Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Understanding how autocracies grow

In the last years we have seen how different Latin American presidents are trying to stay in power beyond the term limits set for them. They do the Belorussian thing: change the constitution when need be.

Many of the apologists of such regimes say that most Europe heads of states don't have term limits or that they even have unelected queens and kings. In reality this argument is moot: queens and kings, even if out of time figures, have no real power and all those countries in democratic Europe with no term limit for their "main leaders" don't have presidential systems, but parliamentarian systems and that is a completely different fish.

In this map you can see some interesting clusters:

  • countries with presidential systems that allow only one consecutive term for the president
  • countries with presidential systems that allow two to three consecutie terms
  • countries with parliamentarian systems (no term limit)
  • countries with the presidential system AND no term limit.
Something that is very striking: the last group is composed almost exclusively by countries with some reputation. Only Suriname can be seen - so far - as a democracy, but then the president is elected by 2/3 of the deputies and they have only had their first democratic president after a long dictatorship.

Now Colombia's Uribe is trying to run for a third term. Ortega in Nicaragua got his way to be re-elected and I am sure in Bolivia they will try to do the same thing Venezuela did.

Why don't we actually force the discussion about parliamentarian system for Latin America?


  1. I think the first grouping is even more interesting, because it's less obvious. They are all countries that have been, to a very large degree, political basket cases in the not-so-distant (varibaly so - Paraguay is still there) past. Yet it seems that each of those countries is presently moving in the right direction. As opposed to the two term countries, which is a real mixed bag.

  2. Anonymous,
    My purpose was above all to show the upper right group: presidential systems with indefinite reelection possibility (let's call it 'b'). They are all dictatorship, with the exception of Surinam, which just came out of a dictatorship and can turn in any direction.
    The group of presidential systems with two terms (a) is a mixed bag indeed and we will surely find also bad apples in the parliamentarian systems (c) and the one-term presidential ones (d), but the really bad combination is b.

    If I were to make an exhaustive mind map with all countries, there would be many more leaves, both good and bad in
    a, c and d but I doubt there would be any good one in b.


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