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Invitation to Lunch Seminar with Professor Javier Corrales, Amherst College

On the Origins of Institutions: Constituent Assemblies and Presidential Powers in Latin America, 1988-2013

June 19th, 2013; 12:30 – 14:00 

Department of Political Science,

Binnengasthuis (Universiteit van Amsterdam), Room BG5 2.13

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Abstract of the Talk:

Political scientists have become interested in studying not just the effects, but also the origins of institutions.  My presentation focuses on the origins of one type of political institution: constitutions, and within them, levels of power concentration in the executive branch. I explain why some democracies opt to replace their constitutions with new ones, why some of those replacements expand presidential powers more than the power of other actors, and why this trend toward heightened presidentialism is inauspicious for democracy.  My argument is based on the notion of power asymmetry, defined as the power differential between incumbents and opposition forces. Under conditions of reduced power asymmetry, i.e., when both incumbents and opposition forces enjoy comparable levels of power, constituent assemblies are more likely to yield constitutions that curtail presidential powers relative to the status quo. When the opposition is weak (heightened power asymmetry), assemblies will instead expand presidential powers. And when the incumbent president is weak, he or she will abort the process of constitutional rewrite.