Manipulating Term Limits in Latin America

Issue Date October 2014
Volume 25
Issue 4
Page Numbers 157-168
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During the last decade many Latin American countries have changed their constitutions to allow presidential reelection. This is a significant shift from the previous standard surrounding constitutional design, prevalent in the 1980s, which favored limiting consecutive reelection. This paper explores whether this new trend towards presidential reelection is undermining the quality of democracy by expanding incumbency advantage, or is instead improving the accountability of presidents seeking reelection. To assess this debate, we first examine the evolution of the different rules governing presidential reelection in Latin America and look at the frequency and manner in which incumbent presidents in the region have tried to change these rules. Next, using our own database of 125 presidential elections in eighteen countries between 1953 and 2012, we analyze election outcomes. We find that the right to reelection increases the electoral advantage of incumbents to the detriment of accountability. We conclude by offering some possible institutional responses that might help ameliorate the incumbent’s advantage.

About the Authors

Javier Corrales

Javier Corrales is Dwight W. Morrow 1895 Professor of Political Science at Amherst College. His books include Fixing Democracy: Why Constitutional Change Often Fails to Enhance Democracy in Latin America (2018) and (with Michael Penfold) Dragon in the Tropics: Venezuela and the Legacy of Hugo Chávez (second edition, 2015).

View all work by Javier Corrales

Michael Penfold

Michael Penfold is professor of public policy at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores en Administración (IESA) in Caracas, and specializes in public policy, political economy, and international business in Latin America.

View all work by Michael Penfold