Why Do Presidents Fail? Political Leadership and the Argentine Crisis (1999-2001)*
Mariana Llanos and Ana Margheritis
This article explores why Argentine president Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001) failed to govern and the factors that prevented him from completing his constitutional mandate. This study draw on current literature about leadership. We argue thatPresident De la Rúa’s ineffective performance was characteristic of an inflexible tendency towards unilateralism, isolationism, and an inability to compromise and persuade. Moreover, we examine how de la Rúa’s performance, in the context of severe political and economic constraints, discouraged cooperative practices among political actors, led to decision-making paralysis, and ultimately to a crisisof governance This work seeks to make four contributions. First, it conceptualizes political leadership by providing an analytical framework that integrates individual action, institutional resources and constraints, and policy context, thus filling a gap in the literature. Second, it explains the importance of effective leadership in building up and maintaining multiparty coalitions inpresidential systems. Third, it complements existing institutional approaches to improve our understanding of a new type of instability in Latin America: the failure of more than a dozen of presidents to
Mariana Llanos is a researcher at the Institut für Iberoamerika-Kunde (IIK) in Hamburg, Germany, and teaches Latin American politics at the University of Hamburg. Her research focuses on Latin Americanpolitical institutions, particularly to the president-congress relations and the legislatures of the Southern Cone. She is the author of Privatization and Democracy in Argentina (Palgrave, 2002), co-author of Bicameralismo, Senados y senadores en el Cono Sur latinoamericano (ICPS, Barcelona, 2005, together with Francisco Sánchez and Detlef Nolte) and co-editor of Controle Parlamentar na Alemanha, naArgentina e no Brasil (KAS, Rio de Janeiro, 2005, with Ana María Mustapic), among other works. Ana Margheritis is assistant professor of international relations and Latin American politics at University of Florida. Her research interests are in international political economy, foreign policy, regional cooperation, and inter-American relations. She is the editor of Latin American Democracies in theNew Global Economy (2003); author of Ajuste y Reforma en Argentina, 1989-1995 (1999); and coauthor of Historia de las relaciones exteriores de la República Argentina (with Carlos Escudé et al., 1998) and Malvinas: Los motivos económicos de un conflicto (with Laura Tedesco, 1991), as well as of several articles in academic journals and book chapters. Studies in Comparative InternationalDevelopment, Winter 2006, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 77-103.
Studies in Comparative International Development / Winter 2006
complete their constitutional mandates. Fourth, it analyzes the way political and economic variables interact in times of crisis.
Introduction he constitutional designs in most Latin American countries grant the president important institutional resources and place him/her atthe center of the decision-making process. Argentina is a case in point. The strong unilateral presidential prerogatives coexist there with other features of the presidential system, such as the separation of powers between the branches of government and the system of checks and balances. In practice, this particular constitutional system provides many opportunities to resolve political conflictsand to adopt political decisions. There is a perception that with so many resources available, Argentine presidents are capable in many ways to adopt and implement policy decisions. Yet this has not actually been the case in Argentina. Since the return to democracy in 1983, two presidents resigned before the end of their constitutional mandate amid dramatic economic and political crises: Raúl...