Reining In The Big Men: The Politics Of Executive Constraints Across Sub-Saharan Africa
Under what conditions does the rule of law, especially with regards to the constraining of executive power, become institutionalized in newly liberalized countries where presidential authority has historically been greatly unchecked? This dissertation explores this puzzle by exploring two inter-related questions: first, why would a longtime ruling party acquiesce to institutional constraints being placed on the executive in the first place, and second, once implemented, why are these institutional rules able to successfully constrain leaders in some sub-Saharan states but not others? To address both questions, my dissertation investigates variation in the adoption of, and later adhe rence to, executive term limit laws and other constraints on presidential power across Africa. Based on both a medium-n quantitative analysis and extensive qualitative interview and archival data collected during eleven months of fieldwork in Uganda and Zambia, I construct an explanation that challenges previous assumptions about the development of constitutionalism in liberalizing countries. I argue that, due to the rarity of divided governments across sub-Saharan Africa, members of parliament from the ruling party ultimately choose whether or not to restrain executive tenure based on their perceptions of their party's (and, therefore, their own) electoral competitiveness. To support this argument, I develop an explanation of actor decision making that probabilistically links the relative strength of the incumbent party vis-à-vis the opposition to the outcome of term limit choice due to elite perceptions of electoral competition and its twin mechanisms of the threat of turnover and the probability of winning re-election under the banner of another party. Ruling party MPs vote to adopt and later uphold executive tenure limits in times of electoral uncertainty in order to ensure their party's ability to compete for power in the medium-term should they lose it in the short-term by removing incumbency advantage from the opposition. However, if the incumbent party is not threatened with replacement in the foreseeable future by an opposition party, ruling party MPs will not have the same incentives to favor constitutional provisions that check the executive's power and will, in fact, fo rgo or abolish term limits in order to increase their chances of riding the incumbent president's coattails to their own re-election. By locating the impetus for both institutional choice and strength in the micro -foundations of elite decision-making, I demonstrate that conventional understandings of conditions that lead to the compliance with constitutional rules in the developing world, such international donor pressures and demonstration effects, vertical accountability, pact-making, and levels of democracy in general, fail to adequately explain the variation in the ability of constitutions to regulate executive tenure across Africa. In this way, I argue that formal rules are often endogenous to the political environment in which they are created. I further test this theory to see if it also holds for 1) the choice of other executive constraints by African governments and 2) executive term limit adherence in other liberalizing regions of the world, notably Latin America and the Former Soviet Republics.
African Politics; Political Institutions; Rule of Law
van de Walle, Nicolas
Roberts, Kenneth; Bunce, Valerie Jane; Moehler, Devra Coren
Ph.D. of Government
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis