Commenced in January 2007
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Preventing Presidential Term Limit Deviations: A Qualitative Comparative Analysis Study of Low- and Middle-Income Democracies

Authors: Bill Gelfeld


Deviations from presidential term limits are potentially damaging to democracies in low- and middle-income countries because they allow for the dangerous consolidation of authority. One way to address this problem is to determine the most critical institutions whose protection might prevent such deviations, alterations, or eliminations. By evaluating a set of relevant historical cases using a qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) methodology within a framework of causal complexity, this study determines which combinations of institutions have been associated with the successful prevention of deviations in the past. Both crisp and fuzzy set QCA analyses were run to determine the most salient institutional factors, using a mix of country expert judgments as well as standard measures from established data sources. Capitalizing upon the results of this study, pro-democracy domestic and international actors can prioritize the protection and strengthening of these institutions in potentially-vulnerable democracies going forward. This study created a purpose-built database of sixty-two cases in forty-five countries of attempted and actual presidential term limit deviations from 1989-2020. These cases were then individually scored across eleven different institutional factors to test which factors were most important to preventing these deviations. The institutional factors included in the study are as follows: independent legislatures, independent judiciaries, independent electoral commissions, independent militaries, strong opposition parties, division within the ruling party, vibrant civil societies, free press/media, transparency/freedom from corruption, non-resource dependence, and foreign pressure for democracy. The findings of this study suggest that governments in low- and middle-income democracies, as well as their high-income donors, should primarily prioritize initiatives and programs designed to protect the independence of judiciaries and electoral commissions and to promote the vitality and strength of civil societies. Secondarily, independent legislatures, strong opposition parties, independent militaries, and non-resource dependence should also be encouraged and supported by pro-democracy actors and advocates. Political actors and political scientists have often criticized traditional development and aid programs for their inability to produce tangible results. Perhaps the domestic coalitions and international organizations and countries that pursue these initiatives should shift money away from certain established yet ineffective projects to programs targeted to those specific institutions that protect presidential term limits. Preventing deviations from term limits should promote healthier institutions and better representation, accountability, and citizen voice and lead to better governance outcomes.

Keywords: authoritarianism, democracy, institutions, presidential term limits

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