Political Reform and Elite Persistence: Term Limits and
Political Dynasties in the Philippines∗
Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies
Research in political economy emphasizes the tendency of elites to persist and reproduce their power over time, potentially undermining the effectiveness of institutional reforms. One particular form of elite persistence is illustrated by the existence of political dynasties. A natural question is whether certain political reforms can break dynastic patterns and open up the political system. In this paper I study the extent to which the introduction of term limits by the 1987 Philippine Constitution effectively broke the hold of incumbent families on power. The ability of term limits to dismantle political dynasties is not obvious, as termlimited incumbents may be replaced by relatives or may run for a different elected office. Whether these strategies undermine the direct effects of term-limits in reducing the time an individual can hold office is an empirical question. I find no evidence of a statistically significant impact of term limits on curbing families’ persistence in power. Moreover, term limits deter high-quality challengers from running prior to the expiration of an incumbent’s term. Challengers prefer to wait for the incumbent to be termed-out and run in an open-seat race. As a consequence, incumbents are safer in their early terms prior to the limit. These results suggest that political reforms that do not modify the underlying sources of dynastic power are often ineffective in changing the political equilibrium. ∗I would like to thank my thesis advisers, Daron Acemoglu, Esther Duflo, James Robinson and James M. Snyder Jr. for all their comments and support. I would also like to thank participants at the MIT Development Lunch, the MIT Political Economy Breakfast and the Harvard Political Economy Workshop for their questions and feedback. I also thank Alisha Holland and Ken Shepsle for their excellent comments. This paper wouldn’t have been possible without the hospitality and generosity of many people in the Philippines during my visit in the summer of 2009. I thank Rep. Juan Romeo Acosta, Arsenio Balisacan, Emmanuel de Dios, Jose Ferraris, Rep. Risa Hontiveros, Nico Ravanilla, Juan Rafael Supangco, Jaime Veneracion and Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri and the staff at CenPEG, the Institute for Popular Democracy, Innovations for Poverty Action and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. The financial support of Banco de la Republica and the Schultz Fund at MIT is gratefully acknowledged. 1
Existing research on the political economy of development emphasizes the role of elites in shaping the economic and political institutions that constitute the fundamental determinants of economic development. Classical elite theorists such as Mosca (1939) and Pareto (1968 ) highlight the disproportionate power of certain elite groups in society. Michels (1911) notes the tendency of elites to perpetuate themselves in power and persist across time. More recently, Acemoglu and Robinson (2008) emphasize the way by which elite persistence may undermine attempts to reform institutions, leading to “captured democracies” wherein economic institutions and policies disproportionately benefit the elite. Political dynasties, exemplify a particular form of elite persistence in which a single or few family groups monopolize political power. Political dynasties are common in many contemporary democracies such as Argentina, India, Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. The Philippines is a notable example of a dynastic democracy. More than half of elected Philippine congressmen and governors have a relative who has held elected office previously. In 40% of the 79 provinces the provincial governor and congressman are related. However, the existence of political dynasties is not necessarily evidence that the reproduction over time of...
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