Why reelection is a bad idea


Almost surely, Rafael Correa will seek reelection to the presidency of Ecuador. He’s under the delusion that he is indispensable. That’s one of the symptoms of narcissism. The longer he remains at Carondelet Palace, the more his image will suffer. It’s inevitable. Another term is a bad idea.

A worse idea yet was that of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. He manipulated the constitution and national assembly to make perpetual reelection possible.

No doubt, he imitated the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who in 1998 swore that he would hold power for only a while but later changed the rules and hunkered down in Miraflores Palace until death removed him from the easy chair 14 years later.

Reelection brings more inconveniences than advantages even when gained by good rulers, like the Brazilian Fernando Henrique Cardoso or the Costa Rican Oscar Arias.

Those two democratic politicians also modified the rules for their own convenience. The former did it to remain in power and the latter to return to Government House.

Reelection is not even advisable for alternate periods, as happens today with Michelle Bachelet and happened in the past with Alan García, despite his magnificent second term.

Nor is it useful in the United States, which allows two consecutive terms.

It doesn't make much sense to govern while thinking and acting with an eye on the next election.

There are several reasons not to recommend that practice in presidential systems. At least seven important ones come to mind:

• Reelection obstructs generational replacement, the competition between leaders and circulation of the elites.

• It reinforces strongman rule to the detriment of institutions.

• As the mandate extends, the strongman finds himself surrounded by courtiers who flatter and confuse him to gain privileges.

• Reelection fosters a kind of noxious mercantilist relationship between the economic and political powers; they engage in mutual feedback. It facilitates corruption.

• Errors tend to repeat themselves. We don’t usually do things because they're good or bad but because at first we did them a certain way, and the brain is a machine that learns and repeats behaviors.

• Old governments run out of ideas, become fossilized, resist reforms and produce calcified bureaucracies that are increasingly incompetent.

• A ban on reelection reinforces the notion that what’s convenient is to lay out long-range government plans, instead of responding to current problems. Government should be a continuous effort in which the president is only a transitory factor, limited by law.

If there's no re-election, what is the ideal term of office? In my opinion, the Mexican formula is the best indicated. Six years and fare-thee-well. It may be argued that the PRI, which governed for 70 undistinguished years, is not the best example, because it substituted the strongman with the party, repeating almost all the above defects, but it probably didn't do as badly as Porfirio Díaz in his 35-year rule.

That is why, in 1910, Francisco Madero launched the Mexican Revolution with a wise slogan: “Effective suffrage, no reelection.”

In any case, there is a close link between the values that exist in society and the results of the work of government. Politicians do not emerge from a vacuum.

They are parts of the same tribe that produces engineers, priests, soldiers and so on. They are not any worse. If the Scandinavian countries are the best governed in the world, it is not due to their formality but because of the virtues that prevail in those societies.

Maybe the ideal complement to those one-term presidentialist governments would be the restoration of an excellent judicial institution established by Roman tradition: Automatically, without any formal accusation, every departing ruler had to submit to a grand public hearing that could carry penal consequences. If he had ruled well, he was honored. If he had broken the law, he was punished.

After going through this so-called Judgment of Residence, very few rulers wanted to return to power. Even the good ones. Marvelous.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a former university professor and long-time writer and journalist whose syndicated column appears in dozens of newspapers in the United States, Latin America and Spain.

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