Tuesday Seminar Series: Republican Shields in Times of Executive Excesses: Revisiting the Uruguayan Collegial Governments (1952-1966)


Tuesday, September 11, 2018, 12:00pm


CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street

Speaker: David Altman, Professor, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile; Luksic Visiting Scholar

Moderators: Steve Levitsky, Professor of Government, Harvard University and Fran Hagopian, Jorge Paulo Lemann Senior Lecturer on Government, Harvard University

How do you limit the temptations and excesses of government chief executives in a democratic context? Theoretically, systems in which multiple people share executive power –collegial executives – might be one way to prevent abuses of power by leaders who concentrate authority and affecting the level of democracy. But there is virtually no empirical research on collegial executives and their democratic impact. This paper concentrates on Uruguay, the only robust democracy in the contemporary world to have alternated twice between one-person executives and multiple (or collegial) executive governments. This paper answers two questions from Uruguay’s experience. First, was the multiple executive system substantially worse or better for democracy than the one-person executive? Second, if Uruguay had kept its multiple executive government, would it have avoided the democratic deterioration it saw in the late 1960s? This paper answers these questions by using the Synthetic Control Method (a tool to pursue counterfactual analysis) to create one fictional Uruguay to compare with the country’s real experience. This approach produces two seemingly contradictory results. First, it shows that multiple-executive governments have no impact on the level of democracy. Nonetheless, Uruguay, if it had maintained a multiple-headed government in the early 1970s, it would have avoided the drastic democratic deterioration and eventual democratic breakdown.

David Altman is a Professor of Political Science and Chair of Comparative Politics at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Born in Uruguay, his research and teaching interests lie in the field of comparative politics with an emphasis on democracy: its quality, its institutions, and its innovations. He is the author of Direct Democracy Worldwide (Cambridge University Press, 2011), and Citizenship and Contemporary Direct Democracy (Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming). He has twice received the Uruguayan National Prize for Political Science. He serves as Project Manager of Varieties of Democracy. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame and a B.A. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.