Presidents Who Die Too Soon and Presidents Who Live Too Long. Term Limits and Succession in Presidential and Semi-Presidential Regimes

Dr. Mariana Llanos
2019 - 2020
PPP Program for Project-Related Personal Exchange - DAAD

Dr. Leiv Marsteintredet (Project Leader), University of Bergen, Norway

Dr. Michael Alvarez, University of Bergen, Norway

Dr. Åsgeir K. Rabben, University of Bergen, Norway



Project Description

This project seeks to bring together two different but interconnected research agendas that are being developed in parallel at the GIGA Institute in Hamburg and the University of Bergen in Norway. These agendas address a common preoccupation with the stability and the quality of democratic institutions in the Global South. In effect, they focus on the apex of power; the elected chief executives; and the constitutional constraints on incumbents, particularly the rules regulating their tenure: presidential term limits and presidential succession. While term limits refer to the length and number of times a president may rule, succession rules define how the transition of power from one president to the next occurs and who is allowed to succeed the incumbent. These two types of rules are interconnected. They are also often negotiated and changed, or decided by fiat by an authoritarian president. More often than not, incumbents seek to control the terms of their own retirement, first by postponing the date of departure as long as possible (ideally by removing term limits), and second by controlling who will succeed them.

This cooperation project flows from two separate projects in which the two principal investigators have been involved. On the one hand, Mariana Llanos – together with Charlotte Heyl – is currently examining the (in)stability of presidential term limits in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. This research seeks to assess the impact of a considerable number of (not always) legal reforms on political regimes. These reforms have occurred recurrently in the two world regions since the democratization processes of the 1980s and 1990s, and are mostly aimed at easing the presidential fixed-term limits in (semi)presidential regimes via immediate re-election (The (In)stability of Presidential Term Limits in Africa and Latin America: Assessing the Impact of Tenure-Rule Reforms on the Political Regime). On the other hand, Leiv Marsteintredet and the Norwegian team have been studying the rules for executive succession in (semi)presidential regimes. In addition, Marsteintredet has also been engaged in the creation of a dataset on term limit and succession rules in Latin America since decolonisation in the nineteenth century that nicely complements the data being collected by Llanos on recent reforms in Latin America.

Research Questions

The main goal of this project is to explore synergies between the research teams at the GIGA and the University of Bergen. By building a joint team with extensive regional and country expertise, this cooperation seeks to enhance the quality of the two individual research agendas in terms of data collection and quality and also to refine existing theories and jointly contribute new theoretical knowledge on the intersection of two important regulations defining the presidential mandates: term limits and succession rules. This cooperation builds upon previous cooperation between the principal investigators, a collaboration that began ten years ago with a NRC/DAAD funded project and led to several joint publications.
Dr. Mariana Llanos | Dr. Leiv Marsteintredet

Contribution to International Research

This topic is highly relevant today, when the world is experiencing a democratic backslide. The new challenges to democracy often come from within rather than from outside the realm of civilian politics. Key to these processes is incumbents' manipulation of both term limits and rules of succession. Combining the study of these two aspects of presidential regimes will allow us to more thoroughly explore the mechanisms and processes leading to democratic erosion. Curiously, while presidentialism and presidential powers are topics that have received a lot of scholarly attention, term limit rules and rules of succession are scarcely studied together. Although some large-N works have already covered institutional reforms worldwide, specific country expertise is lacking on many cases. Such expertise is necessary to understand the causality and complexity in many of the cases where reforms of the two types of rules have taken place. The project aims to refine the existing data by bringing the two teams together.

Research Design and Methods

This project aims to strengthen academic cooperation between the two teams and institutions, as well as to provide training to young scholars researching the political institutions of the Global South. The project researchers are producing context-sensitive research on political institutions in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa which expands and complements broad data indicators being used for quantitative purposes. Two yearly workshops – in June in Hamburg and in September in Bergen – will be held to present research outcomes and to give young scholars the chance to produce and discuss their own research. The workshops will also provide the opportunity to discuss the most appropriate methodology for each research problem.