Presidential Success and the World Economy

This is a guest post from Daniela Campello and Cesar Zucco Jr., both professors at FGV/EBAPE Rio de Janeiro, based on their recent paper in the Journal of Politics, “Presidential Success and the World Economy.”

For the economic vote to work as a mechanism of democratic accountability, voters need to be able to properly assign responsibility for economic performance (Ashworth 2012). In “Presidential Success and the World Economy” we show that this assumption does not always hold. The paper examines the extent to which Latin American presidents are punished and rewarded by economic conditions that were brought about by factors beyond their control. We find, in a nutshell, that this misattribution happens very often, at least in a subset of countries in the region, and argue that this  severely limits democratic accountability in the region.

Our general empirical strategy in the paper is to predict presidential reelection and approval ratings using only international variables that are exogenous to any action taken by presidents, but that have substantial impact in economic performance. The logic of the argument is that these factors should not predict the political outcomes if voters actively discounted “chance” when evaluating presidents based on economic outcomes.

It has been long established in the Economics literature that commodity prices and US interest rates largely influence the domestic economic performance of countries in Latin America (see, for instance, Malan & Bonelli 1977). Commodity prices operate through trade, as most countries in the region are commodity exporters (Maxfield 1998, Gavin, Hausmann & Leiderman 1995, Izquierdo, Romero & Talvo 2008). International interest rates operate through the financial channel, as capital flows to emerging economies tend to respond to the international costs of capital (Calvo, Leiderman & Reinhart 1996, Santiso 2003). The first contribution of the paper is to combine these two variables into the “Good Economic Times Index” (GET), which provides a cogent summary of the recent economic history of the so-called  low-savings-commodity-exporting (LSCE) countries of the region, mostly those in South America.

figure1

The figure shows the values of GET since the early 1980s. It reflects the hike in U.S.  interest rates in 1979 that  precipitated a debt crisis that ravaged the region, which coupled with extremely low commodity prices, produced the 1980s’ “lost decade.” In the early 1990s, lower US  interest rates prompted a boom of private capital inflows that helped improve economic conditions, which worsened again with the increase in interest rates that triggered the financial crises that marked the end of the decade.  In the 2000s, rising commodity prices combined with even lower interest rates to fuel a period of unprecedented wealth creation. In this context, the “great recession” was no more than a ripple in a region that was shielded from the crisis by high commodity prices and further decreases in US interest rates. The sharp drop in GET observed in the last few years contributes to explaining the economic downturn experienced throughout the region since 2012. Not surprisingly, as we show in the paper higher values of GET are associated with more growth, less inflation, less unemployment, and less “misery” in LSCE countries, but not in other Latin American countries, which we refer to as the “comparison group”.

Interestingly, the GET index is a very strong predictor of presidential success in the LSCE countries, but not in the comparison group. In a set of all free and fair elections in the region since 1980, we estimate that an increase from the 25th to the 75th percentile of GET is associated with almost 0.5 higher probability of reelection (understood as either personal reelection or election of the incumbent sponsored candidate) in LSCE countries. GET also predicts the presidents’ popularity in Brazil — the largest LSCE country — since the late 1980s, but not in Mexico — the largest country in the comparison group. A one standard-deviation increase in GET leads approximately to a 15% increase in popularity over an 18 month period. GET, alone, has the same predictive power as a large set of domestic economic variables.

Our results stand in contrast to recent empirical work, mostly on developed democracies,  which  shows  that voters’ capacity to assess and discount the impact of exogenous factors enables them to punish and reward incumbents exclusively for outcomes of their own making (Duch & Stevenson, Kayser & Peress etc). Authors have suggested that this capacity develops as citizens observe the global economy and benchmark their country’s  performance.  In our paper, we conjecture that inward-looking models of development, citizens’ relatively low media consumption, and relatively low levels of political and economic integration limit Latin American voters’ awareness of regional trends. As a result, citizens lack the elements to  benchmark their country’s economy, and to discount the impact of common exogenous shocks. Without this discounting, the power of the economic vote to hold leaders accountable is severely curtailed, as presidents are rewarded/punished for their good/bad luck.

We are currently conducting follow-up research to examine three important extensions of these findings. The first is to examine experimentally the conditions under which voters manage to discount exogenous factors when evaluating the president, or to overcome their “attribution bias.” The other is to determine theoretically and empirically — also through experiments — how presidents behave when they know their fate is determined by exogenous factors, a topic that speaks to literature on populism and corruption. Finally, we are looking at the role of local media in  enabling voters to correctly assign responsibility for economic performance.

References

Ashworth, Scott. 2012. “Electoral accountability: recent theoretical and empirical work.” Annual Review of Political Science 15:183-201

Calvo, Guillermo, Leonardo Leiderman & Carmen M. Reinhart. 1996. “Inflows of Capitalto Developing Countries in the 1990s.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 10(2):123-39

Duch, Raymond M. & Randolph T. Stevenson. 2008. The Economic Vote: How Political  Institutions Condition Election Result. New York: Cambridge University Press

Gavin, Michael, Ricardo Hausmann & Leonardo Leiderman. 1995. “Macroeconomics ofCapital Flows to Latin America.” Working Paper IADB 4012(3):389-431

Izquierdo, Alejandro, Randall Romero & Ernesto Talvi. 2008. “Booms and Busts in LatinAmerica: The Role of External Factors.” IADB Working Paper 89(631):2-31

Kayser, Mark & Michael Peress. 2012. “Benchmarking across borders: electoral accountability  and the necessity of comparison.” American Political Science Review 106(3):661-684

Malan, Pedro S & Regis Bonelli. 1977. “The Brazilian economy in the seventies: old and new developments.” World Development 5(1):19-45

Maxeld, Sylvia. 1998. “Eects of International Portfolio Flows on Government Policy Choice”, In Capital Flows and Financial Crises, ed. Miles Kahler. New Jersey: Council of Foreign Relations pp. 69-92

Santiso, Javier. 2003. The Political Economy of Emerging Markets – Actors, Institutions and Financial Crises in Latin America. New York: Pallgrave McMillan

Primaries Russian-Style – Selecting Parliamentary Candidates for United Russia

As the widely-followed American presidential primaries wound down, Russia was quietly experimenting with its own version of political primaries.[i]  For the first time in Russian history, a political party, United Russia, used a nationwide primary election to select its parliamentary candidates, who will contest the 450 seats in the lower house, the State Duma, on September 18.  Designed to steal a march on opposing parties and to shed United Russia’s reputation as what critics called a “party of swindlers and thieves, the party primary, which took place on May 22, followed rules that sought put a fresh face on an organization needing rebranding amid a severe financial crisis and popular disillusionment with parties and parliament.  The party’s chair, Sergei Neverov, boldly asserted that United Russia “had made a definitive choice between party bureaucracy and direct democracy.”[ii]

Putin’s “political technologists” produced an imaginative set of internal electoral rules for the country’s hegemonic party that have the potential to strengthen United Russia as an institution as well as to legitimate its claim to power in the eyes of some voters.  Among the novelties are:

— an open primary, which allows all Russian voters to participate in the selection of United Russia’s candidates for the September election.  Earlier experiments with party primaries in Russia had a limited selectorate.

–“approval voting,” which permits voters to select as many candidates as they wish from the field.

—no serious “filters” to limit nominations on the primary ballots.  Not only do candidates self-nominate, but one need not be a member of the United Russia party to run.  All candidates must pledge, however, not to run as an independent or on another party’s ticket in September if they participate in the United Russia primary and lose.  In addition, as part of the Kremlin’s stated goal of “de-oligarchizing” the parliament, candidates may not have assets overseas.  Given the widespread use of family members and shell companies to shield wealth abroad, it will be difficult, of course, to police this restriction.[iii]

–the reintroduction of single-member districts, which had been eliminated after the 2003 parliamentary election.  Thus, voters in the United Russia primary received two ballots, one for the single-member district race in their area (225 districts in all) and the other for the party list in their territory (with 35-40 territorially-based party lists in all).  Restoring the idea of local representation through single-member district voting was one element of a broader campaign to reframe the electoral system, which in Putin’s words should appear “more transparent and closer to the people.”[iv]

United Russia officials declared the May 22 primary to be a success, and on several levels it was.  Although turnout nationwide was just under 10 percent, that figure represented almost a third of the United Russia vote total received during the last parliamentary election, when it won a majority of the seats in the Duma.[v]  Given the relatively low visibility and stakes of May’s primary contest and the greater difficulty in many areas of getting to the polls (there were far fewer voting precincts than in the general election), the turnout did not disappoint party leaders or neutral observers.   Just as during general elections, the participation rate of Russian voters differed widely by region of the country during the May primary, with ethnic republics like Tatarstan and Chechnya posting turnout rates of 15 percent, while in the northern Russian region of Arkhangel’sk, less than 3 percent of the electorate came to the polls.[vi]  There were reports of voting infractions and intimidation in some regions, including ballot stuffing in Moscow and the storming of an electoral precinct in Russia’s Far East.  Overall, however, the primary election took place with relatively few irregularities by Russian standards, which supported the regime’s narrative of a political reset in this electoral cycle.

United Russia’s May primary appeared to bring numerous benefits to the party, including:

–the ability to claim that it was the only party in Russia willing to give ordinary citizens a say in the selection of parliamentary candidates,[vii] and that their participation resulted in the removal or “de-selection” of incumbent United Russia deputies.  Although most sitting members of parliament from United Russia who contested the primaries maintained their eligibility for their seats, a significant minority did not.[viii]

–the recruitment of not only a popular but tested slate of candidates for the September elections.   The primary rules required that all candidates engage in at least two public debates, and this experience, plus the need to develop a professional campaign team and a convincing message capable of mobilizing the electorate, ensured that all United Russia candidates had a dry run in advance of the general election.  This dress rehearsal presents a special advantage in this electoral cycle because single-member district contests will be held for the first time in 13 years.  In addition, of course, the party primary in May exposed voters to the platform and candidates of United Russia well before the start of the regular parliamentary campaign.

–the opportunity to attract new blood into the party.[ix]  By opening places on the ballot to all comers, United Russia encouraged those with political ambitions but no party home to run in United Russia’s primary.[x]  If the candidates win, they join the ranks of the party; if they lose, they are prevented from contesting the forthcoming general election for the opposition.  Introducing an open nomination system in primaries for the country’s party of power is a logical initiative for a regime that is obsessed with developing a “cadres reserve”–a pool of eligible replacement personnel–in politics and government.  In Putin’s words, the primaries should become a “tool for finding promising, interesting people, and these are the people we need.”[xi]

Having set out the advantages of the party primary for Putin and United Russia, which serves as the president’s loyal base in the parliament and country, it is important to recognize the new challenges that open primaries present for the regime.  These include:

–a potential backlash from political elites who were defeated in the May voting as well as those who “won” in May but whose candidacies will not be confirmed by the party Congress, which meets later this month.  Although it appears that the leadership of United Russia is likely to accept the results overall, especially those in the single-member district races, the final formation of regional party lists could exclude persons who enjoyed success in the May primary.

–“approval voting” may exacerbate the trend toward a reliance on celebrity politicians from the world of sports and culture as a core group of pro-regime elites.  This voting system also threatens to produce candidates who may have support among a vocal minority but who do not enjoy broader popularity among their constituents.  One successful candidate in a single-member district race won with only 19 percent of the vote.

–a dilution of party values due to the influx of persons with no previous ties to United Russia.  Of course, given that the core values of United Russia are to gain, wield, and maintain power, and that non-party nominees are attracted to a party with such values, the threat posed by new blood is probably limited, but at a minimum it has the potential to disrupt existing patronage and protection networks.

The most serious long-term dangers to the current regime come from the possibility that party primaries could destabilize or overturn consolidated elites at the regional level or that regional elites could use the primary system to increase their influence in national politics.  The return to single-member districts will decouple half of the deputies’ mandates from the party bureaucracy and therefore make it more difficult for the center to manage members of parliament.  It may also allow some governors to gain control over deputies from their region, which would re-introduce some of the center-periphery bargaining that characterized Russian politics in the period up to 2003.  To prevent that from happening, the president administration, through its eight federal district offices and other institutions, will need to ensure that regional parliamentary “delegations” limit their dependence on governors.  It is instructive in this regard that United Russia went out of its way to warn governors against using their administrative resources to assist their political allies during the primary campaign.  The question is whether the Kremlin is really willing to continue that ban in the general election, when United Russia will presumably need such tools traditionally employed by governors in order to guarantee a victory.

Notes

[i] Russians even adopted the English term “praimeriz” in preference to the Russian “predvaritel’noe golosovanie” [preliminary voting].

[ii] Sergei Konovalov, “Praimeriz kak forma priamoi demokratii,” Nezasimaia gazeta, May 25, 2016.  http://www.ng.ru/politics/2016-05-25/3_kartblansh.html

[iii] Candidates with criminal convictions are also ineligible to run in the United Russia primary.

[iv] “10 voprosov o sisteme praimeriz v Rossii,” TASS, May 16, 2016.  http://tass.ru/politika/3280114

[v] Contrary to assertions in some Russian publications, turnout in congressional primaries during midterm elections in the United States was somewhat higher than this, about 15 percent, though aggregating state-by-state data to reach a national turnout average is problematic because of the different rules in each state and the number of races on the ballot at the same time as the party primary.  Given that the United Russia primary did not occur along with other political races, the 9.5 percent turnout is not out of line with what one might find in the United States.

[vi] For turnout rates by region, see the results on the United Russia website at pr.er.ru.  There was also wide variation by region in the “mobilization index” of UR voters, that is the percentage of voters in the May primary compared to those voting for UR in the 2011 parliamentary election.  The mean was about one-third, with the range stretching from 13 percent in the Komi Republic to 63 percent in Murmansk oblast.  “Itogi predvaritel’nogo golosovaniia ‘Edninoi Rossii’, situatsiia v partelite, intrigi i stsenarii kampanii-2016,” United Russia website, June 8, 2016.  https://er.ru/news/143000/

[vii] Other parties either rejected the idea of primary elections, conducted them with a limited selectorate, or had to abandon them because of technical problems.

[viii] Of the 109 incumbent State Duma deputies contesting single-member districts, 27 failed to win; 22 lost in party list contests.

[ix] A total of 2781 persons contested the UR primaries, 1171 for the single-member districts and 2107 for places on the regional party lists. “10 voprosov o sisteme praimeriz v Rossii,” TASS .  A few prominent candidates ran for both SMD and party list spots simultaneously.

[x] Many non-party candidates were members of the All-Russian Popular Front (ONF), a Putin support group masquerading as a mass movement.

[xi] “‘Edinaia Rossiia’ provodit predvaritel’noe golosovanie za kandidatov na vybory v Gosdumu,” Vzgliad, May 22, 2016.  http://www.vz.ru/news/2016/5/22/811949.html  Prime Minister Dmitrii Medvedev claimed that those non-party candidates who lost will be placed in United Russia’s cadres reserve.  Ivan Rodin, “Edinorossy repetitsiiu vyborov schitaiut uspeshnoi,” Nezavismaia gazeta, May 23, 2016.  http://www.ng.ru/politics/2016-05-23/1_edro.html

Thomas O’Brien – Presidentialism and Democratisation in South Africa and South Korea

This is a guest post by Thomas O’Brien, Lecturer in Political Science at the Centre for International Security and Resilience, Cranfield University at the Defence Academy of the UK. It is a summary of an article that will appear in Government and Opposition

The regime changes in South Africa and South Korea provide interesting insights into the role of presidential leadership during democratisation. In both cases the incumbent leader was forced to choose to subject their position to a democratic vote, thereby facing the risk of defeat. Echoing the point made by Escribà-Folch and Wright (2015), the respective regime types made this option viable as there was a belief that victory was possible and the status quo was increasingly unsustainable. F.W. de Klerk in South Africa was head of the National Party and had some hope that he would be able to retain power through democratic means given the institutional base and resources of the party. Similarly, Roh Tae Woo’s military background provided an institutional base on which he could rely to ensure stability and call on for support, in spite of his move into a civilian role. The position of President and head of a formal institutional apparatus gave them authority and control, which facilitated a degree of confidence that they could make the transition to democratic leadership successfully. However, the decision to accept the need for reform was not driven by altruistic ideals. Opposition to the incumbent regime structures had been growing significantly by the time each leader came to power, limiting the space they had to operate. South Africa had seen sustained social protest against the apartheid policies and faced growing foreign pressure in the form of sanctions and boycotts. At the same time, de Klerk faced internal divisions as hardliners within the party sought to block reforms. Roh Tae Woo faced extensive social protests against continued authoritarian rule, having taken over from Chun Doo Hwan who had been forced to resign in the face of widespread and sustained social unrest.

The issue of continuity is particularly important in these two cases. Both de Klerk and Roh assumed the presidency following the inability of their predecessors to continue (due to ill health and loss of legitimacy) during periods of instability. Taking on the role at pivotal moments provided an opportunity to make a change that had not been possible for their predecessors due to their deeper association with the regime structures. While both leaders had held high-ranking posts, their profile had been less contentious enabling them to maintain control over the institutional structure as they introduced reforms (on the emergence of reforming leaders from within see O’Brien, 2007). Continuity in this sense enabled the emergent leaders to introduce what they perceived to be reforms necessary to ensure their continued control. In both cases the eventual loss of control did not disrupt the democratisation process, as the leaders had been able to initiate reform internally to safeguard against reversion to authoritarian practices and were willing to accept the outcome.

The relative success of democratisation in these two cases warrants continued consideration of the role of incumbent leaders in shaping trajectories around regime changes. Democratisation by its very nature is a period of uncertainty, as roles and institutions are contested and reconstituted. Events in the Arab Spring and the Colour Revolutions show that regime change does not necessarily lead automatically to consolidated democracy. External pressure plays a key role in creating the opportunity for democratisation or reform by introducing a degree of uncertainty, as more actors become involved and take a stake in the outcome. A leader committed to change may be able to draw on this pressure to exercise agency and challenge entrenched institutional practices and patterns. In such situations the actions of the incumbent leader are crucial in shaping the outcome, as it is ultimately the elites that determine how to manage the opportunities and threats that arise. Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán (2013) note that elite policy preferences (moderate or radical), normative preference for democracy or authoritarianism, and the regional political environment are key in determining whether a process of democratisation will be initiated.

In initiating reform the leader’s ability to manage the process and the likelihood of playing a role in the post-transitional context is arguably shaped by four structural factors: authority, institutions, opposition and continuity. Authority refers to the source of the leader’s power and in such regimes is generally derived from performance or personal charisma (Brooker, 2000). The robustness of the leader’s authority will determine their ability to maintain loyalty and exercise agency in shaping political developments.  While the reasons for the decision to relinquish power or at least allow reform of the system vary, legitimacy can be identified as an important factor. Where a regime loses support and legitimacy among the wider population it is possible to continue, but internal divisions may emerge as other actors perceive their own positions to be threatened. Institutional patterns play a key role in ‘structuring the nature of political competition’ (Elgie, 1995: 23), as they provide a base from which the leader can operate. If these have been neglected or degraded, they are less useful in times of crisis (see O’Brien, 2007 on Boris Yeltsin). As noted above, opposition is significant in pressing for reform, but the location (internal versus external) and strength of this opposition will determine the space the leader has to operate. The accretion of custom and practice over time ties actors into the system, thereby reducing the chances of defection from within, but potentially limiting the agency of the leader by encouraging pressure to maintain the status quo.

The institutional form of the regime plays an important role in the decision-making of incumbent leaders. Examining the ability of foreign pressure to force change in non-democratic regimes, Escribà-Folch and Wright (2015) find that personalist regimes are more resistant, as the stakes are higher for the leader without a formalised base. In military and party regimes the existence of a formal support base provides more opportunities in the event of systemic threats. Military leaders are able to return to barracks and exercise some degree of control over the democratising regime, through the threat of force. Party based regimes have less direct control, but possess the ability to participate (possibly under a new name) in the reconstituted system and return incumbent leaders to office. The corporate form of military and party regimes also enables the leader to rely on the hierarchy to ensure loyalty of followers and limit chances of defection, as failure would be costly for the whole of the collective. As noted, the institutional form played a role in both South Africa and South Korea, ensuring stability and a chance that the incumbent leaders may be able to secure a degree of influence over the regime trajectory.

Decisions of a leader are central in shaping the likelihood of a move towards democracy, but this does not guarantee that a fully realised democratic system will result, as structural constraints and internal opposition may stall or reverse progress made. Elite preferences determine what tools and direction the leader may choose (Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán, 2013), but these preferences exist within a social and institutional framework that enables or constrains their actions. F.W. de Klerk and Roh Tae Woo demonstrated through their actions a preference towards greater democracy, reinforced by social instability and external pressure, but it was their control of the institutions of government that enabled this preference to be acted on. The cases also reiterate the importance of the perceived likelihood of post-transition success, maintaining a degree of control over the process. As Escribà-Folch and Wright (2015) argue, in the absence of a post-transition future a turn to repression may be a more viable option. Preferences are not absolute, contextual factors and likely future outcomes condition the ability and willingness of leaders to act on their preferences.

References:

  • Paul Brooker (2000) Non-Democratic Regimes: Theory, Government and Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Robert Elgie (1995) Political Leadership in Liberal Democracies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Abel Escribà-Folch and Joseph Wright (2015) Foreign Pressure and the Politics of Autocratic Survival. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Scott Mainwaring and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán (2013) Democracies and Dictatorships in Latin America: Emergence, Survival and Fall. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Thomas O’Brien (2007) ‘The Role of the Transitional Leader: A Comparative Analysis of Adolfo Suárez and Boris Yeltsin’, Leadership, 3(4): 419-32.

Thomas O’Brien is a lecturer in the Centre for International Security and Resilience, Cranfield University at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. His research examines leadership, democratization, environmental politics, human security, protest and New Zealand. Previous work has appeared in the British Journal of Sociology, Conflict, Security and Development, Contemporary Politics, Democratization, and Political Studies. @TomOB_NZ

New publications

Robert Elgie and Sophia Moestrup (eds.), Semi-presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Palgrave, 2016.

Anna Fruhstorfer, ‘Recent debates and advances in the scholarly examination of presidential institutions’, French Politics, June 2016, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 254-271.

Special Issue on Political communication in French and US presidential election campaigns, French Politics, Volume 14, Issue 2.

Rui Graça Feijó, Dynamics of Democracy in Timor-Leste: The Birth of a Democratic Nation, 1999-2012, Amsterdam University Press, 2016.

Daniel Lieberfeld, ‘Political leadership, peace- making, and post-conflict reconciliation: Xanana Gusmão and East Timor’, online first, Leadership.

Archie Brown, ‘Questioning the mythology of the strong leader’, Leadership, 2015, Vol. 11(3) 374–383.

Jih-wen Lin, ‘How are the powers of the president decided? Vote trading in the making of Taiwan’s semi-presidential constitution’, online, June 8 2016, doi: 10.1177/0192512116631340, International Political Science Review.

Omololu Fagbadebo and Suzanne Francis, ‘Power Relations Among Institutions of Government in Nigeria’s Presidential System: Issues and Contentions’, International Journal of Politics and Good Governance Volume VII, No. 7, 2016.

Tuomas Kuronen and Jouni Virtaharju, ‘The Fishing President: Ritual in constructing leadership mythology’ (President Kekkonen in Finland), Leadership, 2015, Vol. 11(2) 186–212.

Barbara Norrander and Jay Wendland, ‘Open versus closed primaries and the ideological composition of presidential primary electorates’, Electoral Studies 42 (2016) 229-236.

Elena Chebankova , ‘Vladimir Putin: Making of the National Hero’, in Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska & Richard Sakwa (eds.), Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives, E-International Relations, 2016. Available at: http://www.e-ir.info/publications/

Matteo Fumagalli, ‘The 2015 parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan’, Electoral Studies, Volume 42, June 2016, Pages 300–303.

Charles Crabtree, Christopher J. Farissa, and Paul Schuler, ‘The presidential election in Belarus, October 2015’, Electoral Studies, Volume 42, June 2016, Pages 304–307.

Ian McAllister and Stephen White, ‘Lukashenka and His Voters’, East European Politics & Societies, May 2016, 30(2): 360-380.

Annabella España-Nájera, ‘The legislative elections in El Salvador, 2012 and 2015’, Electoral Studies, Volume 42, June 2016, Pages 308–310.

Sabri Sayarı, ‘Back to a Predominant Party System: The November 2015 Snap Election in Turkey’, South European Society and Politics, 21:2, 206, pp. 263-280, DOI: 10.1080/13608746.2016.1170254.

Jean-Louis Thiébault – Presidents without popularity: the cases of Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande

This is a guest post by Jean-Louis Thiébault, emeritus professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Lille, France

French presidents are elected by direct universal suffrage. Universal suffrage gives them a strong democratic legitimacy they need to govern. But the last two French Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) and François Hollande (2012- …) experienced a rapid decline in their popularity just after their election. The fall was therefore premature. It lasted almost until the end of the presidential term. Faced with rising discontent, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande have adopted different strategies to win back their popularity: the first has tended to make his less flamboyant presidency; the second to get out of his initial posture of “normal president”.

The level of popularity of the new president had always been particularly high in the aftermath of the presidential election. It is the “state of grace”. But it is used to denote the moment of political life during which public opinion of a country is largely favorable to a new president who comes to power after an election. Journalists also often speak of the “100 days” as a privileged period for a new elected president (Duhamel and Parodi, 1982). The essential feature of the latest presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, is the steady decline in their popularity, more or less rapidly after their election. In july 2007, a total of 65% were satisfied, what made of Nicolas Sarkozy the most popular president after taking office, with the exception of Charles de Gaulle. Nicolas Sarkozy failed to convert its electoral victory in presidential popularity. Elected with 53,06% of the vote, his popularity as president quickly became less important. The “state of grace” was consumed within six months. With 55% approval rating for his first month in office, François Hollande underperformed all presidents, with the exception of Jacques Chirac in 2002 (51%). But this high level of popularity did not last. In May 2008 and 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy got his most mediocre score since his election with 32% of confidence. From September 2009 to January 2010, the approval rating of the president remained below 30%. The year 2010 was characterized the reactivation of themes on security. But these issues have failed to mobilize public opinion. The end of 2010 was marked by a major rupture. Seduction has deteriorated. Political leaders and communicators can not maintain a media activism for several years (Neveu, 2012).

The evolution of the popularity of Hollande struck by its starting point, particularly low for a president who has been elected. With 55% of approval rating for his first month in office, he was worse than many of the other presidents. He was in a unique situation at the beginning of the term (Mayer and Tiberj, 2015). Six months after he took office, 35% of French people had confidence in François Hollande and 61% do not trust him. Discredit that struck the president was the result of a feeling of absence, or even of stagnation, during the summer of 2012, and dissonances in the government team. All this has contributed to what François Holland, with 35% of confidence, was the weakest president after six months in office. Francois Hollande also known soon a decline in public opinion. In September  and november 2014, his approval rating was 13%. It was the worst approval rating of a president. He faced even a strong sense of disappointment in his own electorate.

The purpose of this second part is to explain the reasons for the continuity of the declining popularity of the two presidents and especially the inability they found to remedy. The means used to regain a certain level of popularity failed. The key to this unpopularity lies not only in the crisis of results of economic and social policies, particularly on the employment front. It is also the result of a divorce between the president and much of its social base that is the real explanation of this strong presidential unpopularity.

The economic factors

The main structural factor of rapid weakening of the popularity curve of the two presidents was the weakness of the French economy, with social consequences in terms of unemployment, budget deficit and public debt. Upon assuming office, the last two presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande faced the consequences of the great economic and financial crisis that began in summer 2008 and which has particularly affected the US but many countries Europe such as France. This is Nicolas Sarkozy who faced the first onslaught of the crisis and has implemented actions to prevent the impact on the French economy. At the end of 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy has focused all its energy trying to limit the spread of the crisis to the whole financial and economic system. This activism on the national and international scene allowed him to stem the precipitous decline of its popularity curve. The management of the crisis during the EU presidency by France allowed him to regain 8 points in some months (41% in January 2009). Yet in early 2010, Nicolas Sarkozy got his most mediocre score since his election with 32% of confidence. The 2010 year was a year of social depression and distrust. For the first time since his election, his situation was delicate.

François Hollande faced also a strong sense of disappointment in public opinion. His disgrace was the result of mass unemployment, debt explosion, loss of competitiveness, a costly social protection system. He hoped to stabilize the unemployment curve. But to really reduce unemployment implied a growth which remained uncertain. Public deficits remained heavily excessive.

The political factors

Nicolas Sarkozy has quickly abandoned the idea of a rupture with the government style of Jacques Chirac, that he never ceased to invoke and which had contributed greatly to his success. Very quickly after the election, the word of rupture disappeared. The president did everything, decided everything. He was all over at the front line. He has developed new practices converging towards a new way of exercising power. From the first weeks of investiture of the new president, the new practices were evident. Formulas have been found to summarize the new exercise of power : “hyperpresidency” (Gordon, 2007), “omnipresidency”, “ultra-presidentialism”. It is this new exercise of presidential power, which has led to criticism. With Nicolas Sarkozy, the domination of the president reached a previously unknown intensity. The first months in office have given to see a real domestication of the prime minister. The choice of ministers was always essentially dictated by the president. The organization of the executive was marked by an impressive number of presidential speeches, announcing the launch of a given reform, a sending of several letters of mission, often not countersigned by the prime minister, to committees of ad hoc experts, the creation of a sort of parallel presidential government (Le Divellec, 2012).

François Hollande wanted to be a “normal president”. He wanted to enjoy the rejection of the highly publicized government style of his predecessor. Shortly after the beginning of the presidency, the one who wanted to differentiate itself from Nicolas Sarkozy has indeed failed. His behavior embodied the non-rupture with the mandate of Nicolas Sarkozy. In the first sixth month of his term, The unpopularity of François Hollande is due to the multiplication of errors, communication blunders, malfunctions and signs of amateurism. The new president had no experience of exercise of power. The explanation for this early unpopularity was often given as being that of a “hollow victory” of the president. He would have won against the demands of the country. The punishment for the incumbent president, Nicolas Sarkozy, would have weighed stronger than the rallying around the socialist candidate, François Hollande, and his program. A more plausible explanation is that as the “state of grace”, that lasts roughly the first hundred days of presidency, is not primarily due to a rally to the winner, to the fact that voters and the media would give a blank check to the candidate nominated by the ballot box. The “state of grace” is also mainly due to the attitude of the opposition. The losing party usually abandon the political battlefield, at least for a time, the outcome of the polls being both the selection of a new president and rejection of the personality, the program and the party of the opponent. But in 2012, right-wing opposition has not remained sluggish (Mayer and Tiberj, 2015).

The unpopularity of the president is not a new phenomenon. It results from excessive expectations that voters have vis-à-vis their president. The origin of these expectations is to look in the institutions of the Fifth Republic, increasingly unsuited to the reality of political life. The main electoral event, the presidential election, opposes candidates who have to believe they can, alone, start the economy, increase the influence of France in the world, combat social inequalities and fight against insecurity. Therefore, victory is priced at basically ambitious and unrealistic campaign promises. And this is unlikely to change, as the goal of the election is to elect a man (or a woman), able to find only solutions to all the problems of France (Grossman, 2014).

Personal factors

Personal factors are related to the behavior of the new president. But in this period of “state of grace”, the president may be led to commit his early mistakes that may have political repercussions, even if it is private business of the president. Thus Nicolas Sarkozy made several mistakes of behavior in the first days after his election, because he was looking for greater transparency of his way of life and his private life. François Hollande wanted to adopt a behavior more suited to the traditional conception of the presidency. But it has experienced rapid setbacks. Abuse of transparency and privacy explains the speed of the collapse of the popularity of the two presidents. For many analysts, Nicolas Sarkozy’s unpopularity was almost all the result of his behavioral style. The same type of judgment was brought for his successor. The unpopularity of François Hollande seems to be reduced in his way to embody the presidential office. Once elected, he appeared out of step with the weight of the office and the gravity of the situation of the country, too peaceful, too conciliatory, too careful or too timid to impose an undisputed leadership.

The international political factors

The predecessors had found in world affairs an autonomy from a domestic politics increasingly constrained. Faced with the growing impotence of the executive, beset by difficulties, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande sought in international relations and defense policy a tranquility that failed to tranlate in the polls. Neither the international crisis caused by Georgia in the 2008 summer, or the financial and economic crisis in the fall of 2008 that Nicolas Sarkozy faced, seriously reversed the inexorable process of decrease of presidential popularity. Yet Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign policy was characterized by an omnipresence and hyperactivity. Foreign policy under the 5th Republic was always part of the “reserved area” to the president. But the concept has been pushed much further during the Sarkozy presidency. External relations have for four years been decided by the president himself. Personalization has been a key feature of this foreign policy. The foreign ministers were sidelined and forced to make up figuration (Meunier, 2012).

In January 2013, François Hollande decided to intervene militarily in Mali. François Hollande triggered the war for the first time during his term. According to the constitution, the president is the head of the military. It is the president who decides to project the military, and him alone. The rapid deterioration of the situation led the president to intervene. He understood all the political benefit there was to settle the more sustainably as possible in the position of military chief. After his first overseas operation, Francois Hollande has made halting a while, on the ground of French politics, his irresistible erosion in the polls, which resumed a few weeks later. He did not succeed in reversing his image, structurally in deficit in the eyes of French voters (Revault Allonnes, 2015; Boisbouvier, 2015).

In August 2013, eight months after Mali, the president was about to unleash a new war in Syria. François Hollande decided to punish the regime of Bashar al-Assad after the massacre with chemical weapons perpetrated on August 21, 2013 in the suburbs of Damascus. The red line that Barack Obama had fixed has been crossed. France was determined to hit Syria. But Barack Obama invoked the trauma of the recent interventions of the American military in Afghanistan and Irak, and the weight of the Congress to justify the need to quickly seek the vote of the latter. Francois Hollande took the opportunity to explain that he had not the slightest intention, for its part, to consult the French parliament. He stated that he had no reason to forego the opportunities offered him by the institutions of the 5th Republic. Due to US dropping, the Syrian crisis has resulted in a major setback for French presidency (Revault Allonnes, 2015a).

The impact of the attacks

In January 2015, after the attacks against Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher, there was a recovery in the popularity of François Hollande. The president had plunged with a popularity of 13% in September 2014. It was the lowest level. In December 2014, he goes back only to 15%. In January 2015, he rebounded to 20%. But this surge did not withstand the test of time. In June 2015, six months after the attacks, his popularity remains still at 19%. It has reconstituted only some part of his popularity. In the days and weeks following the attacks, the president and his ministers have made number of ads on urban  and education policies. But these tendencies lasted a few weeks at most. If the political balance of power was clearly less unfavorable, at least for a time, the president has not used it to launch major public policy projects. From the first hours of the post-11 January, it is mainly in the field of anti-terrorism, in all its facets, that was the replica of the executive (Revault Allonnes, 2015).

To regain a certain level of popularity, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande have used a new communications policy, a new institutional practice, and a rollback of certain public policies.

A new communication policy

The two presidents have taken some measures to regain their popularity, especially the type of communication policy. Indeed, just installed in the Elysee Palace, Nicolas Sarkozy has saturated the media space. He was regarded as a professional, with a strong ability to exploit the media. Moreover, Nicolas Sarkozy was surrounded by a strong communication team. The resources of the president also held the possibilities of influence at its disposal on a range of media, whose owners were close to him. These resources were serving the deployment of a strategy of intense activism, linking media events and announcements of reforms, so that the president had ever the initiation. It was a saturation and permanent campaign strategy (Neveu, 2012).

Early in his term, Sarkozy strongly rejected the theories of Jacques Pilhan on the need to adopt a more reserved attitude in communication (Le Débat, 1995). However, the 2011 year was marked by the return of the influence of the former adviser to François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, who died in 1998 (Bazin, 2009). After four years of exercising power, facing a heavily degraded image in public opinion and trying to conquer again an electorate disappointed by his behavior, Nicolas Sarkozy has managed to make a spectacular change. This strategic shift was imposed on him more than he really wanted. But he had no choice.

François Hollande refused to have an open communication policy (Pingaud, 2013). He wanted to stand out from its predecessor. He wished, in particular through the concept of “normal president”, to give up the temptation of the permanent spectacle of his predecessor. Uncomfortable with the television tool, Hollande has adopted a dated style of communication, therefore so inefficient. He decided therefore to adopt a more open attitude to communication under the influence of a new communication team with Gaspard Gantzer. Arriving at the Elysee Palace in April 2014, he is responsible for leading all presidential communications, for coordinating it after two years and half of difficulties with that of the prime minister, for advising the president on his activities and for working to “strategic management of his public speech” (Revault Allonnes, 2015b)

A new institutional practice

At the beginning of his presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy has developed new practices converging towards a new way of exercising presidential power, the so-called “hyperpresidency”. During the years 2010 and 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to review thoroughly his model of presidential power. These years were marked by a slight decrease in intensity of the presidential domination. This new practice was a tactic to correct a degraded popularity. The concept of « re-presidentialization» took the place of that of “hyperpresidency”. This term is used by the communication team to show that the president was now all concentrated entirely on his role as president. He gave the impression of wanting to take care of the the essential. Now the president no longer wished to be distracted by the turmoil of media or small events. The objective was clear: to erase the traces of the first years of the five-year period. This new option was associated with an organizational change. Sarkozy decided not to receive the leaders of his party (UMP) every Monday as he was accustomed. The “re-presidentialization” required him to take the height and to be no longer involved in affairs of the majority party. But Nicolas Sarkozy, whose approval rating was in the fall of 2010 at around 25% did not change the prime minister, François Fillon. A presidential mandate is structured around two elections. In the first part of the mandate, the new majority seeks to fulfill the promises of the candidate, and in the second it must value the work of the president. With a new prime minister, it is a new perspective with a new tone and new decisions. A change of prime minister in the 5th Republic started always a new dynamic.

François Hollande wanted to be a “normal president”. He wanted to enjoy the rejection of the « hyperpresidential » style of his predecessor. He has changed the prime minister. The electoral defeat of the 2014 municipal elections gave the final blow to the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault. François Hollande appointed Manuel Valls as the new prime minister. The idea to give a little space for maneuver and movement structured his choice. The change of prime minister appeared as a way to recapitalize a deficit of public opinion. With Manuel Valls as prime minister, Francois Hollande made the choice to appoint a popular personality while the level of popularity of the president was at a very low level. It is clear that the arrival of Manuel Valls did not change the rule of a public opinion in permanent hostility, or prevent the continued fall of François Hollande in public opinion. He even reached in September 2014 the lowest level ever measured for a president (13%) (Lecerf, 2015). The change of prime minister has not convinced. In fact, the popularity of the prime minister has no more value electorally speaking. Apparently, voters well integrated the institutional rule,  implied by five-year term: the president is at the center of the game and the prime minister is not the fuse he was before 2002 (Mayer and Tiberj, 2015).

 The reversal of some public policies

The best example to explain the reversal of some public policies by Nicolas Sarkozy is furnished by fiscal policies  To rebuild its image over time and regain the favor of the electorate, Nicolas Sarkozy did not hesitate to revisit some decisions made at the beginning of his five-year term, as the tax shield. The tax shield was a key measure, maxing out at 50% of revenue payments to the state by taxpayers under the income tax. On the contrary, tax increases were decided by François Hollande in 2012 and early 2013, which had the effect of increasing the tax burden in 2014. In September 2013, he announced the end of the tax increases. This call for a tax break appeared as a turn to the one which he had announced during his campaign that he would reform tax in France. His intervention was expected after a 2013 summer where discontent against tax increases has been steadily gaining momentum, while blurring settled on the government’s ambitions in this area. The government was to find 6 billion of new taxes to balance the budget, but the finance minister had publicly expressed concern in mid-August 2013, a “tax ras-le-bol” in French. François Hollande acknowledged that in the fall of 2012, given the scale of deficits, an extra effort was requested to taxpayers. He thought it was time to make a tax break.

Conclusion. The downward trend in the popularity of presidents

The unpopularity of presidents has become an habit. One may wonder whether a president can long remain popular face heavy elements that make up the economic and social landscape of France in times of crisis: an unemployment rate of 10%, a decreasing growth, aggravated deficits and debt abysmal. This unpopularity of presidents characterizes a period during which threats strength the anxiety of French people and illustrates the difficulties of governments to curb the course of the economic and social crisis. Structural dissatisfaction seems to have set in French people towards their leaders. Since 2002, none of the presidents have been able to achieve a sustainable relationship of trust with the French voters. A component of this unpopularity notes the difficulty of leaders to address the main concerns of their citizens. This situation is analyzed in terms of another factor. Since the first oil crisis in 1973, there have always been more French people saying that in France, things “tend to go worse” than French people saying they “are improving.” Since 2000, it is common to have more than 80% of French people concerned about the evolution of their country. The unpopularity of the leaders cannot be dissociated from this growing pessimism of citizens. Something new has been added in 2012 to this pessimism. Usually, the election or even the re-election of a president was accompanied by a burst of confidence. This was the case in 2007. Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory then caused a surge of optimism. The negative judgment have focused on another form of breakdown, the loss of illusions by public opinion on the expected benefits of alternation. The lack of enthusiasm for Francois Hollande is also a lasting consequence of the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Given the growing interdependence of France vis-à-vis its European partners, the promises of presidents quickly prove unsustainable. Indeed, the French president can neither revive growth by itself or reform the international finance and, even less, the European treaties. Disappointment is then up to the ambition of the promises. For twenty years now, presidents have a significant popularity at the beginning of their mandate, but this popularity plummets rapidly. Above all, contrary to what may have happened to previous presidents, the last two presidents do not rely and they remain weak. But the institutions are still solid (Grossman, 2014)

References

François Bazin, Le sorcier de l’Elysée, l’histoire secrète de Jacques Pilhan. Paris : Plon, 2009.

Christophe Boisbouvier, Hollande l’Africain. Paris : La Découverte, 2015.

Olivier Duhamel et Jean-Luc Parodi, « Dimensions de l’état de grâce », Pouvoirs, Revue française d’études constitutionnelles et politiques, no 20, février 1982, 171-178).

Philip Gordon, « The hyperpresident », The American Interest, november-december 2007, 1-5.

Emiliano Grossman and Nicolas Sauger, « ‘Un président normal’ ? Presidential (in)action and unpopularity in the wake of the great recession », French Politics, vol 12, no 2, 2014, 86-103.

Emiliano Grossman, « Hollande et les sondages : les limites du modèle politique français », Slowpolitix blog, 4 février 2014).

Edouard Lecerf, « 2014 : des tours, des retours», in Olivier Duhamel, Edouard Lecerf, TNS-SOFRES. L’état de l’opinion 2015. Paris : Seuil, 2015, 11-16.

Armel Le Divellec, « Présidence de la République et réforme constitutionnelle. L’impossible ‘rationalisation’ du présidentialisme français », in Jacques de Maillard, Yves Surel (dir.), Les politiques publiques sous Sarkozy. Paris : Les Presses de Sciences Po, 2012, 91-110.

Nonna Mayer et Vincent Tiberj, « Où est passée la gauche ? De la victoire de 2012 à la déroute de 2014 », in Olivier Duhamel, Edouard Lecerf, TNS-SOFRES. L’état de l’opinion 2015. Paris : Seuil, 2015, 17-36.

Sophie Meunier, « La politique étrangère de Nicolas Sarkozy. Rupture de fond ou de style ? », in Jacques de Maillard, Yves Surel (dir.), Les politiques publiques sous Sarkozy. Paris : Les Presses de Sciences Po, 2012, 133-151.

Erik Neveu, « Les politiques de communication du président Sarkozy », in Jacques de Maillard, Yves Surel (dir.), Les politiques publiques sous Sarkozy. Paris : Les Presses de Sciences Po, 2012, 47-69.

Denis Pingaud, L’homme sans com’ . Paris : Seuil, 2013.,

David Revault d’Allonnes (a), Les guerres du président. Paris : Seuil, 2015.

David Revault d’Allonnes (b), « Gaspard Gantzer, le nouveau visage de la com’ présidentielle », Le Monde, 4 février 2015.

« L’écriture médiatique. Entretien avec Jacques Pilhan », Le Débat, no 87, novembre-décembre 1995, 3-24.

Thomas C. Bruneau – The Impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff: Old Politics Meets New Standards in Brazil

This is a guest post by Thomas Bruneau, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School

On May 28, 2016, the Brazilian Minister of Defense, Raul Jungmann, gave a long interview with the Estado de São Paulo newspaper. In the long interview he barely touched upon military or defense issues, merely lauding the military’s neutrality in the current chaotic political situation. However, he did highlight an important aspect of Brazilian politics. He noted that while the Constitution of 1988 strengthened accountability institutions, naming specifically the Public Ministry, the Federal Police, and the Judiciary, politics had not changed. In his terms, politics is a hostage to itself.

These observations by a seasoned politician, one who has twice served as both federal minister and federal deputy, permit us to better understand the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.  Despite allegations by President Rousseff that she was deposed in a golpe, a coup, the process is in accord with the Constitution of 1988. This is notwithstanding the fact that many other issues have contributed to the situation, including her narrow reelection in 2014, lackluster governance, dubious economic policies, exposes of massive graft and corruption, and miserable public opinion poll rating.  While President Rousseff cannot be blamed for all of these problems, she is being held to answer for at least one of the 37 charges levied against her, which is a “crime of fiscal responsibility”: fiddling with government accounts to facilitate her reelection in 2014.

Scholars who study the process whereby the Constitution of 1988 was formulated and the resulting document are extremely critical.  In my writing I argue that the Constitution did not represent an “elite settlement” ensuring democratic consolidation, as was the case in Spain, for example. Law professor, Keith S. Rosenn, states the following: “The process by which Brazil’s 1988 Constitution was adopted practically assured that the end product would be a hodgepodge of inconsistent and convoluted provisions.” [i] Despite the 245 articles and 70 transitional provisions, the framers were unable to resolve whether Brazil would be a monarchy or republic, and if the latter, a presidential or parliamentary system.  These fundamental decisions were left for a referendum in 1993 that favored a presidential republic.  The framers of the constitution, which were the 559 members of the Brazilian Congress, maintained intact both the institutional defects of the political system and the extensive prerogatives of the armed forces that governed Brazil between 1964 and 1985.  Whereas the institutional defects of the political system continue until the present, since the system is, as Jungmann puts it, hostage to itself, the prerogatives of the armed forces have been diminished and the accountability institutions have become robust and active.  These three processes, the diminishing of the prerogatives of the military, the vicious circle of the political system, and the emergence of strong accountability institutions are the foci of this paper.

Both Rosenn and I detail the extensive prerogatives of the armed forces that resulted from the negotiated transition from military to civilian rule and the reliance of President Sarney on the armed forces during his five year tenure (1985 – 90).  The most extensive work on this topic, however, is found in Alfred Stepan’s Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone where he demonstrates, by describing 11 prerogatives, that Brazil had little progressed between military and civilian rule.  More recently, twenty – eight years after Stepan published his book, scholars demonstrate that the prerogatives that were mainly high when Stepan wrote are today either low or moderate.  Some of the high points of the process whereby the prerogatives were diminished or eliminated include the creation of a civilian – led ministry of defense in 1999, which resulted in the decrease of military – led ministries from six to zero, and a large package of laws in 2011 which further delimited and restricted the autonomy of the armed forces. Today, the armed forces receive 1.29 % of GDP and 73% of this goes to salaries and pensions, and the political influence of the armed forces is minimal.  Illustrative of the change from the military regime to the present day is the elimination of the National Information Service, (Serviço Nacional de Informações SNI), which was the intelligence arm of the military regime, by President Collor in 1990, and the creation, only after nine years, of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência ABIN).  ABIN is prohibited from conducting intercepts, has a minimal budget, and lacks a direct link to decision – makers.  In short, the politicians had incentives to diminish the influence and roles of the armed forces, thereby increasing their own.

While the Constitution of 1988 included a great many items that could lead to an improved socio – economic situation for Brazilians, it changed nothing regarding the political institutions that put those 559 politicians into the position of writing the constitution, and have made only most minimal changes in the intervening 28 years.  As Rosenn states “The constituent assembly also did nothing to reform the malfunctioning of the political party system, which is one of the world’s worst.” [ii] They did not establish a minimum number of votes for a party to be recognized, resulting in the current situation with 35 political parties at the national level with 19 having deputies in the lower house, the Câmara. They did not change the open – list system of proportional representation in which each state is a single, and at – large multi – member district.  They did not change the gross misrepresentation whereby all states, and the federal district, have three senators or the provision stipulating that all states, regardless of population, would have a minimum of eight and a maximum of seventy deputies.

There was supposed to be a wholesale revision of the Constitution in 1993 that would require only an absolute majority of the deputies.  That revision never happened.  Instead, there have been piecemeal revisions. In reviewing the various initiatives to revise the constitution between 1988 and today, they amount to very little.  This is the consensus view of the experts on the issue including David Fleischer, Alfredo Montero, Timothy Power, and Keith Rosenn.  The Constitution of 1988 was full of contradictions. The issue of parliamentary vs. presidential form of government was never resolved, neither in the constituent assembly nor after. On the one hand the constitution gave the congress a role in approving annual budgets and allowed them to overrule presidential vetoes with absolute majorities rather than a two-thirds vote. On the other hand, it gave the presidency the exclusive right to initiate and execute annual budgets and to force 45 – day limits on the congress to review bills defined as “urgent” by the president, the power to appoint a cabinet, subject to Senate approval, and the power to issue executive decrees (medidas provisórias) which had the force of law while congress had 30 days to review the measure.  Post – 1990 presidents utilized these measures, and others, to govern.

Even with these gimmicks, the need to assemble a coalition, since no president since the first directly elected, President Collor, has belonged to a party with a majority in either house of congress, all presidents would have to attract the support of other parties.  Brazil has one of, if not the most fractured, party system of any democracy. This form of government, commonly called coalitional presidentialism (presidencialismo de coalizão), could, and did, easily evolve into corruption. The most famous, but not the only, corruption scandal of President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva –Lula (2002 – 2010) was the “big monthly” (as in big monthly payments to members of congress to support his government’s policies in the congress), mensalão scandal.  Alfred Montero has this to say on this topic. “The need to engage in vote – buying emerged from the limited options the Lula administration had for composing the same kind of legislative coalition that Cardoso enjoyed.” [iii]  Several top Workers’ Party (PT) officials were implicated in this vote – buying scheme.  The scandal ultimately led to the convictions of twenty-five people, including Lula’s former chief of staff, José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva, who has more recently been sentenced to 23 years in jail in the Lava Jato corruption scheme.

There are so many corruption scandals currently in play in the investigation and sentencing phases, that only the experts can keep straight the modalities of Mensalão, Lava Jato, Petrolão, Zelotes, and Operation Aequalis to mention only the biggest and most current. So far the wave of illegal, extralegal, and simply corrupt practices have resulted in the impeachment hearing of President Rousseff, the investigation of ex-President Lula, the conviction of 84 persons for crimes associated with Lava Jato, the majority of them politicians and businessmen. While not all of the crimes involve politicians, most of them do, and virtually all of them involve sources of funds, as in Petrobras, under the control of the Brazilian State, and thus of necessity involve politicians.

It must be acknowledged that corruption is nothing new in Brazil.  In fact, according to the late Samuel Huntington in his influential Political Order in Changing Societies corruption is seen in positive terms in the process of modernization.  Huntington calls specific attention to Brazil.  Further, there is a very influential article published in 1990 in the important Revista de Administração Pública of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas by Anna Maria Campos that argues in great detail why there is no concept or meaning to the term “accountability” in Portuguese. Most Brazilian and foreign authors refer to the Brazilian propensity to use “angles” or “gimmicks”, jeitinhos, to get around laws. Or, as was said in positive terms of a mayor of São Paulo, he robs but he accomplishes things. Rouba mas faz.

And, in line with Jungmann’s observations above, while politics has not changed, including the use of corruption to govern, what is now permissible in politics and business in general in Brazil is changing.  There is no single cause for the change, and I have identified at least five.

First, the 1988 Constitution created, or recreated, a large spectrum of oversight and investigation mechanisms, and these have been expanded in number during the intervening 28 years. Today they include the Comptroller General, the Accounting Tribunal, the Federal Police, the Public Ministry, and the courts.  There is a huge literature on these institutions in both Portuguese and English, and the approach that I find most convincing to explain their increasing influence, culminating in the current wave of imprisonments, is that of Sérgio Praça and Matthew M. Taylor who demonstrate that the capacity of these institutions increases not by a single event or factor, but through bureaucratic interaction.  The capacity increase is contingent and interactive.  In short, these oversight, investigatory, and punishment institutions can only be understood in a specific national and international context, which is why I include the following four factors.

Second, whereas in the past, the main weakness of the accountability mechanisms was the inability or unwillingness of the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, to process and convict individuals, today this is changing due to personalities and the gradual modification of processes similar to those noted in the prior paragraph.  This change is best highlighted by the actions of Judge Sérgio Moro of Curitiba who has taken the lead in the Lava Jato scandal. He is extremely active not only in pursuing corruption, but also in writing on the importance of plea – bargaining and the Italian experience in countering the mafia.

Third, much of the momentum to impeach President Rousseff is related to allegation of corruption involving the Workers’ Party, and was established by the information provided by Senator Delcídio do Amaral, who was the leader of the party in the Senate. He was arrested, and due to plea –  bargaining (delação premiada) he provided information on the spread of corruption throughout the Brazilian government.  Those familiar with criminal law in the United States are aware that plea – bargaining is probably the single most important mechanism for gathering evidence on white – collar crime. Plea- bargaining was established in Brazil only in 2013 with law 12,850/2013. I have been informed by lawyers involved in the introduction of plea – bargaining that it was one of several laws that were required for Brazil to reach OECD standards.  Since June 2015 there was a Co-Operation Agreement in place between Brazil and the OECD, which has been followed by an OECD-Brazil Programme of Work.

Fourth, Brazil’s population of over 200 million is increasingly invested in the system. An important indicator of this vesting is their paying taxes. According to one source, in 2013 over 50% of those who declared income, paid income tax, whereas a decade earlier only 36% paid income tax. [iv] Just as important, according to data analyzed by the Instituto Brasileiro de Planejamento e Tributação, of the thirty countries where taxes are the highest, Brazil is the worst in terms of return to the population in investments in the quality of life.

Fifth, Brazilians are today very much aware of the low return on investment for their high taxes. Indeed, the huge anti – government demonstrations in June 2013 were mainly caused by this awareness of high taxes, mediocre services in health, education, and transportation, while the government invested massively in stadiums and other infrastructure for the World Cup in soccer in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.  In addition to all – pervasive radio and television stations there is today extremely high penetration by social media. According to comScore, which claims to be the global leader in digital analysis, Brazil leads the world with a 99.9% reach of social media. And, with 8.8 hours of use in the month of June 2015, Brazil is the world leader in that similar data for Europe is 6.1 hours, and the U.S. 5.2 hours. [v]

In sum, traditional politics, in which the lubricant is public funds, has now encountered a wide spectrum of accountability mechanisms, supported by processes and attitudes, which no longer tolerate the traditional lackadaisical approach to ethics in politics.  While the incentives to reform politics are not as obvious as they were to assert control over the armed forces and intelligence services, they are nevertheless present in the expectations of the Brazilian population and international organizations.

References

Bruneau, Thomas (1992) “ Brazil’s political transition,” in John Higley and Richard Gunther, eds., Elites and Democratic Consolidation in Latin America and Southern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 257 – 281.

Bruneau, Thomas C. and Scott D. Tollefson (2014) “Civil – Military Relations in Brazil: A Reassessment,” Journal of Politics in Latin America, pp. 107 – 138.

Bruneau, Thomas C. (2015) “Intelligence Reform in Brazil: A Long, Drawn – Out Process,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, pp. 502 – 519.

Campos, Anna Maria (1990) “Accountability: Quando Poderemos Traduzi-La Para O Português?” Revista de Administração Pública, pp. 30 – 50.

Couto, Cláudio G. and Rogério B. Arantes, (2008) “Constitution, Government and Democracy in Brazil,” World Political Science Review, pp. 1 – 33.

Fleischer, David (2016) “Attempts at Political Reform: (1985 – 2015): Still a ‘Never Ending Story’” Paper Presented at BRASA Conference, Brown University, March 31 – April 2, 2016.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1968) Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968)

Instituto Brasileiro de Planejamento e Tributação “Estudo sobre a Carga Tributária/PIB X IDH Maio 2015. Available at www.idpt.com.br Accessed May 30, 2016.

Montero Alfred P. (2014) Brazil: Reversal of Fortune (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 2014)

Power Timothy J. and Matthew M. Taylor, eds. (2011) Corruption and Democracy in Brazil: The Struggle for Accountability (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011).

Power, Timothy J. (2010) “Brazilian Democracy as a Late Bloomer: Reevaluating the Regime in the Cardoso – Lula Era,” Latin American Research Review, pp. 218 – 247.

Praça Sérgio and Matthew M. Taylor, (2014) “Inching Toward Accountability: The Evolution of Brazil’s Anticorruption Institutions, 1985 – 2010,” Latin American Politics and Society, pp. 28 – 48.

Rosenn, Keith S. (2010) “Conflict Resolution and Constitutionalism: The Making of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988,” in Laurel E. Miller, editor, with Louis Aucoin, Framing the State in Times of Transition: Case Studies in Constitution Making (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 2010).

Rosenn, Keith S. (2014) “Recent Important Decisions by the Brazilian Supreme Court, Inter-American Law Review, pp. 297 – 334.

Stepan, Alfred (1988) Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).

Notes

[i] Keith S. Rosenn, 2010, “Conflict Resolution and Constitutionalism: The Making of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988,” in Laurel E. Miller, editor, with Louis Aucoin Framing the State in Times of Transition: Case Studies in Constitution Making (Washington, D.C. United States Institute of Peace, 2010), p. 458.

[ii] Ibid, p. 458.

[iii] Alfred P. Montero, Brazil: Reversal of Fortune (Cambridge, Mass: Polity Press, 2014), p. 43

[iv] Pulsamérica available at http://www.pulsamerica.co.uk/2013/02/25/brazil-over-12-million-currently=pay-income-tax/ accessed June 2, 2016.

[v] ComScore & Shareablee (2015) “The State of Social in Brazil” available at https://www.comscore.com Accessed June 2, 2016.

Thomas Bruneau is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He joined the Department in 1987 after having taught in the Department of Political Science at McGill University. Dr. Bruneau became Chairman of the Department in 1989, and continued in that position until 1995. He became Director of the Center for Civil Military Relations in November 2000, a position he held until December 2004. He left U.S. Government service in early 2013. He has six recently published books. He is co-editor, of Who Guards the Guardians and How: Democratic Civil – Military Relations (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006). His second book, also published by University of Texas Press, with CDR Steve Boraz, is Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness. His third co-edited book, with Harold Trinkunas, Global Politics of Defense Reform, was published by Palgrave – Macmillan in February 2008. His single authored book, Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security was published by Stanford University Press in mid-2011. His co-edited book, with Lucia Dammert and Elizabeth Skinner, Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America was published by the University of Texas Press in late 2011. His last co-edited book, with Cris Matei, The Routledge Handbook of Civil-Military Relations was published by Routledge in London in late-2012. He writes the annual report on Portugal for the Bertelsmann Foundation Sustainable Governance Indicators publication. His two most recent scholarly publications are “Impediments to Fighting the Islamic State: Private Contractors and US Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 2015 and “Intelligence Reform in Brazil: A Long, Drawn-Out Process,” International Journal of Intelligence andCounterIntelligence Fall 2015. Between 1998 and 2001 he served as rapporteur of the Defense Policy Board that provides the Secretary of Defense and his staff with independent advice on questions of national security and defense policy.

Austria – Complaint against narrow runoff result might lead to partial do-over of election

After Alexander Van der Bellen won the runoff with a razor-thin margin, calls for a recount and even accusations of electoral fraud from Norbert Hofer’s (FPÖ) supporters were expected. The FPÖ has now lodged a formal complaint with the Austrian Constitutional Court which could trigger a partial rerun of the second round of presidential elections. It is clear that there were some irregularities in the counting of votes and bodies on various levels failed to follow correct protocol. Unfortunately, Austria’s Ministry of Interior and the respective state electoral bodies have also not done the best job in preventing the emergence of further doubts. Given that the FPÖ has yet to make public its list of suspected violations – which is said to exceed the number of previously publicised cases – it is difficult to establish what the outcome of their complaint will be. In any case, the FPÖ has already succeeded in gnawing off some of the new president’s legitimacy before he has even taken office.

The known cases of electoral violations mainly concern the counting of postal votes, idiosyncratic decisions or errors by local officials, and turnout exceeding 100%. Some of the state-level agencies started counting postal votes (which were eventually decisive for the election) too early and some others at least opened the post vote envelopes already on Sunday instead of Monday morning. Although this was against protocol, there is not indication that there was any manipulation or interference with the ballots. In another case in the town of Helfenberg, there were three ballot papers too many in the box after the end of the day even though all voters had been registered twice before casting their vote. Eventually, the local electoral commission decided to take out three invalid votes to make numbers match – while certainly unusual, this seems like a fair decision in relation to its effect on the outcome. The problem here is that the mayor ripped up the three supernumerary ballot papers – a clear violation of federal law. There was also one case where a women was unable to cast her vote due to an error on the electoral register (where she was listed as a postal voter).

More troubling is the report of the municipality Miesenbach in Lower Austria where apparently a handful of 14 and 15 year-olds where allowed to vote – the general voting age is 16. Overall, fifteen teenagers below the voting age were listed as eligible to vote of which five eventually cast a ballot. The reason seems to be that the local electoral commission mixed up the electoral register for the presidential election with the so-called ‘Wählerevidenz’, a constantly updated list based on the local resident registration database. 380 valid ballots were cast in Miesenback, 258 for Hofer and 122 for Van der Bellen, so that it didn’t have a significant impact. Nevertheless, this is a blunder that cannot be easily justified.

For a while the official election website showed 146.9% turnout in Waidhofen/Ybbs

For a while the official election website showed 146.9% turnout in Waidhofen/Ybbs

Last but not least, an embarrassing error fuelled accusations of electoral fraud on the day after the election. The official election website on the pages of the Ministry of Interior showed an impossibly high turnout of 146.9% for the district Waidhofen in the city of Ybbs. A screenshot was widely shared across social media, particularly by supporters of Norbert Hofer. The Ministry later traced the error back to the state electoral commission. While the local district had submitted correct data, the state commission made an error during data entry and transmitted the incorrect data to the Ministry. Human error happens in every election but raises questions over the suitability of the IT systems used by Austrian authorities, e.g. why is there not automated checking of improbable values in the systems? In some other districts, turnout even exceeded 200% as a great number of people made use of proxy voters. In addition, the number of distributed ballot papers was slightly lower than votes received in a few more electoral districts. Nevertheless, while this may seem suspicious to international observers, this is simply due to the postal vote system in place in Austria (as well as in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany). Postal voters receive their ballot paper by post and can either send it back by mail or go to any relevant polling station to cast their vote. The latter happens particularly often when people are on holiday and still want to cast their vote in person (in Germany this is limited to SMD districts).

These known cases alone should not be sufficient to trigger a partial re-run of the presidential runoff in the affected districts. However, the FPÖ claims that violations were recorded in 94 of 117 postal voting districts. Given that it was the postal votes that turned the result around and Van der Bellen eventually won with only 31,000 votes (0.6%) difference, such a claim – if it proves true – would definitely require a do-over of some sort. The Federal Returning Officer, Robert Stein, has however expressed doubts that the whole second round would be repeated. In any case, the FPÖ might have found a way to once again mobilise the anti-establishment vote that Norbert Hofer received. From the point of view of a rational observer, a ‘conspiracy’ against the FPÖ by the state (including public TV stations – one of the FPÖ’s recurrent targets during the election campaign) may be out of the question. Nevertheless, it is likely to resonate with the FPÖ’s core electorate which sees the stigmatisation of the far-right party and categorical exclusion from the federal government as an injustice and plot orchestrated by SPÖ and ÖVP. Even if the complaint is entirely unsuccessful, it casts a shadow over Van der Bellen’s election and will give additional ammunition to the FPÖ in the run-up to and after the next parliamentary elections.

The Philippines – General Elections 2016: Results and Next Steps

Official results for the general elections in the Philippines are now posted: the Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced the 12 senators to the Senate on May 19, while the official canvassing by Congress, which began on May 25 and ended ahead of schedule on May 27. The 1987 Constitution vests Congress with the formal authority to canvass the votes for the presidency and vice-presidency. Voter turnout was estimated at 81 percent, which exceeded the turnouts for the previous general elections in 2010 (74.7 percent) and the midterm elections in 2013 (77 percent).

The final results of the official canvassing show Rodrigo Duterte as president-elect, with more than 16.6 million votes in his favour and far exceeding runner-up Manuel Roxas’s 9.98 million votes. In the vice-presidential race, Leni Robredo’s 14.4 million votes is a tight win over the second-place candidate, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who received 14.16 million votes. Unofficial results had shown a tight contest in the vice-presidential race, so that, not surprisingly, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his camp were prepped to challenge the results – including filing a request to audit the automated election system – to stop the congressional canvassing and announcement of the official results. However, that request for audit was denied by Comelec. Marcos Jr. and his camp have promised to keep up the fight. And, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte – who had selected Marcos Jr. as his Vice-Presidential running-mate – may have weighed in on the expected ongoing saga, when he resisted giving Vice-president elect Leni Robredo a cabinet position.

For the Senate, Comelec announced on May 19 the 12 who will be taking up Senate. They are, in order of votes received:

Franklin Drilon (Liberal Party) Former senator
Emmanuel Joel Villanueva (Liberal Party) First-timer
Vicente “Tito” Sotto III (Nationalist People’s Coalition) Former senator
Panfilo “Ping” Lacson (Independent) Re-elected incumbent
Richard “Dick” Gordon (Independent) Re-elected incumbent
Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri (Independent) Re-elected incumbent
Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao (United Nationalist Alliance) First-timer
Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros (Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party) First-timer
Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan (Liberal Party) Re-elected incumbent
Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian (Nationalist People’s Coalition) First-timer
Ralph Recto (Liberal Party) Former senator
Leila Norma Eulalia Josefa de Lima (Liberal Party) First-timer

The party of outgoing President Aquino III, the Liberal Party (LP), will occupy five of the 24 seats in the Senate; on paper, it will also be the largest party in the House, with 116 or 49 percent of 238-seat House. This is followed by the National People’s Coalition (NPC) with 42 seats, and then the Nacionalista Party and National Unity Party, each holding 23 seats. The President-elect’s Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) successfully elected only three representatives into the 238-seat lower House

Notwithstanding, representatives are falling in line with the President-elect. Indeed, since the elections, the newly-elected have either jumped ship to join the President-elect’s PDP-Laban, or aligned themselves with the President-elect; they include prominent LP House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. As a result, the President-elect may have cobbled together a super-majority in Congress.

The President-elect will need this supermajority, to pass his agenda, which includes changing the Constitution and reimposing the death penalty in the Philippines. Some had speculated that the President-elect, popularly known as “Duterte Harry” because of his shoot-first, ask later persona, will be more circumspect with the high office. With the support of a supermajority, that seems unlikely.

Romania – Local elections results and the road to the November general election

Romania held local elections on Sunday June 5th. The results show the clear domination of the two biggest parties. Left-wing Social Democrats (PSD) topped the polls across the country with almost 38%, including an unprecedented victory in Bucharest. President Iohannis’ centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL) scored nearly 32% of the vote nationally but experienced a humiliating defeat in Bucharest, where it was not only defeated by PSD, but also outperformed by a new anti-establishment party. Other parties that came close to the 5% national threshold were ALDE, a small PSD ally, which scored 6.31%, the Hungarian minority party (UDMR) with 5.33% and former President Băsescu’s People’s Movement Party (PMP) with 4.27%.

The local election was the first national poll after the PSD government led by Victor Ponta resigned last November following a deadly night club fire in Bucharest that triggered massive street protests against corruption in central and local administration. Since then the country has been led by a technocratic government led by former European Commissioner Dacian Cioloş, who is expected to remain in office until the general election due in November.

A number of factors explain the success of the Social Democrats. To start with, the election rules, which combine a one-round majoritarian first-past-the-post system for the election of mayors with a proportional list system for the election of local and city councils, advantage incumbent mayors. As the largest party in Romania’s parliament throughout the post-communist period and the main governing party since 2012, PSD benefits from strong support among the poor and the elderly, strong local structures and access to state budget revenues. Consequently, as the local elections were approaching, city mayors and other officials were increasingly seen to switch sides and join the PSD ranks in an attempt to increase their re-election chances.

In spite of the anti-corruption mass demonstrations that triggered the PSD government’s fall last November, the party appears to have paid a small electoral price for its casualities in Romania’s ongoing crackdown on corruption. In 2015, PSD’s former leader and prime minister Victor Ponta was charged with tax evasion and money laundering. Liviu Dragnea, Ponta’s successor as PSD leader, received a two-year suspended jail sentence for electoral fraud less than two months before the June poll. Other local officials, including Bucharest’s general mayor and 5 other district mayors, were indicted for corruption in 2015. And yet, many of them ran for re-election and won, as the Romanian law allows anybody who has been indicted of corruption but not yet convicted to run for office. For example, one of PSD’s district mayors in Bucharest was re-elected with over 60% of the vote despite being under investigation on corruption charges. Thus, graft revelations do not seem to jeopardize the party’s chances to return to power after the November general contest. Instead, voters’ discontent with corrupt politicians may yet again translate into absenteeism (turnout in local elections was only 48%, one of the lowest in Romania’s post-communist electoral history).

Another factor explaining PSD’s success across the country and particularly in Bucharest is the fragmentation of the centre-right and the internal divisions in the National Liberal Party. In the race for the Bucharest mayor’s seat, PSD topped the polls with 43% of the votes, well above the country average, and also won all of the six district mayor seats in the capital. Nicuşor Dan, a civil society activist and leader of Save Bucharest Union (USB),  a new anti-system party that condemns the endemic corruption of traditional parties, won the second place in the race for the mayor seat scoring 30.5% of the vote. USB also came second in the election for Bucharest’s general council and in three of the six races for the capital districts. PNL won a distant third place, scoring 11% in the race for Bucharest mayor and 14.5% of the votes for the general council. Several other candidates from centre-right groupings totalled about 10% in the race for the mayor post. Thus, had the centre-right been able to rally around the best-placed candidate, the social democrats could have been defeated.

A common view is that PNL lost the Bucharest race because of obvious campaign mistakes but also due to the lack of strong central leadership and clear national strategies. In fact, the merger between the two centre-right groupings that came together ahead of the 2014 presidential election to support Klaus Iohannis as a joint candidate is still not complete. The party needed three unsuccessful nominations for the Bucharest mayor post before Cătălin Predoiu, a former justice minister and leader of the Bucharest organization, reluctantly accepted to enter the race. A strategy aimed at attracting new voters has also been lacking. The party proves unable to mobilize the wave of undecided voters who contributed to president Iohannis’ election in the 2014 runoff and the anti-corruption protesters who toppled PM Ponta’s government last year.

USB’s strong performance in Bucharest may change the two-party dynamics of the general election contest. Plans have already been announced for the party to run in the November general election as Save Romania Union (USR). A repeat of the Bucharest scenario in other major cities means that USR will be eroding PNL’s centre-right electorate. It remains to be seen whether USR intends to play the anti-system card in the general election and take advantage of the protest vote against the corrupt political elite, or if a centre-right alliance will be forged to prevent the PSD and its allies from securing an outright parliamentary majority. However, such an alliance will not take place without a leadership change in the PNL. Given the absence of a charismatic leader and an obvious party candidate for the prime minister post, many see PM Cioloş as an appropriate choice to lead the centre-right coalition in the general election. Indirectly, President Iohannis also seems to signal his preference for this scenario.

Burkina Faso – Analysis of local election results

Burkina Faso held local elections on May 22 for more than 19,000 councilor positions. The councilors subsequently choose the mayors for 386 towns.  Preliminary results to be confirmed by the highest administrative court (Conseil d’Etat) indicate that the ruling party MPP (Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès) may win control of as many as 75 percent of the mayor’s offices across the country.

The elections marked the end of the transition following the ouster of former President Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014, with new institutions now in place at all administrative levels. A total of 85 political parties and groupings fielded candidates. The elections were peaceful overall, but had to be postponed in three districts due to acts of vandalism and tensions. According to the independent election commission (CENI), voter turn-out among the 5.5 million registered voters was 48 percent; this is well below the 60 percent turnout for the November 2015 presidential and legislative polls and significantly lower than the 75 percent turnout for the last local elections in 2012.

A total of 43 political parties and groupings won representation, some securing seats only in a single commune.  The winner by far was the ruling MPP of President Roch Marc Kaboré (59 percent of seats), followed by the UPC (Union pour le Progrès et le Changement) of Zephirin Diabré (16 percent) and the CDP (Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès), the former ruling party under Compaoré (11 percent). The top 10 are [with scores in brackets reflecting results in the 2012 local polls]:

  • MPP – 11,217 seats [did not exist in 2012]
  • UPC – 3,091 seats [up from 1,615]
  • CDP – 2,144 seats [down from 12,340]
  • NTD – 605 seats [did not exist in 2012]
  • NAFA – 454 seats [did not exist in 2012]
  • ADF/RDA – 317 seats [down from 1,746]
  • UNIR/PS – 290 seats [down from 396]
  • PDS/METBA – 282 seats [down from 506]
  • RDS – 163 seats [up from 109]
  • PAREN – 126 seats [up from 27]

The order of the top three political parties mirrors the order in which parties won seats in the November 2015 legislative polls. Among the top five scoring parties, three (names bolded in black) did not exist in 2012, illustrating that the reconfiguration of the political scene following the ouster of Compaoré is also reflected at the local level. The NTD is allied with the ruling MPP, while the NAFA is part of the opposition, with many members formerly belonging to the CDP or the ADF/RDA. The NAFA’s leader, Djibrill Bassolé, is currently under arrest, under suspicion of having supported a coup attempt against the transition government. The big losers in these local elections, compared to 2012, were not surprisingly the former ruling CDP as well as the ADF/RDA which stood with Compaoré in his bid to remove presidential term limits from the constitution.

Mayors in Burkina Faso are indirectly elected, by the councilors. In 253 out of the 363 communes for which results have been published, the MPP reportedly has enough seats to directly elect its candidate for mayor. Adding 25 communes more where the MPP can count on support from councilors from allied parties such as the NTD and UNIR/PS, the presidential majority should be able to control 278 (or 75 percent) of the mayor’s offices in the country according to Salif Diallo, interim MPP chairman. Only two out of 13 provincial capitals, Ziniaré (birthplace of Blaise Compaoré) and Dori (hometown of now defunct party leader Arba Diallo of the PDS/METBA) went to other parties, the CDP and PDS/METBA respectively. The position as city mayor of the capital Ouagadougou is likely to go to Armand Béouindé of the MPP, with the support of councilors from allied parties, while the UPC in alliance with the CDP could win control of four arrondissements (boroughs) of Ouagadougou.

With the electoral cycle now complete, Burkina Faso’s newly elected representatives at all levels face the challenge of delivering on the significant expectations of improved governance raised by the success of the 2014 popular uprising. The MPP, with the likely control of 75 percent of local governments, will be under particularly close scrutiny as to its ability to deliver on those expectations.