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Article

The Rise of the African Legislature?  

Ken Opalo

What explains contemporary variation in legislative strength and institutionalization in Africa? Contrary to the widespread belief that African legislatures are uniformly weak, there is significant variation in both the institutional forms and powers of these institutions. Colonial institutional development and the nature of postcolonial single-party autocratic rule partially explain the variation in legislative strength and institutionalization in Africa. Legislative development (or lack thereof) under colonialism bequeathed postcolonial states with both institutional memory and intra-elite conceptions of executive–legislative relations (how legislatures work). The nature of postcolonial autocratic rule determined the upper bounds of legislative development. Relatively secure presidents tolerated legislative organizational development. Their weaker counterparts did not. These differences became apparent following the end of single-party rule in much of Africa the early 1990s. Legislatures in the former group exploited their newfound freedom to rebalance executive–legislative relations. Those in the latter group remained weak and subservient to presidents. In short, strong autocratic legislatures begat strong democratic legislatures.

Article

The Separation of Powers in African Constitutionalism  

Charles Manga Fombad

One reason why dictatorships flourished in Africa until the 1990s was that constitutions concentrated excessive powers in presidents. The democratic revival of the 1990s led to the introduction of new or substantially revised constitutions in a number of countries that for the first time sought to promote constitutionalism, good governance, and respect for the rule of law. A key innovation was the introduction of provisions providing for separation of powers. However, in many cases the reintroduction of multipartyism did not lead to thorough constitutional reform, setting the scene for a subsequent struggle between opposition parties, civil society, and the government, over the rule of law. This reflects the complex politics of constitutionalism in Africa over the last 60 years. In this context, it is important to note that most of the constitutions introduced at independence had provided for some degree of separation of powers, but the provisions relating to this were often vaguely worded and quickly undermined. Despite this, the doctrine of separation of powers has a long history, and the abundant literature on it shows that there is no general agreement on what it means or what its contemporary relevance is. Of the three main models of separation of powers, the American one, which comes closest to a “pure” system of separation of powers, and the British, which involves an extensive fusion of powers, have influenced developments in anglophone Africa. The French model, which combines elements of the British and American models but in which the executive predominates over the other two branches, has influenced developments in all civilian jurisdictions in Africa, particularly those in francophone Africa. The common denominator among the models is the desire to prevent tyrannical and arbitrary government by separating powers but doing so in a manner that allows for limited interference through checks and balances on the principle that le pouvoir arrête le pouvoir. The combined Anglo-American (common law) and French (civil law) models received during the colonial period remain applicable today, but despite its adoption in the 1990s, the effectiveness of the doctrine of separation of powers in limiting governmental abuse has been curtailed by the excessive powers African presidents still enjoy and the control they exercise over dominant parties in legislatures. South Africa in its 1996 Constitution, followed by Kenya in 2010 and Zimbabwe in 2013, entrenched a number of hybrid institutions of accountability that have the potential not only to complement the checks and balances provided by the traditional triad but also to act where it is unable or unwilling to do so. The advent of these institutions has given the doctrine of separation of powers renewed potency and relevance in advancing Africa’s faltering constitutionalism project.

Article

Democracy in the Crucible of Conflict  

Robert Ralston and Ronald R. Krebs

The field of international relations has long focused on understanding and explaining the causes of war. In contrast, scholars have devoted relatively little attention to war’s consequences. However, scholarly literature on the consequences of violent conflict, including its effects on liberal democracy, has burgeoned and improved in recent decades, since the 1990s. Existing research shows that security threats, mobilization, and warfare are neither entirely negative nor entirely positive with respect to liberal democracy. On the one hand, in the short run, these pressures erode liberal institutions and values. On the other hand, large-scale mobilization and warfare—both interstate and civil—encourage broader and more intense participation at the individual level and strengthen participation’s structural foundations. However, despite recent advances, there remains much that we still do not know, which suggests promising avenues for future research. The existing literature has not sufficiently or systematically distinguished among the effects of threat/insecurity, mobilization, and warfare. It has been stronger on empirical findings than on developing the mid-range theories and causal mechanisms that would make sense of those findings. It has been firmer on conflict’s impact on individual attitudes and predilections than on how and when violence reshapes larger political processes and structures. It has had more to say about conflict’s short-run effects than its long-term effects, especially with respect to contestation. The impact of violent conflict on liberal democracy remains a rich soil for future research.

Article

How Effective are Political Appointees?  

Gary E. Hollibaugh Jr.

Research in public administration and political science in the late 20th century and early 21st century has identified several factors influencing the effectiveness of political appointees, with a particular emphasis on the United States (given the outsized role of political appointees in the American system relative to those of other industrialized democracies). Within the American system, the advice and consent process means that acting and interim officials often run agencies and departments while nominees await Senate confirmation; however, that these individuals lack the perceived legitimacy that accompanies Senate confirmation means they are (often) less effective at ensuring bureaucratic acquiescence to the preferences of the president. Additionally, confirmed nominees can also run into trouble, as many are often appointed by presidents to “rein in” the departments or agencies they are chosen to oversee; this can result in deterioration in the relationship between themselves and careerists, which ultimately reduces the effectiveness of appointees. Individual variations in the leadership style of appointees in the United States can also affect their effectiveness and abilities to work with careerists. And scholars should spend time and effort considering the theoretical foundations of what it means to be “effective” and perhaps consider the development of new empirical operationalizations thereof. Accordingly, there is merit in assessing pertinent experience in other jurisdictions, including in Britain and South Korea to which brief reference is made in the discussion.

Article

Constitutions in Latin American Politics  

Jonathan Hartlyn and Alissandra T. Stoyan

Constitutions have been an important part of Latin America’s history since independence. While exhibiting frequent change, there have been continuities primarily regarding their republican form and presidentialism. Extensive scholarship exists on the origins of constitutions, their evolving design, and their effects concerning democratic stability and rights, particularly with regard to trends and patterns since the third wave of democratization in the late 1970s. Large-scale “refounding” constitutional reforms have gained traction with citizens and civil society groups, and populist leaders have promoted them as a solution for socioeconomic and political exclusion. Politicians have also favored both large- and small-scale changes as ways to continue in office, concentrate power, gain or maintain support, or defuse crises. With frequent changes and longer and more complex texts, sharp distinctions between constitutional moments defining the rules and ordinary politics occurring within the rules have blurred. The research on these issues regarding constitutions confronts challenges common to the analysis of weak institutions in general, including particularly endogeneity to existing power distributions in society and thus seeking to understand when and why key actors respect constitutional rules of the game. Some scholarship advances actor-centered linkage arguments connecting the origin, design, and effects of constitutions in a causal progression, on topics such as presidential powers, unequal democracies emerging from authoritarian regimes, or judicial independence. These arguments differ regarding the direct impact they ascribe to constitutions compared to other factors, particularly with more extended time horizons. They typically examine the narrow strategic interests of the key players while also considering when they may contemplate broader goals, especially when no one player is dominant. Though diffusion has played a role in constitutional process and design in the region, most scholars downplay its relative importance. Since the 1990s, there has been a significant expansion in a unidirectional, path-dependent fashion in the incorporation of social, economic, and cultural rights, as well as decentralization and participatory mechanisms. Unlike presidential re-election and presidential powers, which have seen more frequent and sometimes mixed evolution, once these rights and mechanisms are granted they are not formally reversed in subsequent reforms. Yet, their effective realization has been partial and uneven, typically requiring some combination of societal mobilization and institutional activation. Thus, other endogenous or exogenous factors are typically incorporated into explanations regarding their possible effects. Future research in many areas of constitutionalism could be enhanced by a more systematic cross-national multidimensional data collection effort, facilitating further quantitative and multi-methods empirical work. This will assist scholars in addressing the theoretical and methodological challenges in this field common to institutional research generally. At the same time, it is critical not to lose sight of the normative dimension of constitutionalism, given its symbolic and aspirational value as well as practical importance for democracy.

Article

The Presidency in Latin American Politics  

Valeria Palanza

Presidents derive support from electoral endorsement at the polls, but once in office, how they exercise power is also determined by the checks other actors impose on the presidency. By design, the presidential system was intended to function within a carefully conceived structure of checks and balances. As the executive branch in a system of separation of powers, the presidency was granted veto power over the lawmaking process. Congress and the judiciary were in turn granted prerogatives to check the executive in its own realm of action. Latin American presidential systems, however, have equipped presidents with extraordinary capacities, setting incentives in a different direction, where presidents often take the place of the most determinative decision maker within the political system. Juan Linz came to believe that presidentialism was not conducive to stable democracy (Linz, 1990), and his influential work spearheaded an era of studies that ultimately contradicted his arguments and led research in a new direction, while the third wave of democracy brought about stable yet unbalanced presidential systems. In order to understand the incentives that underlie this newfound stability, a deeper understanding of the institutional arrangements that govern it is necessary, and key among these, those structured around the legislative process. The institutions that make up the Latin American presidency as it stands in the early 21st century define incentives that lay out its unique character and distinct form of concentration of power. These can be organized into three sets: (a) elections, (b) lawmaking, and (c) cabinet management. Considering the institutions, and practices, that govern these three areas and how they vary across countries provides the building blocks to understanding the complexity of the presidency in Latin America. Whether presidents are elected indirectly via an electoral college or through direct votes by citizens, the specification of the type of majority required to win the presidency, the length of terms, and whether re-election is allowed are details that, when combined in diverse ways, present politicians and citizens with different sets of incentives to govern their behavior. These arrangements underwent different reforms over the turn of the 21st century. The institutions surrounding the lawmaking process are chief in lending the Latin American presidency its reputation of centralizing power, as constitutions are packed with arrangements that blur the separation of powers. Presidential legislative proposal power, presidential control of the legislative agenda through constitutional urgency authority (fast-track), variations in the veto prerogative, variations in override requirements, the delimitation of areas to exclusive presidential proposal rights, restrictions on congress to increase spending, and constitutional decree authority; all of these work to extend the legislative capacities of presidents, enabling them to counter the will of congress in ways unthinkable to the Founding Fathers when they first created this system. Latin American presidents also face challenges in managing cabinets, which in some cases are a fundamental component to articulate coalitions in the legislature—much like in parliamentary systems. Partisan dynamics come to life in the cabinet, and cabinets may work as important tools to manage otherwise fragmented party systems. Finally, understanding the influence of gender on presidential systems presents a promising avenue of research.

Article

Theorizing the U.S. Supreme Court  

Charles M. Cameron and Lewis A. Kornhauser

We summarize the formal theoretical literature on Supreme Court decision-making. We focus on two core questions: What does the Supreme Court of the United States do, and how can one model those actions; and, what do the justices of the Supreme Court want, and how can one model those preferences? Given the current state of play in judicial studies, these questions then direct this survey mostly to so-called separation of powers (SOP) models, and to studies of a multi-member (“collegial”) court employing the Supreme Court’s very distinctive and highly unusual voting rule. The survey makes four main points. First, it sets out a new taxonomy that unifies much of the literature by linking judicial actions, modeling conventions, and the treatment of the status quo. In addition, the taxonomy identifies some models that employ inconsistent assumptions about Supreme Court actions and consequences. Second, the discussion of judicial preferences clarifies the links between judicial actions and judicial preferences. It highlights the relationships between preferences over dispositions, preferences over rules, and preferences over social outcomes. And, it explicates the difference between consequential and expressive preferences. Third, the survey delineates the separate strands of SOP models. It suggests new possibilities for this seemingly well-explored line of inquiry. Fourth, the discussion of voting emphasizes the peculiar characteristics of the Supreme Court’s voting rule. The survey maps the movement from early models that ignored the special features of this rule, to more recent ones that embrace its features and explore the resulting (and unusual) incentive effects.