Legislative Politics in Latin America

By Scott Morgenstern; Benito Nacif | Go to book overview
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Exaggerated Presidentialism and
Moderate Presidents: Executive–
Legislative Relations in Chile*


With few exceptions, the scholarly study of Latin American legislatures has been tangential to the wider study of the executive branch and presidential authority. This is the case primarily because of the real disparities in power between branches of government in the region, but also because legislative branches have traditionally been perceived as either “rubber stamps” or impediments to the efficient execution of presidential policies.1 More recent literature treats legislatures more seriously, but still tends to focus on the executive side of the interbranch equation.2 This is, of course, due to the overwhelming strength or perceived strength of Latin American presidencies in many postauthoritarian democracies. Yet, scholars should not commit the same error again, simply revisiting the theme of executive predominance without a closer examination of the real and important role that legislatures play in the region.

Even in academic work that expresses a specific intent to examine Latin American legislatures, the president seems ultimately to end up playing the starring role. Part of the reason that presidents receive so much

For example, Stokes (1959), in his chapter, “The Subservient Legislature, contends that in Latin America, “Executive–legislative relations have been characterized by executive dominance and legislative subservience” (p. 412). This sort of interpretation was typical until relatively recently.
See Shugart and Carey (1992) and Mainwaring and Shugart (1997). Close's (1995) edited volume is a partial exception, though many of the chapters do not depart significantly from the focus on the executive side of the equation. What is more, the Chilean case study (Nef and Galleguillos 1995) is constitutionally rather than empirically focused.
The author is grateful for useful comments, criticisms, and suggestions from Scott Morgenstern, Benito Nacif, and an anonymous reviewer for Cambridge University Press.


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