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Professor looks at political stability

Jackie Mullen | Monday, January 29, 2007

Professor Cecilia Martinez-Gallardo of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in Mexico spoke about the correlation between the average expected tenure of a cabinet member in 12 Latin American countries and the stability of that member’s government in a lecture Thursday in the Hesburgh Center.

Martinez-Gallardo said many presidents restructure cabinets in order to overcome congressional constraints, and that the action is most typical of presidents with a weak political basis.

She said cabinet appointments supply a president with “flexibility in impending crises” and allows them to “avoid deadlock.”

“Under certain circumstances, presidents will find appointments the best strategy to move policy,” she said.

The equilibrium of a country’s government, so far as the cabinet influences the larger regime, is affected by the ability of the president to change the cabinet, the ability to use appointments to deal with problems and the constitutionally-imposed constraints on the president, such as formal censure power, she said.

Based on her research, Martinez-Gallardo concluded that, counterintuitively, the presence of formal legislative censure power increases the possibility of removing a cabinet member by 200 percent, compared to presidential systems where the congress does not wield formal censure powers.

However, she acknowledged that this may be a result of a political system volatile enough to necessitate censure powers, implying that the power in itself does not trigger the erratic membership of the cabinet.

Martinez-Gallardo also said “presidential [systems] are almost by every account more unstable than parliamentary systems.”

She referred to presidential systems’ use of cabinet appointments to influence public conception regarding the effectiveness of the government, and also as a scare tactic directed toward other members of the cabinet.

However, in both parliamentary and presidential systems, she said governments with majority coalitions have more stable cabinets than single-party majorities.

Martinez-Gallardo said the ultimate significance of the instability of cabinets is a mechanism “which allows presidential systems to be more stable as a regime.”

The dynamics created through the reappointment of ministers is often used as a political strategy when presidents find themselves unable to influence legislative policy.

Martinez-Gallardo said she wishes to further study the impact of popularity upon cabinet tenure in the future in selected Latin American nations.