The Unrealized Potential of Presidential Coalitions in Colombia
Legislative Institutions and Lawmaking in Latin America
Historically, the Colombian executive wielded considerable control over the policymaking process, even when the president lacked legislative support. Before the adoption of the Constitution of 1991, this was possible chiefly due to extensive decree powers which allowed the president to routinely bypass a legislative process that was mostly composed of locally-oriented legislation initiated by deputies. The 1991 reforms curtailed unilateral executive power, making the president much more reliant
... t much more reliant on legislative support. However, throughout the 1990s the party system became even less accommodating to the executive as parties increasingly fragmented and a pattern of extreme individualism continued (Shugart, Moreno, and Fajardo 2007). Without unilateral avenues or strong congressional party support, the president faced constant legislative resistance. The perceived failures of the political system ignited a debate on the need for an electoral reform aimed at encouraging a stronger party system, which finally passed in 2003 and significantly reduced party fragmentation in the House and Senate (Pachón and Shugart, 2010). Along with the electoral reform, multi-party coalitions have emerged in which presidents increasingly include members of various parties in the cabinet. However, parties have not served as firm building blocks for linking such coalitions to control of the legislative process. Despite major changes to the party system and a major reform to the electoral system, parties remain 161 individualized and with weak programmatic foundations. These factors operate in conjunction with legislative rules that greatly empower individual members of Congress. As a result, coalitional presidentialism in Colombia has yet to serve as an effective means to coordinate between legislative parties and the executive branch. In this chapter, we analyze the current Colombian legislative process in terms of the input and output of the legislative agenda during the four presidential periods from 1998-2014. Our sample includes all bills introduced in Congress during this period, with a subset of "major" bills coded as those mentioned in the media -specifically those appearing on the front page of the largest national newspaper (El Tiempo). During this time, the electoral and party system has changed significantly, while presidential constitutional power and the internal rules of congress have remained unchanged. Importantly, changes in Colombia's party system have coincided with the formation of multiparty coalition cabinets designed to facilitate executive-legislative relations instead of ad-hoc legislative coalitions. Such presidential coalitions have been associated with executive-legislative coordination in the policy-making process, especially in Brazil (Figueiredo and Limongi 2000, Amorim Neto 2002). Colombia's recent party system changes have indeed produced coalition building between legislative parties and the president. However, we show that the growth in such coalitions does not lead to any additional advantages for these presidents because interparty coalitions do not translate into a means to organize the legislative process. First, legislators face incentives to focus on developing personal constituencies rather than supporting their party's collective agenda. Second, unlike in Brazil, decentralized formal institutional rules in Congress empower deputies to influence both the agenda and the content of bills, which affects the legislative efficiency of the governing coalition. As a result, legislative bills continue to predominate in legislative output, deputies from parties in the coalition have no 162 advantages over others in passing legislation, and executive failures remain just as frequent despite large and increasingly formalized coalitions. The first section of this chapter discusses the institutional features that allocate rights over the legislative agenda, focusing on the powers of the president and the features of the chamber that empower individual deputies. The second section focuses on the characteristics of the party system and coalition patterns, focusing on the recent changes brought about by the 2003 electoral reform. The third part examines the empirical record with regard to the introduction and passage of legislation. We find that the dramatic changes in the party system, though bringing coalitions designed for more cooperative executive-legislative relations, have not produced substantial changes in president's or coalition parties' ability to efficiently control the legislative agenda relative to the ad hoc bargaining that preceded it. Following Alemán and Tsebelis in the introduction of this volume, the absence of cohesive majority governments in Colombia requires that we focus on the details of agenda setting institutions and the incentives of legislative actors to better understand policy outcomes.