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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Countries jjan elect their presidents indirectly through Parliament are not immune to problems: 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”.

Still, just the question of electing a ceremonial head of state by a popular vote creates its own difficulties. 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.

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.

But the Brazilian episode is of greater significance.

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. The Brazilian crisis is a classic example of what happens when the vanity and incompetence of persidentialism collides with the reality of a poorly written Constitution.

The perils of ‘presidentialism’

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 US prils of mediating disputes between Parliament and head of state. But the late Prof Linz’s warnings were prophetic.

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.

Nobody listened to him then, as one Latin American country after another rushed to create directly elected presidencies. 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. 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.

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.

And these charges are in themselves fairly spurious: Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. 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.

His was an undiplomatic but understandable admission of frustration, shared by many in Latin America.

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.

There are examples when a ceremonial but directly elected head of state works very well with an all-powerful parliamentary government: A recent study from the German Institute for Global and Perila 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.

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. A version of this article appeared presidentiialism the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23,with the headline ‘The perils of ‘presidentialism”.

Prof Lins 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.


Interestingly, however, the temptation to view a directly elected head presidentixlism state as the highest form of democracy has proven irresistible in some European countries as well. After the party of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro presidentialisk 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.

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

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

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.

She forgot that, regardless of the direct electoral mandate she enjoyed, presidentiwlism Brazilian Congress possessed another power copied from the US – that of being able to impeach her, to remove her from office. Ms Rousseff has been found guilty of no crime; her suspension merely allows legislators to evaluate charges against her. 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: Candidates for such presidenntialism presidencies have little to say during their electoral campaigns apart, perhaps, from promising to cut periks in a better way than their opponents.

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Still, her defiance came to nothing: At least half of Brazil’s legislators are suspected of corruption.