Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 January 2018
This article uses empirical evidence from Nicaragua to examine Guillermo O'Donnell's argument that new democracies often become undemocratic delegative democracies and that vertical accountability is not enough to stop such encroaching authoritarianism. While events in the last five years have focused attention on illegal executive behavior by former president Alemán, Nicaragua's democracy actually has experienced authoritarian presidencies under all the major parties. Elections and popular mobilization have strengthened the independence of the legislature, however. Mechanisms of vertical accountability thereby have proven more effective than expected in restraining executive authoritarianism and fostering institutions of horizontal accountability. The case of Nicaragua shows that citizens can use the power balance and separate institutional mandate of presidential democracy to limit authoritarianism.