Week 3: Group Blog: Electoral Reform

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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Written by: John Winn, Phil Gadomski, and Rachel Benkeser

As with all democracies in Latin America in the twenty first century, Argentina was democratically born as a presidential system in 1880 and experienced roughly fifty years of political instability and military rule during the mid-twentieth century. The consolidation of power by the president or other political figures is not an inherently determined flaw in the presidential system; any flaw that exists is in the fine print detail of the constitution and the system of checks and balances in place, a system that parliamentarianism does not allow as the distinction between executive and legislative branches is blurred. To further ensure the continual transitional success of the presidential system in Argentina, more needs to be taken into account than the electoral process. As our analysis focuses solely on the electoral processes in the Argentine constitution, however, it is our recommendation that due largely to the success of the presidential system of Argentina in consolidating democracy such that the economic crisis of the early twenty first century was endured, the presidential system in Argentina should be maintained with a few alterations to its electoral process to foster the further growth and consolidation of a democratic institution.

First, with regard to the electoral procedure for electing the President who will serve a four year term, the system of ballotage should be maintained at all costs as it ensures the president elect the popular mandate of those he/she represents. A slight change in the proceedings need be enacted, however, to prevent future pitfalls in the structure: the percentage of the vote needed to avoid a second round election need be raised from 45 percent to 51 percent so that a majority is truly obtained. If this problem goes unsolved in the future, and if the development of Argentina at all parallels that of America, the potential to repeat elections like that between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000 increases. It is necessary to maintain the mandatory voting clause to encourage the acceptance of voting as civic responsibility, and to encourage the investment of the people into politics, a key component to the success of a presidential democracy.

With the maintenance of the presidential system, slight alterations are needed in the bicameral legislature to further ensure the separation of powers and success of the government. First, in the Chamber of Deputies, bi-annual replacement of deputies needs to continue with the system of proportional representation that is central to encouraging the participation of minorities and women in politics and helps reflect the needs of the total citizenry of the country. A significant change needed in the electoral process of the Chamber of Deputies is the introduction of the Sainte-Lague method of seat delegation as opposed to the D´Hondt method. Both methods consist of appropriating seats in the Chamber to individuals based on party affiliation, the number of chairs currently held by that party, and the success of that party in the election. The D´Hondt method inherently favors larger parties and disproportionably represents them in the Chamber while the Sainte-Lague method encourages representation of smaller parties but the addition of a two in the denominator. This electoral alteration will strengthen the power of the small parties and help contribute to the containment of the personalist politics that Kirchner is spreading. While such a change in the electoral process would be ill advised for a country like Brazil whose seventeen unconsolidated parties are a perennial problem, in Argentina, who faces the domination of the Peronist party, the introduction of competing, consolidated parties should be welcomed.

To compensate the rise of small parties in the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate should maintain the delegation of three seats per region, two of which are distributed to the party winning the most votes. Maintaining this system continues the power of the dominant party in one house of Congress enabling majority rule. The checks and balances created between the two houses based on the Chamber’s switch to the Sainte-Lague method will help hold Peronism in line with the country as a whole. A change that need be made, however, to the Senate is the imposition of term limits. Each senator should be limited to two full terms in office to prevent the corruption that often accompanies career politicians.

With these electoral changes in place, the presidential democracy that exists in Argentina can continue to consolidate further decreasing the risk of future dictatorships and allowing Argentina to aspire to achieve the success of her regional brethren like Costa Rica.

Sources:
Argentine Constitution, revised in 1994
http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Argentina/argen94_e.html

Mala Htun. Case Study: Latin America, Women, Political Parties and Electoral Systems in Latin America.
http://www.idea.int/publications/wip2/upload/Latin_America.pdf

Bolivia, Electoral Reform in Latin America
http://www.aceproject.org/main/english/es/esy_bo.htm

Bowman lecture notes. May 30, 2006. University of El Salvador

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