The general elections in Chile and Brazil in 1989 marked ‘the first time that all the Ibero-American nations, excepting Cuba, enjoyed the benefits of elected constitutional governments at the same time’. This occurrence was not as dramatic or visible as the collapse of Communism and the transitions to democracy in Eastern and Central Europe, which began in the same year, but it did mark a historical watershed. After almost two centuries as independent states, the countries of Latin America now comprised a new democratic universe. Similarly to the Eastern European experience, the Latin American watershed presented new opportunities for comparative research into democratic governance. In particular, it created a new context for the study of the relationships between institutional design, party systems and governability – defined in the narrow sense of institutional efficacy, as expressed through government stability, legislative capacity and the avoidance of gridlock. This article sets out to review the recent research on these topics, in order to describe the predominant regime type in Latin America and differentiate its distinct variants, examining their impact on governability.