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Parliamentarized Presidentialism: New Democracies, Constitutional Engineering, and the Bolivian Model

Parliamentarized Presidentialism: New Democracies, Constitutional Engineering, and the Bolivian Model

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Published by Miguel Centellas
This paper analyzes the Bolivian model of executive-legislative relations within the con-text of formal and informal institutions. Since its transition to democracy, the Bolivian executive has been selected by the legislature, moving the officially presidential system closer to a parliamentary model. Reinforced by the electoral and party systems, the model is significantly different from the “hybrid presidential” model (which has sepa-rate heads of state and government) and contains its own internal logic. A better under-standing of this institutional arrangement and its consequences for democratic consoli-dation sheds light not only on the role of institutional design in new democracies, but also calls into question some of the assumptions drawn from the traditional dichotomy between presidential and parliamentary systems.
This paper analyzes the Bolivian model of executive-legislative relations within the con-text of formal and informal institutions. Since its transition to democracy, the Bolivian executive has been selected by the legislature, moving the officially presidential system closer to a parliamentary model. Reinforced by the electoral and party systems, the model is significantly different from the “hybrid presidential” model (which has sepa-rate heads of state and government) and contains its own internal logic. A better under-standing of this institutional arrangement and its consequences for democratic consoli-dation sheds light not only on the role of institutional design in new democracies, but also calls into question some of the assumptions drawn from the traditional dichotomy between presidential and parliamentary systems.

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Published by: Miguel Centellas on Sep 14, 2010
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Parliamentarized Presidentialism:New Democracies, Constitutional Engineering, and the Bolivian Model
 byMiguel CentellasDepartment of Political Science3303 Friedmann HallWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazoo, MI 49008miguel.centellas@wmich.edu
This paper analyzes the Bolivian model of executive-legislative relations within thecontext of formal and informal institutions. Since its transition to democracy, theBolivian executive has been selected by the legislature, moving the officially presidentialsystem closer to a parliamentary model. Reinforced by the electoral and party systems,the model is significantly different from the “hybrid presidential” model (which hasseparate heads of state and government) and contains its own internal logic. A betterunderstanding of this institutional arrangement and its consequences for democraticconsolidation sheds light not only on the role of institutional design in new democracies, but also calls into question some of the assumptions drawn from the traditionaldichotomy between presidential and parliamentary systems.
 
Prepared for delivery at the 59th Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political ScienceAssociation, Chicago, 19-22 April 2001. I thank Emily Hauptmann and Liesl Haas fortheir comments and advice.
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Parliamentarized PresidentialismIntroduction
The third wave of democracy coincided with renewed interest in studies of political institutions and institutional design. Since then, “constitutional engineering”has become a buzzword that aptly describes much of the literature. This literaturefocuses primarily on the structure of electoral and party systems and executive-legislative relationships. It is clear, of course, that formal institutions matter and haveprofound consequences for the quality and stability of democracies. What is unclear,however, is how new democracies —democracies with little or no experience withdemocracy— learn to use their newly engineered political institutions. Even the mostperfect constitution needs a citizenry and a political
é
lite willing and able to makedemocracy work. Even the most perfect constitutional design may falter and fail if it istoo complicated for citizens to understand or if competing politicians are not able toplay well with others.Countries with little or no democratic experience face great hardships as theystruggle to consolidate democracy. They must hold elections under untried electoralsystems and with slowly emerging party systems. Not only do such countries facepolitical obstacles; they also face serious socioeconomic problems. They must producegovernments that are both democratically competitive and yet strong enough tomanage crises swiftly and efficiently. These are daunting tasks, indeed.Still, some form of constitution must be adopted. In some cases, the constitutionmay be an already existing document that was drafted but never implemented. In othercases, the constitution may be produced from scratch. In either case, the situations aresimilar. Citizens will have little idea of how the formal rules work. They will not knowwho to vote for if nascent party systems are highly fragmented or still evolving out of civil society. For their part, political
é
lites will have little practical understanding of democratic politics and may not know how to implement democratic institutions andmake them work. If parties have little or no roots in civil society, how do theycampaign? If civilians have never governed before, how do they develop policies and(more difficult still) learn to control the bureaucracies?In the end, citizens and political
é
lites in new democracies must learn democracy—and learning requires time. Yet the great need for effective crisis management in poor,underdeveloped countries means that time is a precious commodity. Neither citizensnor political
é
lites may be willing to wait long enough for democracy to work.Subsequently, new democracies need simple political institutions with steep butmanageable learning curves that allow their new democratic governments to workquickly to solve daunting problems even as they strive to institutionalize theinstitutions themselves. For this, the lessons of older democracies and countries
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