Allies and Traitors: Vice-Presidents in Latin America
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 January 2019
Vice-presidents in Latin America have often been at the centre of political turbulence. To prevent conflicts within the executive, most Latin American countries have therefore put in place formulae to elect presidents and vice-presidents on a joint electoral ticket. Still, it is common for presidential candidates to pick running mates from other parties in order to construct alliances and appeal to a broader set of voters. But the presence of such ‘external’ vice-presidents seems to increase the risk of presidential interruption in general and impeachment processes in particular. Accordingly, we argue that the frequently overlooked institution of the vice-president deserves attention as a possible intervening variable that can contribute to the explanation for government crises and their outcomes in Latin America.
Los vicepresidentes en América Latina con frecuencia se han encontrado en el centro de turbulencias políticas. Para evitar conflictos con el ejecutivo, por lo tanto, la mayoría de países latinoamericanos han implementado fórmulas para elegir presidentes y vicepresidentes unidos en una boleta electoral. Aun así, es común para los candidatos presidenciales escoger compañeros de fórmula de otros partidos con el fin de construir alianzas y atraer un grupo de votantes mayor. Sin embargo, la presencia de estos vicepresidentes ‘externos’ pareciera que incrementa el riesgo de una interrupción presidencial en general y procesos de impeachment en particular. Entonces, argumentamos que aunque con frecuencia se pasa por alto la institución de la vicepresidencia, esta merece atención como una posible variable que puede contribuir a explicar crisis gubernamentales y sus resultados en América Latina.
Vice-presidentes na América Latina com frequência se encontram no centro de turbulências políticas. Para prevenir conflitos no poder executivo, a maioria dos países latino-americanos implantaram fórmulas para eleger presidentes e vice-presidentes em uma única cédula eleitoral. Mesmo assim, é uma prática comum para candidatos presidenciais escolherem vices de outros partidos a fim de construir alianças e atrair um número maior de eleitores. Contudo, a presença de vice-presidentes ‘externos’ parece, no geral, aumentar o risco de interrupção presidencial e particularmente processos de impeachment. Sendo assim, argumentamos que a instituição vice-presidencial, frequentemente negligenciada, merece atenção por ser a variável e possível explicação pelas crises de governo e seus resultados na América Latina.
- Research Article
- Journal of Latin American Studies , Volume 51 , Issue 3 , August 2019 , pp. 665 - 688
- Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019
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15 For a description of the databases, see the Appendix. For a detailed list of the sources used to build each database, please contact the authors.
16 Classification is essentially made on the basis of political positions and party affiliations in the time immediately before the electoral period. Accordingly, presidents and their deputies may be coded as coming from different parties even if the two candidates nominally appear as a joint coalition in the election or if the vice-president comes to join the president's party for the election. As long as the vice-president belongs to an identifiable party that had a separate existence until immediately before the electoral period, it is coded as an ‘external’ vice-presidential candidate; the same is the case with persons who were clearly political independents prior to their inclusion on a presidential ticket. The reason for this backward-looking classification is that classification based on position during the electoral campaign or in office may understate differences, as the president and the vice-president may have a clear interest – during the electoral period – to appear more united than they really are.
17 Note that Peru, Costa Rica and (until recently) Panama have (had) a system with double vice-presidents (a system that has also been employed in other countries historically, e.g. in Bolivia following the 1880 revision of the 1878 Constitution). In the following analysis we report on the first vice-presidents. As the order of succession between the vice-presidents is set, this does not affect the conclusions below. For further information on the database, see the Appendix.
18 The US vice-presidency was partly designed to secure a national vote behind the presidential candidate, and partly modelled on the position of the Lieutenant Governor in the US states. In The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton had proposed a vice-president as presidential successor, elected the same way as the president. He argued that since the vice-president could end up in the presidency it was important that he was elected in the same manner as the president, which would secure the same qualities in the vice-president as in the president, and ‘authorise the vice-president to exercise the same authorities … as the president’. Cited from Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James and Jay, John, The Federalist Papers, ed. Johnson, Cynthia Brantley (New York: Pocket Books, 2004), p. 490Google Scholar. See also Goldstein, Joel K., The White House Vice Presidency. The Path to Significance, from Mondale to Biden (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2016), pp. 11–13Google Scholar.
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29 The runner-up electoral system for the vice-presidency was present in seven constitutions in our database. Data from early constitutions regarding the election of vice-presidents, however, are fraught with problems, and in constitutions where the text is ambiguous and other sources cannot confirm the electoral formula, we code the data as missing. Early constitutions were often short-lived, and it is possible that no election was held within the life of the constitution, which makes coding impossible in ambiguous cases. Also, in several cases it is somewhat difficult to determine whether the vice-president was independently elected or whether s/he was the runner-up to the presidency. Furthermore, if the president did not win 50 per cent of the votes in the electoral college, the final election would often be decided by Congress, which would appoint both the president and the vice-president from among the top contenders. In some elections we suspect that the independent election of the vice-president worked in practice as a runner-up system, in which Congress gave the vice-presidency to the runner-up in the presidential contest as a consolation prize. For example, in the 1825 presidential election of the Central American Federation, the vote was decided by the Federal Congress after neither of the two candidates (Manuel José Arce and José Cecilio del Valle) obtained the minimum of 50 per cent of the registered votes. Congress gave the presidency to Arce, who had obtained fewer votes than del Valle in the electoral college (34 vs. 41) and the vice-presidency to del Valle. Del Valle eventually declined the vice-presidency, however, which, after another failed attempt, was given to Mariano Beltranena. See Parker, Franklin D., ‘José Cecilio del Valle: Scholar and Patriot’, Hispanic American Historical Review, 32: 4 (1952), pp. 516–39Google Scholar.
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33 Indeed, the events behind this murky episode displayed elements of the runner-up model, as it brought together politicians from opposing sides: President Raúl Cubas had previously been the running-mate of the controversial General Lino Oviedo. As the latter was forced to withdraw from the race, Cubas became presidential candidate. As per the statutes of the Colorado Party, however, the previous runner-up to Oviedo in the party primaries became his vice-president.
34 Yet it has been argued that this might actually have saved President Luis Ángel González Macchi from impeachment by members of his own Colorado Party, as they feared that his ouster would lead their opponents in the Liberal Party to gain the presidency. Pérez-Liñán, Presidential Impeachment, pp. 29–35.
35 See e.g. The Economist, 24 Nov. 2012.
36 Mariana Llanos and Leiv Marsteintredet, ‘Epilogue. The Breakdown of Zelaya's Presidency: Honduras in Comparative Perspective’, in Llanos and Marsteintredet (eds.), Presidential Breakdowns, pp. 229–38. See also note 52.
37 ‘Lugo's Impeachment Plunges Paraguay into Political Limbo’, Latin American Weekly Report, 28 June 2012; Marsteintredet, Leiv, Llanos, Mariana and Nolte, Detlef, ‘Paraguay and the Politics of Impeachment’, Journal of Democracy, 24: 4 (2013), pp. 110–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
38 Bolivia might currently have the most powerful vice-presidency in the region. Under Evo Morales, Vice-President Álvaro García Linera has taken a prominent position as an important ideologue, intellectual and political actor. Whether the strong and visible vice-presidency in Bolivia will survive the current government, however, remains to be seen.
39 Sribman, La vicepresidencia, pp. 88ff.
40 A president's power to isolate or side-line the vice-president may vary with the executive and legislative duties in the various countries’ constitutions. Side-lining a vice-president is likely to be easier in countries where the vice-president has no constitutional duties and all tasks are assigned by the president. This is the case in five countries in Latin America today, including Ecuador where, in August 2017, President Lenin Moreno – unable to remove the vice-president (Jorge Glas) – stripped him of all his executive tasks by decree following the disclosure of his involvement in a bribery scandal related to the Odebrecht conglomerate. The Comptroller General subsequently recommended that Glas be removed from office and sentenced to jail. After his absence from office for more than 90 days, Congress declared the vice-presidency vacant and selected a new vice-president. We appreciate insight from Santiago Basabe Serrano on this case.
41 In Venezuela, the authority to name and remove the vice-president rests with the president only. This formula is very rare, but not unique to the Bolivarian constitution of Venezuela. The formula was possibly inspired by Simón Bolívar, since it first appeared in the Bolivian constitution of 1826, where the president for life selected the vice-president, although in that case the selection had to be confirmed by Congress. A similar system existed in Guatemala between 1956 and 1964, where the president drew up a list of potential presidential successors – designados – from which Congress selected a first and a second, who would succeed the president in that order.
42 See e.g. Sigelman, Lee and Wahlbeck, Paul J., ‘The “Veepstakes”: Strategic Choice in Presidential Running Mate Selection’, American Political Science Review, 91: 4 (1997), pp. 855–64Google Scholar; and Adkison, Danny M., ‘The Electoral Significance of the Vice Presidency’, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 12: 3 (1982), pp. 330–6Google Scholar.
43 In particular during the so-called ‘Left wave’, ticket-balancing has become common as a number of nominally leftist presidential candidates have sought to demonstrate their moderation through their vice-presidential candidates in order to appeal to the centrist majorities in the electorate. For the moderation of the ‘turn to the Left’ in this regard, see Uggla, Fredrik, ‘A Turn to the Left or to the Centre?’, Stockholm Review of Latin American Studies, 3 (2008), pp. 9–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
44 ‘Brazil: President in the Dock’, Latin American Weekly Report, 25 Aug. 2016.
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46 For the former, the mean effective number of political parties was 4.31 with a standard deviation of 2.23, and for the latter the same figures were 2.96 and 0.90, respectively.
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48 For the importance of the opposition controlling the line of succession, see Andrés Malamud's analysis of the fall of President Fernando de la Rúa in Argentina: ‘Social Revolution or Political Takeover? The Argentine Collapse of 2001 Reassessed’, Latin American Perspectives, 42: 11 (2015), pp. 11–26.
49 Maldonado had been installed as vice-president just months prior to the impeachment of President Otto Pérez Molina since the former vice-president, Roxanna Baldetti (a loyalist towards Pérez Molina), had already been successfully removed in the same scandal that eventually toppled the president.
50 Furthermore, Samuels and Shugart register only one occurrence in their 53 countries in the period between 1946 and 2007 in which the party of a president initiated and voted in favour of impeachment. This was the case with Raúl Cubas in Paraguay. See Samuels, David J. and Shugart, Matthew S., Presidents, Parties, Prime Ministers. How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behaviour (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 108–20Google Scholar.
51 On this point, see also Mustapic, Ana María, ‘América Latina: Las renuncias presidenciales y el papel del Congreso’, Política, 47 (2006), pp. 55–70Google Scholar.
52 The coup against Zelaya is also the only example of a presidential interruption enforced by external actors in which the president and his deputy came from the same party. Honduras was indeed a special case. Elected Vice-President Elvin Santos had resigned in November 2008 to compete for the presidency in 2009. President Zelaya then nominated his Minister of Defence, Aristides Mejía, as vice-president, but the opposition challenged this promotion. When Zelaya was deposed by the coup in June 2009, a congressional majority, including Zelaya's own Liberal Party, supported the coup and sidestepped Mejía with the argument that President of Congress Roberto Micheletti (also of the Liberal Party) was Zelaya's constitutional successor.
53 Furthermore, in three of these six cases (Guatemala in 1993, Dominican Republic in 1996 and Peru in 2000), these early terminations of the presidencies could actually be said to have been a response to earlier anti-democratic actions by the presidents themselves, which means that their classification as interruptions can be debated. A similar argument could possibly be made with regard to Cubas in Paraguay, who is in the same group. Marsteintredet, Leiv, ‘Explaining Variation of Executive Instability in Presidential Regimes: Presidential Interruptions in Latin America’, International Political Science Review, 35: 2 (2014), pp. 175–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
54 It should also be noted that it has been much more common for vice-presidents to gain the presidency by succession than by election: whereas in contemporary Latin America only two external vice-presidents have subsequently been elected to the presidency (Paz Zamora in Bolivia in 1989 and Varela in Panama in 2014), seven external vice-presidents have become presidents through presidential interruptions.
55 We are grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers of the article for making this point.
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57 We owe this argument to Andrés Rivarola. For related arguments, see Hochstetler and Samuels, ‘Crisis and Rapid Re-equilibration’, and Marsteintredet, Leiv and Berntzen, Einar, ‘Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions’, Comparative Politics, 41: 1 (2008), pp. 83–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
58 See http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/obra/constituciones-hispanoamericanas-0/ (last access 26 Sept. 2018).