Constitutional Design and Democratic Performance in Latin America
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This paper examines the impact of two models of constitutional design on Latin American politics. It suggests that the debate about the advantages and disadvantages of presidentialism needs to move beyond a discussion of whether parliamentary systems last longer than presidential systems. Constitutional design—the way that political systems assign the functions of government among the parts of government—not only affects democratic stability, but also the responsiveness, transparency, and effectiveness of political systems. This essay argues that the checks and balances version of the separation of powers—one that allocates every function of government among two or more parts of government—has contributed not only to political instability, but also impaired political system performance in many countries in the region. It also contends that most presidential systems possess elements of the old with the new separation of powers—a theory of constitutional design assigns one function of government to one part of government. The essay presents evidence that the most successful political systems of the region—Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay—are those that depart most significantly from the checks and balances version of the separation of powers.