Latin American politics have often been questioned in the scholarly literature (Dix 1989; Ruiz-Rodriguez 2000; Torcal and Mainwaring 2003); left and right are seen as fuzzy categories that do not always permit easy or correct comparisons.

However, there is empirical evidence to suggest that Latin American voters and politicians are ideologised to a relatively high degree, and rather consistently beatable on the left-right axis (Alcantara 2004; Colomer and Escatel 2005; Alcantara and Rivas 2007). Beyond particular nuances among countries, surveys of elites and public opinion show that both have integrated the concepts of left and right into their cognitive schemas. And, as a consequence, these categories are useful to understanding and classifying political cycles in terms of left and right turns.

In this sense, the aim of this chapter is to describe Latin American politics before and beyond the so-called commodity crisis. In order to do so, this chapter begins by examining the particular institutional design of each country, focusing attention on electoral and party systems. After that general overview, the left and right dimensions are introduced, through a double approach: first, from a theoretical perspective, to reflect on the meaning of those concepts in Latin American politics; and second, through the provision of data on political polarisation. This information is then connected with economic cycles, with the purpose of studying the influence of the crisis in political cycles. Specifically, the effect on the left-right axis will be measured using data provided by the Parliamentary Elites in Latin America Surveys (PELA) project from the University of Salamanca.

Overview of Institutional Designs: A Comparative Perspective

Understanding Latin American political cycles, the meaning of left and right in the region or the impact of economic crises on politics will require, first and foremost, recognition of the institutional systems in which these phenomena and dynamics occur. In that sense, it is worth underlining that the third wave of democratisation established the basis for a new order, and this required the design of new rules and institutions.1

Even as each country has followed its own path, and despite occasional backlashes (such as the 2009 coup in Honduras), a democratic culture has taken root throughout Latin America, suggesting the arrival of a certain measure of governmental stability (Biekart 2014). Thus, since the arrival of democracy, Latin America’s political development process has been steady, and political reforms have been undertaken in a more systematic way (Hago- pian and Mainwaring 2005; Shixue 2010).

The establishment of governmental institutions and electoral systems has proven conducive to the legitimation of the new democracies. A procedural democracy was instituted for guaranteeing free and clean elections and for impeding non-elected actors from imposing their will on an elected government. As a result, a complex system of institutions and rules has become well established. Among these institutions, electoral laws and party systems occupy a significant position in terms of representation and political articulation.

Electoral Systems

In spite of differences among countries in terms of the quality of democracy or political performance, the celebration of free and competitive elections has been constant in the region. While military governments and dictatorships were the norm in the 1960s and 1970s,2 today elected governments rule in every Latin American country except Cuba and Haiti. In country after country, effective competition has been guaranteed, even where electoral laws have been modified over time.

Electoral systems are important because their design influences the configuration of party systems and political cycles. Moreover, electoral systems are closely linked to other aspects of constitutional design. For example, Shugart and Carey (1992) have looked at how the rules for electing a president and the timing of parliamentary and presidential elections interact with the choice of the electoral system to produce political consequences. A body of evidence has further been gathered in support of the notion that electoral systems reflect party calculations (Colomer 2016). In order to better consider all these possible effects, Table 8.1 lays out the main characteristics of the Latin American electoral systems.

Country

Coincidence

Chamber renewed by half

Seats

Size of electoral district“

Voting

system

List

form

Argentina

(1983-93)

Mixed

Yes

254

11

Proportional

Closed

Argentina

(1995-2015)

Mixed

Yes

257

10.7

Proportional

Closed

Bolivia

No

No

130

1.59

Mixed

Closed

Brazil

Yes

No

513

19

Proportional

Open

Chile

No

No

120

2

Proportional

Free

Colombia

(1982-2002)

No

No

166

4.9

Proportional

Closed

Colombia

(2006-15)

No

No

166

4.74

Proportional

Multiple

Costa Rica

Yes

No

57

7

Proportional

Closed

Dominican

Republic

No

No

183

10.76

Proportional

Free

Ecuador

(1996)

Yes

No

82

3.73

Proportional

Closed

Ecuador

(1998)

Yes

No

121

5.5

Proportional

Open

Ecuador

(2002-6)

No

No

100

4.55

Proportional

Open

Ecuador

(2009-15)

Yes

No

124

5.64

Proportional

Open

El Salvador

No

No

84

6

Proportional

Closed

Guatemala

Yes

No

158

6.54

Proportional

Closed

Honduras

Yes

No

128

8

Proportional

Closed

Mexico

Mixed

No

500

1.64

Mixed

Closed

Nicaragua

Yes

No

90

5

Proportional

Closed

Panama

Yes

No

71

1.82

Mixed

Free

Paraguay

Yes

No

80

4.44

Proportional

Closed

Peru

No

No

120

4.76

Proportional

Free

Uruguay

Yes

No

99

5.21

Proportional

Closed

Venezuela

No

No

165

6.11

Mixed

Closed

Source: Barragan (2015).

a Median. Number of elected deputies per electoral district (average value).

Figure 8.1 measures the percentage of legislative and executive elections that have been held simultaneously. Results show that for the majority of cases, citizens have voted for their representatives and executive authorities at the same time. Considering the ‘carry-over effect’, Figure 8.1 also shows a very interesting phenomenon: before a crisis, the greater percentage of simultaneous elections provided a majority for the president’s party in Congress; after a crisis, that tendency changed. Consequently, presidents elected after 2014 have had to govern with legislative chambers run by the opposition.

Other important variables are the criteria for representation and the list form. Regarding the first, the majority of countries adopted proportional systems following their transitions to democracy.3 In that sense, Latin American electoral systems tend to favour proportionality over efficacy (Alcantara and Freidenberg 2006). As a result of this criterion for representation, if a president’s electoral support is not strong enough, legislatures may show high levels of fragmentation, which gives rise to instability and complicates effective decision making.

Party System Format

Party Systems in Latin America

The old stereotype that described the region’s party systems as excessively pragmatic, clientelistic, personalistic, volatile and weak has been overcome. However, parties and party systems have evolved by different degrees since

Simultaneous legislative and executive elections in Latin America (%) and the ‘carry-over effect’ of simultaneous elections (1978-2018)

Figure 8.1 Simultaneous legislative and executive elections in Latin America (%) and the ‘carry-over effect’ of simultaneous elections (1978-2018).

Source: Own elaboration based upon data from the Latin American Electoral Courts.

the transitions to democracy: at the advent, traditional parties dominated politics in most of the region, but over time established political parties began to lose staying power (Lupu 2016). On the one hand, the rise of personalism and populism have favoured the emergence of new parties and electoral platforms; on the other hand, successive political and economic crises have benefited from the arrival of new parties.

In this way, with the exception of Bolivia and Ecuador, Latin American party systems have maintained or increased the effective number of parties since the arrival of democracy (Table 8.2). The increase of fragmentation can be attributed to various factors (Alcantara and Freidenberg 2006), including the emergence of different ideological trends inside of party systems. Also, new groups (guerrilla, indigenous, militia or social movements) have been incorporated into institutional systems. Finally, a pessimistic approach tries to explain the increase of fragmentation by way of personalism and internal struggles within parties.

As a general tendency, the effective number of parliamentary parties increased until the period between 2000 and 2006. In spite of the permanence of some historical parties - for example, the Partido Aprista in Peru, or the Union Civica Radical in Argentina - after transitions to democracy, new parties were indeed incorporated into party systems - Frente Sandinista de Liberation Nacional (Nicaragua), Frente Faribundo Marti para la Libera- cion Nacional (El Salvador), Movimiento Unidad Plurinacional Pachakutik (Ecuador) - and have remained viable over time.

On the opposite side, other traditional parties have disappeared Democracia Cristiana Guatemalteca (Guatemala), Movimiento Popular Democratico (Ecuador), Partido Socialista (Bolivia) - while others had a relatively short life - Cambio Radical (Peru), Action de Desarrollo Nacional (Guatemala), Clase Media Revolucionaria (Venezuela) and Movimiento Fuerza Ecuador (Ecuador). In some cases, these parties were only electoral platforms without any pretension of continuity, but, in others, electoral failure caused their extinction.

However, the arrival of the four strongest leaders of the region - Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Lula da Silva (Brazil) - reversed the situation and, for the first time since the transition to democracy, the number of parties decreased considerably. Only a few new parties have emerged in Latin American politics since the 2000-6 period, including the Movimiento Regeneration Nacional (Mexico) and the Partido Libertad у Refundacion (Honduras).

This suggests that a regional left turn transformed party systems, and that some presidential parties became quasi-hegemonic forces in a context of high polarisation and low fragmentation. The subsequent outbreak of economic crisis seems not to have changed that tendency: alternation of power has transpired with opposition candidates and new parties have not appeared. The only exception here is Venezuela, where opposition forces have indeed emerged, even achieving a majority in parliament.

Country

1978-81

1982-6

1987-90

1991-5

1996-2000

2001-5

2006-10

2011-16

Argentina3

-

2.2

2.4

2.8

2.8

3.2

2.9

2.9

3.3

3.4

3.5

3.5

Bolivia

-

4.3

3.9

3.7

5.4

5.0

2.1

1.9

Brazil

-

2.8

8.7

8.2

7.1

8.5

9.5

10.4

Chile

-

-

5.1

5.0

5.3

6.0

5.6

5.4

Colombia

-

1.9

2.2

2.8

2.9

6.9

7.6

5.0

Costa Rica

2.3

2.3

2.2

2.3

2.6

3.7

3.3

3.9

Dominican

Republic

3.1

2.4

2.3

2.5

2.7

2.0

Ecuador

4.0

6.9

5.5

6.2

5.0

7.5

4.8

1.8

El Salvador

-

2.6

2.4

3.0

3.7

3.6

3.0

2.9

Guatemala

-

3.0

4.4

3.1

2.4

4.6

4.9

5.6

Honduras

2.2

2.1

2.0

2.0

2.2

2.4

2.3

Mexico

-

-

-

2.2

2.7

3.0

3.5

3.2

Nicaragua

-

2.3

2.1

-

2.7

-

3.1

1.6

Panama

-

-

-

4.3

3.3

2.9

3.7

3.0

Paraguay

-

-

1.9

2.5

2.0

3.2

3.9

2.2

Peru

2.5

2.3

4.0

2.9

3.8

4.4

3.8

4.0

Uruguay

-

2.9

3.3

3.3

3.1

2.4

2.7

2.6

Venezuela

2.6

2.4

2.8

4.7

6.1

3.4

2.0

5.6

Average

2.7

3.2

3.5

3.6

3.8

4.3

4

3.8

Source: Own elaboration based upon data from the Latin American Electoral Courts.

a Argentina holds midterm elections. We calculate the elfeclive number of parliamentary parlies for each election.

 
Source
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