Haiti – A country on Autopilot

Joseph Michel Martelly’s presidency ended without a successor being directly elected. The interim president, Jocelerme Privert, has not yet been able to fulfil his mandate to organize new elections. Even though political tensions have somewhat abated, the country is still not out the woods. This post offers a brief overview of the political situation since February, with a focus on the behavior and calculations of the principal actors.

On February 14 when Privert was sworn in to lead the interim government the mandate was clear: He had to complete the electoral process in 120 days. The agreement between then outgoing President Martelly and the Presidents of both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies clearly stipulated that within this timeframe the interim president had to appoint a new government, reconstitute the Electoral Council (CEP in French), put in place the technical recommendations of the Independent Commision of Evaluation of the elections (CIEVE, in French), and organize the second round of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

It was clear both to Privert and to most of the political actors that it would be impossible to respect this deadline. Indeed, Privert was elected seven days after the departure of Martelly, not within the 48 hours set out in the agreement. The new CEP was installed on March 30, nearly a month after the interim President took office. The CIEVE was put in place on April 14 and handed in its recommendations more than a month later on May 29. What is more, the CIEVE recomended not the continuation of the presidential election, but its cancellation altogether.

The first 120 days of interim president Privert’s office have now passed and he has been unable to fullfill the key objective of the transition: handing over the presidential sash to a newly elected president. The CEP has set the first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections for October 9 and the second round for January 8, 2017. Thus, the transition will have lasted almost 365 days, instead of the 120 previously agreed. In this context, the most important question for the principal actors has revolved around what strategy to adopt given this new timetable.

So far the transition has rewarded some actors and punished others. Some are weaker than when the process began. Others are in better position today than before. Others still are looking for a way to reinter the game, after having previously been pushed out by other actors. For simplicity, I will refer to these three groups of actors as pro-Martelly camp, the International Community, and the Opposition during the Martelly government.

The International Community is the group that has lost out the most during this process. From the start, the International Community (namely the United States of America, the European Union, the OAS and the UN) assumed that they could force the opposition to the Martelly government to accept any electoral results independently of their assesment of the fairness and transparency of the process. After the first round of the parliamentary elections on August 2015, while some key actors in the opposition were denouncing widespread fraud, the International Community supported the CEP. The same situation occurred when the results of the first round of the presidential election were published. The opposition parties took to the streets to denounce the results. Meanwhile the International Community was working behind closed doors to force the result to be accepted. When the first Commision of Evaluation put in place by President Martelly recommended a thorough evaluation of the situation and measures to build confidence in the process, the representatives of International Community looked the other way. They were against the idea of interim president and, naturally, are opposed to the most recent recommendations for new presidential elections.

The representatives of the European Union have left the country to signal their opposition. The US Department of the State has made it clear that it will not support new elections financially. It goes without saying that the decision not to fund the CEP will have important repercussions for the already difficult budgetary situation of the Haitian government. But, it means also that the International Community will have less say in the political process.

The decision of the International Community to turn its back on the electoral process has meant that its protegé, the pro-Martelly camp, also has less power to impose an outcome on its adversaries. The various strategies adopted by this group are good example of how they have gauged their strength. At the beginning they were against any concessions to the opposition. Their analysis of the elections converged with that of the International Community. But, once it was clear the second round of the presidential election would not take place, they supported the interim solution agreed between Martelly and the leaders of the two houses of parliament. Their candidate for the new presidential election, Jovenel Moise, has now been chosen.

The most recent strategy of the pro-Martelly camp has been the decision not to permit a vote in the chambers on the continuation of Privert as interim president. The agreement stipulates that if elections were not held in 120 days, legislators should convene and decide what to do. The pro-Martelly group argues that this should mean the end of the Privert government. However, they do not have enough votes to force out the interim president. Consequently they have decided not to participate in parliamentary meetings. This means that since July 14, there is a president without any legitimacy, waiting to be confirmed by the Parliament.

The former opposition to the Martelly government is in a far better situation than it was before the beginning of the transition. In some measure, it has the control of the state apparatus. But it has two formidable opponents in the pro-Martelly camp and the International Community. The new situation has forced them to evolve their strategy from one of trying to derail the system to one that wants to protect the status quo. They are now more interested in keeping Privert in power than any of the other actors.

The future will show how the situation evolves in Haiti. For the moment, with a president without legitimacy, an International actor with less leverage over the key internal actors, and the pro-Martelly group being branded as corrupt, the country is almost literally on automatic pilot.

Nauru – Waqa government re-elected

Nauru went to the polls on 9 July and returned Baron Waqa’s government for another term. The Pacific island nation has a population of roughly 10,000 (around 8000 registered voters) who elect 19 MPs for three-year terms from multi-seat constituencies by majority vote. There is no formal party system with parliament effectively made-up of 19 independent members. Because Nauru’s president is both head of government and head of state Waqa was re-elected to the post on the floor of parliament by 16 MPs.

Two election observer teams – one from the Pacific Islands Forum and another from the Commonwealth Secretariat – declared the election free and fair, and commended the high voter turnout. It was reportedly the first time in more than a decade that Nauruan elections had been monitored by international observers.

One reason for the heightened interest is that much of the media discussion in the lead up to the election centred on the creeping authoritarianism of the Waqa government (see this blog). Opposition MPs had previously been suspended from parliament – those under house arrest claimed their campaigning activities were curtailed – media commentary was sanctioned and foreign journalists effectively prohibited from entering the country due to high visa fees, and amendments to the criminal code made expressions of ‘political hatred’ punishable by up to seven years imprisonment. Some candidates had their employment contracts terminated – a move commonly believed to be government initiated. The fee for candidate nomination was also hiked to a level that made it prohibitive for many aspirant politicians. This latter measure was contested in Nauru’s Supreme Court, leading to the government eventually dropping the fee from $2000 to $500 (it had previously been $100).

The government has been quick to claim the result as a ringing endorsement of their record and plan for Nauru’s future. In the aftermath of the result Justice Minister David Adeang accused the international media of beating up the accusations against his government as a means of undermining the operation of the Australian Government’s offshore asylum seeker processing centre currently housed on the island. Three of the MPs who had been suspended from the last parliament – Former President Sprent Dabwido, Squire Jeremiah and Mathew Batsiua – lost their seats. Another, Roland Kun, chose not to stand – he has since been granted a New Zealand passport on humanitarian grounds (his Nauruan passport had previously been confiscated on the grounds that he had taken part in anti-government protests and had spoken out against the government in the international media).

Despite the government’s triumphalist tone, this story has a long way left to run. The Australian Federal Police confirmed a week after the election that they were still investigating Getax, the Australian phosphate dealer at the heart of an alleged political corruption scandal. Having left Nauru, Kun is said to be a key witness in that investigation. Needless to say, this is an interesting time in Nauruan politics.

 

Jack Tsen-Ta Lee – Singapore’s Elected President: An Office That Is Still Evolving

This is a guest post by Jack Tsen-Ta Lee in the School of Law, Singapore Management University

Changes made to Singapore’s Constitution a quarter of a century ago brought it further away from the traditional Westminster model which the nation inherited from the United Kingdom, the former colonial power. These amendments created a new type of President – not a full executive head of state, but what might be described as a ‘figurehead-plus’. Now, the Government is proposing to tweak the system further.

Before 1991, the office of the President was a purely ceremonial one, and the officeholder was elected by the Parliament. This meant the President was effectively chosen by the People’s Action Party (PAP), as it has been the ruling political party controlling a majority of the seats in Parliament since 1959.

In fact, for 16 years from 1965 when Singapore became an independent republic, the PAP held every single parliamentary seat. The situation only shifted in 1981, when J B Jeyaretnam of the Workers’ Party was returned to Parliament in a by-election. In the following general elections in 1984 and 1988 Jeyaretnam retained his seat, and was joined in the opposition by Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Party.

In this political climate, the PAP began to introduce constitutional changes to allow more alternative voices to be heard in the legislature. In 1984 it became possible for a certain number of opposition candidates in a general election who were the ‘best losers’ to be deemed elected as Non-constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs). At present, the number of NCMPs thus elected is nine less the number of opposition candidates successfully contesting the polls in their constituencies. In 1990 the position of Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) was created. Up to nine NMPs selected from fields such as culture, industry, community service and the labour movement can be appointed by the President upon nominations made by a special select committee of Parliament.

While NCMPs and NMPs are free to participate in parliamentary debates, they cannot vote on certain important issues, including constitutional amendments, financial matters, and votes of no confidence in the Government. Moreover, they are powerless to block the passage of bills they are allowed to vote on. PAP MPs presently outnumber them as the party holds 83 of the 101 seats in Parliament.

Some critics have denounced the NCMP and NMP schemes as a ploy by the PAP Government to dissuade voters from electing opposition MPs, since the schemes ensure a token presence of potentially non-PAP views in the legislature. Nonetheless, NCMP seats have been a platform for opposition politicians to maintain visibility in public life, which may have helped them to win in later general elections. NMPs have also raised a number of important issues for discussion in Parliament.

‘Second key’

These changes to the constitutional order culminated in the Elected Presidency scheme. The PAP described it as a safeguard against a “freak election result” – one in which the PAP no longer forms the Government. In that scenario, the Elected President holds a ‘second key’ over certain significant matters, the ‘first key’ being wielded by the Government. Transforming the office into one directly elected by the people would give the President moral authority to disapprove of government decisions, if need be.

No longer a purely ceremonial head of state, the President has discretionary power to veto attempts by the Government to deplete the nation’s past financial reserves (those built up in previous parliamentary terms); and to effect unsuitable appointments to or dismissals of key public officers such as judges, the Attorney-General, the Chief of Defence Force, and the Commissioner of Police. In addition, the President may authorize the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to conduct investigations in the face of a contrary command by the Prime Minister.

The President also holds a casting vote over whether someone should be detained without trial under the Internal Security Act, or should have a restraining order issued against him or her under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. This vote may only be exercised if there is a difference of opinion between the Minister for Home Affairs who wishes to proceed against the person, and the advisory body appointed to make a recommendation to the President on the matter.

To a degree, some of the President’s discretionary powers only have a signalling effect, serving to highlight to the electorate the Government’s actions. If the President decides to veto such action against the recommendation of the Council of Presidential Advisers, the Constitution authorizes the Government to override the veto with a parliamentary resolution supported by at least two-thirds of all the elected MPs. This override mechanism applies to the President’s fiscal powers and powers over public service appointments and dismissals. Given the PAP’s dominance in Parliament, it is a foregone conclusion that such a resolution would pass. In any case, since the Elected Presidency scheme came into being, no holder of the office has yet exercised his veto.

Further changes

In January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in Parliament that he would be appointing a constitutional commission chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon to consider further changes to the Elected Presidency scheme. In particular, he said the qualifying criteria to be President might need to be more stringent, and that some mechanism might be required to ensure that members of minority communities are elected as President from time to time.

Among the qualifications for being elected President set out in the Constitution is the requirement that a person must have held, for not less than three years, one of several high offices, including that of cabinet minister, Chief Justice, Speaker of Parliament, Attorney-General, or Permanent Secretary of a government ministry. Alternatively, Article 19(2)(g) states that a person is qualified if he or she has held office for the requisite period:

(iii) as chairman of the board of directors or chief executive officer of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act (Cap. 50) with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency; or

(iv) in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organisation or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which, in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee, has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of President.

The Prime Minister noted the S$100 million sum was to ensure that Presidents are “people with high senior management competence and experience, as they have to assess and decide on financial proposals involving billions of dollars”, and are able to hold a demanding appointment. However, “over 25 years, our economy has grown, government spending and reserves have increased, and the size and complexity of the organisations subject to the second key of the President have increased many fold”. Thus, he suggested the figure might need upwards adjustment.

The Prime Minister added:

The President is the Head of State, he represents all Singaporeans in our multi-racial society. I think it is important that minorities have a chance to be elected President, and that this happens regularly. […] But in future, when Presidential Elections are more likely to be contested, even hotly contested, I believe it will become much harder for a minority President to get elected.

He therefore submitted there should be a procedure “to ensure that minorities can be periodically elected if we have not had a particular minority as President for some time”.

The Constitutional Commission, only the second to be convened since Singapore’s independence, issued a call for submissions on the matter and held four public hearings in April and May. I was one of those who made a submission and appeared before the Commission, and also attended a number of the hearings. Judging from the questions asked by Commission members, it appears that serious consideration is being given to pushing up the financial criterion, perhaps by several hundred million Singapore dollars; and to having occasional elections reserved for minority candidates if no President from a minority community has been President for a certain number of terms. Quite a few of those appearing before the Commission were asked to comment on the latter suggestion, originally made by Dr Mathew Mathews of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

My own view is that the two main issues the Commission is focusing on pull in opposite directions. Increasing the financial threshold to be President reduces the potential pool of candidates, and might make it harder for minority candidates to qualify. Only senior executives who are Singapore citizens may stand for office, and many will probably not wish to do so anyway. Of the citizens willing to throw their hats into the ring, because almost 75% of Singapore residents are Chinese, only a low percentage are likely to be from the Malay, Indian and other minority communities.

While diversity in institutions of governance is vital, legislating some sort of reserved election might also imply that minority candidates cannot succeed on their own merits without a leg-up, a point made to the Commission by Dr Gillian Koh and Mr Tan Min-Wei, also from the IPS. Perhaps a ‘softly, softly’ approach is warranted, at least for a start. We could experiment with having an independent body reach out to business and professional associations, and other relevant organizations, and encourage minority candidates to participate in presidential elections.

The Constitutional Commission is expected to report in the latter half of the year, and if changes are recommended the Government may seek to implement them before the next presidential election due in 2017. It will be interesting to see how such changes affect the election. Regardless, it seems the office of the Elected President continues to evolve.

Estonia – Six weeks before the presidential elections, there is no clear front-runner

The date for Estonia’s next presidential election has been set for 29 August 2016, with 24 September determined as a possible follow-up date should voting in parliament prove inconclusive. Incumbent Toomas Hendrik Ilves is not allowed to run again, having served two consecutive terms from 2006-2011 and 2011-2016. Over the last year, a field of potential candidates has blossomed, yet until now the it is still difficult to tell the wheat from the weeds or to speculate who will become Ilves’ successor.

Election of the Estonian president 2006 in the electoral college | © Riigikogu 2006

Election of the Estonian president 2006 in the electoral college | © Riigikogu 2006

The Estonian president is elected by parliament and except for the 1992 election – when the first round was exceptionally held by popular vote with a runoff held in parliament – parliament has three attempts to elect a candidate with a two-thirds majority of its members, i.e. 68 out of 101 members. If parliament fails to elect a candidate, the election passes on to an electoral college consisting of all members of parliament and roughly two-and-a-half times as many representatives from local parliaments and city councils (the number of representatives is based on population size – in 2016 there will be 234 local representatives). In the electoral college, only an absolute majority is necessary to elect a candidate in two rounds of voting. New candidates can be suggested in the first and second round of voting in parliament and in the first round of voting in the electoral college, making it possible for surprise candidates to emerge (and in the case of Arnold Rüütel, president 2001-2006, even win) at a relative late stage.

Parties, candidates and the public

Until now, there is only one confirmed candidate for the presidency: The Centre Party has nominated Mailis Reps, a 41-year old former minister of education and deputy chairman of the party who supports popular presidential elections. Interestingly, Reps beat long-time party leader and one-time Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar in the party internal ballot for the nomination by a 90:78 margin. The Centre Party however remains an outcast in the Estonian parliament – despite its continuous electoral success – and is eyed with suspicion by other parties due to its close links with the Russian minority and contacts to Vladimir Putin’s ‘United Russia’. Thus, it is unlikely that Reps will eventually take the presidency.

The names of several other candidates have been mentioned over the last year, yet as 21 members of parliament are needed to receive a nomination, only the Reform Party of Prime Minister Taavi Roivas would be able to formally nominate another candidate of their own accord (the internal nomination of Mart Helme by the ‘Conservative People’s Party’ which holds only seven seats in the Riigikogu is thus largely inconsequential). Roivas on the other hand will likely not try to claim the presidential office for his own party but give it to either of the junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats or the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union. The Social Democrats have informally nominated Riigikogu speaker and veteran politician Eiki Nestor as their own candidate, while the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union want to put forward former Chancellor of Justice, Allar Jõks. Public opinion however still complicates the situation for the coalition. Despite having never been formally nominated or endorsed, foreign secretary Marina Kaljurand (independent; nominated to the cabinet by the Reform Party) has topped opinion polls for months as the public’s preferred president. Former Prime Minister and EU Commissioner as well as Reform Party co-founder Siim Kallas has also declared his willingness to be a presidential candidate but has not received any endorsement from the party so far. A joint candidate of Reform Party, Social Democrats and Pro Patria and Res Publica seems to be the most likely outcome of the election, yet it will likely only be decided in the electoral college (until now, Ilves’ reelection in 2011 was the only time that the Riigikogu elected a president without the help of the college).

Marina Kaljurand (middle) with Prime Minister Taavi Roivas (l.) and president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (r.) | © president.ee

Marina Kaljurand (middle) with Prime Minister Taavi Roivas (l.) and president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (r.) | © president.ee

The future of the presidency: Popular elections unlikely

President Ilves, although not always unequivocally liked by parties and citizens, leaves large foot steps to follow. He is an internationally renowned expert of cyber security and as a former foreign minister and ambassador to the United States brought a great deal of diplomatic skill to the role which helped him to make the country considerably more visible. The discussion about a future president is very much influenced by that role, with Prime Minister Roivas and others stressing that any potential candidate would need to have international experience and know their way around issue of foreign and defence policy (especially the latter has been rising in importance for the small Baltic nation in the wake of the Ukraine crisis and disputes with Russia over borders). In turn, Mailis Reps, who already as a education minister was criticised for lack of experience, has little to offer in this regard and thus stressed that in her view the president should be more active in domestic politics – a view not shared by the majority of politicians and very much counter to the development of constitutional practice over the last 20 years as my own research showed. Reps proposal to introduce popular presidential elections, a change equally favoured by Mart Helme of the ‘Conservative People’s Party’ is thus also unlikely to be implemented – previous projects for constitutional amendments proposed by the Centre Party as well as the first presidents, Lennart Meri, were all unsuccessful.

Martin P. Wattenberg – Will Trump vs. Clinton See a Resurgence in the Relevance of Presidential Candidate Personality?

This is a guest post by Martin P. Wattenberg, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.”  Because the presidency is a uniquely personal and powerful office, character matters enormously in terms of governing.  Recognizing how factors like integrity, competence, reliability, and leadership skills have made a difference in past presidencies, American voters naturally take such factors into account when they cast their ballots.

In the 2016 campaign, it is clear that both of the major party nominees will be extensively discussing personal attributes.  Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to Hillary Clinton as “crooked Hillary” and charged that she is a weak leader.  He offers his business experience as a major reason for voting for him, saying that if he can make billions of dollars he can certainly manage the nation’s economic affairs.  For her part, Clinton argues that Trump is temperamentally unsuited to be president and too politically inexperienced to be given the reins of power.  In contrast, she has offered her vast experience in government and knowledge of the issues as major justifications for voting for her.

Yet to be seen is just how much voters will really focus on personality matters when they cast their ballots in the fall of 2016.  My research finds that in recent elections the electorate’s focus on candidate attributes has substantially declined.  The analyses were based on a set of open-ended questions asking respondents what they liked and disliked about the major candidates, which have been asked in every American National Election Study from 1952 to 2012.

A great advantage of open-ended questions is that people can say whatever is on their mind, without prompting from survey designers.  Hence, it is revealing that the majority of respondents have consistently said something about the candidate’s personal attributes.  But the trend has definitely been downward, as displayed in the figure below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 20.40.37

An examination of the data from 2008 and 2012 reveals that young people were substantially less likely than older people to focus on candidate personality.  Having grown up in a much more polarized political environment in which policies are more clearly sorted according to party affiliation, young voters have come to focus more on policies than candidate character.  Assuming this generational change continues, we can expect that the saliency of personal attributes in voters’ evaluations of candidates will probably continue to decline in the future.

In this more polarized era, there is reason to expect that personality evaluations will be more diametrically opposed than ever before.  In the past, it was pretty common for respondents to say that they liked both candidates in terms of their personal characteristics.  But as people have come to hold more black and white views of the candidates, personal character is no longer likely to be judged objectively without regard to political bias. The correlation between personality evaluations of the Democratic and Republican candidates’ provides a simple measure of polarization, with a more negative correlation indicating greater polarization.  The figure below shows that candidate personality evaluations have been more polarized than ever during the last three presidential elections.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 20.41.26

One major reason why candidate character evaluations are now more polarized is that they have become more likely to be seen through the perceptual screen of partisanship.  Indeed, recent elections have seen a much tighter relationship between partisanship and evaluations of candidate character.

With fewer people mentioning personal attributes and with those who do so filtering their comments through the perceptual screen of partisanship, the independent impact of candidates’ personal qualities on voting behavior has declined over time.  My final figure shows that the partial correlation between voting decisions and candidate attribute ratings has clearly lessened in recent presidential elections, with the 2012 election representing the lowest figure ever in the time series.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 20.42.27

Although these results point to a generally lessened role for personality evaluations in the decisions of American voters, they do not necessarily mean that candidate character will never again be crucial to the outcome of presidential elections.  Any future presidential candidate who sees an opening to take advantage of a perceived edge on some personal attribute will no doubt seize on it and voters are bound to pay at least some attention.  With Donald Trump’s outsized personality it is certainly conceivable that personality factors will play a larger role in 2016 than they have in the past several elections.  However, as candidate character evaluations have become so polarized and filtered through partisanship, it seems unlikely that personality factors will be as important to the outcome as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s.

Zambia – Democracy under threat

Opposition leaders claim that democracy in Zambia is under threat as President Edgar Lungu and his Patriotic Front government scramble to hold on to power ahead of the elections scheduled for 11 August. As we reported previously, the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) has grown in strength and confidence since its leader, Hakainde Hichilema, narrowly lost the presidential by-election that brought Lungu to power in 2015.

Low copper prices have constrained the government’s ability to respond to public concern regarding high unemployment, while the country’s most influential newspaper, The Post, has moved firmly into opposition to the government. The pressure appears to have told on the government, which now stands accused of a number of different irregularities. According to the respected Zambian commentator, Sishuwa Sishuwa, the level of accusations relating to preparations for the next election mean that a disputed outcome may soon be inevitable.

For example, The Post newspaper has carried accusations that the Electoral Commission of Zambia awarded the contract to bring the ballot papers to a little-known Dubai based firm – despite the fact that it quoted a price that was more than double the amount paid to the company that normally does the job, in order to facilitate economic and political malpractice. In response to such headlines, the Patriotic Front government appears to have leant on the Zambian Revenue Authority to call in debts owed by The Post, leading to a raid on the newspaper on 21 June.

Worse still, rumours are now circulating that the government has developed a plan – Project 777 – on how to rig the elections that includes members of the military, Electoral Commission, the intelligence services and civil society. At the same time, the government stands accused of recruiting voters from neighbouring countries to vote in Zambia, with the UPND claiming that as many as 500,000 illegal voters have been added to the electoral roll. That President Lungu has felt the need to come out and publicly deny these accusations has done little to make them go away, or to boost the confidence of the opposition.

Azerbaijan – F1 and the limits of public diplomacy

From 17-19 June, the Formula One Grand Prix took place in Baku. In contrast to the “European Games” in 2015, the race received limited attention from governmental actors and the Azerbaijani media. Two explanations are possible. The first lies in the changed domestic circumstances. Given the global low energy price and its dramatic setback on citizens’ life standards, politicians deemed it inappropriate to focus too much attention on such frivolous spending. The second lies in the disappointing international reception to last year’s “European Games”.

President Ilham Aliyev, who is known for his interest in sports events, kept an unexpectedly low profile before, during and after the F1 race. Even though he and his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, attended the opening ceremony and presented the trophies at the end, in the preceding months, Mr Aliyev almost never mentioned this event[1]. For example, on 16 June, the day before the race, the most high-profile remark to Parliament came from Ali Hasanov, the president’s aide for public and political affairs. This is in contrast with the attention paid the “European Games”. On that occasion, the President personally inaugurated most of the sports facilities and did not miss a chance to voice his enthusiasm. At the award ceremony, he used phrases like: “These Games united our people even more, instilled a sense of pride in us – just look at what we are capable of accomplishing!”. One year on, the quest for attention seems to have been dimmed. We can see this in the media coverage of the event too where studies reveal that the Formula One race received considerably less attention[2]).

The first explanation for this change lies in domestic conditions and the dramatic drop in energy prices. As already analysed in this blog,  Azerbaijan faced a devaluation of its currency at the beginning of the year, which has led to the dissatisfaction of its citizens. In the following months, the local Manat has remained extremely weak and unemployment has risen. This situation does not seem temporary and a mix of recession and high inflation is likely for the next two years[3]. With the exception of those who managed to rent out their balconies to view proceedings, the race, which placed an additional burden on the shrinking state budget, does not seem to have brought any particular benefits to the population. That said, the decline in living standards does not seem to have affected the Aliyev family. In April, the four-day-war in Nagorno-Karabakh caught most the public attention, but at the same time the leaked “Panama Papers” revealed that Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva, daughters of the President, held a 56 per cent stake in the development of a profitable gold mine. Given this situation, any undue emphasis on the F1 race, when most citizens are struggling to make ends meet, could have easily sounded like “let them eat cake”.

The second explanation, which complements the first one, is that, after the European Games, Azerbaijan had an abrupt awakening about the limits of public diplomacy. Even though President Aliyev recently declared that: “The first European Games (…) were very successful”, very few heads of European states (namely Bulgaria, Luxemburg, San Marino and Monaco) flew to Baku to attend them. Most politicians simply declined the invitation. However, a day before the inauguration ceremony, the German Bundestag, on the grounds of human right violations, prohibited high-ranking state officials from attending the event.  Additionally, in spite of some official claims about the influx of tourists (without providing any numbers), international arrivals were probably below expectations. In addition to this disappointing international attendance, few international reporters focused on the competition. Instead, most of the international press wrote about the country’s human rights record, rather than about the brand-new infrastructures. Notably, The Washington Post criticised the pop-singer Lady Gaga for performing at the opening ceremony, while some human rights defenders were held in jail[4]. Even though presidential speeches never mentioned these facts, domestic actors observed the limited PR effect of this initiative. For example, Emil Huseynli, chairperson of the `Support for youth development’, declared that the cold reception to the games was part of a global smear campaign against Azerbaijan. Additionally, some Azerbaijani news sources reported that some Youth Groups protested against the fact that, according to them, the European Parliament politicised the Games “as a way of putting pressure on Azerbaijan”. In short, it soon became apparent that instead of boosting the international reputation of the country, the Games put the spotlight on undesired topics.

In conclusion, a year ago Azerbaijan seemed a confident actor, determined to win over the international community by means of a well-funded public diplomacy campaign. However, the changed economic circumstances, together with the lessons learned about the limited efficacy of this strategy, seem to have brought about a partial reconsideration of this strategy.

Notes

[1] Looking at the English version of the official Website of the President of Azerbaijan, this event has been only mentioned, along with numerous other points, in occasion of the opening of Azerbaijani-German Economic Forum in Berlin.

[2] Translated into English by BBC Monitoring.

[3] BMI Research. 2016. “Stagflation To Persist”, Business Monitor Online, March 10 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[4] “Blinders in Azerbaijan”. 2015. The Washington Post, August 9 (retrieved through Lexis Nexis).ze

2×5 or 1×7? – Benin’s Constitutional Reform Commission undecided on presidential terms

This is a guest post by Ulrike Rodgers, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC.

Since early 2015, eleven countries in West Africa have held national elections to choose a new president, often coupled with parliamentary elections.  The electoral simultaneity is no coincidence. The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s ushered in political change also in West Africa and many countries began organizing multi-party elections. Their newly minted democratic constitutions often opted for five-year presidential and/or parliamentary mandates and gave preference to a strong presidential role. However, many also limit presidential terms to two mandates, a provision that continues to be a source of national discussion and even popular uprisings, such as in Burkina Faso in 2014, when then-president Blaise Compaoré attempted to change it to be able to remain in office.

Twenty-five years after engaging in their democratic transitions, several countries are now taking another look at their constitutional frameworks. As Sophia Moestrup writes, some, like Bénin, Burkina, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Sénégal are seeking to strengthen their democratic institutions, limit presidential powers and reaffirm term limits. Others, like Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, appear to be moving in the opposite direction.

Bénin recently reaffirmed its position as a regional beacon of democracy when outgoing president Boni Yayi respected the constitutional two-term limit and did not attempt to win a third mandate. Since then, President Patrice Talon – who won the March 2016 election with a promise of “change” against Boni Yayi’s prime minister and heir apparent Lionel Zinsou –  followed through on a campaign promise and appointed a 35-member commission to propose political and institutional reforms, including the option of limiting presidential terms to a single seven-year mandate. The commission, chaired by justice minister Joseph Djognénou, submitted its report at the end of June and promptly triggered criticism. Notably, it was accused of wasting public funds after rumors surfaced that each member had received between 10 and 15 million Francs CFA (about $18,000 to $27,000) for one month of work while the government has curtailed spending in other sectors.

The report unanimously recommends that the president should no longer appoint Bénin’s chief justice, the chair of the superior council of judges (Conseil supérieur de la magistrature), and the chair of the national audio-visual authority (Haute autorité de l’audiovisuel). It also proposes to augment the number of justices serving on Bénin’s constitutional court from seven to nine, extend their mandate from five to nine years, and to limit the number of justices appointed by the president to one, as opposed to currently three. However, the commission was unable to reach consensus on proposed changes to the presidential term limit, even after it postponed the publication of the report by several days. Members had been asked to examine two options: maintain the current two five-year term limit, or replace it with a single six or seven-year term, the latter openly favored by President Talon. Divided over the issue, the commission returned the ball into the president’s court to decide. President Talon has announced he intends to put the question in front of the Béninese people via referendum before the end of the year.

But his proposition may have encountered a sizeable obstacle: Bénin’s constitutional court ruled in October 2011 that presidential term limits could not be changed by way of referendum. The court considered it a violation of the decision of Bénin’s National Conference of February 1990 to declare certain constitutional articles unchangeable, including Article 42, which stipulates a limit of two five-year terms. Nonetheless, while the question surrounding presidential terms may be moot, other proposed reforms, such as setting limits to the president’s influence over the country’s constitutional court, may contribute to strengthening the separation of powers in Bénin and help anchor democratic practices durably in the country’s political DNA.

Czech Republic – President Zeman and the ‘Czexit’ referendum question

The result of the ‘Brexit’ referendum in the United Kingdom on 23 June has created waves across and beyond the British Isles and the European continent. As many still tried to come to terms with the UK’s (almost) inevitable withdrawal from the European Union, several representatives of populist and fringe parties across Europe already called for similar ‘exit’ referenda for their own countries. The Czech Republic is particularly interesting in this regard as it was Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka who was first credited with floating the possibility of a ‘Czexit’ in February this year but then publicly distanced himself from the possibility. Now, president Miloš Zeman has reignited the debate by calling for a public vote on EU (and NATO) membership of the country.

President Miloš Zeman (left) meets Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament | © hrad.cz

President Miloš Zeman (left) meets Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament | © 2013 by hrad.cz

The UK referendum on EU membership has given rise to many calls for a similar votes in other countries. Far-right and populist leaders and presidential hopefuls, such as Marine Le Pen, have already called for a ‘Frexit‘ referendum in France and other variations of ‘-xit’ referenda in their countries. Although the anti-EU sentiment is most strongly represented in parties of the (far) right, demand for referenda has also come from the left and ideologically less defined populist actors, most prominently from Czech president Milos Zeman.

Shortly after the results of the UK vote broke, Zeman declared that – although in favour of EU membership – he would do everything for citizens feeling otherwise ‘to express themselves’, also with regard to NATO membership (a demand already made in February 2016 but quickly forgotten). Support for EU membership and trust in the EU institutions in the Czech Republic tends to be below average in comparison to other member states, yet is far from ranking lowest in the table. In the last year, criticism of and dissatisfaction with the EU has primarily been associated with the refugee crisis and the EU’s decision to impose quotas on its member states. The populist movement ‘Dawn’ recently submitted a motion to debate the possibility of a Czexit referendum in parliament and the election of an MEP of the eurosceptic fringe Party of Free Citizens (SSO) in 2014 indicates that there is a part of the electorate that responds to anti-EU rhetoric.

Nevertheless, the Czech president does not possess any power to call referenda at will (a power reserved for only few presidents around the world) – the Czech constitution also only mentions referenda in a clause inserted to allow for the EU accession referendum in 2003 (in which case a special organic law was passed to allow for the referendum – the only one held in the Czech Republic to date). Furthermore, the government has made it clear that it opposes any public vote on EU membership. A Czexit or even a referendum on the Czech Republic leaving the European Union thus seems unlikely. Nevertheless,  EU membership (and to a lesser degree NATO) membership presents a political cleavage which could be successfully mobilised in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections (2017 and 2018, respectively), particularly in conjunction with the refugee crisis. After Zeman’s approval had dropped sharply a year ago due to his position in the Ukraine crisis and a series of gaffes, his ratings have since improved and stabilised once again around 57-58% over the last months. By calling for a EU referendum yet supporting membership at the same time, Zeman could thus try to dance at two weddings at once – attract Eurosceptic voters (who will probably vote for a fringe candidate in the first round but could prove decisive in a potential runoff) while not losing too many mainstream voters.

The do-over the Austrian presidential election might provide a first test of how such a tactic might work out. Far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer initially suggested that the Austrian people should be given a say over further EU integration and in his campaign greatly benefited from anti-EU sentiment related to the refugee crisis. Following statements by his decidely pro-EU challenger, Alexander Van der Bellen (independent/Greens), last week he was however forced to acknowledge that it would disastrous for Austria if the country left the EU. In order to maintain the momentum of his campaign and keep the anti-establishment vote, Hofer must nevertheless try to balance pro- and anti-EU voters which could – if successful – provide a template for Zeman and the Czexit referendum question.

Michel Rocard: The man who never became President

Michel Rocard: the Man who never became President

Few and far between are the politicians whose passing away (2nd  July 2016) have evoked such unanimity. Politicians from premier Valls to former President Sarkozy are falling over themselves to praise the wisdom, foresight and modernity of the former Socialist premier.  A national day of remembrance, held on 7th July, is a rare honour usually reserved for former Presidents. Michel Rocard can boast a powerful legacy, indeed,  in terms of providing an intellectual underpinning and political standard for French-style social liberalism, boasting a solid reformist record as premier (1988-1991) and leaving an enduring political legacy. Rocard also did much to contribute towards cultivating an economic culture within the left. As former premier Lionel Jospin observed in his tribute: François Mitterrand might have dominated Michel Rocard in political terms, but in view of the policies implemented under Socialist governments since 1982, Rocard won the economic battle’. [1].  

History may or may not retain the failure of his overarching ambition to be elected President.  He was, indeed, a presidential candidate, polling 3.61% as the PSU’s representative in the 1969 presidential election (narrowly short of the 5.1% for the SFIO’s Gaston Defferre). Ultimately, however, Rocard might be remembered as the man who never became President.  Rocard’s contest with Mitterrand for ascendancy within the Socialist Party was a defining moment of modern French politics- and he lost.  Control of the PS presidential candidacy in 1981 was one of the key prizes at stake in the bitter struggle between Mitterrand and Rocard for control of the Socialist party between 1978 and 1981.  The latter’s experience in 1978-1980 suggested the limits of external popularity as a lever to break the hold of the existing organisation on the party apparatus[2]. The strategy adopted in 1978-1980 (in short one of using external popularity to influence the choice of the party’s presidential candidate) failed then, but acted as a precursor to the primary movement which swept French political parties after 2006.

Michel Rocard was as an important personality in the history of the French left. He came to prominence as General Secretary of the small yet highly influential party, the Unified Socialist Party (Parti socialiste unifié – PSU), a party he led from 1967-1974. Though he eventually joined the PS in 1974, and led an influential group of supporters, he remained a marginal force within the Socialist Party, arguably even during his short period as First Secretary (1993-95). But the numerical inferiority of Rocard’s supporters within the PS must not disguise the influence of the movement. Rocard was the symbol for many of a specific tendency within the French left – the deuxième gauche  – which came to signify an alternative narrative of the French left to that focussed on capturing the commanding heights of the state and the economy.  The movement was strongly influenced by the legacy of Pierre Mendès France, the radical premier of the fourth Republic (1954-55) who set in motion France’s decolonisation (Morocco, Tunisia) and who first insisted on the need for economic rigorous economic management as a necessary condition for social progress.  As a student at Sciences Po, the young Rocard was active in the UNEF student union, and evenly briefly joined the SFIO, the Socialist Party he soon quit (in 1958) over the stance adopted to the Algerian war. Unlike many intellectuals, he never became a member of the PCF. Anti-colonialism was the cornerstone to this alternative left emerging to contest the SFIO. The Autonomous Socialist Party (PSA) was created in 1958 as a breakaway group from the SFIO; joined by various minor political clubs, it became the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) in 1960. After rising to national-level prominence after the Rencontres de Grenoble (1966), Rocard became General Secretary of the PSU in 1967, and led the movement through the tumultuous events and aftermath of May ’68. With the aim of renovating the left from outside of the main existing party, the SFIO, Rocard’s PSU was directly in competition with Francois Mitterrand’s Federation of the Democratic and Socialist left (FGDS (1965-68) and later with the Socialist Party (Parti socialiste – PS, captured in 1971 by Mitterrand). Mitterrand won that initial battle and many subsequent ones.

The fact remains that Rocard was not a player at the 1971 PS Epinay congress that redefined the landscape of the French left. He was never at ease with the central strategy of Union of the Left (the alliance between Socialists and Communists), but a version of this strategy was successful.  Rocard lost politically in the first instance, his route barred by a determined François Mitterrand, tactically Rocard’s superior. Much has been written about the relationship between Francois Mitterrand and Michel Rocard. Was this mainly a question of personal rivalries and style? In part undoubtedly. But it also concerned core issues of strategy (the Union of the Left and the necessity or not of allying with the PCF); of political and economic culture (the respective role of the State and the Market), of macroeconomic choices (for example the wisdom of using nationalisation as an industrial tool) and of the role of the party.   In many of these areas of controversy the Rocardian approach was evidence-based, evaluative and experimental.  In a prophetical landmark speech to the PS congress in Nantes (1977) Rocard warned the left not to deny the existence of economic constraints that would necessarily influence future government choices: “If the left is unprepared for power, if it refuses to recognise the importance of powerful constraints, if it refuses to admit the technical nature of many policy problems, then it will face failure” [3]

The deuxième gauche was classically formulated in Rocard’s speech to the same Socialist Party Congress of Nantes (1977). In this speech Rocard contrasted the two cultures that structure the French left, a statist, centralising culture and a more decentralising experimental one. The second left was initially associated with a Christian left (Left Catholics, but also protestants such as Rocard himself), as well as being a provincial left favourable to decentralisation and distrustful of a republican narrative of uniformity.  The second left was also a movement influenced by the ideas of May ’68, favourable to workplace democracy, social experimentation, the right to difference, local economic development and autogestion. [4] Above all, the second left demonstrated a certain suspicion towards the State and advocated a more systematic role for civil society and local authorities in policy-making.  Certain of the demands of this second left were clearly influenced by the spirit of the times (for example, ‘autogestion’, or workers’ self-management, a theme directly inspired by May ’68). But the basic message (a combination of rigorous economic management, social justice and a demand for transparency and honesty [‘parler vrai’] ) have withstood the passage of time and are more pertinent today than ever.  The heart of the Rocardian method lay in the duty to identify the challenges ahead, to explain and confront reality and to introduce a stronger economic culture within the French left. Hence, the caution he expressed over certain aspects of the 1981-83 reform programme (especially the Mauroy government’s nationalisations of 100% of leading industrial groups, the banking and insurance sectors, rather than taking a 51% controlling stake as argued by Rocard).  Other dimensions of the Mauroy government – decentralisation, workplace democracy –could claim a stronger filiation with the ideas of the second left.

Rocard will also be remembered as a consequential reformer, especially as a reformist Prime Minister from 1988-1991. In 1988. Mitterrand nominated Rocard as the man of the situation, when the PS failed to obtain an overall parliamentary majority in the ensuing parliamentary election.  Rocard was the first premier practising l’ouverture, a mainly unsuccessful attempt to broaden the bases of parliamentary support to incorporate elements of the centre and centre-right. Lacking a clear majority, premier Rocard was forced to rely on the most restrictive clauses of the 1958 constitution, notably article 49/3, which allowed the minority Socialist to survive for a full five year term. [5] All in all, Rocard was a reformist prime minister, with a robust policy record: the introduction of  a minimal income (revenu minimum insertion –RMI), a universal benefit extended for the first time to young people of 18-25; an ambitious programme of reform of the State (the programme of the modernisation of the civil service owes its origins to Rocard, as does the changed statute of the Post Office); and an  important fiscal reform (the creation of the general social contribution [contribution sociale générale –  CSG] to finance  new universal welfare benefits). Such policy activism aggravated an already conflictual relationship between Prime Minister and President (a staple of the fifth Republic) and a stoked a bitter personal animosity between the two men. In 1991, Mitterrand dispensed with the services of Rocard, though the prime minister remained popular.

Rocard’s career continued for two more decades after his resignation from Matignon. He was First Secretary of the Socialist Party, 1993-94; a Socialist MEP from 1994-2009, and served in various Commissions under President Sarkozy. But he never did succeed in imposing his presidential candidacy on the PS (the standard bearers being Jospin in 1995 and 2002; Royal in 2007 and Hollande in 2012).  By this most basic benchmark, he failed. But the legacy is a much more powerful one, in the form of a diffuse network of political and economic personalities, think tanks, ideas,  experts and putative inheritors (including premier Valls and  Industry minister Macron), who are jostling to be recognised as legitimate heir and inheritor. Michel Rocard was an important and influential advocate in the ongoing process of reconciling the left to the economy. He ought to be missed.

[1] Cited in Le Monde, 4th July 2016.

[2] Alistair  Cole (1989)  ‘Factionalism, the French socialist party and the fifth Republic: An explanation of intra‐party divisions’  European Journal of Political Research Volume 17, No. 1, p. 77-94

[3] Rocard’s speech is reprinted in La Nouvelle Revue Socialiste, 27, (1977), pp.69-76; p.70.

[4] Pierre Rosanvallon, L’age de l’autogestion,  Paris : Seuil, 1976 ; Pierre Rosanvallon and Patrick Viveret Pour une nouvelle culture politique  Paris : Seuil, 1977.

[5] Article 49/3 allows a government to stake its confidence on the passage of a parliamentary bill, effectively forcing deputies either to overturn the government, or accept the bill.