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Bringing the judiciary back in : an analysis of the impact of executive-judicial relations on democratic institutional stability in Venezuela Burns, Lesley Martina


Using a method of process tracing based on in-depth elite interviews, this dissertation examines the relationship between presidentialism and the rule of law in Venezuela. It finds that the perils of presidentialism—minority government, coalitions, deadlock, term limits and fixed terms—lead to institutional instability when they interact with low rule of law. Institutional instability occurs when one branch of government threatens or attacks another. Instead of exploring regime level stability this dissertation argues that state level factors more accurately capture problems associated with democracy. Rather than focusing on executive-legislative relationships, as much of the literature does, I argue that the judiciary is an important determinant of democratic governance. This dissertation shows how an examination of executive-judicial relationships helps explain dynamics leading to institutional instability in presidential systems. Interviews revealed that institutional instability was associated with judicial non-independence in three periods of Venezuela’s democratic history. During the Punto Fijo era political parties supplanted state institutions that are necessary foundations for democracy; in the transition period the gravity of the problems of a non-independent judiciary became evident; and during the Bolivarian period, the interaction between a low rule of law and presidentialism led to institutional instability. An examination of the precarious executive-judicial relationship in Venezuela builds on previous studies of instability to provide a more complete account for the decline of a seemingly stable democracy. Specifically, it provides a case study of an unstable presidential democracy to show how presidentialism contributes to institutional instability when the rule of law is weak. Finally, the dissertation contributes to shifting the analytical focus of the democratization literature from regime to state. This shift in analysis shows that satisfying the minimal regime criteria for democracy, such as elections, is insufficient to ensure institutional stability, and perhaps continued democracy. For free and fair elections to be meaningful state institutions must be capable of restraining executive power.

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