The impact of political leaders on democracy in Latin America

What countries in Latin America were included in your study?

Dr Rut Diamint:

It was a team that worked in five places: Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.

Our interest was to work in all South America countries, but the limitations of the grant did not allow us to finish the work yet. But we are trying to continue with this work.

What was the principle conclusion for the first part of your research?

Dr Rut Diamint:

We began to understand that leadership was a subject that was not very well studied in the social sciences. Our conclusion was the emergence of different types of leadership is embedded in the context of political parties, history, economic crises, etc before the leaders can have (more or less) autonomy. And this autonomy is what makes the strong leaderships go far from the principles of democracy.

Do leaders weaken institutions when they grow in power?

Dr Rut Diamint:

They weaken institutions, procedures, the rules – all is permitted to increase their personal power. And because there are no strong political parties that can, in a way, balance this power, the situation is that these leaders weaken democracy.

The only case in our five cases that was different is Uruguay. In Uruguay, the political parties are really strong. They have to work with the opposition, to work with the congress, and the political party has power to control the leaders. They have mechanisms to select the leaders, and they put rules over the leaders. It’s a different situation where you really find that democracy becomes stronger.

Is democracy becoming weaker in other countries?

Dr Rut Diamint:

Yes. The political parties became weaker and the leaders have more power to decide by themselves, in a small team, to change their teams in what is a very personal decision-making process. And you don’t see this interplay between institutions, political parties and congress, etc.

In this situation how do you affect a peaceful transition from one leader to another?

Dr Rut Diamint:

That is a good question. The reality is that, once you have a strong political leader with the right to power they begin to build and to organise assistance with institutions to take power from the institutions to take power from the congress. And the moment this leader becomes weak – or have a lot of problems, economic and social, etc - there will appear another leader with the same conditions to become president. But when he’s in power he uses the same tools to wage power for himself.

What advice do you have for policy in Latin America to help safeguard democracy?

Dr Rut Diamint:

The first question related to our research is that political parties are a fundamental piece of democracy.

Is to work for political parties, to help fewer but stronger political parties, and to inform the people that political parties are really important for the works of democracy.

But at the same time it is the capacity of control the society can develop. And we see in a lot of cases in Latin America that the people are able to put up a president, or another political person. But they haven’t got the tools to control what their politicians do. It’s a safety mechanism not to have the tools when the crisis arrives, but to have everyday tools for controlling their leader.

(photo credit: dpa)

Latin American Democracy. What to do with the leaders?

by Dr Laura Tedesco and Dr Rut Diamint.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/blar.12070/full