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Re-Election and Political Career Paths in the

Uruguayan Congress, 1985– 99

D A V I D A L T M A N and D A N I E L C H A S Q U E T T I

Given the presumed marginal – or at best the ‘rubber-stamp legitimising’ – character

of Latin American legislatures, they ‘have escaped careful scrutiny’. Even in cases
where legislatures are supposed to play a much more significant role than the
continental average, such as Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay, knowledge of legislative
politics is still far from conclusive. This article studies re-election patterns of legislators
in Uruguay during the four post-authoritarian elections. During these elections in
Uruguay, we observed a decreasing but still high rate of turnover of legislators.
These high rates of legislative turnover are affected by a significant number of
legislators who do not seek re-election. While inter-party electoral volatility strongly
influences the rates of incumbent re-election, intra-party volatility does not seem to
have an impact on this phenomenon. Lastly, the closed and blocked lists in conjunction
with the Uruguayan multiple simultaneous vote, and the fact that a legislator belongs to
the Senate, are additional institutional features that help to explain the turnover and
incumbent re-election in the legislature.


This paper analyses legislators’ re-election rates in Uruguay during the

legislative elections of 1989, 1994 and 1999. Even in cases where legislatures
are supposed to play a much more significant role than the continental average,
such as Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay, knowledge of legislative politics is
still far from conclusive. During these elections in Uruguay, we observed a
decreasing but still high rate of legislative turnover. These high rates of
legislative turnover are affected by a significant number of legislators who
do not seek re-election. While inter-party electoral volatility strongly influ-
ences the rates of incumbent re-election, intra-party volatility does not seem

David Altman is Assistant Professor in the Instituto de Ciencia Polı́tica at Pontificia Universidad
Catolica de Chile, Chile, while Daniel Chasquetti is Assistant Professor in the Instituto de Ciencia
Polı́tica at the Universidad de la República, Uruguay.
We are grateful to Daniel Buquet, Rossana Castiglioni, Brian Crisp, Mark Jones, Paul Mueller,
Rafael Piñeyro, Peter Siavelis, and the anonymous referees of the Journal of Legislative
Studies for their helpful comments. We are extremely indebted to Santiago Lopez and Ximena
Machado for their fine research assistance in building the database for this article. This research
was funded by the KONCECYT Project No. 1040920.

The Journal of Legislative Studies, Vol.11, No.2, Summer 2005, pp.235–253

ISSN 1357-2334 print=1743-9337 online
DOI: 10.1080=13572330500158656 # 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd

to have an impact on this phenomenon. Lastly, closed and blocked lists in con-
junction with the size of electoral districts are additional institutional features
that help to explain the turnover and incumbents’ re-election in the legislature.
From a comparative perspective, Uruguayan rates of legislative turnover
fall somewhere in the middle (middle – low) of those of its neighbours.
Latin American legislatures show a great variety in terms of incumbent re-
election, and in Table 1 Uruguay is compared with other American countries.
While Mexican and Costa Rican legislators cannot run for immediate
re-election,1 their Chilean counterparts show a very high rate of incumbent
re-election.2 Of course, even Chilean legislators fall far below the high regis-
tries of the US legislators. Panamanian legislators are an interesting case given
that they seek re-election almost at the same rate as US legislators but they
barely succeed in this endeavour.3 Argentina shows exceptionally low re-
election rates for incumbents.4 Although re-election is allowed in Argentina,
its legislative patterns of re-election are more similar to those of Mexico and
Costa Rica than to those of Chile. ‘Since 1983, the overall stability of member-
ship in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies has been fairly low. The average
legislator has served only one four-year term in office. The percentage of
“newcomers” has always exceeded 40 per cent, while only 20 per cent of
incumbents obtained immediate re-election.’5
In Colombia re-election rates have been reported as moderate. Archer
and Shugart show that around 48 per cent of legislators in both chambers
are re-elected,6 a very similar percentage to that of Uruguayan legislators


Percentage Percentage Percentage

Length of Seeking Winning Returning to
Country Term Re-election (of those seeking) Office

United States (1996) 2 88 94 83

Panama (1999) 4 87.5 49.2 43
Chile (1993) 4 76 78 59
Colombia (1990) 4 n.a. n.a. 48
Uruguay (1999) 5 72.3 64.9 47
Brazil (1995) 4 70 62 43
Venezuela (1993) 5 n.a. n.a. 32
Bolivia (2002) 4 n.a n.a. 22
Argentina (1997) 4 26 67 17
Costa Rica (2001) 4 0 0 0
Mexico (1997) 3 0 0 0

Notes:  Represents the average of both chambers (40.28 per cent Deputies, 24.20 per cent Senate).
Sources: For Uruguay and Bolivia authors’ calculations, United States, Chile, Brazil and Argen-
tina, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama.
in the elections of 1999. In Venezuela during the 1988 – 93 legislature only 38
per cent of legislators were freshmen.7 Legislative turnover in Brazil is also
moderate or moderate –low. Samuels and Mainwaring note that political
decisions account for about half of the turnover because a significant
share of incumbents decide to run for executive offices, such as governor or
vice-governor. Nonetheless, as in Uruguay, ‘the proportion of successful re-
election-seeking legislators in Brazil has been increasing since 1986’.8
If these data are correct and one considers the percentage of those legis-
lators returning to office, Uruguay falls exactly in the middle of these eight
countries in the sample. More specifically, it falls between Colombia and
Brazil. But of course, if we do not consider those countries where legislative
re-election is not permitted, Uruguayan scores look quite different.
Why is it so important to study the patterns of legislative turnover and
re-election? It is well known that re-election rates have important conse-
quences for the quality of the democracy. Very low re-election rates not
only generate deficiencies in legislative expertise, but they can also increase
the dedication costs of policy making and promote unwanted behaviour in
the internal life of political parties.
First, high legislative turnover may impede legislators from gaining
expertise and seniority and therefore can reduce the quality of parliamentary
work. During the last years, Latin American legislatures have dealt with
complex reforms, such as the reform of the state, the opening of the economies
and the processes of regional integration. The importance of those decisions
requires individuals with high qualifications. Second, high legislative turnover
rates can cause great instability in the trajectories of political leaders. Individ-
uals who decide to enter the ‘legislative career’ must have, as the Constitution
demands, a full-time dedication to that job. The risk of not being re-elected
generates personal costs difficult to quantify. In addition, this phenomenon
can lead to some sort of elitisation of political cadres where only those who
have a guaranteed economic sustenance will predominate in the legislative
arena. Third, high legislative turnover rates can generate detrimental
behaviour for the parties’ internal life. As we will explain later, during the
last 15 years some legislators from the very same sector, with the objective
of guaranteeing their re-election, unleashed true fratricide-wars with the
simple objective of improving their position on their ballots.9 Of course,
this behaviour is contingent upon the type of relationship the legislator
maintains with his or her leader, who is the person that holds the power to
make the list, and is also dependent on the voting perspectives of his or her
political sector.
For the aforementioned reasons, it seems that a moderate rate of legislator
turnover is the suitable dose for the health of Congress and political parties. In
this way, it is possible to avoid the ‘petrifaction’ of political leaders. It also

allows the entrance of new representatives without sweeping out the main core
of legislators.
One of the simplest yet strongest assumptions within the literature that
deals with legislatures and legislator behaviour is Mayhew’s assumption
that, when permitted, Congressmen are interested in nothing but being
re-elected, and it is this main and indisputable motivation which generates
predictable behaviour patterns. As Navia argues, ‘seeking re-election does
not automatically result in being re-elected, but being an incumbent helps a
great deal to secure a seat in the Chamber of Deputies’.10 Nonetheless, in a
brand new volume on Latin American legislatures, Morgenstern claims that
‘Latin American legislators (a) are not homogeneous re-election seekers,
(b) follow different strategies into office, (c) are restrained by different
constitutional arrangements, and (d) operate within a vastly different party
alignment. As a result, the Latin American legislatures do not look or act
like the U.S. Congress’.11
Uruguay defies, as do its fellow Latin American countries, the assumption
that legislators are only re-election seekers. Given the great variation in the
number of incumbents seeking re-election in Latin American countries,
several scholars question Mayhew’s assumption regarding re-election. For
instance, Mainwaring is reticent to extrapolate Mayhew’s assumption to the
Brazilian Congress, claiming that it is too restrictive. He says ‘this assumption
has the advantage of parsimony, and it is reasonable to assume that winning
elections is a major motivating force for most politicians. Nevertheless, it is
too restrictive for the Brazilian context, and it must be modified’.12 He is
followed by Morgenstern, who says that ‘these data suggest an important
impediment in the creation of a unified theory of legislative behavior. Since
not all (or even almost all) legislators seek re-election, even within any
given country it is incorrect to assume homogenous legislators all driven by
a similar motivation’.13
In Uruguay, the legislative election creates a much smaller expectation
than the presidential election. Given the characteristics of the institutional
design, which establishes the direct election of the government head and the
concurrency of presidential and legislative elections, political leaders, analysts
and citizens in general show more concern for knowing who the President of
the Republic will be than for knowing who the members of the future
Congress will be. Phenomena like the election of minority governments and
the formation of coalition governments have motivated the study of many
aspects of the executive –legislative relationship. Along these lines, miscella-
neous subjects such as cabinet formation, legislator productivity and disci-
pline, and the influence of the electoral system in the configuration of the
parliamentary maps have been analysed and evaluated.14 In all the cases, an
important role in the equation of the presidential government is recognised
and attributed to the legislative branch of government. However, the rate of
turnover in the Uruguayan Congress is an under-studied phenomenon. Only
Bottinelli15 has analysed this subject for the post-authoritarian elections,
and he shows that between the elections of 1989 and 1994 the House of
Representatives had a turnover rate of nearly 70 per cent, which is remarkable
compared to the rates of turnover in 1942 – 66, estimated at around 30 per
cent.16 According to Bottinelli, what explains this phenomenon is the increase
of electoral volatility within the parties during period 1971 –94, a double
effect of the tri-party competition in the countryside, and demographic
changes that determine some sort of first-past-the-post competition within
We agree that relatively high rates of legislator turnover exist in Uruguay.
Nevertheless, we present new analytical and empirical explanations of
incumbent turnover. This article is divided into four sections. In the first
section the different theoretical elements of legislator turnover are analysed.
In the second section some methodological definitions for the research will
be offered and the empirical results related to the rates of turnover and
legislative re-election. The third section offers possible explanations for the
causes of the high rates of turnover. The fourth starts elucidating the fate of
incumbents who failed in their re-election attempts, taking as a reference
the legislature of 1990– 95. And finally, we try to systematise the main
conclusions of the study.


Electoral systems generate important incentives for legislators’ careers. The

decision to seek re-election and the possibility of obtaining it are closely
related to two central elements of the electoral system: the candidate selection
process and the magnitude of the electoral districts.18 At the same time, re-
election is also contingent upon the levels of electoral volatility that are
present in the political system: the higher the volatility the lower the
chances of re-election.
First, the form of candidate selection can vary according to the character-
istics of the system. The main forms of tailoring legislative lists are the follow-
ing: (a) closed and blocked lists, (b) closed but not blocked lists, (c) open lists
and, finally, (d) customised candidacies. Electoral systems with closed and
blocked lists stimulate the existence of strong and institutionalised parties.19
In these cases, party leaders control candidate selection and establish their
order on the list.20 Naturally, this favours party discipline during legislative
mandates, since those legislators that do not respect party decisions can be
punished in the ensuing list making. Closed but not blocked lists diminish
the leaders’ capacity for control. This alternative allows the voter to modify

the order of legislators that the party presents and might thus increase the
likelihood of electing legislators who are not among the party’s favourites.
Obviously, this increases the autonomy of legislators during their parliamen-
tary mandates and therefore it may diminish the degree of cohesion of parties.
Nevertheless, in case a legislator seeks re-election this autonomy imposes
certain restrictions over his or her behaviour given that in order to be included
on the list, he or she has to maintain a stable bond with the party. Open lists
contribute to weak and non-cohesive parties. This system not only allows the
voter to modify the order of legislators in the list, but it also gives the citizen
the chance of adding or deleting names from the list.21 If this is the case, the
luck of the legislator does not depend on the will of the party alone, but on
the relationship that is maintained with his or her constituencies. Open lists
favour undisciplined behaviour from legislators with high levels of decisional
autonomy.22 Finally, first-past-the-post electoral systems rely on uni-nominal
electoral districts and in consequence on highly personalised candidatures.23
As in the case of the open lists, this modality favours legislator autonomy
and might trigger undisciplined parties. Accordingly, legislators remain
more attentive to the particular demands of their constituencies than to the
party lines.
Second, electoral systems can exhibit great differences of district
magnitudes that directly affect the level of proportionality of the system and
therefore the re-election opportunities.24 District magnitudes also influence
the power of control among party leadership. If closed and blocked lists are
in place, the larger the district magnitude the stronger the influence of party
leadership. Other things being equal, the smaller the district magnitude the
weaker the influence of party leaders and the stronger the local leadership.
The Uruguayan electoral system presents closed and blocked lists within
multi-member districts. As we have seen, closed and blocked lists favour
the party leaders’ control, but in Uruguay the effects of this modality are
modified by the presence of the multiple simultaneous vote (MSV). MSV
allows the voter to elect the party but at the same time it allows the election
of those legislators who will represent the party in Congress. Unlike
systems in which each party presents a closed and blocked list, in Uruguay
each party presents an important variety of closed and blocked lists that
compete among themselves within the party. Intra-party competition softens
the rigidity of closed and blocked lists and transforms the Uruguayan
system into a kind of intrapartisan preferential vote. This also has a great
impact on the possibility of legislative re-election and the level of party
discipline. The relationship between the legislator and his or her fraction
leader will not be determining, because this system allows the undisciplined
legislator to open and run a new list.25 The Uruguayan electoral system
contains an important variety of electoral districts in terms of magnitude.
Senators are elected in a 30 member-unique national district and deputies are
elected in 19 multi-member districts of diverse magnitude.26 Taking into
account all legislative positions to be filled in the election, Uruguay presents
two big districts (the Senate and Montevideo), a medium-size district
(Canelones), and 17 small districts that vary between two and four seats each.
Third, the level of electoral volatility directly affects the possibility of
legislator re-election. The positive or negative variation in the total share of
the votes of a party increases or diminishes the chance of incumbent re-elec-
tion. Electoral volatility can be calculated with the Pedersen Index, which
measures the net change of votes of all the parties between two continuous
elections.27 Since 1946 in only four of the 11 elections the electoral volatility
surpassed ten per cent (1946, 1958, 1989 and 1994). In 1946, 13.1 per cent was
caused by the strong electoral decline of the National Party and the significant
growth of the Colorado Party. In 1958, 17.9 per cent volatility was caused by a
similar phenomenon, the abrupt decline of the Colorado Party and spectacular
growth of the National Party. In 1989 the high levels of volatility, 13.3 per
cent, were caused by the appearance of the New Space Party. Finally, in
1994, volatility of 11.6 per cent was related to the virtual tie among the
three largest parties and the permanence of a fourth relevant party.


We will call rate of parliamentary turnover the variation in percentage

terms of the composition of Congress between one election and the next.
The starting point for the measurement of the rate of parliamentary turnover
is the legislators elected in 1984. The criterion for this measurement will be
the changes in the lists of legislators after each election (1989, 1994 and
1999). In other words, we take the list of the 130 legislators elected in an elec-
tion and we contrast it with the lists of the elected legislators in the following
election.28 We consider both chambers as a single legislative body.29
We call rate of re-election the variation in percentage terms of those
legislators seeking re-election and those obtaining it.30 This index measures
the success of re-election seekers and it has special significance given that it
will give us some clues regarding citizens’ acceptance or rejection of individ-
ual parliamentary handling. Several types of legislators are either excluded
from or included in calculations: (a) substitute legislators who entered the leg-
islature during the previous period and seek to be elected as legislators are
excluded; (b) legislators who died during their mandate and legislators that
decided to leave politics are considered non-re-elected; (c) legislators who
are elected to executive positions (Presidency, municipal government) are
considered re-elected; (d) legislators who were included as substitutes of frac-
tion leaders are considered re-elected legislators; and (e) legislators who are

elected Vice-President of the Republic are considered re-elected because they

occupy seat number 130. Finally, it must be said again, our measurements of
rate of parliamentary turnover and rate of re-election take into account the
Senate and the House of Representatives as a single legislative body, albeit
we control for Senate in our models. Therefore, for our purposes, it does
not matter whether a senator seeks re-election in the House of Representatives
or a deputy does the same at the Senate level.

Turnover and Incumbent Re-election

Table 2 shows that the rate of parliamentary turnover has been relatively high
in Uruguay during the last three elections, albeit there is a tendency to
reduction. In 1989 it reached 66.1 per cent, in 1994 it fell to 63.8 per cent
and in 1999 to 53.8 per cent. The average rate of parliamentary turnover
during this period is around 61 per cent and it widely surpasses the 30 per
cent estimation of turnover for the period 1942– 66.31
Such a high rate of parliamentary turnover does not imply an explicit
rejection by the citizenship of more than half of the legislators who end
their mandates. The electoral supply shows that not all legislators seek re-
election. Although an ample majority of legislators do seek re-election, it is
also true that some legislators pursue other positions (President of the
Republic, Municipal Mayor, to name a few), others retire from public life,
and others die during their mandates. Therefore the rate of parliamentary


Legislators Success of
(rate of Re-Election Seekers
Total parliamentary Non-Seekers Seekers (Rate of Failure
Election Legislators renovation %) (%) (%) Re-Election %) (%)

1989 130 86 (66.1) 40 (30.8) 90 (69.2) 44 (48.9) 46 (51.1)

FA-NEa 14 (70.0) 6 (30.0)
TPb 30 (42.8) 40 (57.2)
1994 130 83 (63.8) 43 (33.1) 87 (66.9) 47 (54.0) 40 (46.0)
FA-NE 16 (61.5) 10 (38.5)
TP 31 (50.8) 30 (49.2)
1999 130 69 (53.0) 36 (27.7) 94 (72.3) 61 (64.9) 33 (35.1)
FA-NE 33 (73.3) 12 (26.7)
TP 28 (57.1) 21 (42.8)

(a) FA-NE: Frente Amplio and Nuevo Espacio
(b) TP: Tradicional Parties
Source: Authors’ elaboration based on Albornoz and Corte Electoral.
turnover conceals the phenomenon of legislative desertion. During the elec-
tions of 1989, 1994 and 1999, approximately 30 per cent of legislators did
not pursue re-election. The next question is what happens to those legislators
who do seek re-election.
In 1989 the rate of re-election reaches 48.9 per cent, in 1994 it ascends to
54 per cent, and in 1999 to 64.9 per cent. In absolute numbers this indicates
that in 1989, 44 of 90 legislators obtained their objective; in 1994, 47 of 87;
and in 1999, 61 of 94. As the rate of parliamentary turnover tends to decrease,
the rate of re-election tends to increase. In 1989, the rate of parliamentary turn-
over was 66.1 and TR 48.9; in 1994, the rate of parliamentary turnover was
63.8 and rate of re-election 54.0; finally, in 1999, the tendencies crossed
each other when the rate of parliamentary turnover fell to 53.0 and the rate
of re-election rose to 64.9 per cent.


The high rate of parliamentary renovation and its tendency to decrease can
fundamentally be explained by the variation in electoral volatility. The evi-
dence suggests that the tendency of decreasing volatility might be associated
with the fall in the rate of parliamentary turnover and the increase in the rate of
re-election. The association of electoral volatility, rate of parliamentary turn-
over, and rate of re-election also suggests that the political party to which
legislators belong is a key element for their chances of re-election. The data
show that legislators from the so-called ‘traditional parties’ (Colorado and
National) face greater obstacles in achieving re-election than legislators
from the relatively new parties (Frente Amplio and Nuevo Espacio). In
other words, legislators of parties that decline in electoral terms have less
probability of being re-elected than those from parties that show a sustainable
growth. The re-election rates for the legislators from left-wing parties oscillate
between 61.5 and 73.3 per cent, while for the traditional parties it fluctuates
between 42.8 and 57.1 per cent (see Table 2).
Bottinelli argues that a second explanation for the rates of incumbent
success while seeking re-election could be internal volatility (at the fraction
level).32 Applying Pedersen’s Index of Volatility at the fractional level
within political parties we found that the Colorado Party is the one that dis-
plays the lower volatility. The National Party and the Frente Amplio show
quite similar levels of internal volatility for the elections of 1989 and 1994,
but they diverge in 1999. In the elections of 1999 the National Party shows
a drastic increase of internal volatility and the Frente Amplio a strong
reduction. A contrast between the evolution of intra-party volatility and the
rate of re-election of the legislators from each party shows the non-existence
of an important bond between both phenomena.

Table 3 illustrates the levels of intra-party volatility and the rate of re-
election for the three larger parties. In it, the re-election rate does not seem
to be sensitive to the changes in intra-party volatility. Indeed, within the
Colorado Party a phenomenon contrary to the expected appears, as both the
internal volatility and the rate of re-election increase. Nonetheless, re-election
rates increase to a much more pronounced degree. In the National Party the
behaviour of both variables is still more irregular, because only in 1999
does it behave as expected. In this case, intra-party volatility increases and
the rate of re-election minimally diminishes. It is only in the Frente Amplio
where the expected behaviour is observed with a clear decrease in internal
volatility and an increase of successful rates of re-election. Unlike the
relationship between electoral volatility of the assembly taken as a whole
and the rates of re-election, dissimilar records in all parties demonstrate the
non-existence of an association between intra-party volatility and legislative
At the beginning, this article claimed that the success or failure of those re-
election seekers was related to certain elements of the electoral system such as
closed and blocked lists and district magnitudes. The closed and blocked lists
used by fractions in Uruguay grant a great deal of power to fraction leaders.
Although some fractions use Conventions, Congresses or other executive
bodies to approve their list preparation, in most cases this is nothing more
than a mere formality.34
On the one hand, big electoral districts, like the Senate or the Department
of Montevideo, make possible the election of legislators without their own
electoral capital (votes). Usually, the lists of legislators are headed by
figures of national prestige who obtain such an important volume of votes
that they guarantee the entrance to the parliamentary arena of legislators
barely known by the citizens. This phenomenon is even stronger in
Montevideo than in the Senate of the Republic. In the latter, the citizenry
knows most legislators. On the other hand, something very different may


Colorado Party National Party Frente Amplio

Rate of Rate of Rate of

Volatility Re-election Volatility Re-Election Volatility Re-Election

1989 20.3 42.1 52.1 43.7 49.7 58.3

1994 30.8 48.3 47.5 53.1 50.2 68.7
1999 32.2 75.0 60.7 48.0 22.0 74.3

Source: Authors’ elaboration based on Albornoz and Corte Electoral.

happen in the small electoral districts of the countryside. Of these 17 electoral
districts, approximately half choose only two deputies (which is the consti-
tutional minimum, product of the demographic change). Under this scheme
of competition, parties’ expectations are reduced to obtaining at least one
seat in a district, which leads local leaders or deputies to try to head a list
that allows them to obtain the intra-party triumph. But to do so, candidates
must necessarily have their own electoral votes allowing them to negotiate
with other local leaders and/or leaders of the national fractions of the party.
This is not always the case and in many circumstances the loss of the fraction
endorsement or the impossibility of finding an agreement with smaller
caudillos entails an electoral defeat.35 We expect something in between in
middle sized departments. Table 4 shows the performances of re-election
seekers in small and large electoral districts.
Data from Table 4 support the idea that the combination of big electoral
districts with closed and blocked lists of fractions increases the chance of
re-election for those legislators who seek it. Small electoral districts, on the
other hand, offer fewer chances of re-election. Nonetheless, it is not clear
whether the differences among large, medium and small departments are
statistically significant.
In order to test the statistical significance of all variables mentioned in the
previous section and to take into account the binary character of our dependent
variable (re-election success or failure), we use Binary Time Series Cross
Sectional Analysis (BTSCS). We expect that the smaller the electoral district
the lower the probability of incumbent re-election. Also, contrary to common
knowledge, we believe that intra-party volatility has no effect on the prospects
of incumbent re-election. Moreover, if a legislator belongs to a new party
(Frente Amplio and Nuevo Espacio), she or he is more likely to be re-elected.
Finally, we should also mention another factor that might have an
impact on the rate of parliamentary renovation during the post-authoritarian



Electoral Districts Failure (%) Success (%) Total

Senate 18 (29.5) 43 (70.5) 61 (100.0)

Big (Montevideo) 51 (46.4) 59 (53.6) 110 (100.0)
Medium (Canelones) 10 (45.5) 12 (54.5) 22 (100.0)
Small (Rest) 40 (51.3) 38 (48.7) 78 (100.0)
Total 119 (43.9) 152 (56.1) 271 (100.0)

Source: Authors’ elaboration.


re-election rates: time itself. It is possible that, as time goes by, legislators
become more acquainted with legislative life and therefore the seniority of
the whole legislature increases. However, there is a problem here. The
constitutional reform of 1996 implied a new set of electoral laws.36 We
considered including a dummy indicating that the elections of 1999 were
held under a different electoral system, but we would then have the problem
of auto-correlation (the Pearson’s correlation between both variables is
0.866 significant at the 0.001 level). Therefore, we simply tested whether
time definitively affects incumbent re-election rates. Of course, in order to
have a more conclusive opinion we should have more data generated
through new elections under the same rules of the game.
Table 5 reports the results of the models explaining incumbent re-election.
The empirical findings fit our theoretical expectations. The overall model has a
high statistical significance (p , 0.001) and performs satisfactorily, predicting
over 60 per cent of the cases correctly. Three of the five independent variables
(Senate, Left and Year) are significant and have the anticipated sign. Since
size of electoral district and intra-party volatility are not statistically
discernible from zero, we cannot reject the null hypotheses that either of
these independent variables has an effect on incumbents’ re-election rates.
In Model 2 we drop the variable Senate, given that part of this information
is included in the variable Size-Electoral District. The model performs
significantly worse than Model 1. In Model 3 we drop variable Size-Electoral
District and the overall performance of the model improves. Model 3’s Chi


Model 1 Model 2 Model 3

Independent Coef (Std. Err.) Coef. (Std. Err.) Coef. (Std. Err.)

Left (þ) 0.708 (0.314) 0.651 (0.318) 0.712 (0.295)

Year (þ) 0.065 (0.033) 0.060 (0.035) 0.064 (0.033)
Size-Electoral 0.007 (0.168) 0.179 (0.185) – –
District (þ)
Intra-party 0.011 (0.010) 0.013 (0.010) 0.010 (0.010)
Volatility (2)
Senate (þ) 0.953 (0.370) – – 0.959 
Constant 2129.42 (66.394) 2121.15 (71.730) 2129.05 (65.87)
Overall Correctly
63.4% 57.1% 63.4%
Log likelihood 2162.593 2165.679 2162.59
Wald chi2(4) 20.25 12.57 20.24
Prob . chi2 0.0011 0.0136 0.0004

p , .05;  p , .01;  p , .005.
square is the highest of the three models and the variables acquire a better sig-
nificance here than in Model 1.
Given that the understanding of logistic regression is not straightforward,
we decided to represent our findings with a table of probabilities. In Table 6
we show the probability of incumbent re-election based on the coefficients
of Model 3 in Table 5, which includes bloc affiliation (left or traditional
parties) and the election year. So, in Table 6 taking the mean value of
dummy senate and dummy left, in the fifth row we see how the probability
of re-election increases as time goes by. A typical legislator had a 57 per cent
probability of being re-elected in 1989, 65 per cent in 1994 and 72 per cent
in the elections of 1999. Of course, these probabilities change if we take
into consideration whether the legislator was a senator and whether he or
she belonged to the bloc of the left. In 1989 a senator that belonged to the
left had an 82 per cent probability of being re-elected. As we move to the
right in the table, this probability increases to 86 per cent for the elections
of 1994, and lastly it reaches 89 per cent for the elections of 1999. Conversely,
a deputy from the traditional parties has a much lower probability of
re-election. In 1989 it was 46 per cent, in 1994 it was 54 per cent, and in
1999, 62 per cent. Other legislators, senators from the traditional parties or
deputies from the left, show probabilities that fall in between the two
aforementioned types of legislators.


There is virtually no information on legislative careers in Uruguay. This

section tries to fill this lacuna by addressing the fate of legislators that
could not be re-elected in 1995. The reasons for choosing the legislature
1990 –95 are twofold. On the one hand, the study of this legislature allows
us to see whether legislators returned to Congress after one interim period
(1995 – 2000). On the other hand, it is close enough in time to check with
the legislators themselves in case doubts arise. Hopefully, this will serve as


1989 1994 1999

Senator from Frente Amplio or Nuevo Espacio 0.821 0.864 0.898

Senator from Traditional Parties 0.694 0.758 0.813
Deputy from Frente Amplio or Nuevo Espacio 0.639 0.711 0.773
Deputy from traditional parties 0.466 0.547 0.626
Mean legislator 0.577 0.654 0.724

a springboard for future studies in legislative careers in Uruguay and Latin

From the 130 incumbents in Congress for the 1990 –95 legislature, only
36.2 per cent were re-elected in the elections of November 1995. In the follow-
ing paragraphs we will discuss what happens to the other 63.8 per cent
(n ¼ 83) of the legislators who failed to do so. Taking the 83 legislators as
the range of analysis we see that almost 57 per cent were legislators from
large electoral districts (Montevideo, 34.9 per cent; Senate, 21.6 per cent).
Regarding the 83 legislators, their future was as follows: almost 35 per cent
remained in the public domain albeit an ample majority of those were
appointed to office (72 per cent) rather than elected to public office (28 per
cent); the bulk of them (48.1 per cent) returned to the private world; and
finally, 17 per cent either retired or passed away (see Table 7).
Those who were elected to public office are equally distributed between
Departmental Majors (including the Montevideo) and legislator substitutes.
Over 25 per cent of all 83 non-re-elected legislators occupied appointed
posts in the national or departmental executive branches. Within this group,
the majority are those who were Directors at the publicly owned companies
(such as telecommunications or electricity), and other executive offices
(such as the National Institute for the Family and Women, National Institute
for Alimentation). Four legislators were appointed ambassadors of Uruguay
to Argentina, Paraguay, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica (note that the
first two are extremely sensitive embassies for Uruguay). Also, four legislators
become advisors or consultants for ministries or departmental governments.
One was nominated Minister of Defence, Nicolás Storace, and one,
Abayubá Martorell, was appointed as the Chief of the Police at the Lavalleja
Without taking into consideration those legislators that passed away, almost
all of the remaining 75 legislators continued in the same party (95 per cent).37
Four changed parties (we have evidence from three of them): one from the
Partido Nacional shifted to the Frente Amplio (Ruben Martı́nez Huelmo),
one did the reverse move (Francisco Rodı́guez Camusso) and a third changed
from the Nuevo Espacio to the Frente Amplio (Héctor Lescano). Nonetheless,
the shifting from fraction to fraction in the same party is much more
pronounced. Of the 71 who remained in the same party, 52.1 per cent (37)
maintained their fraction affiliation while 47.8 per cent (34) did not.38
Of the 75 incumbents during 1990 –95 that were not re-elected in 1995,
32.3 per cent (23) remained in the public arena after the elections of 1999.
Of these 23, nine returned to Congress for the 2000– 2005 legislature, either
as legislators (5) or as legislator substitutes (4). It is interesting to note that
the five legislators that gained office in the elections of 1999 were all from
the so-called traditional parties (three Colorados and two Blancos) and none

1995–2000 2000–2002


Total 100% (83) 100% (25) 100% (35) 100% (17) 100% (6) 100% (75) 100% (23) 100% (31) 100% (15) 100% (6)
Remained in the Public 35% (29) 44% (11) 43% (15) 12% (2) 17% (1) 31% (23) 48% (11) 26% (8) 20% (3) 17% (1)
Elected as: 28% (8) 36% (4) 20% (3) 50% (1) – 52% (12) 45% (5) 50% (4) 67% (2) 100% (1)
† Departmental Mayors 14% (4) 18% (2) 7% (1) 50% (1) – 13% (3) – 25% (2) 33% (1) –
† Legislators’ Substitutes 14% (4) 18% (2) 12% (2) – – 17% (4) 18% (2) – 33% (1) 100% (1)
† Legislators – – – – – 22% (5) 27% (3) 25% (2) – –
Appointed as: 72% (21) 64% (7) 80% (12) 50% (1) 100% (1) 48% (11) 55% (6) 50% (4) 33% (1) –
† Executive Directors 31% (9) 36% (4) 33% (5) – – 26% (6) 27% (3) 38% (3) – –
† Ambassadors 14% (4) 18% (2) 13% (2) – – 9% (2) 18% (2) – – –
† Advisors 14% (4) – 27% (4) – 100% (1) 4% (1) – – – –
† Cabinet Minister 3% (1) – 7% (1) – – 4% (1) – 13% (1) – –
† Secretaries at Dept. 7% (2) – – 50% (1) – 4% (1) – – – –
† Police Director 3% (1) 9% (1) – – – – – – – –
Private Arena 48% (40) 44% (11) 43% (15) 53% (9) 83% (5) 69% (52) 52% (12) 71% (22) 80% (12) 83% (5)
Retired 7% (6) 4% (1) 3% (1) 24% (4) – – – – – –
Passed Away 10% (8) 8% (2) 11% (4) 12% (2) – – – – – –

Note:  This category includes Directions at publicly owned companies, decentralised services and other independent offices.
Source: Authors’ elaboration.

was from the Frente Amplio or Nuevo Espacio. Three of the 23 were elected
Intendentes, two of these were re-elected for a second period: Mariano Arana
in Montevideo and Eber Da Rosa in Tacuarembó. The other 11 occupied
appointed posts in the national or departmental executive branches: seven at
the publicly owned companies and decentralised services; two were nomi-
nated ambassadors; one, Sergio Abreu, Minister of Industry; and one at the
government of Montevideo (Gonzalo Carámbula), see Table 7. In general
terms, the post-legislature career path in a given time depends on which
party controls the presidency and which parties (or intra-party factions) are
in the coalition with the president. For instance, Nereo Felipe Lateulade
was not re-elected in 1994 and was immediately appointed by the President
of the Republic, leader of the Colorado Party, as the Uruguayan Ambassador
to the Dominican Republic. On the other hand, the non-re-elected legislator,
Carmen Beramendi, from the Frente Amplio, had to seek employment
in the private arena.


In the last three Uruguayan elections we have observed a medium –high rate of
turnover of legislators. In 1989 it was 66.1 per cent, in 1994 it declined to 63.8
per cent and in 1999 it further descended to 53 per cent. These high rates of
legislative turnover are explained by a significant number of legislators who
do not seek re-election. In 1989 this figure reached 30.8 per cent, in 1994,
33.1 per cent and in 1999, 27.7 per cent. Approximately 70 per cent of the
incumbents seek re-election in Uruguay. Nonetheless, for the last three
elections we saw a significant increase in re-election rates. In 1989 re-election
rates were about 49 per cent, in 1994 they were 54 per cent and in 1999 they
were around 65 per cent. In explaining incumbent rates of re-election we
conclude that if a legislator is a senator or from the left bloc his/her likelihood
of re-election increases. Also, we found that intra-party volatility does not
seem to have an impact upon these phenomena. Electoral volatility of the
party system as a whole serves also to explain incumbent re-election rates.
The traditional parties, which saw a constant decrease in their electoral
support in the last three elections, show re-election rates that do not surpass
60 per cent. The left, whose overall level has increased its electoral support,
presents re-election rates of around 70 per cent.
Legislative turnover in Uruguay does not seem to be extremely different
from other countries in the region. As a matter of fact, data show important
similarities within dissimilar countries such as Colombia and Brazil. The
decreasing tendencies of legislative turnover and increasing incumbent
re-election are good signs for the Uruguayan political system. These ten-
dencies should keep progressing towards an equilibrium point that would
allow experienced but not immovable legislators. Nevertheless, this does not
depend exclusively on the will of parties, fractions, or even legislators, but
also on how the citizenship behaves at the time of voting. Therefore, we
welcome this blooming literature on legislative behaviour in Latin American
countries and its efforts towards building mid-range theories that account for
this phenomenon of incumbent turnover.


1. J. Carey, Term Limits and Legislative Representation (Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1996).
2. P. Navia, ‘Incumbency in the Chilean Parliament: Continuities and Change’, Latin American
Studies Association, 16– 18 March 2000, Miami, Florida; J. Carey, ‘Parties, Coalitions, and
the Chilean Congress in the 1990 s’, in S. Morgenstern and B. Nacif (eds.), Legislative Poli-
tics in Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp.222– 53.
3. It is interesting to note that the elections of 1999 represent a turning point in the tendencies
of incumbent re-election seekers in Panama. The percentage of total legislators who sought
re-election in 1989 was 54 per cent and the percentage of legislators who succeeded was
22 per cent. By the elections of 1994 these registries change to 69 per cent and 26 per cent
respectively. C. Guevara-Mann, ‘Patronage Distribution, Party Switching, and Electoral
Manipulation by Panamanian Legislators: The Electoral Connection’, Latin American
Studies Association, 16– 18 March 2000, Miami, Florida.
4. M.P. Jones, ‘Evaluating Argentina’s Presidential Democracy: 1983–1995’, in S. Mainwaring
and M.S. Shugart (eds.), Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1997).
5. M.P. Jones, S. Saiegh, P.T. Spiller and M. Tommasi, ‘Keeping a Seat in Congress: Provincial
Party Bosses and the Survival of Argentine Legislators’, Latin American Studies Association,
6–8 Sept. 2001, Washington DC.
6. R. Archer and M.S. Shugart, ‘The Unrealized Potential of Presidential Dominance in Colom-
bia’, in Mainwaring and Shugart (eds.) Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America,
7. Jones et al., ‘Keeping a Seat in Congress: Provincial Party Bosses and the Survival of
Argentine Legislators’.
8. Jones et al., ‘Keeping a Seat in Congress: Provincial Party Bosses and the Survival of
Argentine Legislators’.
9. D. Altman, ‘Intraparty and Interparty Politics: Factions, Fractions, Parties, and Coalitions in
Uruguay (1985–1999)’, Latin American Studies Association, 6 –8 Sept. 2001, Washington
10. Navia, ‘Incumbency in the Chilean Parliament: Continuities and Change’.
11. S. Morgernstern, ‘Towards a Model of Latin American Legislatures’, in Morgernstern and
Nacif (eds.), Legislative Politics in Latin America, pp.1–19.
12. S. Mainwaring, Rethinking Party Systems in the Third Wave of Democratization: The Case of
Brazil (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).
13. S. Morgernstern, ‘Explaining Legislative Politics in Latin America’, in Morgernstern and
Nacif (eds.), Legislative Politics in Latin America, pp.413–45.
14. See for instance, D. Altman, ‘The Politics of Coalition Formation and Survival in Multiparty
Presidential Democracies: The Case of Uruguay 1989–1999’, Party Politics, 6/3 (2000),
pp.259–83; D. Altman, ‘The Politics of Coalition Formation and Survival in Multiparty Pre-
sidential Regimes’ (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 2001); O. Bottinelli,
‘Estructura y funcionamiento de los partidos polı́ticos en Uruguay’, in K. Bodemer and
M.E. Laurnaga (eds.), Estructura y funcionamiento de los partidos polı́ticos: una reforma
posible, (Montevideo: FESUR, 1993), pp.105–46; D. Buquet, ‘Partidos Polı́ticos y Sistema

Electoral: Uruguay 1942–1994’ (Mexico: Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales –

FLACSO 1997); C. Welzel and R. Inglehart, ‘Analyzing Democratic Change and Stability: A
Human Development Theory of Democracy’, Veröffentlichung der Abteilung Institutionen
und sozialer Wandel des Forschungs-schwerpunkts Sozialer Wandel, Institutionen und
Vermittlungsprozesse des Wissenschaftszentrums Berlin für Sozialforschung, 1999;
S.A. Cardarello, ‘Cambio en la Representación Polı́tica en Uruguay? Efectos de la Eliminación
de la Acumulación por Sublemas a Diputados, 1984–1994’, Documento de Trabajo 17,
volume (Instituto de Ciencia Polı́tica, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales 1999); D. Chasquetti,
‘Compartiendo el gobierno: Multipartidismo y coaliciones en el Uruguay 1972– 1997’,
Revista Uruguaya de Ciencia Polı́tica, 10 (1998), pp.25-45; D. Chasquetti and J.A.
Moráes, ‘Parlamento y Gobierno en el Uruguay: Hipótesis para una Teorı́a del Ciclo Polı́tico’,
in J. Lanzaro (ed.), La ‘Segunda’ Transición en el Uruguay: Gobierno y Partidos en un
Tiempo de Reformas (Montevideo: Instituto de Ciencia Polı́tica – Fundación de Cultura
Universitaria, 2000), pp.297–338, D. Chasquetti and J.A. Moráes, ‘Gobierno y Coalición
en el Uruguay: 1985–1999’, in D. Pelúas, R. Pérez, D. Buquet, R. Piñeiro, D. Chasquetti
and H. Gatto (eds.), Coparticipación y Coalición: 164 años de acuerdo entre Blancos y
Colorados (Montevideo: Arca, 2000), pp.70–91; L.E. González, Political Structures and
Democracy in Uruguay (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991); J. Lanzaro,
‘Uruguay: Las Alternativas de un Presidecialismo Pluralista’, Revista Mexicana de Sociolo-
gı́a, 60/2 (1998), pp.187– 215; M.E. Mancebo, ‘De la “Entonación” a la “Coincidencia”:
Los Problemas del Presidencialismo en Uruguay’, Revista Uruguaya de Ciencia Polı́tica,
4 (1991), pp.29–46; M.E. Mancebo, Alianzas Interpatidarias en la Democracia Uruguaya
Restaurada, (Montevideo: Instituto de Ciencia Polı́tica, 1994); S. Morgenstern, ‘Organized
Factions and Disorganized Parties: Electoral Incentives in Uruguay’, Party Politics, 7/2
(2001), pp.235-56.
15. O. Bottinelli, ‘El Parlamento y su función polı́tica’, Cuadernos del CLAEH, 73–74 (1995),
pp.167– 177.
16. A. Guidobono, ‘La clase polı́tica uruguaya y el sistema electoral’, in R. Franco (ed.),
El sistema electoral uruguayo: peculiaridades y perspectivas (Montevideo: Fundación
Hanns Seidel, 1986), studies Uruguayan Congress turnover rates for the pre-1973 legislatures.
He claims that the average re-election rate for the period 1950–71 was around 40 per cent,
diametrically different results than those in Bottinelli’s piece.
17. According to Bottinelli ‘the three-party competition outside the regions of Canelones and
Montevideo has generated a significant phenomenon: the totality of the seats of the country-
side are disputed in competitions of uninominal format. That is to say, the candidates compete
for the only seat of the lema in the department (approximately about 39 seats)’. Bottinelli,
‘El Parlamento y su función polı́tica’, p.170.
18. By candidate selection we mean, as Mainwaring and Shugart argue in Presidentialism and
Democracy in Latin America, control of candidate selection, control of the order in which
members are elected from a party list, and pooling of votes among party’s candidates.
19. Mainwaring and Shugart, Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America, p.419.
20. D. Nohlen, Sistemas Electorales y Partidos Polı́ticos (Mexico D.F.: Fondo de Cultura
Económica, 1994), p.61.
21. Nohlen, Sistemas Electorales y Partidos Polı́ticos, p.61.
22. Mainwaring and Shugart, Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America, pp.418–28.
23. Nohlen, Sistemas Electorales y Partidos Polı́ticos, p.96.
24. Nohlen, Sistemas Electorales y Partidos Polı́ticos, p.43.
25. Until 1994 this was very clear. Many legislators who disagreed with the direction of the
fraction to which they belonged defected and formed their own group. The electoral
system allowed them to crystallise their political agendas in electoral terms. Nonetheless,
the electoral reform of 1996 partly limited this possibility, as it prohibits the accumulation
of votes by sublemas to the House of Representatives. In other words, with the present
rules the undisciplined legislator can break with his or her group, but his or her re-election
possibilities are narrower than with the previous legislation. Altman, ‘Intraparty and Inter-
party Politics: Factions, Fractions, Parties, and Coalitions in Uruguay (1985–1999)’.
26. It must be said that for the purposes of calculating the amount of deputies each party has at the
Chamber of Deputies after a given election, the whole country constitutes a unique electoral
district. It is only after this calculation that deputies are distributed among different fractions
within parties taking into consideration smaller electoral districts (departamentos). Moreover,
given the constitutional requirement that each department must have at least two deputies,
there is another mathematical calculation by which some departments have to yield some
of their seats to others. This last procedure is called tercer escrutinio. Although Uruguay
has one of the most proportional legislatures in the world at the party level, if we consider
fractions as the units of analysis proportionality decreases.
27. M. Pedersen, ‘The Dynamics of European Party Systems: Changing Patterns of Electoral
Volatility’, European Journal of Political Research, 7/1 (1979), pp.1–26; S. Mainwaring
and T. Scully (eds.), Building Democratic Institutions (Stanford, CA: Stanford University
Press, 1995).
28. Of course, we are aware that in this way we are strictly analysing the percentage of re-nominated
legislators, which is not necessarily the same percentage as those seeking re-election. None-
theless, we assume that those who allow their parties and fractions to use their names for an
elective position are expressing their desire to be elected. To our knowledge, there is not even
one case of an elected legislator that did not assume office because he or she did not ‘want to
do so’. But given the lack of data, we are convinced that this is the least problematic of the
29. For example, if in a given election 65 legislators were re-elected, the RPT will be 50 per cent
(this is, 65 divided 130).
30. For example, if in a given election 80 legislators sought re-election and 40 obtained it, the rate
of re-election (RR) will be 50 per cent (this is, 40 divided 80).
31. Bottinelli, ‘El Parlamento y su función polı́tica’.
32. Bottinelli affirms that one of the causes of the high rate of parliamentary turnover is ‘the
growth of intraparty electoral volatility during period 1971–1994’, ‘El Parlamento y su
función polı́tica’, p.176).
33. Pearson Correlation is 20.215 with a two tailed significance of 0.579.
34. Left-wing parties approve their lists in collective organs. But even in this case, the proposal
made by the leaders has a special importance and in most cases is approved without major
35. We still lack an in-depth study of these processes of negotiation that articulate national,
departmental and local leaderships. Although the new electoral legislation prohibits the
pooling of votes by sublemas to the House of Representatives, the importance of this relation-
ship has increased with the passage of time.
36. The combination of a unique presidential candidacy in each party and the prohibition of the
pooling of votes for deputies seems to favour a stronger leadership within parties. In the elec-
tions of 1999 the traditional parties showed a much stronger bipolar competition than before.
As a consequence, the electoral differentiation was drastically reduced and the possibility of
incumbent re-election increased. Both phenomena, strong leadership and the decrease of the
electoral differentiation, favour a higher level of incumbent re-election. Some of the changes
were: (a) presidential election by an absolute majority (with runoff if required); (b) unique
presidential candidacy by party; (c) internal and simultaneous primary elections in all
parties; (d) elimination of the double simultaneous vote at the level of sublemas for the
House of Representatives.
37. Here we are also including those legislators that retired given that the pensioner status does
not necessarily mean retirement from politics.
38. It does not mean a straight jump from one fraction to another, but on several occasions means
a jump from one fraction to an ‘independent’ status before joining another fraction.