's Comparative Politics/Latin American Case Studies


by ACE, the Election Knowledge Network

On December 10, 1983, Argentina returned to democracy after almost eight years of authoritarian rule, and since then has had free and fair elections. When Alfonsín transferred the presidential sash to Carlos Saúl Menem in 1989 it was the first time in Argentinean history that a fairly elected president from one party transferred the presidency to a fairly elected president of another party.

In April 1994 elections were held to form a Constituent Assembly. Among the many amendments to the 1853 Constitution were provisions for presidential reelection, reduction of the president's term, abolition of the electoral college system, and the adoption of a second round of voting under certain circumstances. The presidential term was reduced from six to four years, and a second round of voting will be required if no candidate receives at least 45 per cent of the vote in the first round or if the winner has 40 per cent of the vote but a margin of victory over the second-place candidate of less than 10 percent. However, the reform did not touch some of the prominent features of Argentinean electoral system - strong federalism, proportional representation (PR), see List PR, closed-list ballots, see Open, Closed and Free Lists, and a threshold of three per cent of the electoral register in each district.

Under the new constitution the president, who is chief of state and head of government, is directly elected for a four-year term by universal adult suffrage. The National Congress (Congreso de la nación) has two chambers. The Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) has 257 members elected for a four-year term by proportional representation, with half of the seats renewed every two years. They are eligible for re-election. Prior to the reform, senators were indirectly elected for a nine-year term by the provincial legislatures. Now the members of the Senate are elected in 25 three-seat electoral districts (24 provinces and the city of Buenos Aires) for a six-year term, with one-third renewed every two years. Each of the 25 electoral districts chooses three senators directly. Two seats are awarded to the most-voted party and one to the second-largest party. Governors, Municipal Mayors, and local authorities are elected according to their provincial or municipal constitutions.

Deputies are still elected by closed lists, which means that citizens are not allowed to change the order of candidates or to cross out names on the list. Moreover, most parties use closed primaries to select and order their lists. Rank and file and party elites therefore have an important impact on legislators' behavior.

Each of the 25 electoral districts has its own electoral laws. Nonetheless, it is remarkable that eleven provinces practice the "double simultaneous vote," as in Uruguay. This law allows simultaneous intra- and inter-party competition. Political parties present several candidates who compete against one another but whose votes are added together to define which party pooled the most votes. The winner is the most-voted candidate in the most-voted party.

Two partisan and institutional features contributed to the success of Argentinean democracy from democratization in 1983 to the 1994 constitutional reform. First, the two-party system ensured that the president would have a sizable bloc of legislators in congress. Second, these legislators practiced a moderate to high level of discipline, enabling presidents to pass legislation with relative ease.

Nonetheless, four additional elements that triggered the reform of 1994 were undermining the performance of the democratic system. First, the federal government controlled the flow of resources from the central government to the provinces. Second, the capacity of the president to interfere with the judicial branch undermined the system of checks and balances. Third, the closed party lists for legislative elections produced a great deal of discomfort among citizens who claimed that legislators were more loyal to party leaders than to their constituents' problems. Finally, the abuse of presidential decrees of necessity and urgency weakened the congress' ability to check the executive.

The reform of the 1853 constitution in August 1994 was the result of an extra-parliamentary agreement known as the "Pacto de Olivos" signed between Menem and former president Raúl Alfonsín. On the one hand, Menem's major objective was reelection, and it was achieved. On the other hand, Alfonsín objectives were more diffuse and difficult to understand. In essence he wanted to give a more pronounced parliamentarian style to Argentinean politics. This is why the "chief of cabinet" was created: an official who could be removed by the congress. Neverthless, the creation of this office did not reduce the high concentration of power in the presidency.

In May 1995 President Menem secured re-election with 49.8 per cent of the vote, but a major transformation occurred in the party system: a third force, FREPASO, came in second place with 29.3 per cent of the vote, leaving the Radicals in a historically low third place with 17 per cent of the votes.

In the legislative elections of October 1997 the opposition Radicals and FREPASO built a coalition called "Alianza" in many provinces to defeat the Peronist party. As a result of these elections, not only were the Peronists defeated in the largest provinces, but they also lost control of the province of Buenos Aires, where almost 40 per cent of all Argentinean citizens live. The leader of FREPASO, Graciela Fernández Mejide, a human rights activist, became the most serious challenger for the yet-unknown Peronist party candidate for the 1999 presidential race.

The 1997 legislative elections raised an important question about Argentina's political future. The incumbent Peronist party lost almost 10 percent of its support and its majority in the lower chamber, thus it will have to strike deals with the opposition if it is to pass legislation.

Bolivia: Electoral Reform in Latin AmericaEdit

by ACE, the Election Knowledge Network

Bolivia's democratic experience has been characterized by the search for ways to solve the basic problem of Latin American presidential regimes, which have regularly slipped into stalemates between executives and legislatures led by minority governments. Most presidential systems in Latin America pose the fundamental problem that they are embedded in multi-party systems with proportional representation; this has been defined as the "difficult equation of presidentialism", and has been a permanent source of political conflicts which has adversely affected the chances of democratic consolidation.

In Bolivia the problem has been partly solved through a basic institutional shift from "presidentialism" with minority governments to a "parliamentarized presidentialism" based on majority governments. This distinctive system of government is a "mestizo child", with both parliamentary and presidentialist features. It is presidentialist because the president serves for a fixed term and, even though chosen by Congress, does not depend on its continuing confidence. But it is "parliamentarised" because the president is chosen by the legislature on the basis of post-electoral bargaining, so ensuring majority legislative support and the compatibility of executive and legislative powers. The mainspring of the system is a dynamic common in parliamentary regimes: the politics of coalition.

Like parties everywhere, Bolivian parties strive to maximize their respective vote shares, but they do not expect popular balloting to be the last stage of arbitration. Rather, they focus on post-electoral bargaining, and it is this that will determine who actually ends up in the congressional majority and with the executive power. The dominant pattern has been that of coordinated congressional and government coalitions, which has enhanced both the stability of the executive authority and the compatibility of executive and legislative powers.

Since the resumption of "free and fair" elections in 1979, the Bolivian party system, which evolved from a highly fragmented one to a moderate multi-party system of six effective parties, has proved unable to produce a single predominant party, or even alternating majorities. Thus, Article 90 of the Constitution, the guiding principle for the electoral system, has defined the normal method for choosing the president. It makes no explicit provision for political pacts, but it is its requirement that presidents be chosen by Congress when no single candidate wins a majority of the popular vote that has created broad scope for bargaining and coalition-building among political parties.

One key dimension of Bolivian "parliamentarised presidentialism" is the List PR electoral system. In fact, throughout the 1980s and early 1990s the electoral system helped reinforce the patterns of inter-party competition and coalition building, but the system also had many shortcomings and was prone to fraud and manipulation. One of the crucial issues of democratic stability and legitimacy has been the establishment of coherent rules of the game. The Bolivian electoral reforms in 1986, 1991, and 1994 were characterized by short-term calculations and contingent reactions to political pressures, and not by research or deliberate political engineering. Moreover, party leaderships lacked experience and were unable to develop a coherent reform strategy. The result was that the elections in 1985, 1989, and 1993 were all held under different PR formulas. The D'Hondt formula, introduced in 1956, was replaced in 1986 by a so-called double quotient of participation and allocation of seats, which hindered the access of small parties to Congress. In 1989 a further change established the Sainte-Lagu formula for the presidential and parliamentary elections in 1993, which encouraged, in turn, the representation of very small parties.

Nevertheless, the first wave of weighty changes had paradoxically less to do with the change of the prevailing PR system than with the establishment of an autonomous Electoral Court, the adoption of on-site vote validation of ballots at polling places, and the abolition of mechanisms that made it possible for regional electoral courts to distort results. However, the constitutional reform of August 1994 introduced a second wave of changes, and brought about the most major shift in the PR system so far by introducing, with some modifications, the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system of Germany and New Zealand. At first this revision led to the "contradictory" adoption of parallel First Past the Post (FPTP) and PR systems - basically, a mixed PR system in terms of voting criteria but not in terms of outcomes.

Thus in August 1996, Congress had to pass a new law concerning the application of Article 60 of the Constitution to remove some obvious defects. It re-established the D'Hondt formula of PR and created a three-percent threshold for seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Henceforth, 68 deputies out of a constitutionally-fixed number of 130 will be chosen by FPTP voting in single-member districts, while the remainder will be chosen by party list voting according to proportional representation, in nine regional multi-member districts. Unlike Germany and Venezuela, there is no provision for additional seats. Seats are allocated directly to candidates winning in single-member districts, even if a party wins in only one district and obtains no PR seats. As in Germany, the overall distribution of seats, however, will be decided by applying the PR formula in a compensatory fashion, with a three-percent threshold for representation at the national level. If a party wins 10 seats through the overall List PR voting, and five seats in single-member districts, it is ultimately entitled to ten parliamentary seats.

The most striking phenomenon in the Bolivian experience of electoral reform has been the use of democratic procedures and mechanisms. Reforms were discussed in multi-party commissions and reaching multi-party consensus was a sine qua non condition for congressional approval. No referendum was called because the Bolivian Constitution does not allow this mechanism of legitimization. From 1989 through 1992, inter-party debate unfolded around two key proposals, which were, in turn, rejected. The Acción Democrática Nacionalista and the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria advocated plurality for presidential elections, so that the Congress would only have confirmed the candidate winning the plurality of votes; meanwhile, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) proposed the French-style Two-Round (majority-runoff) System (TRS). Both proposals started from the premise that the congressional election of presidents through party bargaining did not respect the people's will, and decisions were taken behind closed doors; people voted, but did not choose the president.

A consensus was finally reached based on the MNR's proposal to adopt an MMP system for the legislature and, furthermore, to reduce the number of presidential candidates able to obtain a plurality of votes at the parliamentary election from three to two, and to establish a five-year mandate for the president, the vice-president, and members of parliament. The real shift to MMP-style PR stemmed from discontent with vote manipulation in the 1989 general election, but the specific causes of the reforms were three-fold: the concern about a process of de-legitimization of party representation because closed party lists weakened the links between MPs and voters; the disillusionment of citizens with a lack of political responsiveness and accountability of governing parties; and finally a desire to reduce the growing alienation between parties and society by fostering constituency representation.

In the presidential and parliamentary elections of June 1997, these electoral reforms did not have the effects expected, as the party system became more fragmented and polarized than the one elected in 1993. For example, in 1993 the largest party won 35.6 percent of the vote; in 1997, the largest party - a different one - won only 22.3 percent. Only seven parties won seats in 1997, compared to nine in 1993, but the delegations were much more equal in size, making for a significantly more fragmented congress. There were three reasons for this unexpected outcome. First, the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) of incumbent president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada lost nearly half of its share of the vote, depriving it of its temporary dominant position vis-a-vis its competitors. Second, in 1993 the MNR's two principal rivals, AND and MIR, were joined in an alliance called the Patriotic Accord; before 1997 this pact broke apart, and ADN and MIR ran separate presidential candidates and presented separate congressional lists. It is tempting to argue that there would have been fewer parties if these two events had not transpired; however, the MMP electoral system actually appears to have worsened the fragmentation. Due to the unusually high degree of regional concentration of party support, more parties (seven) won seats in the new single-member districts than in the multimember districts (five parties). Overall, the new parties were more personalist than before, but it is difficult to attribute this outcome to the mixed electoral system, as many of the personalist deputies were elected by PR.

Brazil: Candidate-Centred PR in a Presidential SystemEdit

by ACE, the tion ElecKnowledge Network

In 2002 Brazilians went to the polls to choose a new president, the members of the bicameral national legislature, governors for the component parts of the federation (26 states plus the Federal District of Brasília), and members of the unicameral state legislative assemblies. This was the fourth direct election since the end of the military regime in 1985 of the president and all other major legislative and executive posts.

Presidential elections in Brazil take place under a two-round majority run-off system, with candidates competing for votes throughout the country’s 8,511,965 sq km area. Following a constitutional amendment approved in June 1997, presidents are now allowed to run for re-election once. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the incumbent at the time the amendment was approved, won re-election in 1998 in the first round with 53.1 per cent of the vote. However, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva polled 46 per cent in the first round in 2002 and was elected in the run-off round.

The rules governing legislative elections have remained essentially unchanged since they were first established in 1946. The Senate is the chamber where the regions of Brazil are represented: each of the 27 component parts of the federation is represented by three senators who are elected by plurality for an eight-year term. Membership is renewed every four years by one-third and two-thirds, in alternation: when two senators are to be elected, voters have two votes under a Block Vote (BV) system.

The Chamber of Deputies has 513 members who compete in 27 multi-member electoral districts, corresponding to the 26 states and Brasília. Their magnitude is determined by population, subject to the restriction that no state can have fewer than eight or more than 70 representatives. Elections take place under a system of open-list PR. Each voter has one vote to cast, which can be given to a political party or to an individual. Votes given to candidates from each party are pooled and added to the votes received by that party to give a total party vote, which is used to determine the number of seats to be allocated to each party. The candidates with the most votes on each party list win the seats allocated to that party. Seat allocation has been made under the D’Hondt Formula since 1950. Parties that do not gain a full quota in a district are, however, excluded from gaining a seat. Until 1998 the calculation of the quota was based on the total number of valid and blank votes, making the threshold for representation higher.

Deliberate Malapportionment

The rules for the Chamber of Deputies elections are probably the most controversial element of the Brazilian electoral system. The floor and the ceiling on the size of electoral districts mean that representation in the Chamber in terms of population is uneven across the states. This seriously violates the principle of ‘one person, one vote, one value’ (OPOVOV), as the number of votes necessary to elect one representative in São Paulo, which has over 25 million voters and 70 seats, is ten times higher than it is in Amapá, which has about 290,000 voters and eight seats. The resulting malapportionment benefits the less populous states, which tend to be poorer and more reliant on agriculture, and is disadvantageous to the larger states, which are richer and more industrialized. For this reason it has been blamed as one of the main mechanisms for reinforcing traditionalism in politics and thereby weakening political parties.

However, this needs to be qualified. The only significant loser from malapportionment is the state of São Paulo, where the number of representatives would increase by about 40 if the size of the electoral districts reflected population size strictly. Some other states are marginally under-represented, the second-biggest loss occurring in Minas Gerais (about four representatives). The losses due to malapportionment are therefore concentrated. They also reflect the goals of the makers of the 1946 constitution, who were concerned with finding a formula that would prevent São Paulo (and to a lesser extent Minas Gerais) from dominating the federation as they had done during the period known as the First Republic (1899–1930).

To the extent that malapportionment favours relatively poor states politically, it may help to promote a regional redistribution of wealth that is of no small consequence in a country with such high levels of regional inequality as Brazil.

In addition, the frequent assumption that over-represented states are capable of systematically blocking legislation of national scope remains to be proved. It is not necessarily the case that the pattern of politics that characterizes the over-represented states is any different from the one in the under-represented ones. Clientelistic practices exist in all states, and elections are mass phenomena that generate a high degree of competition. If clientelism characterizes Brazilian politics, malapportionment of the Chamber of Deputies is unlikely to be a significant cause.

Competition Between Parties—and Within Parties

One of the main features of the system of open-list PR for the Chamber of Deputies is that it induces both inter- and intra-party competition. These elections are quite competitive. For example, in 2002 a total of 4,901 candidates stood for the 513 seats in the Chamber. In only nine of the 27 districts were there fewer than 100 candidates; the lowest number was 66 for eight seats in Tocantins. There were 793 candidates for 70 seats from São Paulo, 602 for 46 seats from Rio, and 554 for 53 seats from Minas Gerais. Parties compete with each other. Candidates, seeking to be elected for the seats which their parties gain, compete among themselves for the votes their parties obtain. This is said to lead to personalism, which is considered to be at the root of the weakness of Brazil’s political parties, to clientelistic ties between voters and their representatives, and to a national legislature that is primarily concerned with local rather than national, and clientelistic rather than programmatic, issues.

Again, this view needs to be qualified. First, the view that it is personalism that mainly drives voters’ decisions in elections to the legislature in Brazil is far from well established. Although the proportion of preference votes (when the voter chooses a specific candidate, not simply the party) is far larger than the proportion of party votes, these figures say very little about how voters actually decide. If voters give greater relative weight to the individual than to the party, many voters who vote for a specific candidate would presumably also vote for that candidate even if he or she were to change parties. While no studies have tried to address this issue directly, scattered evidence indicates that representatives who switch parties in the middle of the legislative term are less likely to be re-elected, which suggests that they are not able to carry with them the votes that got them elected in the first place.

Voters and Their Representatives

Even less is known about the ties between voters and their representatives. A great deal of effort has been spent trying to uncover the pattern of clientelism and localized favours that must have served as the basis for a successful electoral campaign and legislative career. Successful candidates, it is said, are those who bring ‘pork’ to their ‘constituency’. In Brazil’s multi-member district system, however, the individual member is one of at least eight representing the district, which makes it difficult to establish the link between a particular member and a new spending project. Even though some candidates may and do try to carve de facto geographic constituencies for themselves, this is not the only, and may not even be the most effective, way of getting into the Chamber of Deputies. One study of the geographical distribution of the votes of successful candidates demonstrates that in 1994 and 1998 only about 17 per cent of representatives adopted such a strategy, that is, were able to obtain the largest share of votes in a cluster of geographically concentrated localities. The others adopted different strategies, such as sharing with competitors a relatively defined geographic area, dominating localities that were distant from each other, or obtaining relatively small shares of their total vote in geographically dispersed areas. Given the level of competition of elections and the lack of legally protected constituencies, it is unlikely that a representative will feel safe about his or her ‘bailiwick’. Indeed, rates of re-election are not very high: estimates put it at around 60 per cent of those who seek re-election. Thus, clientelism does not characterize, at least not exclusively, the ties between representatives and voters.

Does the Electoral System Contribute to Party Fragmentation?

There is much we still need to know about the way in which the system of open-list PR with large electoral districts, such as the one that exists in Brazil, operates. We do know, however, that elections are extremely competitive, that the advantage of incumbency is relatively weak, and that deputies’ relations with their electoral districts differ, so that there is no dominant strategy for a successful candidacy.

The extent in which the electoral system induces clientelism and individualism inside the Chamber of Deputies is at least questionable. While it is beyond the scope of this overview to discuss the mechanisms which the president and the party leaders may use to shape the behaviour of individual deputies, deputies face other pressures in addition to the demands of localized and particularistic constituencies. These pressures are a counterbalance to increased party fragmentation.

Party fragmentation in the Brazilian legislature has been held responsible for a number of the malaises the country has suffered from in the past 15 years. The high degree of fragmentation of the party system is usually attributed to a combination of factors, which include the electoral system and its individualistic tendencies, the characteristics of presidential systems, and the strong federalism adopted by the 1988 constitution.

The degree of fragmentation in the Chamber of Deputies has, however, remained constant, at around eight effective parties, since the 1990 election. Some aspects of the electoral law tend to favour the larger parties and work against fragmentation. Examples include the adding of blank votes to the base on which the electoral quota is calculated (which makes the quota larger and hence more difficult to achieve), and the exclusion of all parties that do not obtain one quota in a district from winning a remainder seat.

The links between presidentialism and party systems are not yet well enough understood. This leaves federalism as a possible cause of fragmentation of the party system. Some of the national parties in Brazil are de facto coalitions of regional parties. Smaller parties emerge out of these coalitions for purely local reasons, thus leading to a multiplication of parties at the national level. Whether this is the real or the only reason why new parties emerge, it remains unclear whether federalism is a cause of fragmentation or simply a reflection of the variety of regional interests that a country as large as Brazil must accommodate in order to operate democratically.

Chile: A System Frozen by Elite InterestsEdit

by ACE, the Knowledge Network

Chile’s electoral system can only be understood in the context of the long period of authoritarian rule under General Augusto Pinochet (1973–90), whose aim was to establish a regime of protected, authoritarian democracy, of which the electoral system was one component. The dictatorship abolished PR, which had been in force prior to the military coup of 11 September 1973. PR was the response to the cleavages in Chile’s social structure since the 19th century and had produced a multiparty system. By the 1960s this had consolidated into six major parties—two on the left (the Socialists and the Communists), two in the centre (the Christian Democrats and the Radicals), and two on the right (the Liberals and the Conservatives, who merged in 1966 to form the National Party).

The Binomial System: a Legacy of Authoritarianism

In Chile’s bicameral constitutional arrangements, the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, consists of 120 members elected for a four-year term, two for each of the 60 electoral districts. The Senate has 38 elected members, two for each of the 19 districts, elected for an eight-year term: there are elections for half of the seats every four years, simultaneously with elections to the Chamber of Deputies. There are in addition nine non-elected members, the ‘institutional’ or ‘designated’ senators, named by the National Security Council (four), the Supreme Court (three) and the president (two), and one ex-officio life member, former President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle. (The original 13 senatorial districts of the 1980 constitution were expanded to 19 in the 1989 constitutional reforms to reduce the power of the non-elected senators.) These arrangements were negotiated by Pinochet and his supporters as they fell from power during the transition to democracy.

Parties, coalitions or independents present lists, normally containing a maximum of two candidates per district, in elections both for the Chamber of Deputies and for the Senate. Voters vote for the candidate of their choice. The first seat goes to whichever list receives the most votes in total: the representative elected is the individual candidate on that list who receives the highest vote. To take both seats, the most successful list must receive twice the number of votes of the second list. This system forces the parties to form electoral coalitions because the effective threshold is very high: 33.4 per cent of the total vote for the top list is required to win one seat. However, a list needs to receive 66.7 per cent of the total vote to be guaranteed both seats.

There are two major electoral coalitions, which in 2001 won all the seats in the Chamber of Deputies except one. The centre–left Concertación por la Democracia is formed by four parties opposed to the Pinochet regime (the Socialists, the Democracy Party, the Christian Democrats and the Radicals) and ruled from the return to democracy in March 1990 up until March 2010. The right-wing opposition Alliance for Chile (the Independent Democrat Union, UDI, and National Renewal, RN) supported the Pinochet regime. In practice the Concertación list contains one candidate from each of two groupings within the coalition, that is, one from the Christian Democrats and another from the Socialists, the Democracy Party and the Radicals. There is no district in which there is competition between the Socialists and the Democracy Party. On the opposition list, the UDI and National Renewal normally present one candidate each in all districts.

The result of this electoral system is that almost all districts return one representative from the Concertación and one from the Alliance for Chile. The system could create competition between the two candidates on a list for the one seat it will win, but in practice even this is severely limited by elite accommodation within both coalitions.

This electoral system is unique because in practice it favours the largest minority, not the majority. It is thus not a majoritarian system. It is a system which uses a proportional mechanism, but the results it produces are not proportional, since it allows an electoral list to take half the seats with only 34 per cent of the votes. The only reason why this distortion has not occurred in practice is the limits to electoral competition.

The electoral system was set up by the military regime following the plebiscite of 5 October 1988. The plebiscite had two goals: to approve the 1980 constitution and to elect General Pinochet as president for a further eight years. In this non-competitive election (there was no other candidate), Pinochet was defeated by the Concertación. This triggered the transition to democracy, with congressional and presidential elections in 1989, the presidential election being won by the opposition candidate Patricio Aylwin (Christian Democrat). The electoral system was designed to favour the two right-wing parties, which had backed Pinochet’s candidacy, in the face of a predictable electoral victory for their opponents.

In the three presidential and four congressional elections held between 1990 and 2000, the Concertación has received most votes, but has never controlled the Senate because the majority of the institutional senators have supported the opposition.

The Drawbacks of the Binomial System for the Parties and for Democracy

Several objections to the electoral system have been voiced. First, it forces the parties into electoral coalitions because of the high vote threshold required to win a seat. Second, it has a negative impact on representation because it has kept the Communist Party out of Congress, despite its relevance up to 1973 and its 5–7 per cent share of the national vote in the new democracy. Third, since each coalition will normally win one seat, the real contest takes place among the member parties, rather than between rival alliances and parties. These disputes endanger stability in the coalitions; in the 2001 senatorial elections the UDI and the RN avoided them and named a single consensus candidate in seven of the nine districts, or ran only a weak competitor who would not challenge the leadership’s candidate. Fourth, the system hands enormous power to the party leaders, who virtually choose the winners when they make up the lists. With no real competition in many districts, the elections hold little interest for the voters, and even less so when there is no candidate of their own party to vote for.

The deficiencies have led the government to propose that there should be electoral reforms and to suggest that, instead of the two-member districts, larger districts that would yield more proportional results would be more appropriate. This has made little headway, however, because the Concertación parties fear the resulting uncertainty, and the opposition defends the current system because of the advantage it gives them.

Presidential Elections

The 1980 constitution establishes a two-round system for presidential elections. An absolute majority is required for victory in the first round, with a run-off round (ballotage) if this does not occur. The institution of ballotage tends to strengthen coalition politics. The winners of the presidential elections in 1989 and 1993—Christian Democrats Patricio Aylwin and Eduardo Frei, respectively—were elected with absolute majorities, but in 1999 there was only a scant 30,000-vote difference between Ricardo Lagos and his right-wing opponent, Joaquín Lavín. Lagos won with 50.27 per cent of the vote in the second round. (Under the previous (1925) constitution, when no candidate won an absolute majority, Congress decided the presidency, as occurred in 1946, 1958 and 1970. In each case it elected the candidate with the highest vote.)

Registration and Voting: Voluntary or Compulsory?

A further problem perceived in the current electoral system is that registration is voluntary but voting is compulsory. New electoral registers were opened in February 1987, when the military regime was preparing the October 1988 plebiscite, the old registers having been burned by the military in 1973. The democratic opposition mobilized strongly to get voters registered; its strategy was to defeat Pinochet at the polls in order to achieve democracy, and it succeeded in getting 92 per cent of eligible voters to register. Since then, however, the number of registered voters has not increased in line with the voting age population, as young people now show little interest in participating in elections. In the 2001 congressional elections 80 per cent of 10 million potential voters were registered; in the 2004 municipal elections the figure was 77 per cent.

Low registration among young voters led the government to propose automatic registration and voluntary voting. The Concertación parties support automatic registration, but there is no consensus on voluntary voting. They fear that overall participation will fall and that the financial costs of campaigning to mobilize voters will rise and rise, thus favouring the right-wing parties. The opposition, particularly the UDI, rejects automatic registration and supports voluntary voting.

Supporters of the binomial system claim that it has helped governability because there are two big coalitions, one in government and one in opposition. However, this view is mistaken: the Concertación as a coalition was created before the binomial system was introduced, as an alliance to work against authoritarian rule and promote a return to democracy by politicians who had learned from their past conflicts (which led to the crisis and breakdown of democracy in 1973) and had agreed on a strategy of elite cooperation within a political system somewhat comparable to a consociational democracy. The country is governable despite the binomial system, not because of it.

The system cannot last indefinitely because it damages the political parties and poses limitations to democracy, but it will be difficult to abolish because change would create uncertainty about the impact on party support. It would also require a constitutional amendment, because the binomial character of the Senate is in the constitution. There is consensus in Congress between the Concertación and the Alliance for Chile on eliminating the non-elected senators and former presidents as life members.

Ecuador: The Search for Democratic GovernanceEdit

by ACE, the Election Knowledge Network

Aware of the constitutional and methodological inconsistencies of the previous electoral rule, Congress approved a reform of the Electoral Law in March of 2000 to introduce "vote pooling". In this modified version, each party pools votes obtained by individual candidates and the total sum of votes obtained will be used to distribute seats according to a D'Hondt formula of proportional representation. Party leaders in turn distribute allocated seats to the most voted candidates within each party. The revised version of the electoral formula will be first applied at the national level in the 2002 general elections. Finally, the election of National deputies was also eliminated for the 2002 election, leaving Congress with provincial representations only.

Despite extreme and frequent experimentation with its electoral framework, Ecuador has not been able to promote an effective combination of representative politicians with effective government. Over time, there has been a permanent government effort to manipulate the electoral system to reduce party system fragmentation and encourage the formation of pre electoral alliances that could eventually lend support to government-led initiatives in the legislature. The adoption of a two round system of presidential election and its modified threshold or the overrepresenting of larger parties through a modified PR formula were meant to give both legitimacy as well as ample party support for presidential candidates when taking office. Opposed to the logic of "majority building", different social and ethnic groups, as well as entrepreneurial politicians claimed that the electoral system privileged party interests over citizens' demands and sought to relax electoral restrictions to political participation and promoted the candidacies of "independent" politicians. In turn, the proliferation of independent candidates in the mid and late 90's made coalition formation in Congress unpredictable.

The constitutional battle over the requisites to maintain party registry well illustrates the tension between governability and representation. The 1979 Law of Political Parties established that parties that did not obtain 5% of effective votes in two consecutive elections would lose their electoral registry. This prohibition was declared unconstitutional in 1983, reinstated in 1994 as 4%, abolished in 1996 and reinstated in 1998 as 5% again. While the advocates of governability argued that smaller parties contributed to legislative fragmentation and unpredictable coalition building in Congress, defenders of representation argued that Ecuadorian minorities deserved to be represented by those parties. In the meantime, small and usually personalistic parties were able to survive for several years.

Ecuador has not found a power sharing formula to promote democratic governance. One open issue for debate is the adoption of a mixed-member system for the legislature. In principle, this could reconcile the need for direct provincial representation of the heterogeneous Ecuadorian population with the election of nationally oriented politicians. Another issue is the introduction of some parliamentary features like cabinet sharing would make potential coalition partners (parties) more accountable to their electorate and responsible to the government. In any case, an effective electoral system would need to mature over time (without being subject to sudden changes) and would have to take into consideration other political institutions and historical traditions of the country.

Last modified on 7 December 2012, at 14:23