Term Limits Are a Blunt Rallying Cry
By Arduino Tomasi
The ongoing discussions in Ecuador regarding the effects of indefinite reelection have not arisen from a vacuum. The ruling party PAIS Alliance has submitted a draft constitutional amendment — now in the legislative process — to, among other things, eliminate fixed terms under which a person may occupy a public office. This amendment was not introduced on account of academic debate; rather, the political interest behind it is that President Rafael Correa may be reelected.
It is possible to discuss reelection, but one mustn’t forget why it is being discussed: there is no text without context. And one cannot fail to consider its counterweight: across-the-board opposition to the idea of reelection works as a useful platform for certain politicians.
From that point, I think its effects are being exaggerated. For example: if the amendment is not approved, would that be good news for democracy?
The answer is not clear. In Ecuador, the previous constitution (1998-2008) established unlimited reelection for public officials, with the sole exception of the president. And during the decade this constitution was in force, the country experienced her worst period of governance. If there is anything our political history suggests, it is that institutional engineering goes far beyond a single mechanism.
In the classical formal models of political science, a theoretical prediction is that the mechanism of reelection (given what it implies in terms of salaries, ego, etc.), is an incentive that can benefit voters.
For example, Ferraz and Finan analyzed municipalities of Brazil, and found that mayors in their first term — with the possibility of reelection — were 27 percent less corrupt than mayors in their second, and last, period. The authors estimate that this mechanism prevented the diversion of US$160 million of public funds.
But the interesting thing about this study is another one of its findings: in municipalities with a large presence of independent media and prosecutors, mayors in their second term virtually behaved the same way as those who were in their first term.
The lesson here is intuitive: reelection may have desirable effects, as long as it is accompanied by other institutional mechanisms — such as avoiding political collusion with the judiciary.
In countries with institutional designs such as Ecuador’s, there are structural issues that will not be solved with fixed terms. For example, Tsebelis and Alemán (2005) mention as a typical presidential prerogative in Latin-American presidential systems, their power as conditional agenda-setters.
In Ecuador, as in other countries of the region, the president can intervene in legislative processes not only through reactive powers, such as the veto (which activates the status quo). The premier also has “positive” powers that allow him to introduce reforms to bills that become laws by default, if a qualified majority of legislators does not reject it.
That prerogative grants the president a greater discretion that is not addressed by the traditional literature regarding the separation of powers. That would be, for example, a structural issue with a direct impact on the dynamics of the executive and legislative branches of the government.
In Ecuador — and in Venezuela — discussions regarding institutional designs have resumed. That reelection occupies the central spot in these discussions is due not so much to its importance to the democratic health of a country, but for convenience, as it is a useful vehicle to mobilize forces.
The opportunity to discuss major issues should not be wasted.
Arduino Tomasi is an Ecuadorian political scientist and masters student in political science and political economy at the London School of Economics. Follow @arduinotomasia.
Psychopathy of the Indispensable
By Aparicio Caicedo
EspañolIn 1878, Porfirio Díaz became president of Mexico under the slogan “Effective Suffrage, No Reelection.” He fulfilled his main campaign promise: to constitutionalize the principle of no reelection. Indeed, once he completed his mandate, Díaz left office.
However, given the possibility of running again after a presidential term was open, he did so in the elections of 1884, and won. But this time he warned, as to appease his conscience, “Today I become president again, and I know I won’t be able to do it anymore.” Shortly afterwards, he promoted a reform that allowed indefinite presidential reelection for the first time. He left power 27 years later.
The lesson was so traumatic for Mexico that its legislation prohibits reelection until today. There are no exceptions. The subject is sort of a taboo there; people must not touch it.
Why has it happened over and over again ever since in Latin America? Why do characters so ideologically diverse like Alberto Fujimori, Álvaro Uribe, and Rafael Correa, to mention the most paradigmatic, seem born of the same mother when talking about reelection?
Obviously, the aim of remaining in power is not a matter of ideological bias, but of human nature. It is the result from a sum of psychological deviations that usually affect leaders who have received large electoral support, who consider themselves indispensable heroes of an unfinished deed, and whose blessed projects cannot remain unfinished due to mere formal or temporal limits.
The political result of being carried away by such delusions has always proved to be disastrous, if not tragic. To prove it, just take a look at a few geographically close and relatively recent cases, of which little is said.
It was Alberto Fujimori — and not Hugo Chávez, as some think — who set the tone that the leaders of the Andean socialism are following today. In 1992, the “Chinaman” dissolved the Peruvian congress and intervened in judicial institutions. Through a constituent assembly controlled by his supporters, he promoted a new constitution that allowed immediate reelection. As a result, he ran for reelection in 1995, and won overwhelmingly.
One year later, Peruvian lawmakers approved a controversial interpretative law that calculated Fujimori’s second term as his first under the new Constitution, thus allowing him to run for a third election in 2000.
When the Constitutional Court tried to stop this nonsense, the Congress (dominated by the ruling party), ousted the dissenting judges. Fujimori won again, but soon after he ended up self-exiled in Japan, embroiled in corruption and espionage scandals, and a serious economic crisis.
Peruvians learned the lesson: they passed a law that prohibits immediate presidential reelection until today.
In 2004, Álvaro Uribe, then president of Colombia, promoted a constitutional reform that allowed immediate reelection only once. He ran the following year and won crushingly. In 2009, his supporters in parliament promoted another reform to open the possibility of a third term. They had broad popular support, but the Colombian Constitutional Court blocked the initiative, noting that a third term would allow a change that would disrupt the essential balance of the rule of law and the democratic system.
Colombia also learned the lesson: the presidential election was strictly prohibited by a recent constitutional reform.
Now, history repeats itself in Ecuador. Rafael Correa is not seeking to amend the Constitution on ideological grounds, but guided by the same psychotic effects of power that led Díaz, Uribe, Fujimori, and Chávez. That same psychic mutation explains how an element of the current Constitution (reelection only once) mandated legislatively by PAIS Alliance — today, even the rectors of private universities in Ecuador cannot be reelected more than once — suddenly became a “bourgeois institution.”
That is why we must reject the illegitimate constitutional amendment that would allow indefinite presidential reelection in Ecuador. That is a lesson that history has made crystal-clear; a lesson that has no place for the simplistic readings of democracy of those who forget — either out of naivety or convenience — that power needs institutional boundaries to protect us from the psychopathic syndromes generated by messianic delusions.
EspañolOne week has passed since Cuba opened its embassy doors in Washington, DC, and the communist nation is no longer on the black list of countries lacking significant efforts to comply with minimum standards in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). On Monday, July 27, the US Department of State revealed the Trafficking in Persons Report 2015. According to the report, each country is ranked onto a four-tier system based "more on the extent of government action to combat trafficking than on the size of the country’s problem." Among other nations, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, and Iran are ranked in lowest tier for not making significant efforts to eradicate human trafficking. Cuba, ranked in lowest tier three for over 10 years now, has moved to the Tier Two Watch List — one up from the lowest and alongside Costa Rica, Bolivia, and Jamaica. This means that the country does not comply with the TVPA's minimum standards to fight this crime, but the regime "making significant efforts" to reach compliance. Luis Enrique Ferrer, international representative at the dissident Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), commented to PanAm Post that the fact that the United States made this determination is due to "economic interests, and among many other things, is politically-driven." He maintains that from the time when secret conversations began between US President Barack Obama's administration and the Castro dictatorship, the direction has been pointed towards Cuba "washing its face" and selling an image of greater tolerance. "The US government has been taking steps towards this. First, by eliminating Cuba from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, now with this report on human trafficking. We know the dictatorship will welcome anything that will bring some type of economic or political benefit. [They are] a group of mafiosos willing to do anything," he stated. In terms of the human-trafficking situation, Ferrer stated that the present economic situation drives 14- and 15-year-olds to prostitution. "The Cuban regime puts many of these jineteras (prostitutes) in jail to show they are trying to put a stop to the problem. On the other hand, there are high-end prostitutes in tourist resorts that they don't go after, precisely because they need them to attract more sex tourism and to continue seeing money from that." He also said that the Cuban regime is a "specialist" in fraud and manipulation: "they use an image of improving conditions for Cubans in propaganda campaigns, when what they truly want is to keep their grip on power." The 384-page document (PDF) contends that in the case of Cuba, employees in the tourism and education sectors receive training to identify signs of sex trafficking, especially among children who may be associated with the sex industry. To this vein, it continues, the country has shown efforts in eradicating trafficking for two consecutive years. Among those efforts are 13 prosecutions and convictions of individuals associated with this crime in 2013. The report also highlights videotaped interview services offered to victims under the age of 17, to prevent them from having to appear in court. Though the Cuban penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking, according to the report, the regime informed that efforts continue to reform it. "We remain concerned in the case of Cuba … the failure to recognize forced labor as a problem or to act to combat it. And so this will be very much a topic in our dialogue with Cuban officials," stated Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Under Secretary Sarah Sewall, in a special briefing to press. According to the US Department of State, this report is the main tool used to establish dialogue with other nations on human trafficking. It represents an up-to-date, global view on the nature and effects of human trafficking and the wide range of actions governments can take to confront and do away with this crime. Translated by Vanessa Arita.