A year since his election: Liberia’s President George Weah

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 is 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 ranked near 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 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 will 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.

Taiwan – Direct democracy, Minority Rights, and the Referenda in the 9-in-1 elections, 2018

The 9-in-1 local elections for Taiwan on November 24, 2018, also saw voters cast ballots on 10 referenda. The large number of referenda follows from the Revised Referendum Act, which took effect on January 3, 2018, following passage by the Taiwan legislature in December, 2017. The elections saw the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) routed: the party lost seven of the 13 cities and counties it held to the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), including Kaoshiung, a DPP-foothold for 20 years. The final election tally for the 22 city, county, and special municipality mayoral and magistrate seats saw the DPP with six seats, the opposition KMT with 15, while independent incumbent mayor of Taipei, Ko Wen-je, was re-elected by 0.23 percent margin, or slightly over 3000 votes. KMT candidate for Taipei, Ting Shou-chung, has challenged the results and lodged a suit for a recount, which officially started on December 3, 2018. Much has been said about the election results as well as the disappointing referenda outcomes, particularly for advocates of same-sex marriage. Here, I review scholarship regarding the promises and perils of direct democracy, to contextualize the referenda and their outcomes in Taiwan.

Direct democracy occurs when citizens participate directly in policy-making, most commonly through referenda and initiatives. Some perennial concerns regarding direct democracy are voters’ knowledge or access to information; the role of money; how the outcomes are translated into policy; and whether democracy aids majority or minority interests.[1] Supporters of direct democracy often fall along arguments that, by and large, direct democracy engenders greater political engagement and participation and, hence, is more representative and democratic.[2] Critics charge that direct democracy typifies majoritarian rule which often fails to accommodate and may even discriminate against minority interests.[3] On balance, studies find that the evidence generally falls on the side that minority rights needs protection against the processes of direct democracy.[4] Indeed, Donovan (2013) finds pronounced “stereotypes and negative affect” in information campaigns leading-up to direct democracy ballots (1731). [5]

In important ways, the Revised Referendum Act pave for democratic deepening, political engagement, and even change. In particular, it reduced the voting age to 18 to empower youths to participate in established institutions and processes. It also reduced the required number of signatures to initiate a proposal and to support the initiated piece to 0.01 percent, and 1.5 percent, respectively, of the electorate in the most recent presidential election, which are equivalent to 1879 and 281,745 respectively. It also eliminates the Referendum Review Commission and reduces the turnout quorum to 25 percent of registered voters, where a majority affirming the referendum means that it passes. Prior to the revisions, the 2003 Referendum Act stipulates that the initiation and support of a referendum are 0.1 percent and 5 percent respectively of the electorate in the most recent presidential election; further, amendments must be approved by more than 50 percent of all eligible voters at a referendum held in six months from the public announcement of the revisions. These conditions set a high bar for passage of referendum: none of the six referenda proposed since the 2003 Act passed.

However, the ease of initiating a referendum also led the same-sex marriage issue to be put to a plebiscite. In this regard, by failing to put in safeguards on the referendum process, the government has complicated its policy-making process and responsibility.

Thus, on November 29, 2018, the Judicial Yuan Secretary-General asserted that the Constitutional Court’s 2017 ruling on same-sex marriage – the Court ruled that the Civil Code that prohibited same-sex marriages was unconstitutional – represents the highest law of the land and cannot be overridden by referenda. This is followed by the announcement by the Ministry of Justice of preparations for a same-sex marriage bill, to be presented to the legislature before March 1, 2019. Still, with more than 60 percent of the voters expressing opposition to same-sex marriage, the road ahead to reconcile the referenda with legislation will be rocky.

 

______________________

[1] Lupia, Arthur, and John Matsuska. 2004. “Direct Democracy: New Approaches to Old Questions.” Annaul Reviews Political Science: 463-82

[2] Clark, Sherman. 1998. “A Populist Critique of Direct Democracy.” Harvard Law Review Issue 2 Dec: 434-482.

[3] Gunn, Patricia. 1981 “Initiatives and Referendums: Direct Democracy and Minority Interests.” Urban Law Annual No 135: 1-27

[4] Lewis, David. 2011. “Direct Democracy and Minority Rights: Same-Sex Marriage Bans in the United States.” Social Science Quarterly, vol 92 no 2: 364-83; Haider-Markel, Donald, Alana Querze and Kara Lindaman. 2007. “Lose, Win, or Draw? A Reexamination of Direct Democracy and Minority Rights.”Political Research Quarterly vol 60 no 2: 304-14.

[5] Donovan, Todd. 2013. “Direct Democracy and Campaigns Against Minorities.” Minnesota Law Review vol 97 no 5: 1730-1779.

 

 

Poland – The president as legislator

On 20 November, Polish president Duda submitted another bill proposal the Sejm (lower chamber of parliament), this time aimed at creating local social services centres. Although presidents have frequently used this prerogative in the past (to the same degree as vetoes and requests for judicial review), Duda has been particularly active and proposed over two dozen separate bills so far. However, the Polish president is only one of four European presidents vested with the power to propose ordinary legislation – interestingly, the other three countries are also from Central and Eastern Europe (i.e. Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania).

Polish president Duda presents the act amending the law on legal aid and education that resulted from his initiative, 30 July 2018 / ® Polish Presidential Office 2018

The president’s right to propose legislation has been included in all Polish constitutions since the fall of Communism, including the heavily amended Communist constitution (it was not, however, part of the Polish interwar constitutions). As the Polish president only possesses a block veto, the provision partly compensates for the lack of agenda-setting power through amendatory observations (as is the case in most other post-communist systems). Nevertheless, parliament is not obliged to consider presidential initiatives and can – once they have received by the appropriate committee – be abandoned without fearing any consequences. Furthermore, as presidents do not have any reserved policy areas for their initiatives, the usefulness of the power depends very much on the composition of parliament and government. If presidents have a majority (or at least strong presence) in parliament and/or government, bills are more likely to be accepted. Presidents without significant partisan support in other institutions should have little chance of seeing their bills become law. Accordingly, when Polish presidents made use their prerogative, they did so with varying frequency and varying degrees of success (see Table 1 below).

Interestingly, the first three Polish presidents (who all experienced longer periods of cohabitation and unified government during their terms) used their powers largely independently of the majority situation in parliament and government. For Lech Walesa, this may largely be explained by the fact that neither the fragmented Sejm, nor the stream of coalition governments had the resources to craft legislation, allowing the president to set the agenda. However, given that less than half of his initiatives were successful, actual implementation of policy can only be part of the reason why he (and his successors) used this power so frequently. On the one hand, we may be able to explain the use of initiatives by presidents’ desire to communicate with voters – more so than ‘reactive powers’ like the veto, legislative initiatives allow presidents to proactively highlight their policy preferences. On the other hand, interviews I conducted with presidential advisors in Poland for my PhD suggest that the presidential legislative initiative can be borne out of cooperation between president and government and provide a shortcut compared to regular parliamentary procedure – presidential bill proposals do not require the same statements or reports from ministries and agencies before they can be discussed (and passed) in parliament. However, the scale of these cases is difficult to ascertain without more detailed knowledge of individual bills.

To date, the use of presidential legislative initiatives outside of presidential systems has hitherto not been subject to much research. Nevertheless, the case of Poland raises a number of interesting questions that go beyond the four European cases mentioned above. First, why would presidents be vested with the power to propose legislation in the first place? Even where they are not formally part of the executive, they are not part of or emanate from the legislature either. Granting presidents proactive legislative prerogatives, particularly in systems where they are not the dominant actor, thus makes little sense. Second, how can we explain the use of this power – especially across varying partisan-political constellations? Furthermore, if bills are more likely to be accepted during friendly/unified relations between president, parliament and government, why would presidents need to propose legislation? After all, their policy preferences should already be implemented. Third, while part of the answer to the last question lies in the publicity potential of the bills, how can we reliably identify those bills that are (informal) collaborations between president and government to circumvent more lengthy parliamentary procedure? The answer to the latter would likely also reveal new information on president-government collaboration in semi-presidential and parliamentary regimes.

Grigorii V. Golosov – The Impact of Authoritarian Institutions on Party Systems in Post-Soviet Central Asian States

This is a guest post by Grigorii V. Golosov. It is based on the article “The Five Shades of Grey: Party Systems and Authoritarian Institutions in Post-Soviet Central Asian States”, in Central Asian Survey, doi:10.1080/02634937.2018.150044.

As of 2017, there was no single instance of a state that could be qualified as an electoral democracy in post-Soviet Central Asia. Meanwhile, all these states do conduct elections on a fairly regular basis, and they have developed party systems that display a remarkable cross-national variation. While the consequences of authoritarian institutions have been already subjected to a rather close scrutiny in scholarly literature, relatively little is known about the reasons why such institutions take their specific shape. This problem is particularly salient with respect to the most fundamental property of party systems, fragmentation, conventionally defined as the number of important parties in the system. While it is certainly true that the general tendency of authoritarian regimes is to create dominant party systems in which a pro-government party takes a lion’s share of votes and legislative seats, there are well-known instances of long-standing yet very fragmented authoritarian party systems, such as in Morocco. The reasons for this situation have not been clarified in the literature. The purpose of this study is to solve this puzzle by means of a systematic comparison of five authoritarian party systems that, while being quite similar in their origins, belonging to the same region of Post-Soviet Central Asia and thus sharing many similarities of context, do display a significant variation on the main parameter of interest, fragmentation.

In this study, I use a conventional measure of fragmentation, the effective number of parties, in the mathematical formulation developed by Golosov: where pi and p1 stand for the fractional shares of seats received by the i-th and the largest parties, respectively. Table 1 provides a brief summary of parliamentary elections, presented as the observed levels of party system fragmentation, in Central Asian states throughout the whole post-Soviet period. Since the electoral cycles of individual countries do not concur, each of the cells of the table reports the year of elections (or the year of the first round of elections, if different from that of the second round), and the effective number of parliamentary parties in parentheses.

Table 1. Years of parliamentary elections and effective numbers of parties (in parentheses) in Central Asian states

Abbreviations: NPS – no party structure in the assembly; SPS – single-party system. Sources: Inter-Parliamentary Union 2017; Nohlen, Grotz and Hartmann 2001.

I hypothesize that the levels of party system fragmentation in autocracies are contingent upon the scope of presidential powers. This is not to say that formal constitutional provisions, shallow as they are in authoritarian political contexts, are matters of primary concern for the autocrats. Of course, they are primarily concerned with preserving and expanding their hold over the polity. Yet if they choose to follow the rules of the game as established in the constitution, then it is rational for them to facilitate the development of secondary political structures, such as party systems, in a way that is optimal for the consolidation of authoritarianism within the existing constitutional order. In other words, the autocrats are well motivated to seek congruency between the scope of their constitutional powers and party system properties. In fact, there is no reason to assume that in this respect, the autocrats are fundamentally different from democratic presidents. What differentiates the two is not motivation but rather capacity: the autocrats are much better equipped to shape party systems at their will.

For an institutionally strong president, the party composition of the assembly is not very consequential. Given that the president makes crucial political and administrative decisions without any parliamentary involvement and often possesses significant legislative powers, political fragmentation in the assembly can be affordable for the presidency. In democracies, the limits of such affordability are set by the president’s ultimate inability to pursue her legislative agenda in a complete defiance of the parliament, which explains why the coexistence of a strong presidency with a fragmented assembly is often problematic. In autocracies, a strong president is less constrained by such considerations. At the same time, parliamentary fragmentation offers several tangible rewards to an institutionally strong president. First, the presence of many parties in the assembly greatly increases the symbolic value of the parliament by providing a visible proof to the autocrat’s claim that the regime is democratic in its nature. Indeed, one of the primary goals of authoritarian institution building is to project an image of democracy without threatening the political survival of the autocrat. Second, the survival of autocrats in power largely depends on their ability to neutralize the actual or potential opponents by co-opting them into the institutional structure of the regime. This explains why cooptation is often viewed as the principal rationale for the very existence of authoritarian institutions. Yet for co-optation to occur, a wide range of elite groups – including those that do not belong to the autocrat’s ‘inner circle’ – should gain access to representation, however shallow, and to the spoils associated with it. Third, by allowing such groups to participate in elections under their own party labels, the regime makes use of their political machines, which is important in authoritarian electoral contexts that are often dominated by clientelism.

Taking this into account, consider a situation when the formal powers of the presidency are intermediate, neither very strong nor very weak. In this situation, the autocratic president still can afford a multi-party composition of the assembly. However, the payoff of this strategy is smaller than in the conditions outlined above. For example, if the president is involved in the formation of the government yet the parliament also has significant appointment / government censure powers, which is often the case when the constitutional powers of the presidency are within an intermediate range, then manufacturing a multiparty majority poses a problem for the president without significantly reducing the political capacity of the legislature. In this situation, it is in the best interest of the president to seek and obtain a single-party legislative majority. A fragmented legislature is not necessarily dangerous for an autocratic president with moderate formal powers, but it is certainly more difficult to handle. This creates a strong incentive for seeking a pro-presidential party majority in the legislature. In the presence of strong motivation towards single-party control over the assembly, those factors that have been listed above as facilitating the coexistence between institutionally strong presidents and fragmented assemblies become less consequential. Thus the main hypothesis of this study can be formulated as follows. There is a curvilinear pattern of association between the constitutional powers of the presidency and the effective number of parties in electoral authoritarian regimes. While institutionally weak and institutionally strong presidencies are associated with fragmented party systems, the autocratic presidents with moderate yet sizeable formal powers seek and obtain single-party majorities in their assemblies, which leads to low levels of party system fragmentation.

In order to test this hypothesis, I used the Prespow scores as reported at this site with some minor amendments. Table 2 presents the scores as used in this study. The structure of presentation is the same as in Table 1.

Table 2. Years of parliamentary elections and Prespow2 scores (in parentheses) in Central Asian states

Sources: Inter-Parliamentary Union 2017; Presidential Power 2017.

With the data on the powers of the presidency and the effective number of parties at hand, I proceeded with my statistical analysis. The overall number of observations in the analysis is 16, which corresponds to the number of party-structured elections held in Central Asian states throughout the period under observation, as defined above and reported in Tables 1 and 2. This is explained in detail in the previous section of this paper. Given that the relationship between the two variables of interest is expected to be curvilinear, I used a polynomial regression model. The scatter plot is provided in Figure 1 (note that two data points for Kazakhstan, 2012 and 2016, nearly coincide in space). As is evident from the figure, the trend line takes the form of a U-shaped parabola, which supports my expectations regarding the relationship between the constitutional powers of the presidency and the effective number of parties.

The observed relationship is very strong, with R-squared = 0.67, and statistically significant at 0.001. The regression equation is thus: where ENP stands for the effective number of parties.

The strength of the observed association between the scope of presidential powers and the effective number of parties in Central Asian states suggests that the presidents can direct political processes – in this case, the process of party system development – at their will. Here lies the main difference between the dynamics of party system development in democracies, where it is largely determined by societal cleavages and other factors beyond the control of the acting rulers, and in autocracies, where it is largely manipulated by the authorities. Of course, a wider cross-national inquiry is needed to fully substantiate this vision of institutional dynamics under electoral authoritarianism, and it might well be that the dynamics observed in Central Asia deviates from the general tendency.

Sources: see sources to Tables 1 and 2.

Portugal – The memoirs of a president

In Portugal, ever since Mário Soares decided to publish annually his most relevant public interventions as a book, presidents have followed this practice. Soares published ten volumes of Intervenções (Interventions), Jorge Sampaio followed with Portugueses, and Cavaco Silva edited Roteiros(Roadmaps). These are collections of speeches in public occasions, with sometimes an interview or some other journalistic piece, and constitute a fundamental basis to analyse the terms in office of each president.

Cavaco Silva, however, ventured into new grounds when he decided to write his memoirs. Soares published a lengthy interview covering his entire life, including the years as president (Maria João Avillez.MárioSoares, 3 volumes). Sampaio has an authorized biography which also covers his years at the Palácio de Belém(José Pedro Castanheira, Jorge Sampaio, 2 volumes). No one had written individual memoirs centred on the role of the president. Cavaco Silva’s new memoirs come as a continuation of his previous books that covered his early life and his tenure as prime-minister for ten years (Autobiografia Política, 2 volumes), and respond to the need felt by the author to “offer citizens precise and clear information on the actions I undertook while discharging public functions”. In all, we dispose of four volumes of memoirs, a first hand testimony which is invaluable for the comprehension of his political persona. This post aims to discuss some of the issues raised by the most recent volumes, without any intention of exhausting the theme

These recent volumes are called Quinta-feira e outros dias(Thursday  and other days), as they  purport to focus on the relations between the president of the Republic and the government, Thursday being the long-established day of the week in which the prime minister visits the president to inform him on different issues. More than a formality and a gesture of goodwill, keeping the president informed “of all issues pertaining to the conduction of internal and external policies” is a constitutional provision (CRP section 201c). On top of that, the law on the intelligence services requires that the prime minister keep the president informed of major developments. Cavaco Silva would later recall that the prime minister had failed to inform him of the dealings with the EU in preparation for a package of austerity measures in 2011 as a “gross misconduct in institutional solidarity” which he castigated several times. Besides, as it will emerge further down, these meetings allow the president to react to the information received and enter a true bargaining process with the prime minister (something he cannot do directly with parliament). As a result, Cavaco Silva estimated that about one third of all legislation received from the government were amended at his request. Thursday meetings are an epitome to the power-sharing nature of Portuguese semipresidentialism

Of course, Cavaco Silva insists that his exercise of accountability towards the Portuguese is limited by the “secrecy imposed by the safeguard of the highest national interests”, and thus one cannot expect to have full disclosure of every episode that hit the news. However, Cavaco Silva is quite generous in opening up the drawers of his memory. Many references in the press to the facts disclosed in these volumes refer to la petite histoire, episodes that are controversial and still stir the popular imagination and feed gossiping, but on the whole are perhaps not the most interesting way to address the issue of presidential powers and how they were exercised by one particular individual.

The background to the volumes covering the presidency is given by the ten years in which Cavaco Silva was prime minister, which formatted most of his understanding of both presidential and governmental powers. As he says, implicitly criticizing the president with whom he worked as prime minister (Mário Soares), “my time as prime minister was one of fruitful learning about what a president of the Republic should not do”.  Perhaps the most evident sign of a particular reading of presidential powers is referred in the second volume of his Autobiografia Politicawhen he recalls having said this: “To those who spend their time in political manoeuvring and creating obstacles to the government, we say: let us work”. Together with his repeated references to the “forces of blockade”, these words were widely read as a reassessment of the government’s independence from all other organs of sovereignty, be they the Constitutional Court (which had raised several objections to his policies) or – above all – the president of the Republic. It was thus expectable that Cavaco Silva as president would not venture in terrains he had so bitterly criticized while serving as prime minister, and adopt a low profile as president. This was though a difficult task to perform.

The title of his presidential memoirs include the expression “and other days”, which refer to the scope of presidential initiatives that do not depend on the relation with the prime minister.

In the first of these volumes, the “other days” are present in a section he entitled “To Believe in the Portuguese”. He justifies this section by stating: “I defined as one of the goals of my presidency to give voice to good examples” in areas as disparate as science and education, culture and historical heritage, economy and information technologies, Portuguese communities abroad and youth, social inclusion and social institutions, the sea and fisheries, etc. This is not a small realm of intervention. Claiming he always “wanted to be part of the solution and not the problem” (and I would add, active part), he summoned members of government to accompany him and expressed publicly his views on the issues that surfaced in those initiatives. Presidential initiatives do have high media coverage, and this is a form of setting the political agenda inaugurated (against an angry Cavaco Silva) by Mário Soares with his “open presidencies” and to offer presidents ample room to intervene in the process of decision making. In the end of the day “all my initiatives were very welcome by the population, by the institutions and by all those who were involved in them”. Popularity is thus a critical element to gauge the effectiveness of presidential initiatives. In the second volume, the “other days” are mostly dedicated to the “projection of the interests of Portugal in the world”, assuming those to be framed by the concept of “presidential diplomacy” – an equivocal concept that does not derive from the constitutional powers of the president which, in matters of foreign affairs, are reasonably contained (CRP section 135). However, Cavaco Silva considered this to be one of the areas in which his voice could be heard, and independent initiatives taken, so much so that “during my terms in office a reinforcement was felt of the role of the president of the Republic in the realm of foreign affairs”. One of the reasons for this resides in the fact that, as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the president was involved in the deployment of Portuguese soldiers in several UN or NATO sponsored missions throughout the world. It is certainly an aspect that gained roots and is not openly challenged by any major political actor, and which evokes the French case of presidents assuming prominent roles in foreign relations and defence policies. It is interesting to note that at various points in his books, Cavaco Silva mentions several  formal direct meetings with the ministers of foreign affairs and defence, whereas in the case of most other ministers his relations were mediated by the prime minister.

The two volumes combined cover Cavaco Silva’s two mandates and refer to four different governments. When he took office in March 2006, the country had a majority socialist government headed by José Socrates. As is usual in Portugal, the prime minister did not tender his resignation nor did he put his job at the president’s disposal. The understanding is that the parliamentary responsibility of the government was assured, and thus the new president had to live with the existing government – or be determined to take action. It is useful to recall that Cavaco Silva had been the leader of PSD, and when that memory was still fresh he had lost the 1996 presidential election; seeking the presidency in 2006 was based on the affirmation of a clear distance between the candidate and the right of centre parties that supported him, assuming the traditional role of the president as an “independent” figure that should not guide his action by party motivation. Not surprising, Cavaco Silva promised during the campaign he would offer any government “strategic cooperation”.

The narrative of the period 2006-2009 is one of a deteriorating relation with the prime minister, which started on a high note and ended in one of the most sour episodes just before the legislative elections of that year (what he recalls as “the political intrigues of the summer of 2009”). Maybe the highest point of conflict was around a government proposal to change the statute of the Autonomous Region of Azores (unanimously approved in the regional parliament) which Cavaco Silva felt as an attempt to reduce his constitutional powers, which was a theme for discussion for about eight months before Caavaco Silva felt compelled to address the nation. The action of the president, however, was much broader, and included initiatives to reformulate the project for a new airport in Lisboa, a discussion of the high-speed train project, or the decision to recognize the independence of Kosovo (this one was present in sixteen of the weekly meetings with the prime minister), to quote just a few with heavy consequences. In most instances, the president managed to negotiate with the government the final outcome of public policies. Cavaco Silva does not shy away from criticizing by name some ministers, either because one had “little common sense” or another was prone “to speak out too much” – but in no circumstance did he go beyond asking the prime minister “to take adequate action”. If the suggestion was obvious that he would have welcome a change of minister, he stopped short of declaring he had lost political confidence or that the issue threatened the survival of the government.

Elections were held during his first term, and the socialist party won again, although it lost the absolute majority – a situation that, in principle, enlarges the scope of presidential intervention. A minority government was formed that had the difficult task to respond to the crisis that erupted in 2008 and was fast approaching Portugal. The distance and acrimony between Cavaco Silva and José Socrates was now public and evident. In the fall of 2010, when the budget was being prepared, Cavaco Silva realized “the prime minister has been lying to me about the deficit for this year”. The hypothesis of a political crisis was on the table. Still, he decided to use his goodwill to help negotiate a new budget that could be supported both by the minority socialist government and the PSD, the largest opposition party. He suggested one of his closest friends and sometime minister for finance to broker the deal. The deal was made under the auspices of the president.

The second term began with a very critical speech, which had a direct impact on the fall of the minority government a few weeks later. Fresh elections were called, as no solution was viable within the existing parliament. The right wing parties PSD and CDS obtained a majority and formed a post-electoral coalition. An old dream of PSD founder Francisco Sá Carneiro – “a majority, a government, a president” – was now possible (despite continuous claims that the president was “above the party fray”). Eventually, this became a nightmare for Cavaco Silva: for all major purposes, the leader of the majority was the prime minister, not the president. Cavaco as a university professor of public finance had his own views and claimed “I do not harbour doubts and I seldom make a mistake”; the prime minister, who had never had any job in government, and who had a poor formation on economics and finance matters, had to carve a balanced relation in which the weight of government far out weighted that of the president. In some instances, Cavaco Silva came to the rescue of government, as in the case of the huge popular demonstrations against one specific fiscal policy in September 2012, prompting a change of course. Some others, he criticized the government, as in the New Year speech of 2013 in which he raised fears of a “vicious circle of depression” – although he could not elicit any change of policy from the government. Even if many legislative pieces raised issues of constitutional conformity, Cavaco Silva most often decided to sign the bills and ask for the opinion of the Constitutional Court afterwards, thus facilitating the government’s policy, even with the cost of his own reputation (he stepped out of office in March 2016 with the lowest ever popularity rate: -13%, whereas the normal popularity rate for presidents is in excess of 50%).

The final episode of Cavaco Silva’s term in office took place after the legislative elections of October 2015. The right wing coalition won the election with a plurality of the vote; but the left parties soon declared they would oppose their continuation in office. Cavaco Silva disregarded the composition of parliament and installed the former prime minister again in his post, having decided to address the nation on the media to justify his option. However, parliamentary investiture is needed. It can come out of a vote of confidence presented by the government, or by a motion rejecting the government’s program tabled by the opposition. The rejection motion was approved by a large majority, and Passos Coelho’s executive fell. The president could not, in constitutional terms, dissolve the parliament and call fresh elections due to a double principle: presidents cannot dissolve parliaments in the last six months of their term in office, and parliaments cannot be dissolved in the first six months after an election. Cavaco would have three choices: to keep Passos Coelho as a caretaker government, with limited capacities, namely unable to propose a new budget, until the six months had elapsed and his successor could call fresh elections; to try what had been used back in the 1970’s – a government of independents regarded as “government of presidential initiative” – which raised constitutional doubts but not an outright impossibility, as recent examples in Greece and Italy suggest; or to appoint the leader of the largest left wing party, the socialist Antonio Costa, to form his government. He chose the latter solution, after lengthy consultations with several actors of the political arena and civil society, although he considered “It is difficult to believe that one government that depends on political forces that are against the EU, NATO and multilateralism in international trade can become a coherent, credible, stable, and efficient government”. For this reason, Cavaco Silva sent a memo to the socialist leader asking for “the clarification of several questions” and for “guarantees as to the stability, credibility and long-term perspectives” of the proposed new government (i.e., written documents signed by all parties involved in the new majority). When he finally accepted to swear in António Costa, he made a very critical speech in which he set boundaries to the policies the government was allowed to pursue, suggesting the government would be subject to constant presidential monitoring not so much in its institutional capacity, but truly in a sense that comprised political choices.

The question that remains after this episode in which the president is vehemently opposed to the political solution he had to empower, is this: would Cavaco Silva have behaved differently if he was not in the final six months of his term with his powers limited? Would he have behaved differently in there was not a question of the need of a new budget? Would he have behaved differently if he was in his first term with aspirations to be re-elected? All those circumstances must have weighted in the very peculiar situation in which presidents have their powers curtailed. If in full capacity, what would have been the outcome? It must be borne in mind that this example shows that disposing of a parliamentary majority is a facilitating condition for a government to emerge – and then to subsist – but its emergence must pass through a presidential decision – and the president may decide to try his luck if he dislikes the parliamentary majority. Cavaco Silva’s memoirs tell us a dramatic story which shows that there is room for interpretation of the presidential powers regarding the formation of a new government.

A few other comments can now be made. Some authors have referred to the existence of “weak powers” of the president, including under this heading the competence to appoint several public officers under governmental proposals. Cavaco Silva’s memoirs are very illuminating in this particular, as he had to deal with two appointments to the post of Prosecutor General and several top military ones. What emerges from his writings is a that a “methodology” exists – which was certainly present in other similar instances – by virtue of which the president and the prime minister agree to exchange views prior to a formal  governmental initiative (that is, before the constitutional prescriptions come into being), which in most cases consists of a proposal of up to three names from which the president can choose (or indeed reject). His descriptions of the processes leading up to the appointment of two Prosecutors General under different prime ministers shows that the principle is established and warrants presidents more than ceremonial roles, disposing of substantive capacity to influence the choice of top civil servants. The conclusion that emerges from these pages is certainly not one of “weak power”.

The last comment refers to the very last chapter of the second volume in which Cavaco Silva reflects on presidential powers. Arguing that he finds the constitutional powers to be well balanced with the fact that presidents are elected by universal suffrage, he nevertheless ventures to suggest six points that parliamentarians might take in consideration in future revisions of the constitution. Most of those points reinforce slightly the competences of the president without disturbing the overall distribution of powers, as would be the case if the president was given the power to appoint some members of the Constitutional Court or to enlarge the time limit for presidents to send legislation to that court in order to establish its conformity with the constitution, or even the power to appoint the governor of the Bank of Portugal upon a governmental proposal, and following a period of parliamentary vetting . One of Cavaco Silva’s suggestions, however, would significantly enhance presidential powers: he proposes that every legal diploma vetoed by the president should require a 2/3 majority in parliament to be overturned – a situation that occurs in a limited number of cases, and would, if extended, enlarge presidential powers and create a severe limitation to any parliamentary majority.

A final word on what appears to be a paradox. Cavaco Silva states time and again that presidential powers are adequate. On the other hand, he rejects any personal responsibility in the deterioration of the financial situation that took place after the onset of the global crisis of 2008-2009. Commenting on his very aggressive speech against the government in the inauguration of his second term (2011), he claims: “It was indeed a very incisive speech, growing out of my knowledge that the economic, social and financial situation of the country was very serious, and that there were errors in the economic policy of the government, which prime minister José Socrates resisted to change, despite my multiple warnings, both on the meetings that took place on Thursdays, and through the alerts I issued in several public interventions”. How can one be content with an array of competences that does not prevent the development and deepening of a very serious crisis in the country? Or is it the case that Cavaco Silva did not use all the presidential competences to guarantee the regular functioning of institutions beyond a mere formal analysis? Was he a prisoner of a parliamentarian understanding of the distribution of powers that the Portuguese Constitution attributes to the main political actors, neglecting the array of competences he had at his disposal? In the end, he contributed to bring down the minority government of Jose Socrates in 2011 not by taking any decisive action, but merely by speaking out his criticism that was welcome by all opposition parties which filed a non-confidence motion in parliament. The president watched this move in the comfort of Palácio de Belém,not intervening through a dissolution of parliament, the dismissal of the prime minister, nor even by sending a formal message to the parliament  . He simply used his public word – alas, quite a bit late.

Zimbabwe – More than 100 days into the new administration, little has changed

 

It has been 123 days since Zimbabweans went to the polls, in an election that was intended to usher in a new era for the troubled Southern African nation. But the fatal shooting of seven civilians by soldiers in the full view of the global media was an important reminder that the new administration looked much like the old. Although he positioned himself as a reformer, little appears to have changed in Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa came in on a wave of popular support after he and his military backers ousted former President Robert Mugabe in a coup that broke the continent’s longest coup-free stretch since the late 1950s. He promised accountable governance, a return to the rule of law and a tough stance on the pervasive corruption that has eaten through Zimbabwe’s social services like a cancer.

Following his election Mnangagwa appointed respected Cambridge-educated economist Dr Mthuli Ncube as his Finance Minister, sending positive signals to international investors and the IMF and World Bank that the country planned to turn over a new economic leaf. He also appointed a commission of enquiry into the killings on 1 August, headed by the respected former president of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe.

But the Military…

As if to confirm the fears of political scientists about the adverse outcomes of coups, the military has continued to play an outsized role in Zimbabwe’s post-coup dispensation. Rumours abound of the factional fights between the president and his Vice-President Constantine Chiwenga, the former Commander of the Defence Forces. It is widely reported that the deal between the two men was that Mnangagwa would serve just a single term before handing over to his second in command.

But repeated statements suggest that Mnangagwa has other ideas and hopes to run again in 2023. This was reportedly the reason behind the grenade attack at one of Mnangagwa’s rallies during the election campaign. The country’s independent media carries regular articles detailing the alleged factional fights within the state which continue to give lie to Mnangagwa’s ‘new dawn’ narrative.

At the same time, Chiwenga and Foreign Minister and former Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo (of the Chiwenga camp) are reportedly gravely ill, with Moyo apparently suffering from unexplained kidney failure. In a country where many leaders have died under unclear or suspicious circumstances – notably Mugabe’s former General, Solomon Mujuru, in 2011 – the illnesses amongst those said to be opposed to the President further raise suspicions.

As for Kgalema Motlanthe’s Commission, the military has bizarrely claimed that the deaths of civilians were caused by the opposition to destabilise and discredit the army and administration. Having refused to take any responsibility for civilian deaths, it appears that impunity will continue to plague the country’s armed forces. Zimbabwe’s civic groups have expressed grave concerns over the process, and confidence in the Commission appears to be waning rapidly.

What about the Economy?

Despite promises of massive international investment during the election campaign and the appointment of a technocratic Finance Minister, Zimbabwe’s economic woes appear to be deepening. Ncube has promised both austerity and wide-ranging reforms, vowing to cut down the country’s public sector wage bill which consumes 90% of the annual budget. In trying to restart the economy, he will need to bring the opaque extractives sector back under the wing of treasury and ensure that the burgeoning diamond and platinum sector remit finances to the state.

But in doing so, the Finance Minister will find himself up against entrenched interests in the military and the upper echelons of the governing party. Vowing to root out ghost workers in the public sector through biometric registration, Ncube will find himself up against the ZANU-PF elites who draw the salaries from these ghost workers in order to finance their own patronage networks. These reforms will also retire more than 6 000 ‘Youth Officers’ on the public payroll, who behave as little more than ruling party enforcers. This will certainly ruffle some feathers with their handlers.

The Minister faces a massive debt mountain; at the end of August 2018, public debt stood at $17.69 billion USD of which domestic debt accounted for 54%. This represents a national debt of over 100% of current GDP. But with industrial capacity operating at 20%, a massive trade deficit engendered by the collapse of local manufacturing and opacity in the minerals sector, it isn’t clear where the finances will come from to turn the listing economic ship around.

The country’s most important export earners are minerals (gold, diamonds, platinum and ferrous metals) but these sectors suffer from heavy involvement of the military and military elites and few of the proceeds from exports reach the public purse. Any attempts to introduce greater transparency in minerals and mineral governance is likely to come up against stiff resistance from those who benefit from the status quo.

Finally, Mnangagwa’s flagship project of 2017 was the country’s ‘Command Agriculture’ project which sought to incentivise and push agricultural sector growth to revitalise the ailing economy and return the country to its former status as a major agricultural producer. This project was run by the military and is said to have been lucrative for many government and military insiders. Ncube’s recent declaration of intent to scale down this programme will likely push him further into conflict with the beneficiaries of this scheme.

And the Opposition?

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has continued to loudly contest the legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s government and tries to capitalise on broad public dissatisfaction with the collapsing economy. On 29 November they held a massive march through the streets of the capital to deliver a petition to parliament demanding a new transitional government to address the financial and political crisis.

Although the opposition is a far cry from its strengths of the early 2000s and the country’s formerly indomitable trade unions are a shadow of their former selves, the widespread desperation brought on by 20 years of deepening economic crisis have pushed citizens to the brink. This has won the MDC many inadvertent supporters and poses a threat to the ruling elite.

Mnangagwa the Reformer?

There remains a robust debate in Zimbabwe about whether or not the president is honest about his intentions to reform the state – and many would like to believe that he is indeed trying to rein in the military. Even if he is sincere in his intentions to reform the state, he is facing threats from all sides – the military, the economy and the opposition – and it remains difficult to see how the administration can possibly dig their way out of the current morass.

The events following the July elections have reminded foreign governments and investors of the reasons for their long hesitation over investing in Zimbabwe, and consequently little foreign investment has been forthcoming in the three months since. The instability of the relationship between the military and the executive as well as the entrenched nature of the army in the country’s productive sectors continues to give investors pause.

Sadly, a year since Mugabe’s removal, the country’s battle-weary citizens hardly look any closer to the end of their long suffering.