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Giovanni Carbone – Introducing the new Africa Leadership Change (ALC) Project

This is a guest post by Giovanni Carbone, ISPI & Università degli Studi di Milano

Political leaders – the way they rule and how they come to power – can tell a lot about a country’s present and future. This is especially true for Africa, a continent in which personalistic rule, authoritarianism, and underdevelopment have historically gone hand in hand. Not surprisingly, leadership handovers in Africa often catalyse extraordinary attention. Just consider the past twelve months or so, during which the region witnessed some dramatic leadership transfers. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, one of the continent’s most despised power-holders, was replaced by his former vice president after years of increasingly authoritarian rule and disappointing development performances. South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, who had been accused of 783 counts of corruption, was forced to step down by his own party, the ruling African National Congress, handing power to Cyril Ramaphosa. In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn voluntarily resigned to smooth the path for a new political opening, leading to the surprise rise of the first ethnic Oromo leader in the country’s modern history. José Eduardo Dos Santos left office in Angola after almost four decades in power, having become one of the continent’s longest-serving presidents. Are these heralds of democratic progress? Will they trigger more meaningful political, social and economic developments?

The Africa Leadership Change (ALC) Project is a truly unique interactive data visualization tool offering answers to these questions and insights on many of Africa’s past and present political dynamics, with a particular focus on national leaders. Hosted on the website of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), and conceived by Giovanni Carbone (ISPI and Università degli Studi di Milano) and Alessandro Pellegata (Università degli Studi di Milano), the ALC Project is based on an original collection of data covering all leadership changes that have taken place on the continent from 1960 to the present day. The ALC dataset tracks the political history of each individual African country through the lenses of leadership transfers, with complete information on their timing, frequencies and types. It records whether such handovers occurred through violent transitions, coups d’état or armed insurgencies, or rather through elections, and whether electoral changeovers took place in a framework of party continuity or else they marked the advent to power of opposition forces.

One added value of the ALC Project rests in its interactive design, which makes it easily accessible to both scholars and a wider audience of journalists, policy-makers and stakeholders with an interest in African affairs. The different types of information featured by ALC can be visually represented through four main interactive tabs. Interacting with the map of the African continent located in the first tab (“Current African Leaders”), the user can look up which leader is currently in office and the level of democracy for each of Africa’s 54 sovereign states. A chart on African leaders’ duration in office also reveals who are today’s longest-serving leaders and who are the newcomers. The evolution of these and other political dynamics, for all the countries of the region, can be visualized in a second screen, called “Dynamic Map”.

Besides data on leadership changes, the ALC project provides time-series recording a country’s progress in a wider range of political and socioeconomic indicators, from economic growth to human development, from demographic expansion to average life expectancy. These can be visualized in the “Dynamic Map” tab. Most importantly, through the “Charts” tools, the user can create personalized line graphs which complement information on leadership changes with information on a country’s economic and social trends over time. Countries can be compared with each other, or contrasted with regional average values. Finally, using the “How Leaders Change” tab, those interested in how leadership transitions have taken place in African countries and in how modes of leadership change have evolved through history can easily track the relative or absolute numbers of violent, peaceful but non-electoral, or electoral changes, and the different forms each of these can take.


Leaders and leadership transfers shaped Africa’s modern political history and will contribute to shaping the continent’s future. We shall follow these and related developments with regular updates of the ALC dataset.

Blog news

This is the time of year when the Presidential Power blog typically takes a short hiatus. This time it will be a little longer than usual.

I am stepping down as the manager of the blog. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to the blog since it began over five years ago. This includes the current list of regular contributors, previous contributors, and guest contributors. It has been a pleasure managing the blog, reading the posts, and learning about presidential politics in so many countries.

I am delighted to announce that Sophia Moestrup and Fiona Yap are planning to take over the management of the blog. They will start posting again at the beginning of February. In the meantime, Philipp Köker will continue to re-post some of the highlights of the last five years.

Thank you for visiting the blog, for reading the material, and for commenting on the posts. Do please keep returning to the site, especially when it is relaunched in February.

Robert Elgie

Georgia – The results of the presidential election

On November 28, 2018, the second round of the presidential elections was held in Georgia and and the so-called ‘independent’ candidate Salome Zurabishvili was elected. The second round campaign was quite tense. This was not simply a battle for the president’s office. The first round showed that the opposition had a real chance to win the contest in a free and fair election.

Pre-election environment for the second round

Victory was a strategic goal for the ruling Georgia Dream team and they mobilized all kinds of resources to win. They displayed negative parties of the former ruling party, the United National Movement. The ruling party also presented the country with a stark choices: if their candidate did not win, it would mean the return of the former ruling party. One of the leaders of the parliamentary majority Gedevan Popkhadze also said that the victory of the opposition candidate, Grigol Vashadze, would be a step towards the start of a civil war. [1]  The authorities felt that it would be difficult to win the election and tried to scare people with the prospect of a  return to the party that has been in opposition for almost 6 years.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, the chairperson of Georgia Dream, called on people to support him once again in the second round of election. He admitted he had made mistakes and that the country faced problems, but at the same time he asked people to support him and prevent the return of the former ruling party. Ivanishvili said he would correct all the shortcomings in one year and use all his resources to make the reforms in the country irreversible. [2] Shortly after this statement and a few days before the election, the government took the unprecedented step of removing all bank debt from 600,000 citizens. The debts will be paid by Ivanishvili’s bank. [3] Only a few days before the polls, the announcement showed that the ruling party was willing to use all legal and illegal means for victory. The decision was denounced by international observer organizations as voter bribery and was contested by the United Opposition.

Salome Zourabichvili was not actively involved in the second round campaign. Billboards appeared in different cities depicting Bidzina Ivanishvili and other party leaders instead of presidential candidate. The ruling party also had billboards against the “National Movement”[4] with slogans such as “Choose Vashadze, choose Saakashvili!” [5]on which former president Mikheil Saakashvili and his team were represented. The government has officially denied any connection with the billboards and said that they were put up by the private sector.[6] Following Ivanishvili’s statement, private TV company “Imedi” stated that its owners knew what a return to the “National Movement” would mean and that, therefore, they would change the airtime in the pre-election period to prevent returning of the former regime. [7]

There was also a big difference between the financial resources of the candidatest. Salome Zourabichvili spent 6,351,949 GEL in the first round  and theUnited National Movement (UNM) 1,133,536 lari. [8] In the second round, Zourabichvili spent 3 260 810 GEL and the “National Movement” 1 257 752 GEL. [9]

For its part, the TV company Rustavi 2 was actively working during the election period, reporting stories about election violations and corruption. 

The results of the second round and the opposition of the opposition

Following the closure of the polling stations, an exit poll by Rustavi 2 reported that Vashadze had won 45% and Zurabishvili 55%. ImediTV said that Zurabishvili had won 58% and Vashadze 42%.[10]  Vashadze said that he trusted the research but would still will wait for the final results. [11]  On the second day of the elections, the Central Election Commission announced that Vashadze had won- 40.46% and Zurabishvili 59.54%.[12] Vashadze won the elections in two districts and in all the districts abroad.

lVashadze told his supporters that “we have no presidential elections in Georgia. We had a criminal farce organized by the government under criminal terror. That’s why we do not recognize the results of these elections.” [13] Vashadze said that the opposition would demand early parliamentary elections, a change of the election commission, and a transition to a proportional electoral system. [14] The opposition held a protest rally outside the Parliament building and offered to create a working group. [15] The newly elected president, though, said that democracy demands that the elected president be recognized, that the country should move on, and that the political environment should calm down. [16]

President’s inauguration and renewed protest

According to the constitution, the inauguration of the president was scheduled on December 16, 2018. All 7 previous inaugurations have been held in Tbilisi. After the announcement of the demands of the opposition, the ruling party began to speak about changing the location of the inauguration[17] and eventually Zourabichvili said that it would be be held in Telavi, in King Eckerle’s palace. According to her, Telavi was chosen because she lost the election there and wanted to show that she was everyone’s president. [18] In fact, it was clear to everyone that the government was afraid of opposition protests.

The United Opposition said that “no one was going to break the so called inauguration, wherever they wanted to hold the show, [19] but they supported the statement of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who said that “we did not allow Shevardnadze in 2003 to open the Parliament. People should say that you do not have the right to put the stolen election in your pocket“. [20] He called for civil disobedience. [21] Saakashvili previously lost his Georgian citizenship and has been living in Holland, but he was actively involved in the election campaign. Often his statements are unacceptable, but his role is still great for supporters of the opposition.

In the end, the authorities decided to take a more unconventional decision, violating the constitutional tradition and moving the inauguration to Telavi. The inauguration was not as open and public as it is in many countries. It was held in one of the fortresses where guests attended by special invitation, journalists were not allowed inside, and where they observed the oath-taking process on a special monitor. It should be noted that in 2013 President Zourabichvili  wrote about the necessity of holding the inauguration as public event.

Thus, the inauguration of the 2018 was specially designed to prevent opposition protest in Tbilisi. However, the inauguration was still tense. The opposition decided to organize a protest in Telavi. Several thousand cars left Tbilisi. However, the police blocked the road and opposition supporters were unable to enter Telavi. Some people were injured as a result of clashes between the opposition and police and one of the leaders of the opposition was arrested. Salome Zourabichvili took the oath and began work on December 16, but tensions are ongoing.

Election assessments and international feedback

One of the main issues after the presidential election is democracy and the legitimacy of elections. The opposition still does not recognize the result and continues to protest. The authorities claim that the elections were held freely and fairly and were recognized as such by all international organizations. At the same time, both national and international organizations have indicated that significant violence was observed, as well as intimidation, the restriction of the free will of voters, the misuse of administrative resources, bribing and other violations.[22] Non-governmental organizations called the government’s initiative to write off the bank debt for 600,000 people “unprecedented” and voter bribery.[23] Non-governmental organizations also criticized holding the election on a Wednesday, which restrict citizens’ rights, especially for citizens living abroad. [24] Observers noted that the elections were competitive, free, but unfair. [25]

Overall, we can say that the presidential election was held in a very tense atmosphere. On theone hand, it was actually the first time when the opposition had a chance of winning the election. It was also the first time when theopposition had received such a high level of supports. On the other hand, it is sad that the government used all the methods it did, including many illegal mechanisms. This election has intensified the polarization in Georgia and has also caused significant damage to the country’s democratic image internationally.


[1] http://pirveliradio.ge/?newsid=115484

[2] http://pirveliradio.ge/index.php?newsid=115819

[3] http://www.tabula.ge/ge/story/139950-premieri-ets-shav-siashi-mkof-600-000-ze-met-moqalaqes-valebi-gaunuldeba

[4] http://www.resonancedaily.com/index.php?id_rub=4&id_artc=60252

[5] https://on.ge/story/30497-ირჩევ-ვაშაძეს-იღებ-სააკაშვილს-ახალი-ბილბორდები-თბილისის-ქუჩებში

[6] https://marshalpress.ge/archives/206238

[7] https://imedinews.ge/ge/saqartvelo/83392/imedi-mushaobis-sagangebo-rejimze-gadadis

[8] https://monitoring.sao.ge/news/150

[9] რა რაოდენობის თანხა დახარჯეს ზურაბიშვილმა და ვაშაძემ მეორე ტურზე და ვინ რამდენი შესწირა კანდიდატებს http://kvira.ge/436720

[10] Edison Research-ისა და Gallup-ის ეგზიტპოლის შედეგებით, საპრეზიდენტო არჩევნებში სალომე ზურაბიშვილი იმარჯვებს https://primetime.ge/news/1543422134-Edisoიშვილი-იმარჯვებს

[11] დაველოდებით საბოლოო შედეგებს, რადგან ამომრჩევლის უზარმაზარი რაოდენობა 17:00 საათის შემდეგ მივიდა არჩევნებზე – ვაშაძე http://www.ghn.ge/com/news/view/216227

[12] საპრეზიდენტო არჩევნების წინასწარი შედეგებით, გრიგოლ ვაშაძემ – 40.46%, სალომე ზურაბიშვილმა 59.54% მიიღო http://www.newpress.ge/saprezidento-archevnebis-winaswari-shedegebit-grigol-vashadzem—40-46-salome-zurabishvilma-59-54-miiro

[13] გრიგოლ ვაშაძე: ჩვენ არ ვცნობთ არჩევნების შედეგებს https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/29628429.html

[14] https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/გაერთიანებული-ოპოზიციის-შეკრება-ფილარმონიაში/29628705.html

[15] გაერთიანებული ოპოზიციის ულტიმატუმი მომავალ აქციამდე https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/გაერთიანებული-ოპოზიციის-ულტიმატუმი-მომავალ-აქციამდე-/29633412.html

[16] სალომე ზურაბიშვილი: დემოკრატია მოითხოვს, არჩეული პრეზიდენტის აღიარებას https://metronome.ge/დემოკრატია-მოითხოვს-არჩ/

[17] ზურაბიშვილი ინაუგურაციის ადგილზე: განიხილება ბევრი ვერსია, მათ შორის ქალაქგარეთ ჩატარების http://www.tabula.ge/ge/story/141002-zurabishvili-inauguraciis-adgilze-ganixileba-bevri-versia-mat-shoris-qalaqgaret

[18] ზურაბიშვილი: თელავმა ხმა არ მომცა… მინდა ვაჩვენო, რომ ყველას პრეზიდენტი ვარ https://on.ge/story/31037-ზურაბიშვილი-თელავმა-ხმა-არ-მომცა-მინდა-ვაჩვენო-რომ-ყველას-პრეზიდენტი-ვარ

[19] “ე.წ. ინაუგურაციის ჩაშლას არავინ აპირებდა, სადაც უნდათ იქ ჩაატარონ ეს შოუ” http://www.resonancedaily.com/index.php?id_rub=4&id_artc=61295

[20] https://1tv.ge/news/mikheil-saakashvili-rogorc-ar-mivecit-sashualeba-2003-wels-shevardnadzes-gaekhsna-parlamenti-zustad-aseve-16-shi-khalkhma-unda-tqvas-ar-mogcemt-sashualebas-jibeshi-chaidot-moparuli-saprezidento/

[21] მიხეილ სააკაშვილი საზოგადოებას სამოქალაქო დაუმორჩილებლობისაკენ მოუწოდებს http://www.livepress.ge/ka/akhali-ambebi/article/26135.html

[22] არჩევნების  მეორე ტური და საერთაშორისო დამკვირვებლების მკვეთრი წინასწარი შეფასებები https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/არჩევნების-მეორე-ტური-და-საერთაშორისო-დამკვირვებლების-მკვეთრი-წინასწარი-შეფასებები/29628549.html

[23] არასამთავრობო ორგანიზაციები: საპრეზიდენტო არჩევნების მეორე ტურის წინ ამომრჩევლების მოსყიდვა ხდებოდა https://jam-news.net/საპრეზიდენტო-არჩევნების/?lang=ka

[24] არასამთავრობოები – ცესკოს გადაწყვეტილება არ ითვალისწინებს საქართველოს მოქალაქეების ინტერესებს https://www.interpressnews.ge/ka/article/521428-arasamtavroboebi-ceskos-gadacqvetileba-ar-itvaliscinebs-sakartvelos-mokalakeebis-interesebs

[25] International election observation mission press conference, 29 November 2018, Tbilisi https://www.facebook.com/osce.odihr/videos/2264573423788554/

Kyrgyzstan – Ex-Presidents and Democratic Fragility in the Developing World

Former presidents in stable democracies traditionally retreat into a dignified and comfortable retirement that removes them from the political front-lines.  Most leaders of authoritarian regimes also fade from the political scene, but for rather different reasons—a natural or unnatural death or an ignominious exile or imprisonment.  Between the poles of consolidated democracies and personalist dictatorships lies the increasingly expansive terrain of hybrid regimes and struggling democracies, where the afterlives of presidents offer cases worthy of serious political analysis. 

As Roger Southall and others have noted in their work on former presidents in African politics, the recent growth in democratic transitions on that continent has increased “the number of former heads of state who now have to be accommodated by their successors.”[i]  Thus, among the many causes of the fragility of fledgling democracies is the reluctance of former presidents to transfer fully the reins of power, even when they are in the hands of political allies. Such is the case with the former president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambaev, whose single, six-year term ended in October 2017. 

As the accompanying table illustrates, since 1994 none of the countries in post-communist Central Asia—save one—has had living former presidents, which testifies to the dominance of authoritarianism in the region.[ii]  The exception is Kyrgyzstan, a flawed but surprisingly resilient young democracy whose four ex-presidents are still among the living.  The first two Kyrgyzstani presidents to leave office, Askar Akaev (1991-2005) and Kurmanbek Bakiev (2005-2010), did so involuntarily, overthrown in popular revolts that sent them into exile in Russia and Belarus, where they have remained largely detached from the political struggles in their home country.  The country’s third leader, Roza Otunbaeva (2010-2011), has served as a model ex-president in a democracy.  Although she has on occasion responded testily to provocative statements hurled in her direction by her mercurial successor, Almazbek Atambaev (2011-2017), she has generally worked quietly behind the scenes to advance good governance initiatives and to support her charitable foundation, which seeks to improve conditions for Kyrgyzstan’s children.  

Rather than follow the lead of Otunbaeva, former president Atambaev has chosen to interfere directly in high politics, and in so doing he has produced a crisis of authority in the country.  With the goal of shaping politics from behind the scenes after his departure from the presidency, Atambaev had used the administrative powers of his office as well as a smear campaign against the front-runner in the presidential race, Omurbek Babanov, to ensure the election of his chosen successor and fellow Social Democrat, Sooronbai Jeenbekov.[iii]   At the outset of the election campaign Jeenbekov had been the favorite of only three percent of the population, and as Atambaev himself noted recently, “I dragged him into the presidency” [ia dotashchil do prezidenta strany].  

Leadership Transitions in the Central Asia Region since 1994

Despite—or perhaps because of—the depth of his indebtedness to the former president, President Jeenbekov began to distance himself from his patronwithin weeks of his inauguration.  In Jeenbekov’s words, Atambaev had tried “to make me a front man controlled by third parties, and this does him no honor as a man, an ex-president, or a fellow party member and political ally.”[i]  By the spring of 2018, Jeenbekov had removed Atambaev loyalists in the presidential apparatus, most notably his chief-of-staff, and had engineered—or at a minimum acceded to—the launching of an anti-corruption campaign that targeted current and former high-ranking officials from Atambaev’s circle, including an erstwhile prime minister.  The result was a very public falling out between the two men and the re-sorting of the country’s governing elite into two hostile camps. 

For the next seven months, Atambaev sulked, allowing political confidantes and his network of friendly media outlets to take on the increasingly independent-minded new president.  But in the middle of November, Atambaev launched a frontal assault on his successor after returning from Moscow, where he had led the Social Democratic Party (SDPK) delegation at a conference of Asian political parties. In a lengthy television interview granted to Russian-language journalists, Atambaev accused Jeenbekov—whose relatives occupy several key political posts—of attempting to restore Bakiev-style “family rule,” a reference to a former president whose authoritarian policies had led to the April Revolution of 2010.[ii]  Atambaev also vouched for the authenticity of recently-leaked documents purportedly showing that President Jeenbekov’s presidential campaign had violated electoral laws by spending several times more than it had reported in filings with the Central Election Commission.[iii]  Furthermore, Atambaev insisted in the interview that a former prime minister, Sapar Isakov, was being prosecuted because he had resisted calls by Jeenbekov to protect a high-ranking customs official widely suspected of corruption, Raimbek Matraimov (a/k/a Raim Million).    

The interview illustrated Atambaev’s ability to play defense as well as offense in his deepening struggle with Jeenbekov and his supporters.  In order to deflect growing accusations that he had enriched himself while president at the expense of the nation, Atambaev laid out in unusual detail the domestic and foreign sources of his wealth.  He also exhibited in the interview uncharacteristic compassion and contrition toward some political adversaries who had been jailed on his watch, most notably the perennial presidential candidate and leader of the Ata-Meken Party, Omurbek Tekebaev.  He even lamented his frequent attacks on the press.

Atambaev’s revelations and regrets did little, however, to still mounting calls for his imprisonment on criminal charges.  Because Kyrgyzstan, along with only two other post-Soviet states, grants unlimited immunity to former presidents, some deputies supportive of President Jeenbekov have sought to lift this privilege for all ex-presidents.[iv] Just last week, on December 13, a bill to eliminate presidential immunity passed the country’s parliament in its first reading, 100-2.[v]  Touted as a means of discouraging abuse of office, the policy change would almost certainly have the unintended consequence of discouraging presidents from leaving office, given the widespread use of select prosecution in countries like Kyrgyzstan.   

Former President Atambaev faces serious threats on the political as well as legal fronts.  In order to undermine Atambaev’s position as leader of the SDPK, which has the largest number of deputies (38) in the highly-fragmented 120-person parliament, some party members aligned with President Jeenbekov launched a hostile takeover of the organization.[vi]  At the moment, Atambaev seems likely to retain control of the party, which he founded in the early 1990s and which he hoped would serve as his political base in his post-presidential years.  However, even if he beats back the current intra-party challenge, led by a group styling itself “SDPK without Atambaev,” the former president may find it difficult to prevent further defections in the run-up to the 2020 parliamentary elections.  For his part, President Jeenbekov has the daunting challenge of cobbling together a reliable pro-presidential parliamentary coalition in the absence of a large and overtly loyal pro-presidential party.   

The conflict between president and former president has pushed Kyrgyzstan into an awkward and dangerous impasse, with two powerful patronage networks set against each other.  Of course, as Henry Hale has pointed out in his work on patronal presidentialism,[vii]presidents in struggling democracies like Kyrgyzstan have never been able to forge a single-pyramid patronage system, and so competing pyramids of patron-client networks have long been the norm. However, no out-of-power patronage network has ever been led by a former president, never mind one who can boast of enormous wealth, the chairmanship of the dominant party in parliament, and a web of allies who have occupied key posts in government and the economy. Moreover, the specter of the leader of the country’s northern elite (Atambaev) threatening Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent southern politician (Jeenbekov)—and tying him to a disgraced former southern leader (Bakiev)—threatens to revive regional rivalries in Kyrgyzstani politics, which, to Atambaev’s credit, had diminished during his six years in office.    

Missing from the litany of Atambaev’s attributes above are his almost limitless personal ambition and his refusal to accept the institutionalized uncertainty that is at the core of democratic politics.[viii]   In these he differs fundamentally from former president Roza Otunbaeva. To be sure, Otunbaeva was less well-positioned to insist on a prominent role in politics following her presidency.  First, she was appointed by fellow members of the Interim Government in the wake of the April 2010 revolution, and instead of contesting a presidential election, she won a popular referendum on whether she should be confirmed as president.  Second, she served as an interim president, and her tenure lasted for only eighteen months, though a momentous eighteen months it was.  Finally, she had neither the financial nor organizational resources of Atambaev. Otunbaeva understood, however, the fragility of democracy and the vital role of the individual agent in advancing or impeding democracy’s consolidation.[ix]  

Not so Atambaev.  Reneging on his earlier promises to retire from politics to pursue his favorite pastimes, he has openly challenged the authority and legitimacy of the president he was instrumental in electing.  Atambaev’s presidency may have limited parallels with that of Joseph Kabila, the long-serving president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, Atambaev’s approach to his life as ex-president aligns with that of the Congolese leader, who noted this week, on the eve of his slated departure from office: “The job is not over at all.”[x]


[i]Ekskliuzivnoe interv’iu Sooronbaia Zheenbekova. Chast’ II, 24.kg, November 16, 2018.  https://24.kg/vlast/101374_eksklyuzivnoe_intervyu_sooronbaya_jeenbekova_chastII/

[ii]A full transcript of the interview can be found at https://kaktus.media/doc/382695_intervu_eks_prezidenta_almazbeka_atambaeva._polnaia_versiia.html

[iii]Given that Atambaev’s right-hand man, Ikramzhan Ilmiianov, was in charge of campaign finance for Jeenbekov’s presidential race, the accusation against the current president appears less damning.  “Iurist opublikoval ‘real’nye’ raskhody shtaba Zheenbekova, v apparate prezidenta nazvali ikh feikom,” Radio Azattyk, November 15, 2018. https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29602199.html 

[iv]Viktoriia Panfilova, “V Kirgizii boiatsia vozvrashcheniia v politiku Almazbeka Atambaeva,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, October 2, 2018, p. 5.  In mid-November 2018, the Constitutional Chamber of the Kyrgyzstani Supreme Court ruled that unlimited immunity for ex-presidents was unconstitutional. Sergei Kozhemiakin, “Okhota na eks-prezidenta,” Pravda, November 13, 2018, p. 3.

[v]“100 deputaty progolosovali za otmenu neprikosnovennosti eks-prezidentov,” KaktusMedia, December 13, 2018. https://kaktus.media/doc/383947_100_depytatov_progolosovali_za_otmeny_neprikosnovennosti_eks_prezidentov.html

[vi]Among the SDPK deputies is President Jeenbekov’s brother, Asylbek.

[vii]Henry E. Hale, Patronal Politics: Eurasian Regime Dynamics in Comparative Perspective(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), especially chapters 4 and 9.  

[viii]For a discussion of this concept, see Adam Przeworski, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Latin America and Eastern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

[ix]Curiously, what unites all former presidents of Kyrgyzstan is their relative youth at leaving office—61 years old, which is the current age of President Jeenbekov, a fact that has engendered predictable speculation about his ability to break through this threshold.   

[x]Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, “Stepping Way from Office, Not Power,” New York Times, December 16, 2018, p. A6.



[i]Roger Southall, Neo Simutanyi and John Daniel, “Former Presidents in African Politics,” in Roger Southall and Henning Melber (eds.), Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics(Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2006). As Southall, Simutanyi, and Daniel argue, the role of the ex-leader is different in presidential and parliamentary models of government.  “[I]n the former, ex-presidents tend to stand down from partisan politics whereas in the latter, ex-prime ministers may remain politically active, often with the objective of regaining power.”  Ibid.

[ii]A minor exception concerns Azerbaijan, whose president, Haidar Aliev, stepped down in his last weeks of life in favor of his son.  Although not usually included in Central Asia, Azerbaijan’s culture and political economy make it a better fit for Central Asia than the Caucasus, the region with which it is usually linked.   

[iii]This strategy mirrors that of former president Bakili Muluzi of Malawi.

Angola – A New Politics of Memory? The President and the Ruling Party’s Dark Past

This is my third post on Angola’s recent leadership transition process and the end of President José Eduardo dos Santos’s 38-year rule, in a context where some of Africa’s longest-serving presidents are also no longer in power.[1] This new analysis will continue to focus our attention on the actions of the new president, but this time it will centre on issues regarding the collective memory.

As discussed on another occasion, this unprecedented transition started in 2017, first at the state level and then at the ruling party level. The MPLA, one of the longest-ruling parties in Sub-Saharan Africa[2], won the 4th multiparty elections and, as a consequence, the party’s head-of-list candidate, João Lourenço (JLO), automatically became the 3rd president of Angola since the country’s independence in 1975. Moreover, after the ruling party’s 6th Extraordinary Congress held on 8 September 2018, JLO also became the 5th president of the MPLA since its constitution as a liberation movement during the late Portuguese colonial rule.[3]

Like his predecessor, the new Angolan leader now has a triad of powers (the state, the executive and the ruling party) and it is quite interesting to note that, among his “surprising” political actions, there is one that is particularly relevant, which has to do with unresolved historical grievances related to both a major bitter episode and the greatest taboo within the MPLA’s history: the 27th May. This revisitation of the past leads us to two broader questions: how do Africa’s longest-serving political parties deal with their own violent pasts? And how do new leaders revisit the past as a strategy of power consolidation? To put it more concretely, in what sense can JLO’s recent positioning regarding the MPLA’s violent past, whose memory has been muffled by the former leader, be considered a strategy of political survival and of a continuous boost of power?

But first, let’s make an incursion into the responses of the new president to some important historical grievances in the collective memory.

The return of the enemy’s mortal remains

Almost one year after the elections of August 2017, JLO promised to return the deceased remains of Jonas Savimbi to the main opposition party before the end of this year, which will very likely happen in 2019. According to the researcher Eugénio Costa Almeida,  JLO returning Savimbi’s remains to UNITA on the 22nd February next year would be of great significance, since this date marks the 17th anniversary of the death of the former UNITA leader, who was killed along with other generals and guerrilla soldiers in a clash with the government troops in the Moxico province during the civil war in 2002.

JLO already supported the relocation of the remains of UNITA’s historical military, General Arlindo Chenda Pena “Ben Ben” – who died in South Africa in 1998 and was buried near Pretoria – to the Bié province in Angola. Furthermore, this general was also awarded, posthumously, with the 1st Class Military Merit Medal during the last anniversary of Angola’s independence.

The current UNITA leader, Isaias Samakuva, has acknowledged the support of the new Angolan president for bringing General Ben Ben’s body back to the country in such a quick procedure, after years in which such an action would be “unthinkable”. With this declaration, the leader of the main opposition party unintentionally recognizes that JLO’s presidency marks a new era of possibilities.

Thus, these two gestures reinforce the idea of a new leadership different from the previous one in terms of national reconciliation efforts, which has an important symbolical charge, especially because Dos Santos has the epithet of the “architect of peace”. Furthermore, it also serves power consolidation purposes, as it continues to reduce the critical tone of the main opposition party during such an important phase of leadership affirmation.

The recognition of the MPLA’s first presidents and the decoration of some persona non grata

The reconciliation efforts also went to the ruling party arena and are especially noted in two important events: the 6th Extraordinary Congress of last September and the 43rd anniversary of Angola’s independence on the 11th November.

At the MPLA’s Extraordinary Congress, JLO made an opening speech with one surprising moment of “breaking the silence”:  the mention and recognition of the first two MPLA chairmen, Ilídio Machado and Mário Pinto de Andrade. Moreover, the party’s conclave approved a final resolution to honour these two historical political individuals, as well as others that were important during the genesis of the ruling party.

Following the party’s watershed congress, the new president honoured several historical figures of the MPLA’s turbulent past with special decorations, including the two first MPLA presidents and Viriato da Cruz, during the 43rd anniversary of the country’s independence. The Angolan researcher Claudio Fortuna sees in these presidential decorations an action of intraparty reconciliation, as JLO’s predecessors (Agostinho Neto and José Eduardo dos Santos) had removed these historical figures from the “vernacular imagery” of the party’s militants and of the MPLA’s history.

The intraparty reconciliation effort is also considered by some of UNITA’s cadres, such as General Paulo Armindo Lukamba “Gato”, to be an important first step on the part of JLO in the ongoing process of national reconciliation, as one can now openly talk about figures concealed from the MPLA’s own history. Therefore, perhaps it will have a positive impact on other figures outside the ruling party, such as Jonas Savimbi.    

In this year’s anniversary of Angolan independence, the new president also decorated ostracized Angolan personalities who were critics of Dos Santos’ regime by extolling their sense of patriotism.[4] These intraparty reconciliation efforts reinforce the notion that JLO is different from the increasingly unpopular Dos Santos, thus gaining the sympathy and support of party members who have been alienated from the MPLA.

Breaking a deafening silence: the 27th May

Still concerning the intraparty reconciliation process, JLO, in clear contrast to Dos Santos, has recognized an open wound within the MPLA’s dark past after independence: the so-called 27 May 1977. This violent episode occurred during the presidency of Agostinho Neto, when the group of the so-called “Revolta Activa” chaired by Nito Alves challenged and even tried to change Neto’s leadership. As a result, Nito Alves’s supporters were not only expelled from the MPLA, but also detained and subjected to torture, in addition to the arbitrary arrests of a great number of people and thousands of deaths. According to Assis Malaquias, this episode “marked the beginning of the end of the revolutionary vision of the MPLA”, which became a more exclusive and reserved organization.[5]

In the first major interview with JLO by the Angolan journalist Gustavo Costa, which was published on the 17th November, the new Angolan president recognized that the 27th May is still an open wound that should receive careful attention. Also on the same date, the justice and human rights minister, Francisco Queiroz, acknowledged that there had been an overreaction to the events which followed the “attempted coup d’état” of 27 May 1977. More importantly, Queiroz declared that those excessive actions violated human rights through arbitrary executions and arrests, and that must be remembered in order to avoid something similar happening again. The minister also opened up the possibility of repairing traumatic wounds, namely by resolving the issue of death certificates and other matters related to this tragic event.[6]

A few days later during a press conference with JLO in Lisbon the 24th November, on the occasion of his official visit to Portugal, the new Angolan president reaffirmed the excesses made by the government at that time and that his new government is open to dialogue to see how the reparation of such deep wounds can be made “in the hearts” of many grieving families.

The president’s second moment of “breaking the silence” has a symbolic meaning, but will it have practical consequences? Many victims – such as José Fragoso, former MPLA militant and vice-president of the Associação Cívica 27 de Maio – are skeptical about the practical effects. This “survivor of the 27th May” remembered that in 2001 – one year before the end of the war, when the Association made its first conference denouncing the executioners of the 27th May – the MPLA reacted by considering the victims and survivors as misunderstood patriots, instead of coupists. Nevertheless, this new executive has expressed the possibility of reparation measures, albeit it in vague terms.

Opening the box of painful moments in the MPLA’s history occurs in a context of the affirmation of JLO’s leadership; in an effort to build a consensual optimistic view around his new era and legacy, JLO is asserting himself as a strong president that is willing to revisit the past to bring back those who were alienated by former leaders and who are demanding the right to truth and their rightful place in the ruling party and in the country’s history.

Is transitional justice on the horizon?

Among his political actions as Angola’s new leader, JLO is also coping with the issue of collective memory, having to break a major silence concerning the MPLA’s violent past, namely, the purge of the 27th May[7]; however, there are no concrete measures on the table so far.

Specifically, it is not clear whether the Angolan authorities will:  1) disclose the documents and facts that clarify what really happened, including the results of the Commission of Inquiry created by President Agostinho Neto himself and chaired by José Eduardo dos Santos; 2) carry out the registration and list disclosure of all detainees and disappeared people, including the return of the victims’ deceased remains to their families; and 3) build a national monument to the victims of the 27th May, as is demanded by some representatives of those victims.

As the researcher Filipa Raimundo points out, transitional justice “refers to the process of reckoning with an authoritarian past through judicial and/or non-judicial means”, in which political elites can also adopt a strategic silence to “neither forgive and forget nor to prosecute and punish”. In Angola’s case, what we see is a new leader dealing with some historical grievances still in the collective memory through a first attempt at breaking the silence, but we must not forget that, in a context of leadership consolidation with an intrinsic challenge, the national reconciliation process also implies an intraparty reconciliation and the end of some narratives linked to power relations within the MPLA. This fact could be very sensitive to JLO’s political survival, due to the importance of the ruling party to his own power. On the other hand, the demands from several members of civil society for telling the truth and making reparations have not been echoed by the parliamentarian elites (both in the ruling party and the opposition), and silence seems to be the strategy.

For now, transitional justice is still lost on the horizon.

Notes

[1] For instance, the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh lost in the 2016 presidential elections after 22 years of power or Robert Mugabe’s resignation after 37 years as Zimbabwe’s President.

[2] Along with the CCM (Tanzania), the BPD (Botswana), the RDPC (Cameroon), the SWAPO (Namibia) and the ANC (South Africa).

[3] The year of the MPLA’s foundation is still a controversial subject, as some authors maintain that 1960 was the true foundation year, contrary to the party’s official version of 1956. See Pacheco, C. (1997). MPLA – Um Nascimento Polémico. Lisbon: Vega.

[4] For instance, the musicians Bonga or Waldemar Bastos. Worth mentioning is the surprising meeting between JLO and “hashed critics” in civil society on the 4th and 5th December, including the persecuted journalist and activist Rafael Marques, as well as the rapper and activist Luaty Beirão, who was jailed for rebellion against President Dos Santos.

[5] Malaquias, A. (2007). Rebels and Robbers: Violence in Post-colonial Angola. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitute. For more about the 27th May, see Mateus, D. & Mateus, A. (2013). Purga em Angola. Lisbon & Luanda: Texto; Milhazes, J. (2013). «Golpe Nito Alves» e outros momentos da história de Angola vistos do Kremlin. Lisbon: Alêtheia; Pawson, L. (2014). In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre. London & New York: Palgrave Macmillan; Reis, J. (2018). Angola: 27 de Maio – A história por contar. Lisbon: Vega.

[6] For instance, people whose father’s names do not appear on their identity cards.

[7] The president’s wife, Ana Dias Lourenço, was also a victim, having been arrested due to a supposed connection to the nitistas.

Central Africa region 2018 – Autocratic entrenchment and increasing instability

The Central Africa region remains a haven for autocratic and semi-autocratic regimes, in sharp contrast to West Africa, and the situation did not improve in 2018. The sub-region is home to the world’s three longest serving presidents: Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (39 years in power), Cameroon’s Paul Biya (36 years), and Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso (34 years). Moreover, Idriss Déby (27 years) of Chad is not far behind, and the Bongo family has ruled Gabon for over 50 years. Faustin-Archange Touadéra of the Central African Republic (CAR) is the only president elected in legitimately competitive polls, in 2016, although his government now has limited control over national territory beyond the capital Bangui.

All six countries, member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC by its French acronym), are ranked “not free” by Freedom House, and score below continental averages on the Mo Ibrahim governance index. The six countries share a common currency – the Central African CFA franc – which was first introduced during colonial times in the five francophone territories making up the Federation of Equatorial French Africa (AEF). Equatorial Guinea, the only former Spanish colony member of CEMAC, adopted the CFA in 1984. Only Congo and CAR have experienced brief periods of electoral democracy in the 1990s, before autocrats returned to power in 1997 and 2003, respectively.

The sub-region experienced further autocratic entrenchment and growing instability in 2018. Biya of Cameroon won a seventh term in elections that lacked credibility. Cameroon also continues its descent towards civil war, as the crisis in the Anglophone regions of the country deepens. Anglophone separatists recently created their own crypto-currency, known as AmbaCoin. In Equatorial Guinea, Vice-president Teodorín Obiang who is the son of the current president was promoted major-general as the family closed ranks after an alleged coup attempt in 2017. Teodorín recently presided over a cabinet meeting, confirming fears he is positioned to replace his father soon. In Congo, Sassou Nguesso’s son Denis Christel, one of 10 family members elected to the National Assembly in 2017, was rumored to be preparing to run against his father in 2021. In Gabon, Ali Bongo has been ill for months and the constitutional court took it upon itself to amend the constitution to delineate responsibilities between the prime minister and the vice-president in the event of a “temporary” absence of the president. Déby pushed through a new constitution for Chad that enhanced presidential powers and eliminated the post of prime minister (see previous blog post here). The CAR is increasingly ungovernable, and various armed groups have spread violence to new regions of the country.

Prospects for replacing one-man or dynastic rule in the sub-region through democratic elections are bleak and stand in sharp contrast to democratic progress in neighboring West Africa, where only Togo is left with a president serving more than two terms. Unlike the successful alternation of power that has taken place in 14 of 15 West African countries member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in the last decade, the Central Africa sub-region is a sobering example of strong-man rule in fragile states that could implode into violence.

The situation is not much better when expanding the analysis to the larger Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which in addition to the CEMAC countries includes Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe. São Tomé and Príncipe is the only country in the larger Central Africa region that regularly holds credible elections and is rated as “free” by Freedom House. The region overall has had limited democratic experiences and ECCAS lacks the equivalent of the 2001 ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance. In contrast to the evolving democratic norms and regional institutions with increasing clout seen in West Africa, Central Africa remains at the mercy of personal networks among autocratic heads of state focused on mutual elite support.

The road to inclusive and credible elections in Central Africa remains long and tortuous, and 2018 has thus far not been a good year for the region. It remains to be seen whether the presidential elections in the DRC on December 23 will break the pattern and result in a peaceful transfer of executive power and more accountable governance [see previous blog post on the DRC here]. The outlook is far from promising, with a worsening political situation and increasing violence as election day approaches.

Liberia – President George Weah: A year since his election

This month marks the first anniversary of Liberia’s President George Weah winning the presidential election in the West African republic. It’s been an unusual series of events for a country which has very particular origins. Weah is in many quarters still best known for a stellar international football career, and is sometimes mentioned as one of the greatest African football players ever. During his international career, Liberia itself suffered 14 years of civil war, and emerged peaceful but very poor. The post-war country had an internationally celebrated female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who went on to share the Nobel Peace Prize.

Weah is 52 years old now, and as an international soccer star was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or in 1995. He has been hugely popular in his home country, especially with the young. This is a country where half the voters are under the age of 33. He has been active in Liberian politics for over a decade. He ran without success in two previous presidential or vice-presidential elections (2005 and 2011) which saw Ellen Johnson Sirleaf returned to office. While celebrated internationally as the first female head of state elected in Africa, she was not as popular at home, where corruption and poverty continued to undermine quality of life for so many. She served two full terms of office but was barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

Weah continued to pursue his political ambitions and was elected as a Senator in at the end of 2014, but only rarely attended parliament. His modest educational achievements were highlighted during election campaigns, but the poverty he had grown up in gave him real credibility among voters tired of elites and corruption.

In the October 2017 presidential elections he topped the poll with 38% of the vote, going to a run-off with the outgoing Vice-President Joseph Boakai. The second round was delayed by a legal challenge by another candidate. When it was held on 26th December 2017, George Weah won comfortably with 62% of the vote.

His platform included tackling corruption, raising living standards, and economic reform. This is popular with the many people still waiting to see decent services or economic opportunities more than a decade after the war ended. At his inauguration on 22nd January 2018, he announced that he would cut his salary by 25%.

A unique past

Liberia has a most unusual history, and is the oldest modern republic in Africa. It was founded in 1847 by freed slaves from the United States, and retains strong links with America. Although it escaped traditional European colonialism, the structures recreated unfortunately meant the indigenous population was seriously marginalised. A civil war from 1989 to 2003 left more than 200,000 people dead. Since then, elections have been peaceful but the country continued to struggle with rebuilding itself after the war, and poverty is stubbornly high. As the country continued to rebuild its weak health and state systems, Ebola emerged in 2014. It took nearly 5,000 lives in Liberia, and the same number in neighbouring countries, in the worst outbreak ever seen.

In a population of nearly five million people, the median age is less than 18 years. It is still near the bottom of the Human Development Index, which combines health, education, and income, at 181 out of 189 countries ranked. Life expectancy is 63 years, and the literacy rate is 43% for the over-15s. GNI per capita is US$667.

The country’s economy has been struggling, and the government deficit is more than 5% of GDP. The Liberian dollar lost a quarter of its value last year, and a further quarter since Weah took office. One of the factors affecting the economy has been the withdrawal of the UN mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which once numbered 15,000 troops. It completed its task in March, having taken over from the regional peace operation ECOMOG at the end of the civil war 15 years ago. The country is still affected by the economic consequences of the Ebola epidemic, which saw significant restrictions on daily activities.

Despite his strong and well-received stand on corruption,some were disappointed with his early appointments. Only two of his ministers were women, halving the number in the Sirleaf cabinet. The woman he chose to be his running mate for Vice-President, Jewel Howard-Taylor, used to be married to the former President, Charles Taylor, who started the war and whose forces were linked to atrocities during the conflict. He was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2012 for his role in that neighbouring country’s war, and is currently serving his 50-year sentence in a UK prison. He is still popular in Nimba county especially, and his former wife helped to bring in votes from the region.

In another first, President Weah made a surprise return at the age of 51 to Liberia’s national football team in September, in a game against Nigeria organised in his honour.

Besides the economy, there are many challenges to face. President Weah has been non-committal about whether a war crimes court should be set up, as recommended by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2010. Corruption, food production, and poverty are long-term problems. However, new land ownership legislation was passed in September, recognising community land rights, and helping to protect the 70% of the country’s population which lives in rural areas. Previously the state claimed ownership of all land, sometimes allocating parts of the country to foreign investors without community involvement.

Expectations were high at the time of his election, and a sector of the population not used to feeling it is heard was energised by his campaign and victory. As always, the gap between expectations and results will be difficult, especially since many of the problems are structural and will need long term solutions.

Bulgaria – President Radev is shaping a political alternative

Russian President Vladimir Putin receives pro-Russian counterpart Rumen Radev. On this occassion, President Radev declared that the purpose of the visit is “to reinstate the dialogue at the highest level after a multi-year interruption”. Source: novinite.com

Bulgarian president Rumen Radev is increasingly feeling the constitutional constraints over his ability to influence the politics of his country. In the last year of cohabitation, the ambitious politician has accentuated his anti-governmental rhetoric and showed his willingness to fight the limited role he is offered by the institutional set-up of Bulgaria. He is efficiently chipping away at the popularity of prime-minister Boyko Borissov and the ruling party GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria). However, the independent Radev’s measured potential for electoral success is restricted by the absence of a supporting party. The following text is an overview of the alternatives offered by president Radev to his Bulgarian supporters and the ensuing institutional conflicts he is likely to run into.    

Internal Politics: An All – Male Fight Club

The Bulgarian president is directly elected, cautiously placing Bulgaria among semi-presidential regimes (Elgie,1999). However, the Constitution of Bulgaria clearly states that the country is a republic with a parliamentary form of government (Constitution, Art. 1).This puts the Bulgarian president in a weaker institutional position than heads of other semi-presidential republics in the region (Romania, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine). Faced with such limitations to his own understanding of how much authority the presidential office should provide him, president Rumen Radev is increasingly making the case that he should have increased powers within the state. Most recently, he suggested changing the regime to a presidential republic, concurrently claiming that Bulgarian ‘democracy is jeopardized’.   

President Radev also made use of his institutional powers. In his second year of mandate, he resorted to vetoing Parliament bills seven times (e.g. higher taxes for oldercars, State Property Act).Parliament overturned six such decisions and agreed to strike down the vetoed provisions in just one case. In a different case, he refused to sign a decree that would open the way for the appointment of a new interior minister, which he finally had to accept. This limited effect achieved through the use of constitutional powers has not been sufficient for the ex-Army General Radev, who resorted to intensifying his anti-governmental rhetoric on economic, defense, energy efficiency, anti-corruption, the Macedonian issue and many other subjects. In turn, GERB accused him of waging a ‘political war’.  Prime-minister Borissov retaliated in this game of institutional power politics by announcing that it will be him, not the president, who will address the UN General Assembly in September 2018.  This signified an important change from previous years and a symbolic win for PM Borissov.

President Radev is joined in his opposition to the government by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which also supported his independent run for president. However, Radev distanced himself from the BSP, who continues to fall in the preferences of the Bulgarian electorate and has not proven credible or inspired enough to become an alternative disillusioned citizens might vote for. In the poorest EU country, with a low living standard and the world’s fastest shrinking population (see Figure below), general dissatisfaction with the government’s activity is increasing, providing space for political alternatives.

According to UN Projections, the population of Bulgaria will decrease by 23% by 2050. Source: World Population Prospects – un.org 

As the coalition around prime-minister Borissov shows signs of disunity and references to a possible early election in 2019 become more often, the question remains who is going to benefit from Radev’s high approval ratings.

Bulgarians have a long history of supporting parties built around a charismatic figure. The former king Simeon Saxe- Coburg-Gotha created the National Movement Simeon the Second (NDSV) and became prime minister of the Republic of Bulgaria (2001 -2005).The incumbent prime-minister Boyko Borissov was a popular Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Interior and mayor of Sofia, who used his popularity to established GERB. President Radev may well follow in their footsteps. Nevertheless, as the president of Bulgaria, he is constitutionally prohibited to engage in party politics.Consequently, he will either have to be highly stealthy about his actions and set up a non-partisan support group he could later use, wait until the end of his mandate to engage in new political projects or use the existing major opposition force, BSP, to build an internal alternative to prime-minister Borissov’s GERB.  An increasingly combative stance from Radev while in the presidential office would eventually plunge the country in institutional havoc.

Foreign Affairs: An East – West Balancing Act

Bulgaria is engaged in a traditional dance between the politics of the East, personalised by Russian President Vladimir Putin and those of the West, brought about through membership in the European Union. GERB is seen as a pro-EU force. The EU Commission recently commended some of the progress made in tackling organised crime and corruption (see CVM Progress Report for Bulgaria 2018). Prime Minister Borissov is also generally regarded as a pro-European, who accepted the symbolic benefits of withdrawing from joint Bulgarian – Russian projects, including the Belene Nuclear Power Plant and South Stream Pipeline, at the appeal of the EU.

Earlier in 2018, president Radev was welcomed in Russia, where he met President Vladimir Putin. This marked a rare visit from a post-communist European head of state to Russia. According to official accounts, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the deepening of economic cooperation between the two states. In a different statement,President Radev also declared that Europe should not interfere with Russian gas supplies to Bulgaria. Since in office, President Radev confirmed his sympathies for a rapprochement with the Russian state, prompting some to consider that Bulgaria could become a Trojan horse state for Russian politics in the EU.  All this adds to his past statements in support of the Russian annexation of Crimea

Conclusion

Mapping the policies and political plans of the Bulgarian president heightened in relevance in 2018. His personal ambitions, combined with his high popularity, increase the possibility of president Rumen Radev to redefine Bulgaria’s internal politics and foreign policy.  

This blog post was written by permanent contributor Veronica Anghel, PhD in collaboration with Teodora Aleksandrova (PhD Candidate, University of Sofia)

Martial Law and Presidential Powers in Ukraine

This is a guest post by Serhiy Kudelia, Associate Professor of Political Science at Baylor University

Since November 28, 2018 ten oblasts (provinces) in Ukraine have been operating under the provisions of the ‘martial law.’ President Petro Poroshenko introduced it in response to violent seizure of 3 Ukraine military vessels and arrest of 24 sailors by Russian coast guard ships in the Kerch strait. The Ukrainian parliament’s confirmation of the president’s decree followed a day of bargaining during which he agreed to limit the duration of the law to 30 days and restricted its operation only to the provinces neighboring Russia or Russia-controlled territories (such as Transnistria).

Some viewed the exercise of legislative checks on the desires of the president as an example of Ukrainian “messy democracy” at work since the longer duration of the ‘martial law’ or, rather, a ‘state of siege’ would have interfered with the formal start of the presidential campaign and delayed the election now officially scheduled for March 31, 2019. Since then president Poroshenko has sent mixed signals about his intentions. On one hand, he has resolutely dismissed the possibility that ‘martial law’ would be a pretext for canceling election suggesting that it would only be to the benefit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. On the other, he also admitted that ‘martial law’ could be extended as long as Russian aggression continues – setting a very low bar for its possible renewal given ongoing Russian interference in Donbas and occupation of Crimea.

And there is a strong incentive for the president to do so. With the presidential election just four months away only 10% of respondents indicated in the recent poll that they were willing to vote for him in the first round. Also, every second Ukrainian says that they will not vote for the incumbent president under any circumstances. Losing the re-election bid will become not only a political setback for Poroshenko, but represent a personal threat. Over the last few years he was the target of multiple corruption allegations by former political partners and activists. Hence, the loss of power raises the risks that the new institutions established during his presidency may ultimately turn against him.    

 If the president ultimately chooses to demand the extension of the ‘martial law’ and, hence, postpone the election, he is likely to succeed in imposing his preference on the parliament. As I showed in my recent article in Post-Soviet Affairs, Ukraine’s premier-presidential model still allows the president to overpower the parliament on key issues, such as the composition of the cabinet and the tenure of prime minister. Without any formal powers to dismiss the government, three Ukrainian presidents operating under premier-presidentialism successfully achieved a turnover of three governments (in 2007; 2010; 2016) and only one attempt of government replacement by the president failed (2008). In all successful cases Ukrainian presidents had an advantage over other actors in informal powers that allowed them to reach well beyond the establish constitutional limits on their formal power. As long as they had a decisive say over the security apparatus and the courts, presidents could use their informal leverage to achieve favorable outcomes in confrontations with the legislature and the cabinet.

The new emergency powers granted to president Petro Poroshenko extend into three broad spheres and reinforce his informal authority. The first area is the relationship between citizens and the state. Based on the presidential decree the head of state can unilaterally limit some of the fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens guaranteed under the twelve articles of the Constitution. Among them are the rights to privacy and confidentiality of personal data, freedoms of speech, movement and assembly and ownership rights. The president can now rule to expropriate personal property, ban rallies or demonstrations, introduce curfews or restrict individual movement.

The second sphere is the intra-executive relationship with the cabinet and prime minister. The law on the ‘State of Siege’ allows the president to supersede prime minister informing regional executive administrations if they get transformed into military administrations. In this case the heads of military administrations are selected by the president on recommendation of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. He also acquires the full authority to decide on the structure and the staff of the local executive (Art. 4, Sec. 5). This, in effect, excludes the government from exercising any serious influence over the local governments.

The third sphere is the functioning of democratic institutions, particularly media and elections. The law allows the president acting through local chiefs and military commanders in each province to “regulate” the functioning of media outlets, influence its programming and close them down in case of the violations of ‘martial law’ requirements (Art. 8, Sec.11-12). It also unequivocally bans holding any elections or referenda on the national or local levels for the duration of the ‘state of siege’ (Art. 19). The key institutions of accountability of the authorities would thus either become suspended or seriously circumscribed in their operation.

Together these ‘emergency powers’ give the president broad discretionary powers over citizens, state officials and politicians. They also elevate the status of the presidency above other state institutions with the Commander-in-Chief now having a final say on key national matters. The new arsenal of informal powers improves president’s chances of persuading the parliament to extend the ‘state of siege’ beyond the initial 30 days if he chooses to do so.

The extension of the ‘martial law’ may serve a number of purposes. It enables the president to start informal bargaining with the current front runners, particularly Yulia Tymoshenko, on security guarantees following his likely exit. It also allows to shift the focus away from economic problems and increase the salience of national security issues int he campaign. Over the last two weeks Poroshenko frequently appeared in army uniform meeting military personnel and planning defense operations. Finally, martial law may serve as an elite coordination instrument that can help, for now, to prevent potential defections from his party to stronger contenders.

Since the imposition of the ‘martial law’ anywhere in Ukraine automatically prohibits removal of the president, the government and the parliament (Art. 10), Poroshenko will find many allies in key positions of power interested in minimizing the uncertainties related to the upcoming electoral cycle. This strategy, however, can only be a temporary solution for the ruling elites. If Poroshenko decides to choose existing security threats as a justification for extending his power his legitimacy at home and abroad will inevitably suffer creating the potential for even greater instability than following President Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014.

Haiti – The fulfillment of the worst nightmares of Jovenel Moise

When, six months ago, in the wake of violent protests against the increase in fuel prices by the government of the then Prime Minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, some businessmen and political leaders advised the president to let go of his prime minister, President Jovenel Moise was right to distrust the idea. Then, he did everything in his power to avoid this blatant manifestation of political weakness. Because in Haitian politics, you can never be sure when the first concession will be your last.  

Since the July 7th events in which violent demonstrators rocked the capital and burnt down businesses, the opposition has been emboldened in its protests against Jovenel Moise. In the last three months, the rallying cries have been against corruption, the president, and his allies. Many individuals close to the president have been accused of the embezzlement of some two billions dollars from Venezuela’s aid that should have been used to rebuild the country after the 2010 earthquake.  

What began as a civil protest on social media was promptly transformed into a political movement from which the opposition parties have been able to mobilize all kinds of protesters against the government. The social instability this daily unrest has brought about has worsened with the obvious political distance between the president and the Prime Minister, Jean Henry Céant.  Jovenel Moise has seen the departure of many individuals from his inner circle, former ministers from the government of Michel Martelly, who is now accused of corruption. The president is now a diminished political figure, with little political capital to turn around the political situation.

But the opposition, whose principal figure is Moise Jean Charles, a former presidential candidate who came third in the last presidential elections, has not been be able to capitalize on the political situation. His radical views have alienated many sectors, especially the middle-class intellectuals in the city. His last protest in which he took down the official blue and red flag to hoist the black and red one created by JeanJacques Dessalines in 1806, to symbolize his denunciation against the minority, mostly white population that controls the economy was not been well received.

In this context, besides the political chaos the confrontation between gang rivals in some of the shanty towns that surround the capital, Port-au-Prince, has been another feature of the situation. Many of these gang members are financed by politicians or other groups interested in spreading chaos. There have been reports linking some of the gang members who have perpetrated many massacres in the last two months with political operatives from the party of the president.

The reality is that, since the events that brought about the new government Haiti has become a burgeoning field for political entrepreneurs of all kinds. In a context where no one seems to have control of the situation, the next three years of the government of Jovenel Moise will be another lost opportunity to strengthen democracy in Haiti or to take bold actions that help change the dire economic and social situation that affects the vast majority of the population. The only preoccupation of the president will be surviving until his term ends, with the hope of being re-elected candidate in 2021. For the opposition, the objective is to further weaken the president and, hopefully, to get him to leave power before completing his term.

In these circumstances, where no political actors, officials and opposition, have the strength to impose their most preferred outcome, political chaos, economic despair and gang violence will be a consistent feature of the political landscape in the coming months if not years.

Peru – House of Cards Continues to Fall

One year ago a New York Times op-ed piece likened the political chaos in Peru to an ‘Inca-style Game of Thrones’. But the dramatic events of the past months indicate that ‘House of Cards’ may provide a better cultural reference, as former presidents and presidential candidates continue to tumble. In a referendum on December 9th the country voted overwhelmingly in favour of reducing corruption, at a time when every Peruvian president elected since 1985 was either in prison or under investigation.

As reported previously in this blog, fallout from the Odebrecht bribery scandal contributed to the resignation in March 2018 of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, saw the preventative detention of former president Ollanta Humala (2011-16), and led another ex-president, Alejandro Toledo (2001-06), to flee to the US.

Following this upheaval, the expectation in many circles was that the appointment of Kuczynski’s Vice-President, Martin Vizcarra, would herald a return to the political status quo. In other words, to dominance by the two most powerful political forces in the country: the Fuerza Popular party led by Keiko Fujimori (fujimorismo); and the APRA party of two-time president Alan Garcia (aprismo).

According to political scientist Martin Tanaka, Vizcarra’s ‘accidental’ presidency appeared unlikely to alter this situation given his “weak and precarious” position. An engineer and former Governor of the low-profile Department of Moquegua, Vizcarra took power under the worst possible circumstances, with his party leader discredited, and facing a Congress controlled by those responsible for ousting him. Vizcarra’s first three months in office saw his approval ratings fall from 57 to 35 per cent, appearing to confirm a trend of declining legitimacy for Peruvian presidents[i].

Instead events have taken a hand, transforming Vizcarra from lame-duck president to the last president left standing. With exit polls indicating that three of the four questions posed by Sunday’s referendum will pass by a huge majority (Vizcarra had distanced himself from the fourth proposal), an unlikely turnaround has been consolidated.

First, back to those events. Following Kuczynski’s resignation, Peru appeared set for several years of de facto co-governance by ‘fujimorismo-aprismo’, with Fuerza Popular commanding a majority in Congress, while APRA exercised unofficial control over many of Peru’s democratic institutions.

Then came the explosive revelations contained in what have become known as the “CNM audio tapes”[ii]. These recordings featured a group of corrupt judges and prosecutors known as the ‘white collars’ discussing the outcomes of trials, and appeared to implicate Keiko Fujimori[iii]. The scandal saw an eruption of public indignation, leading to large protests across the country during July.

The scandal seemed to energise Vizcarra, who presented proposals for a referendum to reform both politics and the judiciary on July 28th. When Fuerza Popular attempted to obstruct the referendum in Congress, Vizcarra threatened to dissolve the legislature if the measure was not passed. Congress blinked first and voted the measure through, albeit with some changes.

Emboldened, Vizcarra has taken the fight to Fuerza Popular. The referendum proposed four reforms. The first related to the judiciary, abolishing the CNM and replacing it with a new, restructured National Judicial Board that will halve judicial terms and involve civil society oversight.

The other three questions involved political reforms and, according to social scientist Sinesio Lopez, are aimed at ridding Peruvian politics of its most “backward” elements, i.e. ‘fujimorismo-aprismo’.

The first measure seeks to regulate the financing of political parties; the second prohibits immediate re-election of all congressional deputies (a measure Tanaka views as a “mistake”); and finally, a proposal to reinstitute a bicameral legislature. Due to changes made by Fuerza Popular, Vizcarra disowned this proposal as he claimed it would allow parties a means to bypass the ban on immediate re-election. Exit polls indicate that the first three measures received around 85% support, with the final question rejected by a similar margin.

Vizcarra could not have timed his second-coming as the new broom in Peruvian politics any better. No sooner had his referendum law been passed than the bane of presidents in Latin America – the Odebrecht corruption scandal – returned to claim more victims.

As the Financial Times recently noted, Peru has been particularly impacted by the scandal. This is not surprising given the well-documented influence of corporations on Peruvian politics[iv]. Sociologist Francisco Durand’s recently published book[v] on Odebrecht’s operations in Peru traces the evolution of Peru as an “operational hub” for the Brazilian construction company to the ‘competitive authoritarian’ rule of Alberto Fujimori[vi].

But while the scandal has involved three presidents to date (Toledo, Humala and Kuczynski), until recently ‘fujimorismo-aprismo’ had remained unscathed. No longer.

First to fall was Keiko Fujimori, who is being investigated by prosecutor Jose Domingo Perez for allegedly receiving US$1.2 million in campaign contributions from Odebrecht. Former executives of the company are co-operating with Perez’s investigation. Already damaged by the CNM tapes, leaked online messages from within Fuerza Popular point to coordinated efforts to obstruct the investigation and intimidate Perez.

The revelations have led to Keiko Fujimori and others within Fuerza Popular being charged with running a criminal organisation, a charge that carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. Furthermore, Fujimori has been placed in preventative detention for up to three 3 years, on the basis that she might interfere with the case.

Viewed alongside the decision by a Peruvian court in October to revoke the highly questionable pardon granted to Keiko’s father Alberto – the former president immediately checked into a clinic, claiming poor health – some have asked whether these events represent the end of ‘fujimorismo’.[vii]

Following on the heels of those dramatic events came the investigation of Alan Garcia on charges of receiving illegal donations from Odebrecht. After returning from Madrid to address the charges, Garcia was ordered by a court to remain in Peru indefinitely.

Having agreed to abide by the court order, on November 17th Garcia presented himself at the Uruguayan Embassy in Lima seeking to claim asylum. Protesters took up a vigil outside the Embassy, and after weeks of consideration, President of Uruguay Tabare Vasquez announced on December 3rd that Garcia’s petition had been refused.

Where does all this turmoil leave Peruvian politics? It may be too soon to say that the influence of ‘fujimorismo-aprismo’ has been eliminated – their clientelistic networks, and links to influential business and media sectors remain. But these groupings have rarely been weaker since Peru’s return to democracy.

The question remains as to who or what will fill this power vacuum? Lopez has publicly urged Vizcarra to deepen his reforms by way of a Constituent Assembly to re-write Peru’s Constitution. While the caretaker president enjoys extremely high public legitimacy – his approval ratings have risen to 65% – it is far from clear where he would find the political or social support for more fundamental reform. Nevertheless, the referendum results provide a powerful endorsement of his new direction, and may induce him to seek further reforms.

As this overview of former presidents and prominent presidential candidates reveals, what can be said with certainty is that Peruvian politics is entering entirely uncharted territory.

Peru’s Presidents: Where are they now?

Alan Garcia: President from 1985-90, and 2006-11. Under investigation for corruption relating to Odebrecht; under court order to remain in Peru.

Alberto Fujimori: President from 1990 to 2000. Imprisoned in 2009 on human rights and corruption charges. Pardoned under dubious circumstances in December 2017, a court ordered his return to prison in October 2018. Currently in a health clinic while appealing against this order.

Keiko Fujimori: Daughter of Alberto, twice-defeated presidential candidate and leader of the largest party in Congress. Placed in preventative detention for 3 years while under investigation for corruption and running a criminal organisation.

Alejandro Toledo: President from 2001-06. Under investigation for corruption relating to Odebrecht, currently in the US from where he is contesting extradition to Peru.

Ollanta Humala: President from 2011-2016. Under investigation for corruption relating to Odebrecht. Spent eight months in preventative detention in 2017-18.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski: President from 2016-18. Resigned in March 2018 following vote-buying and corruption scandal. Under investigation for corruption relating to Odebrecht, under court order to remain in Peru.

[i]Melendez, Carlos, and Paolo Sosa Villagarcia, 2013. Peru 2012: Atrapados por la Historia? Revista de Ciencia Social Vol. 33(1).

[ii]“CNM” refers to the Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura, or National Judicial Council.

[iii]The recordings contained references to a meeting with a “Sra. K.”

[iv]See for example Crabtree and Durand’s recent book, “Peru: Elite Power and Political Capture” (2017).

[v]Durand, Francisco, 2018. “Odebrecht: La Empresa que Capturaba Gobiernos”. Fondo Editorial PUCP.

[vi]Levitsky, Steven, and Lucan Way, 2002. The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13(2).

[vii]Fowks, Jacqueline, 2018. El fin del Fujimorismo? Nueva Sociedad Vol. 277.