In Power in the Balance: Presidents, Parties, and Legislatures in Peru and Beyond, Barry S. Levitt answers urgent questions about executive power in “new” democracies. He examines in rich detail the case of Peru, from President Alan García’s first term (1985–1990), to the erosion of democracy under President Alberto Fujimori (1990–2000), through the interim government of Valentín Paniagua (2000–2001) and the remarkable, if rocky, renewal of democracy culminating in Alejandro Toledo’s 2001–2006 presidency. This turbulent experience with democracy brings into clear focus the functioning of formal political institutions—constitutions and electoral laws, presidents and legislatures, political parties and leaders—while also exposing the informal side of Peru’s national politics over the course of two decades.
Levitt’s study of politics in Peru also provides a test case for his regional analysis of cross-national differences and change over time in presidential power across eighteen Latin American countries. In Peru and throughout Latin America, Levitt shows, the rule of law itself and the organizational forms of political parties have a stronger impact on legislative-executive relations than do most of the institutional traits and constitutional powers that configure the formal “rules of the game” for high politics. His findings, and their implications for improving the quality of new democracies everywhere, will surprise promoters, practitioners, and scholars of democratic politics alike.
“Barry Levitt’s Power in the Balance is far more than a study of the separation of powers in Peru: the book is a welcome corrective to twenty years of institutionalist research on executive-legislative relations in new presidential democracies around the world. The study of formal rules can only take us so far. Levitt shows that the functioning of president-Congress relations is contingent upon the internalization of constitutional norms by relevant political actors, as well as on the ability of party organizations to channel these norms across successive electoral cycles and to constrain ambitious political elites. Levitt’s insistence on meta-institutional variables will stand as an important contextualization of mainstream models of presidential democracy, generating important comparative insights into other transitional regimes such as Venezuela and Russia.” — Timothy Power, University of Oxford
“Although there are many scholarly analyses of the first government of Alan García and even more of the government of Alberto Fujimori, no scholar has explicitly compared and contrasted these two governments with that of Alejandro Toledo. By highlighting the constraints upon García and Toledo that were posed by their own parties or electoral movements as well as by Peru’s legislature—and the lack of such constraints upon Fujimori—Levitt is able to show clearly that the hyper-presidentialism of the Fujimori government was an exception. Levitt’s descriptions of executive-legislative relations and of the major political parties during the three periods, which are based on an impressive spectrum of interviews with key political insiders and also on thorough archival research, are especially interesting and provide important new data and insights.” — Cynthia McClintock, George Washington University