Zimbabwe: President Mnangagwa blows cold and then hot on elections

 

These are confusing times for Zimbabwean voters and political commentators.

On 12 January, the spokesperson for the country’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, told journalists that the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had asked to postpone the general election. In a meeting between the two, which appears to have been inspired in part by Tsvangirai’s poor health, the opposition leader is said to have demanded that the polls – which are currently scheduled to take place between July and September 2018 – be deferred by three years to allow much needed reforms to be implemented.

The fact that this information was leaked by the government immediately raised suspicions that in reality the story was being used by the ruling party to “fly a kite” for a plan to push the elections back. The idea that a ZANU PF faction was testing the waters to see whether the government could get away a power grab were leant credibility when Tsvangirai’s advisors subsequently rejected the president’s account, claiming that “the matter was never a subject for discussion”.

This interpretation subsequently gained further ground when former Cabinet Minister and Mnangagwa rival Jonathan Moyo used an interview with Zeinab Bedawi on BBC’s Hard Talk to say what many were thinking, alleging that it was in fact the president who had tried to persuade Tsvangirai to agree to an election delay because he is “afraid of losing”.

However, Zimbabwe has entered new and less predictable political times, and rumours don’t last long these days.

Just six days later, the headline on the front page of the Herald, a recognized government mouthpiece, screamed “Elections in five months: President”. According to the story, elections were not to be postponed but rather brought forward. Although July 23 is the earliest date that elections can be held without a change of the law, the president told Zimbabweans that the country was “going for elections in four to five months’ time”.

This was followed up by a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times in which Mnangagwa committed himself not only to holding elections quickly, but to holding good quality ones. According to the president, “We want fair free credible elections … In the past those who had pronounced themselves against us; who pre-determined that our elections would not be free and fair, were not allowed to come in. But now with this new dispensation I don’t feel threatened by anything.”

Promoting democracy to secure development

In a surprise to many, the president did not leave things there. Instead, in a move designed to build bridges with the West ahead of the World Economic Forum at Davos on 23-26 January, Mnangagwa committed himself to a wide-ranging process of democratization.

This, he pledged, would include holding credible elections and allowing international observers from the Commonwealth and the United Nations to oversee the process – something that the government did not allow last time round.

The president also said that he was willing to enter into talks with the United Kingdom about Zimbabwe re-joining the Commonwealth. This would be something of a fillip for the British government, signalling that Zimbabwe had genuinely returned from the cold — and that Mnangagwa’s administration had recognized that the demonization of the UK that occurred under Robert Mugabe had not been in either country’s interests.

It would also have important implications for politics in Zimbabwe going forwards. In 2013, Robert Mugabe withdrew his country from the Commonwealth after the organization decided to maintain Zimbabwe’s suspension indifferently.

That suspension resulted, in part, from a flawed election in 2002, when Mugabe retained power in controversial circumstances. Allegations of violence and intimidation during the presidential election campaign led the UK, Australia and New Zealand to express deep concern, and a critical report from the Commonwealth Observer Group proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

Thus, while Mnangagwa can expect a soft landing from the Commonwealth as a new leader preaching reform, he would also be taking a risk. Inviting international scrutiny and welcoming international observers could easily backfire, especially if the president turns out to be less popular than he hopes.

Which all raises one big question: does he really mean it?

Why democracy now?

We know that Mnangagwa is not a democrat by instinct.

Although he has sought to disassociate himself from the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s, few believe his protestations of innocence. The deaths of around 20,000 mainly ethnic Ndebeles in Matabeleland occurred while he held prominent roles within the security forces, and his public statements around the time were telling.

According to The Chronicle newspaper, at a rally in Victoria Falls in 1983, Mnangagwa likened the dissidents to cockroaches and bugs – anticipating the language of the Rwandan genocide – and “said the bandit menace had reached such epidemic proportion that the government had to bring ‘DDT’ [pesticide] to get rid of the bandits.”

More recently, it is important that the new president did not come to power through the ballot box but through a very carefully orchestrated palace coup. The lesson that this episode taught him was straightforward: the one thing that can save you when your influence is on the wane and people you know are turning their backs on you is military support.

In other words, the new president is not someone who is ever going to believe the naïve cliché that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Given this, how are we to interpret his newfound commitment to democratic norms and values? It is possible that Mnangagwa has had a “road to Damascus” moment and that the leopard really has changed his spots. But a more likely answer is that he is using the promise of democracy to pursue other ends.

The president knows that Zimbabweans will judge him on the state of the economy, which is looking like a tough ask. Despite all of the talk of a more clean and efficient government, and of an open door for foreign investors, many are waiting to see if the government will come through on its promises before parting with their money.

This represents a significant challenge for Mnangagwa, because while some of his own speeches have stoked popular expectations of an instant recovery, the reality is that the economy has been tanking for so long that it will take a while to turn it around.

One thing that could help to change this picture is debt relief. According to the International Monetary Fund, Zimbabwe will owe external lenders more than US $10 billion. Because this represents over half the country’s annual GDP, the government’s capacity to invest in public service and economic recovery will be severely hampered unless this debt can be cancelled or heavily rescheduled.

And while that is said to be a purely economic decision by key players such as the IMF and the World Bank, in reality it us much easier to justify saving the economic bacon of governments that take and hold power legitimately.

But if Zimbabwe’s new leader is mainly talking up democratic reforms to unlock economic assistance, what does that mean for the next election – might we actually see a “good enough” contest? Or is there a way that the president can have his cake and eat it?

What does a quick election mean?

There are some presidents in the world who do not really understand the nuts and bolts of how an election works – who make mistakes by failing to grasp key procedures and processes, and agree to what the think are small changes, only later to find that they have large consequences.

Emmerson Mnangagwa is not one of these presidents.

Having played a central role in the ZANU-PF election machine for many years, he has an intimate knowledge of how to control the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission, the mechanisms that the party uses to mobilise the vote, and is well aware of the fact that the government’s hegemony relies on a system of intimidation to keep opposition supporters away from the polls.

If he is floating the idea of an early election it suggests that he thinks doing so will be to his advantage. Why might that be the case?

An early election could help Mnangagwa in three ways.

First, going to the polls quickly gives voters less time to be disappointed if the promised economic resurgence does not materialise. The longer the president leaves it, the more he will need to show some green shoots of recovery to back up his claim to be the answer to the country’s financial difficulties.

Second, with Morgan Tsvangirai in poor health and the opposition divided over the question of whether or not he should be replaced by a younger leader, there may be no better time for the president to test his popularity. Whether or not Tsvangirai asked Mnangagwa to postpone the election, it is clear that the Movement for Democratic Change is not in great shape to contest one today.

Finally, the new president is well aware that clever autocrats rig elections well in advance – through the electoral roll, the channelling of patronage, and the manipulation of traditional leaders – and that to detect and expose these abuses the international monitors need to have long-term observers on the ground months ahead of any contest. If a snap election is called, it will be impossible for international monitors to deploy in time – even if the president keeps his promise to invite them – because they would effectively need to be in place already.

A quick election might therefore be just what ZANU PF needs. By taking advantage of Mnangagwa’s honeymoon, the challenges facing the opposition, and the massive head-start that the ruling party enjoys after decades of political manipulation, the government can retain power without needing to do anything on polling day that will create troublesome media headlines.

And by inviting international election observers who will only be able to deploy close to an election day, missing the preparations, the president will be able to sustain the image of being a democratic reformer without actually having to hold a democratic election …

 

Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham and the author of How to Rig an Election

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moldova – Temporary Suspensions of the President of the Republic

The constitutional choices made in the Republic of Moldova throughout the past 25 years cover an intriguing variety of executive-legislative relations. In the style of a ping-pong game (Fruhstorfer 2016), the idea of going back and forth between a parliamentary and semi-presidential system is a constant theme in the political discussion. At the moment, the game has moved back to a semi-presidential system. This change was not based on a constitutional amendment, but a decision of the constitutional court to declare the 2000 amendments unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016). This decision helped to diffuse the massive protests after a corruption scandal and bank heist in course of which the country lost approx. 1 billion USD (Kottasova 2015, see also Brett et al. 2015). During this crisis, the constitutional court showed an unprecedented level of judicial activism that was, as we will discuss below, no isolated case. It was the start of the Moldovan political elite relying on the constitutional court to help solve inter-institutional conflicts. It is also an example of how a ruling elite tries to preserve its hegemonic status (see Hirschl 2004). To address these issues, this post will briefly describe the chain of controversial decisions of the constitutional court concerning the president since 2016. This is followed by an analysis of the most recent decision to temporarily suspend the president.

The constitutional court and the direct presidential election

In a controversial and surprising decision in March 2016, the constitutional court ruled the 2000 constitutional amendment unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016) and de facto re-established the 1994 constitution and reinstated the direct election of the president. (For an analysis of this court decision, see an earlier post). The first presidential elections under the reinstated 1994 constitutional order took place in November 2016. Igor Dodon won the run-off vote with 52.28% of votes (47.82 voted for Maia Sandu). As in many semi-presidential systems, this led to a period of cohabitation with the government of Pavel Filip. This per se conflictual situation is exacerbated by the constant, yet informal influence of Vlad Plahotniuc. Plahotniuc is a wealthy oligarch, chair of the PDM (Democratic Party of Moldova), and is incredibly unpopular according to recent polls (IRI.org 2017, originally cited by Popșoi 2017). But he managed to transform the PDM that won only close to 16% of the votes in the 2014 parliamentary election into the main political force in Moldova. Right after the election, it was unclear how confrontational the Filip-Plahotniuc-Dodon relation might be. Since then, we have seen an “inter-institutional deadlock” (Popșoi 2017), which is, according to a variety of independent observers, only a sham to disguise how Plahotniuc and Dodon have consolidated their power with the help of each other.

The suspension of the president

The activism of the court in recent years has often targeted the presidency, yet the suspension of the president in October 2017 and again in January 2018 added a whole new chapter to the already complicated relations between the president and government. Much of the reasoning behind the motivation of Dodon and Plahotniuc is highly speculative, so it seems useful to describe the facts first.

In October 2017, the Moldovan Constitutional Court suspended the president temporarily. The reason was Dodon’s refusal to appoint Eugen Sturza as Minister of Defense, an appointment process that had already started in December 2016. Early in 2017, the constitutional court had issued an interpretation of Art. 98 of the constitution, whereby the president can only reject the nomination of a cabinet member once (Constitutional Court 2017). Thus, the repeated refusal to appoint Sturza led the government to appeal to the constitutional court again. The court first decided that the refusal to confirm a cabinet nomination is considered a violation of the constitution and can led to a temporary suspension. This suspension was issued by the court and was in force until the acting president (the head of parliament) appointed the new minister.
Yet, the constitutional procedure stipulated by Art. 89 would have been entirely different:

(1) In the event where the President of the Republic of Moldova commits grave offenses infringing upon constitutional provisions, he may be suspended from office by Parliament if two-thirds of the members cast their votes in support of suspension.
(2) The motion requesting the suspension from office may be initiated by at least one-third of the members, and it must be brought to the knowledge of the President without delay. The President may give explanations on the actions for which he is being censured before Parliament.
(3) If the motion requesting suspension from office meets with approval, a national referendum shall be organized within 30 days for removing the President from office.”( Constitution of the Republic of Moldova)

A temporary suspension – not because of health reasons – is thus an invention of the constitutional court that sets a dangerous precedent. Two months later the government again appealed to the court to temporarily suspend the president from office, because Dodon refused to appoint seven new ministers. And again in early 2018, two days after the decision of the court on the second appeal, a third complaint reached the court for another temporary suspension, because the president refused to sign a law banning alleged Russian propaganda. According to Art. 98, the president has only a suspensive veto power, but has to promulgate a law after the initiative is reconfirmed by parliament. However, Dodon refused to promulgate the law and the interim president (again the speaker of parliament) appointed both the ministers and promulgated the law.

Any assessment of the role of the constitutional court, the president and the head of the PDM in this complicated power structure is hardly possible without a partisan reading. Some describe Plahotniuc as a pro-democratic, pro-western figure and the PDM as the main party that guarantees democratic development (RFE/RL 2017). But Plahotniuc is also profiting from East-West tensions, has autocratic tendencies and is accused of corruption (Popșoi 2017a). In any case, he is a main player within the government, although he has no formal governmental role (he is member of parliament and chair of the PDM). Dodon’s role and motivations are less clear. On the one hand, he was the former head of the Socialist Party and has a declared pro-Russian stance. This is a logical explanation for his refusal to promulgate the anti-Russian propaganda law. On the other hand, he cooperated closely with Plahotniuc and the PDM to change the country’s electoral law to a mixed electoral system. This move was widely condemned by international actors (among them most importantly the Venice commission, see Venice Commission 2017). Some observers have even argued that Dodon has reached an informal agreement with Plahotniuc and informally supports the political course to hold his position (see for example Necsutu 2017). Authors have described this as a “political cartel narrative” (Popșoi 2017a) with the aim of a Russia-backed coalition between the Socialists (PD) and the PDM after the upcoming parliamentary elections in November this year.

Beyond the speculation about the motives that led Dodon to comply with the course of Plahotniuc, it is clear that the constitutional court is instrumentalized in allowing the ruling elite to preserve their newly won influence and power. The inter-institutional deadlock is nothing new for the Republic of Moldova and neither is the issue of EU integration vs. close ties with Russia. Neither is necessarily beneficial for democratic development, but both always seemed possible to overcome. Yet, what will have a lasting influence on the downward spiral of Moldovan democracy is the unprecedented involvement of the court in the power struggle that will undermine what is left of the public’s trust in the constitutional court.

Literature

BBC (2016): Pro-Moscow figure Igor Dodon claims Moldova presidency. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37970155. November 14 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Brett, Daniel; Knott, Ellie; Popsoi, Mihai (2015): The ‘billion dollar protests’ in Moldova are threatening the survival of the country’s political elite. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/09/21/the-billion-dollar-protests-in-moldova-are-threatening-the-survival-of-the-countrys-political-elite/, September 21 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Constitutional Court (2017): http://constcourt.md/libview.php?l=en&idc=7&id=938&t=/Media/Noutati/The-President-of-Moldova-may-only-once-decline-PMs-proposal-of-Cabinet-reshuffle/ [accessed January 14 2018]
Fruhstorfer, Anna (2016): Moldova, in: Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Anna Fruhstorfer and Michael Hein, Springer VS, 359-387.
Kottasova, Ivana (2015): How to steal $ 1 billion in three days. http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/07/news/economy/moldova-stolen-billion/. May 7 [accessed January 10, 2018]
IRI.org (2017): Public Opinion Survey (2017). http://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/iri_moldova_poll_march_2017.pdf. [accessed January 10, 2018]
Necsutu, Madalin (2017): Dodon Response to Suspension Puzzles Moldova’s Socialists, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/dodon-response-to-suspension-puzzles-moldova-s-socialists-01-10-2018 [January, 14, 2018]
Popșoi, Mihai (2017): Moldovan President Igor Dodon Suspended by the Constitutional Court. https://moldovanpolitics.com/2017/10/25/moldovan-president-igor-dodon-suspended-by-the-constitutional-court/ [last accessed January 15, 2018]
Popșoi, Mihai (2017a): Moldovan Politics 2017: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. https://moldovanpolitics.com/2017/12/27/moldovan-politics-2017-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/ [accessed January 15, 2018]
Venice Commission (2017): Joint opinion on the draft laws on amending and completing certain legislative acts, in: http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2017)012-e [accessed January 10, 2018]

Kyrgyzstan – A Double Transition: Administration and Model of Government

The October 2017 presidential election in Kyrgyzstan ushered in simultaneous transitions of administration and model of government.  Under the 2010 Constitution, Kyrgyzstan, like Mexico, restricts its president to a single six-year term, which ended last month with Almazbek Atambaev handing the reins of power to his hand-picked successor, and fellow Social Democrat, Sooronbai Zheenbekov.  Not only is there a new occupant in the Kyrgyzstani White House in Bishkek, but the office of the presidency itself is being reshaped by constitutional amendments adopted by referendum in December 2016, amendments that took effect in December 2017.  It is, therefore, a period of considerable uncertainty, as observers search for clues that could offer insights into the effects of the double transition on Kyrgyzstani politics.

With regard to the transition in administration, Sooronbai Zheenbekov is no Vladimir Putin, who came into the Kremlin in May 2000 with a packet of far-reaching administrative reforms.  As expected, President Zheenbekov, whose close personal and political relations with Atambaev go back to 1995, has not signaled any significant departures from the policies of his predecessor.  However, last month the new president was able to quickly patch up deteriorating relations with neighboring Kazakhstan, which had brought trade with Kyrgyzstan to a virtual halt after President Atambaev harshly criticized Kazakh President Nazarbaev for supporting Zheenbekov’s major opponent, Omurbek Babanov, in the presidential election campaign.

One way of measuring the extent of continuity in presidential transitions is to examine personnel turnover in the presidential apparatus.  Here the record is mixed.  Just as in the Yeltsin-Putin transition, Jeenbekov has retained the services of his predecessor’s chief of staff, in this case Farid Niazov.[i]  As numerous Kyrgyzstani commentators have remarked, Niazov is now in a position to act as the eyes of Atambaev in the new administration, and given that in post-communist regimes with strong presidencies the chief-of-staff is often the second most influential person in the country, Niazov’s appointment seems to be clear evidence of continuity.  However, retaining Niazov may also represent a transition within the transition, and as Zheenbekov acquires greater confidence in his new role, he may bring on his own person in this critical position.

The first weeks of the Zheenbekov presidency have already witnessed substantial turnover in second-tier positions in the presidential apparatus, with many of the new appointees having served under Zheenbekov in his previous roles as prime minister and governor of the Osh region in the South.  With a tradition that reaches back more than a half-century of alternating northern and southern leaders of the Soviet Kirgiz Republic and now the independent country of Kyrgyzstan, the election of the southerner, Zheenbekov, has brought a predictable influx of appointees to the presidential bureaucracy who hail from the South.  However, given his ties to the Social Democratic Party, which has been sensitive to regional balance in personnel matters, it seems unlikely that Zheenbekov will repeat the mistakes of two earlier presidents, Askar Akaev (1991-2005) and Kurmanbek Bakiev (2005-2010), who were ousted in popular uprisings, in part because of the perception of regional favoritism.

The other form of favoritism that plagued the Akaev and Bakiev presidencies was the appointment of family members to key political and economic roles.  Unlike President Atambaev, whose family members were not prominent public figures, Zheenbekov has several brothers who have had leading positions in government institutions, including a younger brother who is now in parliament and had served earlier as parliamentary speaker. In one of last appointments, President Atambaev selected Zheenbekov’s older brother, an ambassador in the Middle East since the Bakiev days, to serve as ambassador to Ukraine, a post that had been vacant for over two years, apparently in deference to Russia’s break with that country.  Even if recent political history has not inoculated Kyrgyzstan against a repetition of family rule or one-region hegemony, it would be unlikely for a cautious politician like Zheenbekov to succumb to the favoritistic politics that helped to bring down earlier Kyrgyzstani presidents.

Less than two months into the Zheenbekov presidency, evidence remains sparse on the realignment of power between prime minister and president, though Zheenbekov’s negotiations with Nazarbaev indicate that the foreign policy portfolio remains firmly in presidential hands.  Under the new rules, the prime minister has full authority to appoint and dismiss members of the Council of Ministers as well as regional and local chief executives.  The young and relatively inexperienced prime minister, Sapar Isakov, has already replaced a number of cabinet-level officials in the areas of social and economic policy, but what is as yet unclear is the level of informal influence exercised over such appointment decisions by the president and his staff, and whether President Zheenbekov will encourage the selective prosecution of political appointees, which roiled the political establishment in the last year and a half of the Atambaev era.

Between the election and the inauguration, the campaign against the political opposition launched by Atambaev culminated in the threatened prosecution of Omurbek Babanov, who, as noted above, was the loser in the presidential race.  With his personal freedom, business interests, and political party under threat, Babanov sought refuge overseas after the presidential contest.  Then in a dramatic announcement communicated on his Facebook page on 30 December, Babanov issued in effect a political surrender and plea for mercy. In a statement reminiscent of the Melis Eshimkanov’s magnanimous concession to President Akaev after the 2000 presidential election, Babanov thanked Atambaev for his “worthy contribution to the preservation and strengthening of the country.”  He then announced his resignation from his parliamentary seat and his departure from politics.  By so doing, he appeared to salvage his own party’s future and to remove the shadow that the popular politician’s criminal conviction would have cast over the Zheenbekov presidency.[ii]

Looming over the double transition of administration and model of government is the figure of ex-President Atambaev.  Seized in the waning months of his term by the vision of apres moi, le deluge, Atambaev had sought to “idiot-proof the constitution” by further diminishing the power of the presidency, which would, in his words, allow him to learn to play the piano in his retirement.[iii]  However, speculation abounds that a new chapter will unfold in Atambaev’s political career at the late January congress of the Social Democratic Party, when observers expect him to be selected as party chairman.  With Social Democrats holding the posts of president and prime minister, some contend that the party apparatus under Atambaev could begin to usurp constitutional authority accorded to the heads of state and government.  In such a scenario, one observer noted, Kyrgyzstan would have its own Ayatollah.

Notes

[i] Niazov had stepped down temporarily from the chief-of-staff position last year to head Zheenbekov’s election campaign.

[ii] Whatever Zheenbekov’s attitude is to Atambaev’s targeting of his political enemies for prosecution, he apparently did not seek to intervene in the criminal trial against parliamentary deputy Kanat Isaev, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison on 4 January 2018.

[iii]  Eugene Huskey, Plebiscitarianism and Constitution-Making: The December 11, 2016 Referendum in Kyrgyzstan, Presidential Power blog.  http://presidential-power.com/?p=5770

Cyprus – The 2018 presidential election: A war of all against all

In less than two weeks’ time, the people of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) are going to the polls for the 12th time in Cyprus’ presidential electoral history to elect the 8th president of the Republic (the first elections were held in 1960 when Cyprus gained its independence from Britain). As already mentioned in a previous post, five major candidates will contest the elections with a clear favorite to win: the current right-wing president Nicos Anastasiades. In this short post, I will try to summarize the most basic things that one has to bear in mind with regard to the forthcoming presidential elections in Cyprus.

1. The first round of the elections is scheduled for 28 January 2018 and if a second round is needed (almost certainly), this will take place on 4 February.

2. The President of Cyprus (Greek Cypriot by constitutional provision) is the highest authority in the country with very strong powers in his/her possession, unmatched in any other country of the EU. The president is both head of state and government. The only check on the institution’s power was the Turkish Cypriot vice-president as was envisaged in the London-Zurich agreements that established the Republic of Cyprus (1959-1960). However, the withdrawal of Turkish Cypriots from all state and government institutions in 1964 following inter-communal clashes and the subsequent Turkish invasion in 1974 mean that the president has concentrated all powers in the office.

3. Presidential elections are held every five years under a majoritarian two-round system, i.e., a successful candidate needs to receive a majority of the votes to be elected. With some exceptions, the rule in Cyprus is that a second round is needed to determine the president.

4. Given the majoritarian system and the absence of a dominant party that has more than 50% support on its own, all political parties and candidates try to strike bargains between them, particularly after the first round has ended.

5. In the past, presidents from all ideological currents have governed, including the self-declared communist AKEL (2008-2013), rendering the elections a matter more of political efficiency than ideology. Cyprus’ EU membership also limits the space for competition based on ideology and clearly distinct between policies and elevates issues of transparency and corruption on the agenda.

6. All types of elections in recent years have been held under conditions of extreme popular discontent towards political actors and very low levels of trust in them. This election is no different, particularly following the 2013 bail-in that saw a significant haircut in bank deposits of many Cypriots and the collapse of the powerful banking system of the country.

7. Apart the current president who is running for re-election (supported by his own party, the right-wing DISY), the other four major candidates are: N. Papadopoulos, president of DIKO and who is supported by an alliance of four parties (center-right DIKO, center-left EDEK, Solidarity Movement and the Greens); S. Malas, an independent who is supported by the left-wing AKEL; G. Lillikas, president of the Citizens’ Alliance; and C. Christou, president of the extreme right National Popular Front-ELAM.

8. The electoral strength of the major parties is as follows: the right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY) 30.69%; the left-wing Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) 25.67%; the center-right Democratic Party (DIKO) 14.49%; the social democrats EDEK, 6.18%; the right-wing, nationalist Solidarity Movement, 5.24%; Green Party, 4.82%; Citizens Alliance, 6.01%; and the extreme-right ELAM, 3.71%. Based on these figures alone and bearing in mind which candidates the parties support, it is likely that that N. Anastasiades and N. Papadopoulos are the favorites to progress to the second round. However, one plus one does not always equal two in politics.

9. It was thought that the inglorious conclusion of the discussions for finding a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem between the leaders of the two Cypriot communities last July would dominate the campaign. However, the polls indicate that most people are primarily concerned with the economy, with the Cyprus problem coming second. Issues of corruption are also significant in these elections.

10. Programmatic discourse has been de-emphasised during the campaign. This has been complimented by a move towards the personalization of politics and electoral campaigns; this trend has been under way in Cyprus generally in recent times and is not confined to this electoral campaign. Most polls indicate that the personality of the candidate and not party affiliation will play the most crucial role in the voter’s final decision. In turn, this trend enhances the role of the leader at the expense of the party organization. Additionally, the majority of the polls also reveal voter choice is based on whom they perceive as the least bad among the candidates and not the best option.

11. Abstention is expected to reach the highest ever level in any presidential election. In the last presidential elections abstention rose to almost 20% in the second round (17% in the first) and is now expected to climb further. Moreover, approximately 30,000 of the eligible 40,000 voters did not register until the deadline of 18 December 2017; the vast majority of them being persons under the age of 22, which shows an aversion of young people to politics and adds to the abstention rate.

12. The campaign thus far, and with no indication of change going forward, has been one of a Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’. This is particularly true for the three main candidates, Anastasiades, Papadopoulos and Malas. Accusations are exchanged constantly and on a daily basis between them, as well as between their supporting parties on all issues. For example, Lillikas indirectly accused Papadopoulos of offering him money and public office to withdraw his candidacy and support him. On another occasion, all candidates demanded that the president replace his minister of interior because of his partisan behaviour and partiality while being responsible for the organization of the elections. This polarization between the candidates, in turn, questions their ability to form alliances at the second round and arguably places the strongest candidate (N. Anastasiades) in an advantageous position since the bridges between Papadopoulos and Malas and the parties supporting them seem broken.

13. President Anastasiades has focused on three issues that are believed to be his strongest assets: his strong personality and authority; the fact that he improved the economy, successfully guiding the country’s exit from the memorandum and the crisis; and his ability to strike new and also enhance old international cooperation agreements with neighboring countries. Papadopoulos has highlighted his new agenda/strategy for disengaging from former presidents’ concessions with regard to the Cyprus problem; his reliability with regard to the economy; and his ability to act as a unifying figure between several parties. Malas has campaigned on the freshness that his candidacy brings to political life, and that has no links to the corrupt political and party system. He has also tried to stress the independent status of his candidacy vis-à-vis claims that he is nothing more than AKEL’s puppet.

14. If we believe the polls, President Anastasiades is favorite not only to win through to the second round but also to win at the second round, regardless of who stands against him. The polls suggest that N. Papadopoulos stands a better chances than S. Malas in a possible second round with N. Anastasiades. However, if Anastasiades were not to win, it would not be the first time in Cyprus that the polls got it wrong.

15. Given the belief that N. Anastasiades will win the election, the most significant issue in this election campaign is who will win through to the second round with Anastasiades. This raises the stakes for AKEL as a party and N. Papadopoulos as a person. Both AKEL and Papadopoulos face significant blame-gaming if they fail to win through.

16. The day after the election matters primarily with regard to the new president’s stance on the Cyprus problem and less on his economic policies. The latter point connects the presidential elections in the RoC with the ‘parliamentary’ elections held just a few days apart in the northern, occupied part of Cyprus; these elections took place a few days earlier (7 January 2018). While the elections did not concern the new leader of the community, they were crucial with regard to the parties’ results and their positions both regarding the Cyprus problem and relations with Turkey. A first reading of the results reveals tricky times ahead, since the political parties of the right that are more sceptical and more hardline regarding the Cyprus problem and more receptive of Turkey’s wishes and demands won a majority amidst increased abstention.

Mali – Fifth time’s the charm: IBK’s new winning team?

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) has appointed a new prime minister and renewed his cabinet – again. Soumeylou Boubèye Maiga (SBM), who takes over from Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga, is IBK’s fifth prime minister since he became president in 2013. This is as many prime ministers as former President Alpha Oumar Konaré had during his 10 years in office, and one more than former President Amadou Toumani Touré appointed during his 10 years at the helm of the state. Under IBK, prime ministers have generally lasted less than a year, only Modibo Keita succeeded in eking out 15 months. What explains this frequent turnover at the “primature” during IBK’s first term? And what justifies this latest change in particular?

Though the president formally lacks the power to dismiss the prime minister under Mali’s 1992 semi-presidential constitution,[1] the frequency with which IBK has changed prime ministers during his first term in office is strong evidence of the president’s informal powers. Mali, like other premier-presidential systems, is experiencing a situation of party “presidentialization” (Samuels and Shugart 2010), frequently found under circumstances where the same majority controls both the presidency and the legislative majority. In other words, though the president does not formally have the power to dismiss the prime minister and cabinet, the ruling RPM party and its coalition members have effectively delegated this power to him.

President IBK has faced unprecedented security challenges, compared to his predecessors. The government is struggling to hinder the spread of terrorist groups and reestablish state control over large swaths of the national territory, of which only about 20% is considered safe for travel by the UK Government. Terrorist attacks have increased in frequency over the past year and extended over a larger geographical area, with much of central Mali now also affected. Extremists have targeted symbols of the state, attempting to murder of the Chief Justice of the High Court and kidnapping the president of the district court of Niono. Lack of progress on the implementation of the 2015 peace accord with former rebels has not improved matters.  IBK’s cabinets have also struggled to handle social crises [see previous blog post here] in the health and education sectors, and an attempt at adopting a new constitution failed last year [see previous post here].  Changing prime ministers and cabinet members has provided IBK an avenue for changing a losing team.

Like his predecessor, the new prime minister, SBM, served as defense minister in a previous IBK government – as did the new foreign minister. Clearly security concerns weighed heavily in IBK’s choice for the top cabinet positions in the new government, and unsatisfactory progress in addressing spreading insecurity likely contributed to shortening the tenure in office of SBM’s immediate predecessor.  The new cabinet (see Figure 1 below) includes one portfolio more than the previous one – the Ministry for Local Development – which goes to a member of the RPM leadership, Zoumana Mory Coulibaly. In addition to Coulibaly, five more new cabinet members make their entrance into the government, and five other ministers have changed portfolio. The representation of the ruling RPM remains strong, despite the departure of the former prime minister who was the first vice-president of the party. The five who have left the government include the former minister of Foreign Affairs (a career diplomat who was in charge of negotiating the 2015 peace agreement) and the former minister of Human Rights and Government Reform (who shepherded the failed constitutional reform process). The new government includes one more woman than the previous one.

This most recent change of prime ministers was also the last chance before the looming presidential election in July where IBK is likely to seek reelection for a second term. Other candidates have already announced themselves, including Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, former army general and former minister of territorial administration in IBK’s first cabinet; Kalifa Sanogo (of the ADEMA party – ruling coalition member), mayor of Sikasso, Mali’s second largest city; Modibo Kone, expert at the West African Development Bank (BOAD); and Hamadoun Touré, head of the tech initiative “Smart Africa” and friend of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The ease with which IBK has been able to change prime ministers and cabinet members has provided him with scapegoats for failed policy and security initiatives. However, the botched constitutional reform initiative, where plans for a referendum had to be abandoned in the face of widespread opposition notably against provisions for increased presidential powers, is difficult to explain away. The coming months will demonstrate the resilience of the ruling coalition in the face of a mobilized opposition, and on the other side the ability of the opposition to coalesce around a single or a few candidates. It remains to be seen whether IBK this time succeeded in assembling the winning team that will take him over the finish line to a second term in office.

Table 1: Mali’s new cabinet

Position Name

 

Previous position in cabinet  Affiliation

 

Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maiga NEW, Secretary General of the Presidency, former defense minister under IBK ASMA-CFP, president
Defense Tiéna Coulibaly Same Former amb. to US, former minister
Foreign Affairs Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly Territorial administration (was defense minister till 2016) UDD, president
Security Brigadier Gen. Salif Traoré Same Security sector
Territorial administration Mohamed Ag Erlaf National education RPM, member of leadership
Justice Hamidou Younoussa Maiga Appointed in November by the previous PM Former justice
Economy and Finance Boubou Cissé Same Former World Bank employee
Mines Tiémoko Sangaré Same ADEMA, president
Investment and Private Sector Baber Gano Transportation RPM, secretary general
Solidarity and Humanitarian  Action Hamadoun Konaté Same RPM leadership
National Education Housseïni Amion Guindo Sports CODEM, president
Higher Education and Research Assétou Founé Samake Migan Same Former university professor
Human Rights Kadidia Sangare Coulibaly NEW Former head of the National Commission for Human Rights
Local Authorities Alhassane Ag Hamed Moussa Decentralization and Local Taxation Public sector
National Reconciliation Mohamed El Moctar Same Public sector, former minister
Malian Diaspora and African Integration Abdramane Sylla Same RPM
Transportation Moulaye Ahmed Boubacar NEW RPM leadership
Habitat and Urbanism Cheick Sidiya Sissoko dit Kalifa NEW ADEMA
Agriculture Nango Dembélé Livestock and Fishery RPM leadership
Livestock and Fishery Kane Rokia Maguiraga NEW Public sector
IT and Communication Arouna Modibo Touré Same Public sector
Infrastructure and Equipment Traoré Seynabou Diop Same Public sector
Industrial Development Mohamed Aly Ag Ibrahim Same Public sector
Employment and Professional Training Maouloud Ben Kattra Same Labor union
Health Samba Ousmane Sow Same Health sector
Labor Diarra Raky Talla Same Public sector
Trade, Government Spokesperson Abdel Karim Konaté Same (also gov. spokesperson) ADEMA
Energy and Water Malick Alhousseini Same Public sector
Environment Keita Aïda M’Bo Same Former UNDP employee
Local Development

(NEW PORTFOLIO)

Zoumana Mory Coulibaly NEW RPM, leadership
Territory Planning and Population Adama Tiémoko Diarra Same ADEMA
Culture N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo Same RPM, leadership
Crafts and Tourism Nina Walet Intallou Same CMA (rebel group coordination)
Women, Children and Families Traoré Oumou Touré Same Civil society
Sports Jean Claude Sidibé NEW Sport sector
Religion Thierno Amadou Omar Hass Diallo Same Teaching and consultancies
Youth Amadou Koita Same PS, president

Source: Author’s research.

[1] Article 38 provides that the president “terminates the appointment” of the prime minister “when the latter tenders the resignation of the government” (identical wording as Article 8 in the French 1958 constitution). Formally, the prime minister is thus only accountable to the legislature, leaving Mali in the premier-presidential sub-category of semi-presidential systems. In contrast, in president-parliamentary system, the president is empowered by the constitution to dismiss the prime minister at will, making the premier accountable to both parliament and president. See Shugart and Carey (1992) for further discussion of these two subtypes of semi-presidential systems.

Ecuador – Former President Correa Cries Coup as Current President Moreno Convokes Plebiscite on Re-Election Ban

The falling out between Rafael Correa and Lenin Moreno, Ecuador’s past and current presidents respectively, has reached the level of a full-scale civil war that threatens to split the country’s governing party in a conflict over what many are calling the ‘de-Correa-ification’ of Ecuador.

The dominant characterisation of this schism has Moreno making a ‘shift to the right’ away from Correa’s ‘leftist’ policies. For example, in the view of the Financial Times Moreno has begun dismantling Correa’s “populist left-wing legacy” and forging relations with the business community. Meanwhile Correa accuses Moreno of “betrayal,” claiming that he is of the “centre-right” and has “no convictions”.

However, further analysis reveals that the issues at the heart of this extraordinary internecine conflict – which the BBC dubbed “Ecuador’s Game of Thrones” – relate to personality and political style rather than ideology. To be specific, they relate to Correa’s personality and political style.

As previously reported here, Lenin Moreno was elected in April of last year by the narrowest of margins, and under somewhat questionable conditions. Having served as Vice-President to Correa –who stepped down as President after a decade in power – many assumed that Moreno would be little more than a puppet. Some even compared the situation to that which existed in Russia between Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin between 2008 and 2012.

No one is talking about that any more. Instead a far more likely scenario is the division of governing party Alianza PAIS into pro- and anti-Correa factions.

The situation has been brought to a head by a number of dramatic, headline-grabbing events. First came the preventative detention and prosecution of Moreno’s Vice-President (successor to Moreno as Correa’s Vice-President) Jorge Glas on corruption charges relating to the Odebrecht scandal. Last month Glas was jailed for six years. He was subsequently removed from the post and replaced by Maria Alejandra Vicuña. Impeachment proceedings have been instituted against Glas.

Moreno has also criticised the economic situation he inherited, enacted cuts to public spending, ordered an audit of the legality of Ecuador’s debt, and is seeking to bring its extension of asylum to Julian Assange to an end. Most significantly of all, Moreno has convoked a plebiscite for February 4th which proposes a range of reforms, among them a ban on presidential re-election[i]. This proposal would reverse the amendment abolishing term limits introduced by Correa in 2015, and bar the former president from running again.

Correa and his allies have reacted with increasing fury to these unfolding events, labelling Moreno a “traitor” and accusing him of destroying the legacy of the ‘Citizens’ Revolution’. Correa has characterised Moreno’s cuts as an “austerity package,” and criticised his meetings with business elites and the political right.

As previously reported here, in November pro-Correa factions moved to oust Moreno as president of Alianza PAIS. Moreno was able to have the decision overturned by the National Electoral Council (CNE), however, and the issue has been referred to the Contentious Electoral Tribunal (TCE) for a ruling. As a result, a split appears increasingly likely, with Correa now openly considering forming a rival party.

The most strident criticism of Moreno has focussed on the methods used to convoke the plebiscite. Rather than submit the proposed questions to the Constitutional Court for clarification, Moreno issued an executive decree instructing the CNE to proceed to put the selected questions to the electorate. Moreno justified the decree on procedural grounds, but pro-Correa figures have rejected that explanation. Former Chancellor Ricardo Patiño has labelled the plebiscite “unconstitutional,” while in an open letter of resignation, Ecuador’s UN Ambassador Guillaume Long denounced Moreno’s “dangerous authoritarianism” and “false ecumenism”.

Naturally the strongest criticism has come from Correa, who described the move as “treason” and an attempt at a “coup d’etat.” On January 5th Correa flew back to Ecuador from his home in Belgium to lead the ‘No’ campaign. As a result, Ecuador faces the paradoxical situation where, in the words of Pablo Ospina of the Simon Bolivar Andean University, “the only political movement opposed to the plebiscite is part of the party of the president who convoked it”[ii].

Yet Correa appears to be losing this game of political chess. In terms of support from members of the parliamentary party, Moreno has secured almost twice as many endorsements. Furthermore, according opinion polls Correa’s approval ratings – a consistent source of strength during his time as president – have plummeted to below 30% over the past year, during which time Moreno’s have risen to over 70%. Other polls point to public support for the ban on presidential re-election in the plebiscite.

A recent study of the decade-long Correa regime offers insight into why Moreno looks to be on a path to defeating his former leader[iii]. Utilising the concept of “competitive authoritarianism” developed by Levitsky and Way[iv], Sanchez-Sibony concludes that Correa slanted the electoral playing field and utilised state control of the economy as a substitute for party organisation.

This analysis chimes with that of Ospina, who notes that Correa’s power was based on a combination of charisma and state control. Moreno may lack charisma, but it appears that in contemporary Ecuador, control of the state apparatus is more important. That Moreno appears to be successfully using Correa’s own tools against him is an irony that has not been lost on the former president’s critics.

In particular, Ospina points to Moreno’s strategic approach to opponents on both the left and the right, offering to each some but not all of what they demand[v]. For example, while Moreno did reduce public spending, the move was described as “moderate” by business associations who continue to push the president for deeper cuts. In Moreno’s cabinet, portfolios relating to the productive economy have gone to those with business links, while those with oversight of social policy have been entrusted to left-wing intellectuals.

This method can also be observed in the formation of the questions proposed for the plebiscite. To those on the right, Moreno has offered the possibility of eliminating Correa’s Capital Gains Tax, but has refused to amend the controversial Communications Law. For indigenous movements and environmentalists there is the prospect of restrictions on mining in protected areas, but not the total prohibition sought.

All of which brings the discussion back, inevitably, to Correa. Talk of Moreno ‘betraying’ the Citizens’ Revolution overlooks the fact that Correa himself had moved the project far from its origins during his ten-year reign. Numerous policy switches took place over that time[vi], including the signing of a free trade deal with the European Union and renewed borrowing from the IMF. In terms of the governing coalition, left-wing intellectuals and social movements had long-since been replaced by statist technocrats, ‘modern’ business people, and state contractors.

Several commentators have pointed out that Moreno is not fundamentally altering the economic model of the Correa years, which remains highly dependent on primary commodities, agribusiness, and borrowing. The real source of the conflict here is political.

It is questionable whether Moreno can hold together his ‘rainbow coalition’ of left and right in the long run. In constitution it is redolent of the first cabinet of former President Lucio Gutiérrez, which lasted all of six months before it fell apart under the weight of its internal contradictions[vii].

But for now Ecuador’s left and right are united behind Moreno’s attempt to achieve the ‘de-Correa-ification’ of Ecuadorian politics. Upon that point there appears to be widespread agreement, not only among social and political actors, but in the general public also. Correa may continue to dominate the headlines in Ecuador, but it looks increasingly as though his period of electoral dominance may be drawing to a close.

Notes

[i] The other questions include: The removal of political rights for those guilty of corruption; the election of new members of the Civic Participation Council; the repeal of the Capital Gains Tax Law; the extension of the ‘intangible zone’ in Yasuni National Park; restrictions on mining in protected areas; enhanced protections for children.

[ii] Pablo Ospina, 2017. Informe de Coyuntura: Traición e Infidelidad, los Dioses También Lloran. CEP Informe de Coyuntura, Diciembre. Available at: http://www.cepecuador.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=15&Itemid=114.

[iii] Omar Sanchez-Sibony, 2017. Classifying Ecuador’s Regime under Correa: A Procedural Approach. Journal of Politics in Latin America, Vol. 9(3), pp. 121-140.

[iv] Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way. 2001. The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13(2), pp. 51-65.

[v] Ospina, 2017.

[vi] Sanchez-Sibony, 2017.

[vii] César Montúfar, 2008. ‘El Populismo Intermitente de Lucio Gutiérrez,’ in Carlos de la Torre and Enrique Peruzzotti (eds.), El Retorno del Pueblo: Populismo y Nuevas Democracias en América Latina. Quito: FLACSO Ecuador.

Lithuania – President Grybauskaite’s Anti-Zapad campaign

Lithuanian President Grybauskaite identified the joint Russian-Belorussian military exercise Zapad-2017, which took place on the borders of the three Baltic States and Poland, as one of the most important events of 2017. In and of itself this military drill was nothing new since Russia carried out similar exercises in 2009 and 2013, and the Kremlin had announced that it plans to continue drills every four years. However, a yearlong public relations campaign launched by Grybauskaite against Zapad 2017 and alleged Russian aggression was quite unprecedented, especially if compared to Zapad 2013 and 2009 drills that produced no such presidential reactions.

Starting in February, when she met with US Defense Secretary James Mattis, Grybauskaite declared that Zapad 2017 exercises were a clear demonstration of Russia’s preparations for warfare with the West. Lithuanian President’s first accusation of the Kremlin’s “demonstrative preparation” for war on the West quickly made headlines in the American press. “Russia is a threat not only to Lithuania but to the whole region and to all of Europe,” proclaimed Grybauskaite to Foreign Policy.

Anti-Zapad/Russia campaign continued through the summer and peaked in September as Grybauskaite used high-level meetings to highlight Lithuania’s “aggressive neighborhood.” For instance, during May and July meetings between the heads of state of Central and Eastern European countries and President Trump, Grybauskaite informed Trump of specific threats and challenges faced by Lithuania and of country’s imperative defense needs. Regional threats from the East, especially Russia, topped Grybauskaite’s agenda following her official visits to Estonia and Ukraine. She also talked about threats posed by Russia’s drills during a U.S. Congressional delegation visit in Lithuania and while meeting with NATO and U.S. European Command generals alleging that “[Russia’s] attempts to redraw states’ borders by force.” It was probably not surprising that her 2017 State of the Nation Address identified Zapad 2017 drills as one of the top threats to Lithuania’s national security.

As the official date of military exercises (September 14-20) approached, major Western news outlets became the primary focus of Grybauskaite’s anti-Zapad/Russia pronouncements. In a Wall Street Journal article Lithuanian president observed, “We see a very, very large scale offensive exercise that demonstrates hatred against the West.” Grybauskaite also expressed country’s trepidation to Reuters. “We are worried about the upcoming ‘Zapad 2017’ exercise, which will deploy a very large and aggressive force [on our borders] that will very demonstrably be preparing for a war with the West.” Then, in her interview with CNBC Grybauskaite suggested that there was a “very large” probability that part of Russia’s equipment, including troops, would be kept in Belarus after the military exercise. “Russia is still very, very unpredictable, and it has proved this unpredictability with its activities in occupying Crimea, Ukraine, and Georgia. History teaches us that we need to see and watch and prepare for the activities of Russia,” she said.

Her scathing criticism of Russia, however, was reserved for the international audience in a speech she delivered at the UN.

“As we speak [September 19, 2017], around one hundred thousand Russian troops are engaged in offensive military exercise ‘Zapad 2017’ on the borders with the Baltic States, Poland and even in the Arctic. The Kremlin is rehearsing aggressive scenarios against its neighbors, training its army to attack the West. […] the Zapad exercise is just one symptom of the Kremlin’s inability to finally end its hatred towards the West.

Despite Russia’s special responsibility to protect international peace as permanent member of the Security Council, it violated the UN Charter by attacking Georgia, illegally annexing Crimea, and directly participating in the war in Eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s arsenal does not stop at conventional weapons. Russia continues to meddle in elections of other states, conducts cyber-attacks and uses its ‘sputniks’ to spread fake news and destabilizing propaganda.”

Not surprisingly, the Russian delegation walked out the General Assembly hall before Lithuanian president’s speech.

Although her UN speech received a positive evaluation in the local media, several Lithuanian MPs criticized Grybauskaite over the chosen timing of her visit to the UN. One MP stated that the Lithuanian President has “[…] trumpeted to the entire world the message about possible military invasion of Lithuania, so it is utterly bizarre to learn that when the threat may be at its highest, the Lithuanian head of state, who is also constitutionally carries the duties of the commander in chief, decides to leave the country and not somewhere nearby, but heads as far as over the Atlantic.” Another MP rushed to introduce a resolution mandating all high-ranking state officials to remain in the country during the drills. In her defense, Grybauskaite claimed that “an opportunity to go the UN and to address two hundred nations from its rostrum to draw attention to the problems of our region today when the whole world thinks only about conflicts with North Korea” could not be missed. Additionally, the president’s press office claimed that Grybauskaite was “the only leader of the states directly exposed to the threats by Zapad who has a possibility to present the situation directly to the Secretary-General during the Assembly.”

Anticipating that her leaving the country at the time when Lithuania, according to her, would be facing the gravest threat, Grybauskaite suddenly expressed a marked restraint in her public pronouncements, unexpectedly announcing that she saw “no threats” associated with the drills because the country was well militarily prepared and suggested that Zapad 2017 would be beneficial for Lithuania in the future as such drills would allow to identify potential security gaps. She also urged the public to “[…] not get frightened, because this is what the goal of the Zapad exercise is: to frighten us, to break our will to defend ourselves so that we are paralyzed and can do nothing in our state.”

Arguably, Grybauskaite’s concerns about Zapad’s impact on Lithuania’s national security had some merit. First, the president and defense ministry were deeply concerned about the scope and size of the military involved in the drills. According to the official numbers provided by Russia, only 12,700 soldiers were involved, but Western defense analysts and Lithuanian military intelligence officials claimed that the numbers were closer to 100,000. Moreover, since the exercises were directly on the border with Lithuania, increased risks due to potential provocations could not be ruled out. The second concern was build on fear that a “little green men” scenario in the aftermath of similar smaller drills, resulting in the 2008 war in Georgia and the 2014 occupation of Ukrainian Crimea, could plausibly unfold in the Baltic. “Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been particularly concerned about Russia repeating its strategy in Crimea on our soil,” reasoned Grybauskaite.

Despite some justifiable merits to raise awareness around the world about aggressive Russian actions, Grybauskaite’s anti-Zapad campaign cannot be considered as an astounding success. Over the span of a year, her position swung from one extreme: Russia is a threat, it hates the West, and may go to war with NATO and occupy Lithuania, to another extreme: Zapad and Russia are not a threat, Lithuania is militarily ready and will not be frightened or intimidated. The message was clearly inconsistent. Furthermore, this campaign had local and international repercussions.

Domestically, presidential pronouncements of how dangerous Zapad 2017 would be for Lithuania and agitation build up by top policymakers that alleged occupation scenario was nearly imminent led to heightened public anxiety. Local media, building on public presidential pronouncements, also fanned public panic flames with headlines such as “Grybauskaite claims that Russia’s military exercises is a demonstration of its readiness to fight war with the West;” “Nearly half of the Lithuanian population perceives Russia as a threat;” “Discovery of a Zapad drill scenario: Lithuania is given a role of an aggressor with a strange name;” “Russia tops the list of greatest threats to Lithuania’s national security;” and “Save yourself, if you can: Grybauskaite departs to the US during Zapad-2017 military drill.” Even former chief of country’s internal security agency expressed a view that “manipulation of public feelings in the name of security [was] totally unacceptable.”

Local analysts eventually had to admit that worries about the extent of Zapad’s threat were clearly exaggerated by Grybauskaite, government officials, and several other MPs, who, instead of showing restraint when addressing both national and international audiences, chose to advance the “apocalypse is coming” message. Presently, no policymaker issued an apology for causing public anxiety; rather, they “credited” the Kremlin with sowing public panic.

Since the anticipated apocalyptic scenario did not materialize, the bigger concern now for the President is the potential of a negative impact anti-Zapad campaign may have on Lithuania’s credibility internationally and on Grybauskaite’s legacy. The danger is that any future “crying wolf” type campaigns voiced on an international stage by top Lithuanian officials may be ignored at best or completely brushed off as groundless at worst, depriving the next Lithuanian president of valuable future opportunities to communicate to the world about serious threats faced by the country. The anti-Zapad campaign could also tarnish Grybauskaite’s foreign policy legacy. To control potential damage, she is already suggesting a new “military Schengen” project, which would facilitate and free the movement of military equipment among the EU member states and could potentially continue enhancing European security by ensuring air defense and rapid deployment of NATO support into the region. It is unquestionably a tall order for her to succeed in fulfilling this project, given that she merely has a year and a half left in office.

France – President Macron’s political leadership: The personal dimension

One of the core enigmas of the 2017 presidential campaign related to the personality of Emmanuel Macron. Who is Emmanuel Macron? As the real prospect of his election drew nearer, the search for the ‘real’ Macron preoccupied journalists, commentators, political satirists and (rival) politicians, in more or less good faith. Did Macron represent the tardive manifestation in France of Blairite Third Way, as suggested by Arnaud Parmentier (2017) in Le Monde? While there are some obvious similarities, Blair framed his leadership within one of the established parties, whereby Macron came from outside the existing party establishment. Or, on the contrary, as the specialist of the French right Gilles Robert contended, was Macron a contemporary version of the liberal, Orleanist right, an adept of political and economic liberalization (Richard, 2017)? Or, more crudely, the representative of international finance, as maliciously portrayed by Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in a not so strange convergence? Or quite simply the continuation of the (failed) Hollande presidency, the favourite frame of the LR candidate François Fillon?

Even before his election as President, Macron was not a totally unknown quantity, of course. As deputy General Secretary of the Presidential staff from 2012-14, Macron was a key figure in the background, exercising a reputedly strong influence in relation to the social liberal turn of the Hollande presidency (lowering taxes on business via the Business tax credit scheme [Crédit d’impôt pour la compétitivité et l’emploi – CICE] of 2013) and the Business Pact [Pacte de Responsabilité] of 2014). As Minister for the Economy, Industry and Digital Policy, Macron associated his name with a complex law that aimed comprehensively to modernize and liberalise the French economy; that most of its more controversial measures (especially in relation to the professions and work regulations) were abandoned or diluted was more a testament to the stout resistance of the Socialist frondeurs than evidence of half-hearted intent. In August 2016, Macron resigned from his position at the heart of the Hollande administration to launch the risky venture of building his political movement (En Marche!, launched in April 2016) and standing for the French presidential election. At the very least, he is a political entrepreneur and a risk-taker.

Focusing on the individual qualities of a political leader is a necessary (though not sufficient) exercise. Understanding Macron requires adopting, or at least adapting, a framework for studying political leadership. Most models of political leadership involve some combination of personal qualities, positional strengths and weaknesses, and the wider environmental and cultural constraints and opportunities that help shape political leadership. Understanding Macron requires a combination of three levels of analysis: micro (individual), the meso- (institution) and the macro (Europe, foreign policy, international economy). The political constellation in 2017 and the interaction of these three levels arguably placed Macron in a strong position to win through to the second round and eventually be elected President. In his management of the first eight months of his presidency, a mode of two or three-level bargaining has described well his pursuit of his presidential goals and ambitions. Three-level bargaining is used to refer to the interplay between political persona, institutional position and external constraints and opportunities. The theme will be developed more in the next blog. There is at least a heuristic value in combining levels of analysis if we are to understand Macron’s activity as President. In this first of three blog entries dedicated to Emmanuel Macron, and cognizant of the interactive relationship between levels of analysis, I focus on the personal dimension of his leadership.

Macron’s personal qualities are understood and valued insofar as they inform a broader political persona. Insofar as we integrate personal variables, these play themselves out at three levels of abstraction: personal attributes, symbolic attributes and representative attributes.

This first level of analysis is, inevitably, second-hand. But it is valuable, insofar as it disseminates representations that circulate and that are more or less tolerated and organized by the individual himself. A stream of books and articles on Macron were published in and around the 2017 presidential election. These ranged from the hagiographical (Besson, 2017), through the psycho-biography (Fulda, 2016), to the philosophical (Couturier, 2017), or the instant or contemporary historical approach (Jeanneney, 2017; Prissette, 2017 ; Debray, 2017 ; Bourmaud, 2017) and the first attempts at conceptualization and understanding (Debray, 2017). Personal qualities are not intrinsically valued in our account, unless they contribute to the style of governing. In the case of Macron, there is an argument that Brigitte, his spouse, played an important role in the overall political enterprise and that Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron formed a coherent political household, akin to that of the Pompidou family at an earlier period. It was certainly the case that the foreign media were obsessed with Brigitte Macron, who developed her own office within the Elysée, signed a transparency charter, setting out her role and responsibilities, and cultivated her image as a promotor of the liberal arts and various good causes.

At the level of personal traits: the leadership qualities of decisiveness, strength, resolution, risk-taking, vision and imagination are differentially distributed, irrespective of wider structural circumstances. Not even his fiercest adversary can contest the ability to take risks; giving up his position as Economy, Industry and Digital minister to launch himself into the risky venture of En Marche! demonstrated this. Resigning from the civil service to be able to contest the campaign goes in the same direction. Some common themes that emerge from a rapid analysis of the above works are Macron’s personal qualities of determination, resolution and brilliance, coupled with the adjective of the killer with a penchant for vertical forms of governing. The downside was the diffusion (in early surveys, at least) of the image of a rather arrogant, distant and elitist individual.

The personal dimension of Macron might also be understood at a level once removed, or a second level of abstraction. His personal background is interesting insofar as Macron appears as a typical representative of the French elite, having studied at the elite Sciences Po and the National School of Administration (Ecole nationale d’administration – ENA). Rather like former President Pompidou, Macron also spent a period of time working in the private sector, for the Rothschild bank. In a JDD-IFOP poll of 16-17th March 2017 before his election, only 41% considered Macron to be close to the people; his background as a brilliant ENA graduate and his work for Rothschild bank leave the indelible image that Macron is a member of the French elite. This representation is treated in a more nuanced way in some accounts. Abel insists on the fact that the young Macron studied for a higher degree in philosophy at Nanterre University and worked as editorial assistant for the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a reference that underpins the cultivated image of Macron as the President-Philosopher, or, again, as the avid consumer of highbrow literature (Abel, 2017; Mongin, 2017).

A rather different line of enquiry – a third level of abstraction – relates to whether Macron embodies the sign of the times, the candidate who best crystallized the confused and contradictory ethos of a particular epoch. The focus here is not so much on individual qualities, as on the representative function vested upon him. The first claim is that of generational renewal: he represents better than any other candidate the demand for a new generation. Elected President at 39 years old, Macron was a few years younger than Tony Blair and around the same age as Matteo Renzi in Italy when he became premier. Second, Macron’s election symbolized the running out of steam of the traditional left-right cleavage in French politics. Macron was elected President while riding high on the rejection of party and contesting the validity of the left-right cleavage. For Taguieff (2017), Macron was both actor and subject of the withering away of the old cleavage of left and right, and the embodiment of a new one, based on an openness-closure division within French society. For Bigorne and colleagues, Macron is the symbol of the decomposition and recomposition of the French political system, a transformative position partially instigated by Macron himself.

Third, Macron’s election was symbolic of a generational renewal and an overhaul of political personnel. There was a symbolic rejuvenation and major change of political personnel, characterized by the arrival en masse of new deputies with no political experience, of activists with no experience of political activism and professionals trusted to manage the affairs of their sector. Macron’s avowed distrust of parties was expressed by a preference for rule by experts and professionals, reflected in the composition of the Philippe government itself. Some prominent examples include Muriel Pénicaud, Minister for Employment (former head of Human Resources in the Danone firm), Jean-Michel Blanquer, Education Minister (former President of the HEC business school) and Agnès Buzin (a practicing doctor who became Minister for Health).

All of this adds up to an appreciation of style. We understand style to refer to the complex mix of preferences, beliefs, skills, values and practices of individuals in a potential leadership situation. In terms of Macron, there is some tension between two prevalent frames in the literature: that of the transformative leader, in the framework popularized by James McGregor Burns (1978) and the equilibrist or museum curator (inherent in the campaign theme of ‘en même temps’). In her analysis of ‘the ten words that best characterize Macron’, Darrigand prefers Transformation to that of Revolution (though ‘Revolution’ was the title of Macron’s successful 2016 book). Transformation refers to the ambitious programme of gradual reforms, the cumulative effect of which is to transform society. Transformation is most definitely preferred in the Macron lexicography either to Revolution (a utopian vision removed from reality and producing dystopian outcomes), or to Reform (a negative truism, associated with disillusion on account of the failure of successive governments to reform French society). It is progressive and pragmatic. Transformation is viewed by Macron as a form of correction of past errors, of unblocking the numerous blockages of French politics, society and economy and liberating energies, while protecting the weakest in society. In this sense, transformation can tie into the en même temps slogan, popularised and chanted by Macron supporters during the 2017 campaign.

En même temps can be read first as a campaign slogan – rather like Obama’s Yes We Can. The literal translation – ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ – might be subject to confusion, however. It can imply an equilibrist, between left and right, the traditional positioning of the centre in France. Identifying itself as between left and right, the French centre has traditionally been squeezed between the Scylla of anti-Gaullism and the Charybdis of anti-Socialism, with a tendency for the centre to drift towards the latter position. The rallying of historic centrist François Bayrou in February 2017 put Macron’s flagging campaign back on track; the debt to the traditional centre was acknowledged by the freshly elected Macron, who rewarded Bayrou with a major position in government and ensured that the MODEM was generously endowed with winnable seats in the June 2017 parliamentary elections (at which the MODEM elected 51 deputies). But renewing with a certain legacy of the French centre is only a small part of the Macron story. En même temps can also imply a transformative leader beyond left and right, consigning the key ideological cleavage drawn from the French revolution to history; the ‘old’ system condemned by Macron and supporters is roundly rejected, both in terms of the mutually exclusive ideological frames it embodies and the parties it produces which feed on maintaining ideological exclusivities for instrumental partisan advantage.

Third, en même temps can be understood as left and right. In this third synthesis, left and right provide inspiration, ideas and talented people on which a modernising President should draw. The historical precursors are General de Gaulle in 1945 and 1958, Prime Minister Rocard in 1988, even President Sarkozy in 2007: on each occasion, political leaders attempted to draw in the best talents from across the political spectrum. The political leader is likened to the curator of a museum, classifying the contributions made by left and right and drawing in the best talents, ideas and political programmes from wherever their provenance. These three positions – centre, central, custodial – are not identical, however, and imply a permanent process of adjustment (between social protection and economic liberalisation, for example). Macron’s New Year address to the French on 31st December 2017 implied that the economic reform agenda of the first eight months would be counter-balanced by a more protective and social approach in 2018.

Finally, en même temps ought to be read as a coded attack on the legacy of his predecessor Hollande, the former President accused of being unable to make firm decisions, of hesitating, of fiddling while Rome burns, while Macron’s central position is portrayed by supporters as openly embracing the best talents and ideas in a problem- solution logic. For Taguieff (2017), Macron’s success lies in the capacity to embody opposites: to be centrist and radical; to be courteous and ruthless; to appear as politically correct and anti-system. The key question is whether the equilibrist can put into effect a process of transformation. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s old dream of representing two of every three French people ran into determined opposition and ultimately failed. The Macron experiment deserves closer empirical observation, which will be the subject of the next post.

References

Abel, O. 92017), ‘Paul Ricoeur et Emmanuel Macron’, Etudes, Septembre, 4241, pp. 47-57;
Besson, P. (2017) Un personnage de roman, Paris : Plon, 2017
Bigorne, L., Baudry, A. & Duhamel, O. (2017), Macron, Et En Meme Temps, Paris : Plon.
Bourmaud, F.-X. (2017) Emmanuel Macron – Les Coulisses D’une Victoire, Paris : L’archipel, 2017.
Burns, J.-M. (1978) Leadership, New York: Harper Collins, 1978.
Couturier, B. (2017), Macron : un président philosophe Paris : Editions de l’observatoire.
Darrigand, M. (2017), ‘Emmanuel Macron en Dix Mots’ Etudes, 4241, pp. 21-32, September.
Debray, R. (2017) Le nouveau pouvoir Paris: Editions du Cerf.
Fulda, A. (2016) Emmanuel Macron, Un Jeune Homme Si Parfait Paris : Plon.
Gaetner, G. (2017) Les 100 Jours De Macron Paris : Fauves Editions.
Jeanneney, J-N. (2017) Le Moment Macron – Un Président Et L’histoire Paris : Seuil.
Mongin, O. (2017)‘Les lectures d’Emmanuel Macron’, Commentaire, 159, pp. 519-523.
Parmentier A. (2017) ‘Macron, la troisième voie’, Le Monde 3rd March.
Prissette, N. (2017), Emmanuel Macron : Le président inattendu, Paris : First.
Richard, R. (2017)‘Ce que l’histoire de la droite nous apprend’, Le Point, 9th March.
Taguieff, P.-A. (2017) Macron : Miracle Ou Mirage ? Paris : Editions de l’Observatoire.

Turkey – The President’s Decree Power in the New Presidential System

Last year, Turkey changed its 1982 Constitution and adopted a presidential form of government. These changes will be implemented after the first scheduled presidential and assembly elections which will take place on the same day in 2019, unless early elections are called. There was only a limited debate about what type of presidential system there would be before the referendum in 2017 and there has been no public debate afterwards. It is still unclear for many people what to expect from the so-called ‘Turkish type of presidential system’.

There are different ways of distributing power in presidential systems. The president’s legislative powers are especially important, since those powers challenge the very logic of the separation of powers by delegating legislative power to the sole executive authority. According to Cheibub, Elkins and Ginsburg, high legislative powers separate the Latin American version of presidentialism from the US model.1 Presidential decrees that have the force of law are one important instrument of a president’s legislative power. It is also one that is easily abused and that can lead to a hyper-presidential system in the hands of populist presidents.2

In this respect, the 2017 reform created an important new instrument (presidential decrees) that Turkish presidents will be able to use for many different purposes. Under the new amendments, there are three different types of presidential decrees.

The first replaced the former type of executive decrees. Previously, the Council of Ministers3 could issue decrees with the force of law after the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) had passed a framework enabling law. Such decrees had to be presented before the TGNA on the same day they were published in the Official Gazette and reviewed by assembly upon presentation. Now, the president may issue decrees without an enabling law or presenting them before the TGNA. The new version abolishes any assembly control over the executive law making. However certain limitations relating to the topics that are allowed to be regulated are similar to the older version. The new Article 104 states that they can be issued for all areas relating to executive authority except individual and political rights, though the president can still issue decrees on economic and social rights.

According to the amended Article 104, presidential decrees cannot be issued on topics that are clearly regulated by legislation. If there were to be a contradiction between the two, legislation would overrule presidential decrees. Presidential decrees would be annulled if the TGNA were to adopt a law on the same topic. Does this mean that presidential decrees are secondary in the hierarchy of rules? The answer is “no”. This is because subordinate rules obtain legality because they comply with the higher rules. Their existence depends on the continuity in the chain of rules. Here, though, we have a special regulation giving legislative power to the president. These decrees supplement legislation in cases when the assembly is unable to legislate. Presidential decrees can be issued when there is no legislation or no clear legislation in a particular area. Bear in mind that the president has the power to veto legislation which is passed by a simple majority. In that case, the president’s veto can be overruled only by an absolute majority. So, presidents could delay or at least make it difficult for the assembly to regulate a particular topic and meanwhile could issue decrees overnight.

This situation might occur in a presidential system if the president’s party were a minority in a divided assembly. If no single party controlled the legislative agenda, the president could rule by decree. However, if the president’s party controlled the assembly, then the majority could gladly surrender its legislative power to the president simply by not doing anything. The Turkish party system, which is now a hegemonic party system,4 previously has had predominant, moderate and extreme pluralist phases since 1950s. These two scenarios are the most likely outcomes considering the previous or current state of the Turkish party system. In sum, presidential decrees resemble supplementary or temporary laws until the assembly regulates the topic clearly. It is also highly likely that the situation where an area is not clearly regulated by legislation could cause a legal confusion which could be misused by presidents.

The second type of presidential decree are ones with an exclusive jurisdiction. For example, creating or abolishing ministerial offices, the powers and responsibilities of ministerial offices, organizing central and local institutional structures, the procedures and rules regarding appointment and dismissal of higher civil servants will be regulated by presidential decrees exclusively under the new Articles 104 and 106. Public legal personalities can be also created by presidential decrees. All structural decisions regarding National Security Council and State Supervisory Council are also to be made by presidential decree (Art.118 and 108).

These two presidential decrees can be reviewed by the Constitutional Court and only a very limited group of people (the majority and second biggest political party group in the assembly or one fifth of the assembly) can bring these decrees to the Constitutional Court, the majority of whose members (12 of 15) are also appointed by the president.

The final type of presidential decree replaces emergency decrees. They are no limitations to them except the emergency situation. The president may declare a state of emergency alone  and then issue regulations that could suspend, interfere with, or limit all basic rights without any constitutional review. The only control here is supposed to be undertaken by the Assembly within three months. If not they are terminated automatically.

In sum, presidents are given quite strong legislative power constitutionally in the new system and the TGNA has lost a large portion of its leverage over presidents compared to its previous position under the 1982 constitution.

Notes

1. J. Cheibub, Z. Elkins and T. Ginsburg, “Latin American Presidentialism in Comparative and Historical Perspective” , Texas Law Review vol.89/7, 2011.
2. See R. Ackerman,D.A. Desierto and N. Volosin, “Hyper-Presidentialism: Seperations of Powers without Checks and Balances in Argentina and the Philipines”, Berkley Journal of International Law, Vol.29/1, 2011.
3. The signature of the president of the republic was also required formally.
4. See G. Sartori, Parties and Party Systems a Framework for Analysis, Cambridge Uni Press, 2005, p. 204-211.

Bulgaria – An EU Presidency and a Prime Minister’s Ambition

EPA/Julien Warnand

Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov welcomed by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R). Juncker is know to call the PM ‘his golden boy’.  EPA/JULIEN WARNAND

1 January marked the start of Bulgaria’s first presidency of the Council of the EU. This position amplifies international attention towards the country’s process of democratization and demands further investigation of the political practice in institutional power sharing. The following text is an overview of some of the key issues that Bugaria’s EU presidency will highlight in the next six months: (1) inter-institutional conflict over anti-corruption laws; (2) the dynamics between the parties in the governing coalition; (3) PM Boyko Borisov’s political strength.

  • Fighting corruption: a Bulgarian method

Bulgaria is a premier-presidential semi-presidential republic. This means that control over the government is assigned to the parliament, while the directly elected president shares some executive powers with the PM. The president can also veto legislation. President Rumen Radev used this veto right on 2 January 2018 against new anti-corruption law supported by the parliamentary majority. This is a controversial piece of legislation. According to it, the chair and all the members of a special anti-graft committee meant to investigate high public officials would be appointed by the parliament with a simple majority. The president claims this provides the framework for the parliamentary majority to manipulate the institution’s authorized use of special intelligence means – such as wiretapping – to target political adversaries. PM Borisov’s main coalition party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and partner United Patriots support the law, claiming that it answers to the demands of the European Commission for decisive action against corruption.

The Bulgarian constitutional semi-presidential framework favours the implementation of decisions made by the parliamentary majority and limits the powers of the president once the government is formed without his own party. Consequently, we can expect that the president’s veto will be ruled out through a new vote in parliament and that the government backed legislation could soon enter into force.

The controversy surrounding this piece of legislation shows the potential for institutional disagreement when PM and president come from a different political support base. Such policy related conflict is not uncommon in situations of cohabitation and we could easily anticipate its outcome. The constitutional semi-presidential framework favours the implementation of decisions made by the parliamentary majority and renders the president weak once the government is formed without his own party. Consequently, we can expect that the president’s veto will be ruled out through a new vote in parliament and that the government backed legislation could soon enter into force. But this particular conflict is more than ”business as usual’ cohabitation skirmishes.

The debate on the framing of anti-corruption legislation law is telling about the state of elite commitment to consolidate the rule of law in Bulgaria and warns about the democratic progress of the country. Radev was elected president with the support of the main opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). BSP had also proposed their version of an anti-corruption investigative agency whose head would be named precisely by the president. The competing propositions show a lingering understanding that in a young democracy such as Bulgaria, institutions could be created or shaped having in mind the immediate political benefits brought by a temporary distribution of power. While more advanced in its anti-corruption fight, a similar inter-institutional clash takes place in neighbouring Romania. In the Romanian case, the parliamentary majority is currently working on legislative reforms that would eliminate the president from the procedure to appoint the general prosecutor, the chief prosecutor of the National Anti-corruption Agency (and their deputies) and the chief prosecutor of the Organised Crime and Terrorism Investigation Agency.

  • The far-right, from Sofia to Brussels

GERB formed the government with the political alliance United Patriots (UP).  UP consist of three parties – Ataka, led by Volen Siderov, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, led by deputy PM for Economic and Demographic Policy Valeri Simeonov, and the Bulgarian National Movement, led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Krassimir Karakachanov. The extremist and racist public positions of the UP leaders regarding immigrants and the Roma communities have constantly raised international concerns. The UP ministers that assumed ministerial portfolios and their views are now expected to ‘shock Brussels’.[i] Nevertheless, while their rhetoric stems out, their views on limiting immigration are embraced by all parliamentary parties. Also, PM Borisov has so far proved to be in control of his coalition partners, satisfactorily addressing their demands without losing his status as Brussels’ ‘golden boy‘. As a result, the UP parties have moderated their tone in 2017 and in view of the EU presidency. Opinions may not change on the way from Sofia to Brussels, but their international public discourse could prove to be more restrained than it has previously been on the home front.

Moreover, the prospect of Bulgarian racism and xenophobia at the highest level of European decision making is but a teaser of what could follow once Austria takes over the presidency on 1 July. While the main political presence in both Sofia and Brussels is now secured by GERB ministers, the incoming Austrian government numbers five ministers from the far right Freedom Party (FPO), including the Minister of Interior and an FPO supported Foreign Minister.

  • Boyko Borisov: a balancing act

PM Borisov is highly concerned with internal stability during this period, satisfying requests from different segments of society to avoid any protests. He asked for restraint and ‘more patriotism’ from the socialist led opposition not to initiate a planned vote of no confidence for 17 January, pointing at them as inopportune trouble makers. He secured a truce with the opposition party Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and its leader Ahmed Dogan.[ii] Internationally, Borisov has set up the Bulgarian presidency as a ‘Balkan presidency’, proposing an ambitious agenda for a clearer European perspective for the Western Balkans. This choice of priority is a manifesto of a pro-European stance which Western Europe expects and favours. This comes in contrast with the pro-Russian image that president Radev and the BSP have been painted by Western media despite no practical proof of defiance against NATO or EU policies.

A seasoned politician, Borisov knows how to use the momentum of the presidency to boost his political capital internally and externally. He wants the following months to be all about his and his government’s successes. In contrast, a less politically experienced Radev avoided reference to the EU Presidency in his end of the year speech on 31 December 2017. Should Borisov successfully continue this balancing act between his coalition partners, citizens’ interest groups and Western European expectations, the resulting political stability would come in handy in delivering justice reforms without significant civic protest or objections from Brussels.  In the longer run, it could also help in winning the debate concerning the changes to the electoral system to his party long term benefit.[iii]

Conclusions

In its 12th year of EU membership, the Bulgarian state continues to grapple with a multitude of ‘sins’ familiar to observers of the democratization process of post-communist states, from unaddressed high-level corruption to power personalization and legislative instability. The EU presidency in itself may not structurally affect political activities, but it serves to highlight elite priorities and the political strategies on the ground. So far, this translates into a focus on the PM and his long term self-empowering ambitions of institutional reform.

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[i] Out of similar concerns, another interesting point on the EU calendar is the meeting of the EU Environmental Council to be led by UP supported Environment Minister Neno Dimov, known for a 2015 statement that global warming is a manipulation.

[ii] The power of DPS is far greater than its legislative size as it is also the party of Bulgarian oligarch and media mogul Delyan Peevski.

[iii] GERB favours an electoral reform towards a majority run-off system from which it (and BSP) could also benefit in the medium and long run. President Radev and smaller parties support a mixed electoral system.