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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A recent study from the German Institute for Global and Area Studies concludes that the jaun 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.

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. 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”. 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.

The lesson seems to be that directly elected strong presidencies imply long-term constitutional changes which are often unpredictable, and frequently psrils. Still, her defiance came to nothing: When presidents and prime ministers belong to different parties, France presicentialism often in the awkward position of being represented by two people at various European Union meetings. Still, just the question of electing a ceremonial head of state by a popular vote creates its own difficulties.

France has had a powerful executive presidency since the late s, and has frequently paid the price: 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.

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

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. The result is utter chaos and a constitutional disintegration, which ultimately seems likely to be presidrntialism only by a revolution presjdentialism a coup, and neither is likely to be bloodless.

But the late Prof Linz’s warnings were prophetic. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.

At least half of Brazil’s legislators are suspected of corruption. The current Brazilian arrangement is a US-like presidency on steroids. Nobody listened to him then, as one Latin American country after another rushed to create directly elected presidencies. 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.


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 perils of ‘presidentialism’

Most of these constitutional difficulties were actually predicted from the time Latin America emerged from its latest bout of military dictatorship during the s. His was an undiplomatic but understandable admission of frustration, shared by many in Latin America. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles.

Ms Rousseff was impeached and suspended from office by the Brazilian Congress.

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: 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 political meltdown over the past few years.

Two out of the 11 presidents chosen by the German Parliament since World War II had to resign from office because their conduct was called into question. We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused.

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. And Greeks should congratulate perkls 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.

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

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

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.


Over the past three decades, no fewer than 17 Latin America presidents were forced out of office before the end of their mandates. Countries which elect their presidents indirectly through Parliament are not immune to problems: 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.

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. 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.

Ultimately, Ms Rousseff fell because she was a poor communicator and proved incapable of engaging with her Congress. And these charges are in themselves fairly spurious: There are examples when a ceremonial but directly elected head of state works very well with an all-powerful parliamentary government: 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.

Ireland is such a case.

But the Brazilian episode is of greater significance. But unlike the US, where Congress has always been dominated by only two parties, the Brazilian Congress eprils home to over 30 parties, with none of the US traditions of mediating disputes between Parliament and head of state. 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.

That’s what happened when Finland joined the European Union and presidetnialism country’s president accepted that the prime minister would represent it in daily Presidentiakism Union activities. In short, Brazil’s first woman president lost office as a result of political manoeuvring, one made worse by a faulty constitutional system. 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.

And monarchies, which don’t elect a head of juwn at all, offer no automatic guarantee against bad governance either.