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The parliaments of Latin America promoted 26 political trials in 32 years: why so much instability?

The forced shortening of presidential terms has been a constant in the political scenario of Latin America. Only between 1991 and 2023, in nine countries of the region there were a total of 26 processes for the removal of their rulers.

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With political trials, vacancy motions or attempts to lift immunity, parliaments achieved the early departure of eight presidents. In addition, four resigned before being removed from power.

Next November, Ecuador will have a new president after its still president Guillermo Lasso announced the dissolution of the National Assembly and his resignation, under a constitutional mechanism known as cross death. This occurred in the middle of a political trial initiated against Lasso for alleged corruption.

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Previously, the Ecuadorian Congress removed two presidents: Abdalá Bucaram in 1997 and Lucio Gutiérrez in 2005. To date, the Latin American nations with the most parliamentary removal procedures for presidents in the last 32 years are Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, Brazil and Chile.

Although the region’s Congresses justified the initiation of political trials or dismissal requests due to indications of illegal acts or corruption, specialists consulted by El Comercio agree in pointing out the negative effects of the frequent use of so-called ‘impeachments’ or presidential vacancies. and dissolutions of Parliament.

“The dissolutions and dismissals bring with them a deep distrust of the citizens, not only to the political class, but above all to democracy. Mistrust leads to uncertainty based on the rules of the political system.commented to this newspaper the internationalist and Mexican political adviser based in Berlin, diana moon. He highlighted that, in several of the scenarios, the Executive and Legislative branches – in the absence of solid party platforms – based their identity on confrontation.

the internationalist Oscar Vidarte He stressed that democracy and institutions have been weakened worldwide. In the Latin American case, he indicated that political fragmentation has put the stability sought by government after government at greater risk.

“50 years ago we talked more about coups d’état, about ruptures in the constitutional order. Around the 90s, we began to talk about situations that put democracy at risk, with the dictatorships in Peru, with Fujimori, or Venezuela, with Chávez. But now we see other figures, which some call ‘parliamentary coups’. In the end, by votes of Congress, the future of democracy is affected and the political system is weakened.said the internationalist Oscar Vidarte.

Professor of Public International Law, Francisco Belaundeindicated that political instability feeds on polarization, “which is growing and has impromptu politicians and material interests in the middle”. “Now, from Congress, they have begun to remove presidents. It seems that political polarization is what leads to extreme conflicts between powers. The quality of the politicians also means that, eventually, there is no capacity for negotiation or healthy solutions to crises”.

Compared to other Latin American countries, Peru and Ecuador have experienced the greatest instability in their presidential terms. Between 2000 and 2022, the different Peruvian Congresses presented up to 8 vacancy motions against presidents. Of these requests, 4 were unsuccessful, while in 3 the removal of the president was decreed (Alberto Fujimori, in 2000; Martín Vizcarra, in 2020; Pedro Castillo, in 2022) and in one the presidential resignation was obtained ( Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, in 2018).

Last week, the still president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, announced that he will not stand for re-election for the general elections that will come in August, after his decree of “cross death.” For diana moonthe forced renewal of the Ecuadorian Executive and Legislative powers is not, in itself, a way out of the institutional crisis that the country has been dragging.

With the death cross in Ecuador we are before the premiere of a new mechanism for government removal in Latin America. This mechanism was a shield established by Correa with elements closer to parliamentarianism. Ecuador needs a political truce in the short term that allows a functional and pragmatic government. While this is happening, it is essential to strengthen the party system through democratic party structures and, above all, promote the creation of platforms.”he expressed.

Presidential instability in Latin American countries is recurring. After the democratization processes, the phenomenon of “interrupted presidencies” appeared. The presidents in office do not finish their constitutional mandates. The use of political trials, resignations and early departures due to social pressures allowed the “flexibility” of presidentialism. Presidents leave, but democratic regimes do not go bankrupt. The military (usually) do not rule again.

At the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the new millennium, Latin America experienced a significant wave of presidential instability. Several presidents were removed or expelled from their posts, particularly in Ecuador and Bolivia, but also in Argentina or Paraguay.

After the end of the commodity boom in the middle of the last decade, the same patterns seem to have returned. The anti-incumbent logic prevailed in the region. The presidents in office (and their parties) are not reelected. Governing became increasingly difficult.

The recent cases of interrupted presidencies of Pedro Castillo (failed coup) and Guillermo Lasso (“cross death”) respond to different mechanisms, but similar conditions: strong fragmentation of party systems, party weakness, lack of political projects and poor performance governmental.

Are these patterns surprising? Hardly. The data from public opinion polls show (with exceptions) the discredit of the main political actors – parties, presidents, congresses. Democracy without (democratic) actors. Just smear. Democracy is empty.

The growing polarization, demagogic proposals, arbitrary interpretations of constitutions and increasingly extreme solutions only worsen the situation. The responses of political actors erode democracy. Instead of strengthening institutions, they politicize them. In short, dominate or neutralize the control mechanisms. The problem is that institutional weakness and patterns of instability become chronic: Peru and Ecuador are the best examples.

Politicians with a democratic commitment face an important task: strengthening political parties and democratic institutions. Otherwise, more poor public policies, greater instability, or authoritarian concentrations of power are on the way. With the poor performance of governments and widespread social discontent, it is indeed strange that there is not more instability. In no case is this good news for citizens in the countries of the region.

*Tomas Dosek has a PhD in Political Science from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, a Master’s in Latin American Studies from the Institute of Ibero-America of the University of Salamanca and a Master’s in International and European Studies – Diplomacy from the Higher School of Economics.

Source: Elcomercio

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