Closed Games in Argentine Provinces

Since I have been doing research about the Argentine provinces, I decided to cover some of my latest thoughts about it here. First, let me acknowledge that as a political scientist from Czech republic, I suffer from certain limitations in my imagination about how things actually work, and my research represents also my endeavor in learning that there is no general truth to what is good and what it bad, but that we rather have to deal with certain limited arena of policy choices, in which actors tend to operate. Therefore, all 23 provinces (+ federal district Buenos Aires, which behaves in the same way), they really test my ability to understand what is the Latin American policy making and how it works.

For my dissertation, I chose a topic which focuses on the provincial process of state-building after the restoration of democracy in 1983. I decided to pick up institutions of control and oversight I would implement, and then test whether their adoption could be explained by the level of political competition in each province. My main inspiration came from the book Rebuilding the Leviathan (Grzymala-Busse, 2007), in which the author claimed that state exploitation was restricted by the political competition. I wanted to expand Grzymala-Busses theory to a completely new setting of subnational units in Argentina, and test it quantitatively.

I picked four provinces (Chaco, Corrientes, Formosa and Misiones) from the same Northeastern region, and used them in my model (in which I used Taagepera’s measures of effective number of parties and balance of parties; Laakso Taagepera, 1979; Taagepera, 2007) to see whether there was something to the relation between political competition and adoption of institutions of control and oversight. You can check the data here. I took every election to the provincial legislature in years 1983-2009 for each province, and established when each institution was adopted. In sum, I had 364 cases. In every case, I included the information, whether a particular institution was created (green circle) or not (red dot). You can see the result in the graph:


As you can see, there is no pattern in the data. Sometimes, institutions appeared when there was no competition, and sometimes they did not appear despite it.

Why I was wrong?

My main problem was that I never asked myself an important question: What role does the provincial party plays in the policy-making process? By being heavily influenced by the literature on the topic (Suárez Cao, 2011; Gibson and Suárez Cao, 2010; Došek and Freidenberg, 2013) I also automatically accepted the premise that political competition takes place between the parties. But there is a slight problem. Political parties serve as a vessel that is used to resolve internal and external competition among the provincial elites. Argentine provinces represent what Behrend describes as a closed game (Behrend, 2011) between political families. Members of families, who don’t necessarily have a family bondage, are groups of people connected to a certain power group in the province, which usually controls a significant amount of economic activities in the province, as well as media and access to resources.

So if we use measures that only indicate the competition to analyze the process of policy-making in any province, we are actually missing a huge amount of information.

Implications for my research

I realized that political competition could not explain the adoption of institutions of control and oversight, because political families are much more interested in maintaining the game closed. It does not mean that institutions of control and oversight do not appear at all. On the contrary, even provinces that are widely considered to be hybrid regimes (such as Formosa or Corrientes in the case of my research) adopted a significant amount of them deliberately. The reason why is to be seen, but my guess right now would be that:

  1. To provide legitimacy to the politics
  2. To create job opportunities for the loyal members of families
  3. To use them against their possible political opponents (this would be the case of Misiones in my research)
How to analyze it?

I suggest that there are a number of ways how to proceed with analyzing my assumptions. First would be to look at the electronic voting register (wherever possible) from the provincial legislatures to check how MPs voted on important anti-corruption laws, and also go through the parliamentary discussion about the topic. Second, check who works for each institution of control.

  • Politic science focusing Argentine provinces assumes that political party is the main policy maker. Provincial governments are often (but not always) working as closed games. In closed games, the main actors are political families. Political families are behind the party financing, and their members are spread across different parties/factions in order to secure family interests.
  • As the evidence from my data shows, we cannot establish a pattern that would suggest that there is a positive impact of political competition on the adoption of the institutions of control.
  • Higher political competition might also be a consequence of a careful gerrymandering, in which families create their electoral fortresses, while competing only for a small territory. This would make elections less resource intensive and also work as a guarantee to the political families a stable constituency, which can be mobilized and work as a more effective safeguard against their opponents. Last benefit is that it would not allow others to enter to their closed game.

Behrend, Jacqueline. “The Unevenness of Democracy at the Subnational Level: Provincial Closed Games in Argentina.” Latin American Research Review 46.1 (2011): 150-176.

Došek, Tomáš, and Flavia Freidenberg. “La congruencia de los partidos y los sistemas de partidos multinivel en América Latina: conceptualización y evaluación de algunas herramientas de medición. Politai.” Revista de Ciencia Política 4.2 (2013): 161-178.

Gibson, Edward L., and Julieta Suárez-Cao. “Federalized party systems and subnational party competition: Theory and an empirical application to Argentina.” Comparative Politics (2010): 21-39.

Grzymala-Busse, Anna. Rebuilding Leviathan: Party competition and state exploitation in post-communist democracies. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

O’Dwyer, Conor. Runaway state-building: Patronage politics and democratic development. JHU Press, 2006.

Laakso, Markku, and Rein Taagepera. “Effective number of parties: A measure with application to West Europe.” Comparative political studies 12.1 (1979): 3-27.

Suárez Cao, Julieta. “¿ Federal en teoría pero unitaria en la práctica?: Una discusión sobre el federalismo y la provincialización de la política en Argentina.” Revista SAAP 5.2 (2011): 0-0.

Taagepera, Rein. Predicting party sizes: the logic of simple electoral systems. Oxford University Press, 2007.


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