Featured Author: Magna Inácio

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Magna inacio 2

Magna Inácio is an associate professor at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. She is currently carrying out research on the institutional presidency, with a focus on the dynamics of multiparty cabinets and their impact on executive–legislative relations and the internal organization of the Executive branch.

Professor Inácio can be reached at magna.inacio@gmail.com.


Q: What initially sparked your interest in the evolution of the institutional presidency?

A: The literature about coalitional presidentialism in Brazil has given less attention to the internal dynamics of the executive branch and how the presidency operates under this coalitional arrangement. My research has shown the relevance of the presidential office for dealing with the problems of coordination of multi-party cabinets. As the chief of the executive branch in Brazil, the president holds broad legislative, budgetary and political appointment powers, which called my attention as to why the institutionally powerful president would allocate time and resources to the expansion of the presidential office.

The longitudinal analysis of the institutional presidency arose from an interest in understanding the relationship of this process to the management of presidential cabinets. In the case of Brazil, it is possible to verify a systematic expansion of this structure during the current democratic period, but with important oscillations in the intensity of these changes among governments and throughout the presidential mandates. However, it was the comparative study of this evolution of the institutional presidency that allowed a broadening of the analytical scope of this study, exploring the contextual, institutional and political variations of presidentialism in Latin America. Since the focus is on a region in which the institutional powers of the presidents, the partisan configuration and the political conditions of the formation of governments vary considerably, the study of the changes in the presidential office has permitted the testing of several hypotheses about the exogenous and endogenous factors that influence the evolution of the institutional presidency. The comparative perspective allowed a reassessment of important theses on the institutional presidency, constructed from the US experience.

Q: What are they key questions in the study of the evolution of the institutional presidency?

A: In this study, co-authored with Mariana Llanos (German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg), the central point is to analyze whether the type of presidential cabinet affects the presidential strategies of the (re)design of the presidential office. We are particularly interested in assessing whether single-party and coalition cabinets affect the institutional presidency in different ways, because they pose different coordination problems for the president. The type of cabinet formed by the president, under constraints, modifies the conditions and costs of presidential leadership. So, we wonder if the presidents try to solve control problems by introducing a new equilibrium through the centralization of decision-making and/or tasks within the presidency.

However, it is important to understand other constraints which may affect the presidential calculation in relation to the redesign of the presidential office. In addition to the partisan and institutional resources of the president and of his party, we consider whether the type of government agenda, or external shocks (such as those of economic crises and of popularity) also help us to understand the variations in the evolution of the institutional presidency in the region.

Q: What kind of response do you hope your work elicits from your readers? Ideally, what kind of critical thought do you hope your article inspires?

A:The article shows that the president’s choice about how to form the cabinet has consequences for how (s)he organizes the presidency. This perspective broadens the possibilities for studies of the institutional presidency to be able to deal with the differences among presidential systems.

New avenues are open for studies that try to understand how the institutional fragility or strength of the president can have a costly impact on the decision of expanding the presidency. By calling attention to the problems of internal coordination of the executive branch, in a context wherein presidents must deal with multi-party cabinets, we hope to stimulate studies that will be more sensitive to these variations in other presidential systems. In particular, the interaction among the institutional and partisan powers of the president may shed light on the different design strategies of the institutional presidency.

In summary, we are interested in calling attention to the contribution of comparative studies in the analysis of variations of the institutional presidency, from different research designs, including those taking a cross-regional perspective.