Constitutional choice and the balance of power : case study of the Chilean electoral system




Armijo, Roberto Bruno

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The goal of this report is to examine how the relative balance of power between competing elites affects institutional choice in new democracies and the consequences this may have on democratic stability. I first develop a theoretical framework around the hypothesis that if the newly established democratic institutions to some degree safeguard the interests of the outgoing elites, they are less likely to defy them and find unconstitutional means through which to protect said interests. Given that elites ousted from power in a democratic transition are rarely rendered powerless by the process, this report works under the assumption that democratic reform is to some degree implemented by the outgoing ruling elite groups that at the same time stand to lose from it. If we assume these elite groups behave rationally, they will act strategically to protect their interests and thus will prefer institutions that are compatible with the upholding of such interests even when their political opponents are in power. iii The ability to affect institutional choice is of course limited by the relative power the ruling elites hold at the time of institutional choice. Even so, competing elites may make concessions in order for the outgoing elites not to go back on democratic reform in case the balance of power shifts back in their favor, allowing them to protect their advances in the struggle for power. Thus for democratic reform to be sustainable in the long-term, it must be through institutions that reduce the perceived risks they pose to elites interests. Under this theoretical framework, I study the case of the constitutional choice process that led to the current Chilean electoral system. After the 1988 plebiscite, the military regime was surprised by the fact that over 55% of the electorate voted for elections to be held. This meant that in order for them to secure the market-oriented reforms they had implemented under Pinochet, the 1980 constitution would have to be amended. But given the relative balance of power between them and their opponents, both sides would have to make concessions. This would lead to an electoral system that remains unchanged to this day.




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