Rui Graça Feijó – Timor-Leste: is Díli on (Political) Fire Again?

This is a guest post by Rui Graça Feijó of CES/UCoimbra and IHC/UNLisboa

Almost nine months after the election of the fourth President of the Republic, the first to be won by a President affiliated to a political party (FRETILIN) and to benefit from a pre-first round major party coalition, and four and a half months after FRETILIN narrowly won the legislative elections (by a mere thousand votes over Xanana Gusmão’s CNRT, both winning just under 30% of the vote), Timor-Leste does not yet have a fully invested government and political tensions are running higher than at any point since the crisis of 2006.

The coalition between FRETILIN and CNRT to elect Lu Olo on the first round of the presidential election was unprecedented in a country that was more used to seeing first ballots contested by partisan and “independent” candidates alike and to seeing informal agreements being made for the run-off poll. However, the coalition was a natural consequence of political developments that marked the previous electoral cycle.

Having won a plurality in 2012, Xanana returned as PM supported by his allies who had won seats in parliament. Immediately he started working towards a new political solution that would encompass the historical party FRETILIN, around which a “cordon sanitaire” had been erected after the 2006 crisis. The state budgets for 2013 and 2014 were approved unanimously and FRETILIN’s leader was offered a significant position as head of a Special Region. Allegedly supported by President Taur Matan Ruak (aka TMR), the converging paths of the parliamentary parties were hailed by a senior minister as the “replacement of belligerent democracy by consensus democracy” (Agio Pereira). In early 2015 Xanana stepped aside for the formation of a “Government of National Inclusion”. This was headed by Rui Maria de Araújo, a former “independent” minister and member of the Council of State, who had since joined the ranks of FRETILIN, a party that was “offered” several other key ministers in the government “in their individual and technical capacities”, without formally signing an agreement (instead, it maintained the status of “opposition” party without giving this any substantial meaning).[i]

The policies of the “Government of National Inclusion”, however, came under severe criticism from President TMR, who declined to seek a second term in office, created his own political party (PLP – Partido da Libertação do Povo), and fought the legislative elections, obtaining about 12% of the vote and 8 seats in parliament. The four parties that had supported the government ran campaigns that failed to criticise ongoing strategic decisions and it was expected that the basic the government formula would be maintained after the polls. In the end, one of those parties failed to pass the 4% threshold and won no seats, while PLP and another young party – KHUNTO – secured their presence in parliament.

Immediately after the results were announced, FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri claimed the premiership for his party (and actually, for himself), thus substantially altering the conditions under which the previous government had been negotiated. Both TMR and Xanana said that they would serve in the opposition and that neither would take their seats in parliament. They also pledged, rather vaguely, to follow a “constructive opposition” and “not to obstruct” the functioning of government.

As he summoned the three leaders to a joint meeting, President Lu Olo must have felt rather insecure, given that the consultations that he was constitutionally obliged to make had been attended by second-line figures from the parties. He failed to convince TMR and Xanana to accept Alkatiri’s terms – or to convince Alkatiri to accept theirs. But a door was open for Alkatiri: to secure an agreement with a junior party in the previous government (PD, 7 seats) and the newcomer KHUNTO (5 seats).

President Lu Olo appointed Alkatiri as prime minister, that is, designated him as a formateur. Early conversations suggested Alkatiri would be successful – and in this context, the three parties joined forces to elect the Speaker of the House. But KHUNTO did not accept the deal it was being proposed and withdrew from the negotiations. Alkatiri could only present President Lu Olo with a minority government formed by FRETILIN and PD.

President Lu Olo took the bold initiative of accepting Alkatiri’s proposal, and formalized the appointment of the very first minority government in Timor-Leste’s history (16 September). Alkatiri tried to minimize the risks for his government by inviting respected “independent” figures (such as former PM and President, Ramos-Horta) and prominent members of the opposition parties (such as Xanana’s right hand man, Agio Pereira) to be “State Ministers”.

The Timorese Constitution facilitates the possibility of minority governments. It stipulates that within a month of being sworn in, the government must present its program to the House – which it did on 16 October. Then the House has three days for debate, at the end of which the government will be invested unless the opposition tables a rejection motion or it feels the political (not constitutional) need to present a confidence motion. If the confidence motion fails, the government falls immediately. If the rejection motion is passed (as it actually was on October 19 by 35 votes to 30), then the government must present a second program.

At this stage we enter a realm of indefiniteness. There is no explicit mention in the constitution, but it is assumed in other countries with similar mechanisms that a government only assumes full and not merely caretaker functions once it has been invested in the House. Also, the Timorese Constitution does not clearly provide a deadline for the second program to be presented – but it is implicit that it should not be longer than the first one.

By December 7, a month and a half have elapsed without the government submitting the second program to the House – and Alkatiri has repeated that he does not feel obliged to do so before the end of the year, or even in the new year. Instead, he has acted as if invested with full powers, submitting to the House a proposal to “rectify” the current budget – something that clearly goes beyond the powers of a caretaker government. All those attitudes have infuriated the opposition.

The opposition has moved closer together, and have signed a formal alliance in order to replace the current government. As Xanana has been involved in overseas activities (officially related to the negotiations with Australia, but actually going far beyond those) and has not set foot in Dili for three months, the agreement was signed in Singapore. Following the acceptance of the budget correction bill for debate by the Speaker, the opposition tabled a motion that the Speaker refuses to put to a plenary vote. The opposition has since been boycotting the parliamentary committee on budget and finances, meaning that it cannot function for lack of a quorum. The opposition parties also tabled another motion to reject the government, which – if approved – would bring it down at once. The Speaker has so far refused to put this item on the agenda. Eve before the Speaker took these decisions, the three parties filed for his destitution – and again the Speaker has not yet set a date to discuss and vote on this proposal.

Meanwhile, the political rhetoric has grown increasingly inflammatory. FRETILIN accuses the opposition of staging a coup (even though they are only using the constitutional and parliamentary powers at their disposal), and Alkatiri fumed that “if they dance in the House, we shall dance on the streets”. The current minister for defence and security (who controls both the army and the police) said that: “If disturbances break out on the streets of Dili, the MPs from the opposition benches must take care of the issue”. On the opposition side, the rhetoric has matched the government’s, with accusations of “unconstitutionality” (namely in the delays regarding the submission of the second draft of the government’s program) and unlawful usurpation of power (both against the government and the speaker).

Sooner or later, either the government’s program or the opposition’s motion of rejection will be brought before MPs. As the situation stands today, it is likely that Alkatiri’s executive will not survive, even with the support and complacency of President Lu Olo. If so, then the president has a few alternatives.

First, he will have to decide whether or not to dissolve parliament – a move which he can only make after January 22 due to constitutional restrictions that protect a parliament from being dissolved in the first six months following an election. FRETILIN and its junior party clearly prefer this solution, hoping they will increase their share of the vote. Elections would be held in late March, and a new government installed not before late April. No state budget would be approved in the meantime – a serious issue in a fragile country. However, a new and little credited development has emerged: a number of small parties that all fell below the 4% threshold have made an alliance which, on the evidence of the last elections, would give them 6 or more seats – mainly at the expense of the larger parties, making it even more difficult for a FRETILIN-led government to emerge. The opposition, for its part, would prefer President Lu Olo to respect the current parliament and find a solution. For many, the obvious one would be for him to nominate some figures from the ranks of those parties in order to form a majority government backed by CNRT, PLP and KHUNTO.

But President Lu Olo could choose otherwise – and he might have a chance of success. He has the option of asking Alkatiri to re-initiate negotiations with the opposition (a highly unlikely solution given that tensions are running very high at the moment and the prime minister has shown his weakness as a negotiator by claiming the premiership for himself even before conversations had started). Alternatively, he could appoint a formateur tasked with finding a mutually agreeable solution for the outgoing government and the opposition. Someone such as Rui Maria de Araujo, the prime minister for the last two and a half years, Ramos-Horta, who still commands some respect, or even TMR – a move that could perhaps be coupled with the replacement of the Speaker of the House so that all key positions were not in the hands of a single party – could try to reshape a “Government of National Inclusion”. What seems quite clear is that Timor-Leste is not ready for a minority government, even if it is backed by a partisan president.

Previously in the history of independent Timor-Leste, tensions have run high. That was the case in 2006 during the crisis that led to the resignation of the prime minister, in 2007 after the legislative elections, and again in 2008 after the attempted murder of President Ramos-Horta. The existence of non-partisan presidents has been one important element in fostering détente and promoting dialogue, not least because – as the present crisis amply reveals – most political parties are fragile extensions of people with strong personal ambitions. Figures with individual prestige – a feature that in Timor-Leste is still associated with the role performed during the Resistance to Indonesian occupation, as shown by an opinion poll taken before the presidential election – rather than partisan leaders (as party competition still evokes the civil war of 1975), have ample room for intervention in the political arena.

Timor-Leste decided that the time was ripe for a new kind of presidency. However President Lu Olo seems to have been overtaken by the mounting tension, unable to distance himself and the presidency from siding with one faction. He is a player in the most severe political crisis in the country since 2006 – not the moderator or referee who might be able to foster dialogue. His reading of the situation indicates that he supports FRETILIN’s stance, and he rejects the claims of any “irregular functioning of the political institutions”. However, he risks ending up as a “lame duck”. The miracle that could save him in the short term would be the establishment of a new “Government of National Inclusion”. It is up to him to decide.

Alkatiri once told me in an interview that “political exclusion generates conflicts”[ii]. One wonders whether he recalls what he said in the light of FRETILIN’s decision to occupy the three most senior positions of the Timorese state under his leadership, a state that is built on principles of power sharing.

Notes

[i] On the formation of this government, see my “The Long and Winding Road: a brief history of the idea of ‘Government of National Inclusion’ and its current implications”, ANU SSGM Discussion Paper 2016/3

[ii] Mari Alkatiri, “A exclusão política gera conflitos” in R.G.Feijó (ed) O Semi-presidencialismo Timorense. Coimbra, CES/Almedina, 2014

Honduras – Disputed Presidential Election Result

On November 26, Honduras went to the polls to elect a new president. The main contenders were Juan Orlando Hernández, the incumbent President of Honduras, from the conservative and right-leaning Partido Nacional, and Salvador Nasrilla, a former sports journalist, commonly known as Mr. Television from the Alianza de Oposición contra la Dictadura, a coalition that encompasses the left-leaning party of Manuel Zeleya, the former Honduran president ousted in a coup in 2009, and his wife, Xiomara Castro, Libertad y Refundación, and the centre-left, Partido Innovación y Unidad.

According to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) in Honduras, on the day after the election, it looked as if Nasrilla was going to claim victory. With 57 per cent of the votes counted, Nasrilla had managed to gain 45 per cent of the vote, giving him a clear five point lead over Hernández. Following this update, the count then seemed to slow dramatically, if not completely stop and after a somewhat suspicious hiatus, counting resumed and as of today,  according to the TSE, Hernández leads the race with 42.98 per cent of the vote compared to 41.38 per cent for Nasrilla. No official winner has yet been declared.

Unsurprisingly, the opposition claim that the government is trying to steal the election. Nasrilla and his coalition have called for a complete vote recount and if the TSE refuses to do this, then Nasrilla has proposed a second round run-off between him and Hernández. There is currently no provision in Honduras’ constitution to allow for a second round run-off (presidential elections are first past the past).

Hernández came to power following the December 2013 elections, which saw him defeat the left-leaning wife, Xiomara Castro, of former president, Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup in 2009 by pro-military conservative factions. Hernández and his party were accused of embezzling over US$90 million from the state social security agency, which was then used to fund Hernández’s victory in the 2013 election, as part of a larger scandal involving the state agency, El Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS), which provides one in every eight Hondurans with healthcare, that has seen over US$200 million embezzled from its coffers over the last few years. These allegations gave rise to protests in Tegucigalpa calling for his resignation. Hernández has also been criticized for being overly authoritarian but despite all of this, he has remained popular, with recent polls from September suggesting an approval rating of 56 per cent.

While president, Hernández also managed to introduce a new constitutional amendment, allowing for consecutive presidential election, the very same proposal that resulted in the removal of Zelaya, a coup that Hernández supported. Since 2013, a third party, Partido Libertad y Refundación, the party of Xiomara Castro, has held a third of the seats in the house, challenging the traditional conservative and oligarchic two-party system.

A victory for Nasrilla would completely upend the status quo.

This is not the first time that Honduars has been mired in allegations of electoral fraud. In the 2013 election, Xiomara Castro, after initially claiming victory, contested the result. This time, it seems that supporters of the left will not allow this victory to remain unchallenged. There have been hundreds of protests, in which three people have died so far, forcing the government to implement a night time curfew. The police force in Honduras have now announced that they will not leave their barracks until the political crisis has been resolved and while the TSE have agreed to a partial recount, whatever happens, it is clear that this controversy is far from over.

Germany – The unexpected leadership role of President Steinmeier in coalition talks

The results of the German federal election of 24 September 2017 shook up the country’s party system more than ever before. Both Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic and Social Union (CDU/CSU) and her coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), registered significant losses, while four smaller parties – polling between just 8.9% and 12.6% – also entered the Bundestag. While far from unexpected, this result has created a particularly difficult bargaining environment for coalition talks. Amidst the new parliamentary arithmetic, president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has taken on an expected leadership role and could influence the formation and party composition of the next German government more than any of his predecessors.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (left) meets with SPD leader Martin Schulz | image via bundespraesident.de

Already hours after the first results were announced, SPD leader Martin Schulz declared that his party – having achieved the worst result since 1949 and without possibility to form a left of centre coalition with Greens and LINKE – would not renew its coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and become part of the opposition. Given that the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered the Bundestag for first time after just missing the 5% threshold in 2013, is universally shunned by the other parties, the ‘Jamaica’ option seemed the only possibility to form a majority government. Named after the combination of parties’ traditional colours (CDU/CSU = black, Green Party = green, FDP = yellow) this would have created a coalition which has hitherto only existed on local level. While CDU/CSU and FDP have governed together on both federal and state level and CDU/CSU and Greens have recently (if only sporadically) started to cooperate on state level, the economically liberal FDP and left-leaning Greens seemed unlikely bedfellows. Formal coalition talks between the three parties only started a month after the election, yet collapsed two weeks ago after the FDP withdrew its participation. Since then, president Frank-Walter Steinmeier (formerly SPD) has taken an unusually active role in managing the coalition talks and encouraging parties to find a solution to avoid snap elections.

Since 1949, coalition formation in Germany has been exclusively dominated by parties. While the president formally proposes a candidate for chancellor to parliament after elections, presidents have always proposed the candidate chosen by parties once coalition talks were concluded. Only if the president’s candidate fails to gain a majority can the Bundestag attempt to elect its own chancellor with a majority. If in the end parliament fails to elect a majority candidate (which the president has to appoint), a final vote is held and it is at the president’s discretion to appoint a candidate who has only gained a relative majority of votes.

As leader of the largest party, Angela Merkel appears to be the only serious candidate for chancellor. However, she has repeatedly voiced her opposition both to leading a minority government and to triggering snap elections (a likewise complicated process; see below). In the aftermath of the collapse of the Jamaica talks, president Steinmeier unusually strongly appealed to parties to act responsibly and continues to hold publicised meetings with leaders of all parties. Especially his meeting with former co-partisan Martin Schulz seems to have had an effect as the SPD leader has now softened its stance on retreating to the opposition benches. However, he faced an immediately backlash from the party’s youth wing; the SPD is also likely to once again hold a ballot on any new coalition among its members.

There is no deadline for president Steinmeier to nominate a candidate for Chancellor, yet once he does the pressure is on parties to build a functioning (majority or minority) government. It is unlikely that Steinmeier will start the process before parties have made significant progress towards a new coalition, yet this possibility – together with the German constitution’s obsession with stability – gives him the upper hand. Once appointed, a chancellor can only be removed by the ways of a constructive vote of confidence (i.e. when a new Chancellor is elected with a majority) – even if a chancellor loses a vote of confidence and asks the president to dissolve the Bundestag, the dissolution remains at the president’s discretion (the Bundestag cannot dissolve itself). After previous dissolutions were heavily criticised due to the fact that sitting chancellors only feigned a loss of confidence, It is unlikely that Steinmeier will readily agree to such a move. Last, Steinmeier is in the rare situation that his five-year term only ends after the next regular federal elections and he is thus less bound by considerations about his re-election (which will partially rely on electors from the German states in any case).

It is thanks to this combination of factors that president can currently take on this (unexpected) leadership role in party coalition talks. While the old government is only provisionally still in post, he almost has a legitimacy advantage over the yet unformed government and can use his position to actively shape public opinion as well as increase pressure on political parties.

Overall, this sheds a new light on the role of the German president and highlights the value of the office. While scholarship (including my own) have so far rather focussed on the interference of presidents in day-to-day politics and resulting complications and ineffectiveness, the example at hand shows how presidents – even if only vested with reserve powers – can become guarantors of stability.

France – The election of Emmanuel Macron and the French party system: a return to the éternel marais?

This is the summary of an article that has just been published in Modern and Contemporary France. There are 50 .pdf e-prints freely available. Just click on the above link.

In 1964, Maurice Duverger published an article in the Revue française de science politique entitled ‘L’éternel marais: Essai sur le centrisme français‘ [The eternal marshland: An essay on centrism in France]. He argued that for around 80% of the period from 1789 to 1958 France had been governed from the centre, which he disparagingly called the marais. For Duverger, the French post-Revolution party system was characterised by a bipolarisation of party competition between the left and the right. However, both the left and the right were split between an extreme version and a moderate version. With the extremes opposed to each other and with the moderates usually unwilling to work with their respective extremes, Duverger argued that rather than alternations in power between the left and the right, power had shifted between governments of the moderate left and the moderate right. These forces had governed either separately or sometimes together, but, crucially, almost always against the two extremes. This was the system that Duverger characterised as the éternel marais.

Writing in 1964, Duverger believed that the system might be about to change. In retrospect, he was right. For more than 50 years, marais governments all but disappeared in France. With very few exceptions, the right governed against the left as a whole, or vice versa. However, the election of President Macron in 2017 election may have marked a change, challenging the party system that has been in place since the mid-1960s and suggesting the potential for a return to a new-period of marais government. In the article, I provide evidence to suggest that the current Macron administration has the characteristics of a Duverger-style marais government. I then sketch two potential interpretations of the contemporary party system, both of which raise the prospect of a return to the éternel marais.

There is evidence that from Macron’s LREM parliamentary party, the parliament in general, and the cabinet to suggest that the current administration has the characteristics of a Duverger-style marais government.

The June 2017 legislative election returned 310 députés who were officially members of the LREM parliamentary group as of 24 July. Many of these députés were elected for the first time. However, many others were previously associated with party politics. In this regard, Le Monde (Sénécat and Damgé in Le Monde, June 27, 2017) reported that 68 had previously been associated with the moderate left Socialists, 20 with the centre-right Union des democrats et indépendants and 10 with the right-wing Les Républicains (LR), plus a small number who had been associated with other parties. Thus, there is evidence that LREM itself corresponds to Duverger’s portrait of a marais party, namely one that contains representatives of both the moderate left and the moderate right but not the extremes.

Since the Assemblée nationale began its work after the legislative election, LREM has also received support from other elements of the moderate left and the moderate right there and has been opposed by the extreme or anti-system right and leftFor example, when Prime Minister Philippe invoked Article 49-1 on 4 July, all members of the centrist MoDem parliamentary group voted for the government in the confidence vote. In addition, all members of Les Constructifs group either voted for the government or abstained. This group brought together moderate right deputies from LR party who had chosen to remain in LR but who were willing in principle to work with LREM. What is more, most members of the ex-Socialist party group also either voted for the government or abstained in the confidence vote. By contrast, the extreme right and the extreme left were opposed to the government. All eight FN deputies voted against the LREM government, as did Nicolas Dupont-Aignan who rallied to Marine Le Pen at the second round of the 2017 presidential election. Similarly, all the Communists voted against the government, as did all the members of the La France insoumise (LFI) group.

In addition, the Philippe government itself also included former representatives of ex-LR moderate right figures, such as Bruno Le Maire and Gérard Darmanin, ex-PS moderate left ministers, such as Gérard Collomb and Jean-Yves Le Drian, and centrists from MoDem. This is in addition to ministers who were founding members of the LREM party itself.

Thus, there is no question that Macron’s election has led to another period of marais government in Duverger’s terms. In itself, this is quite a change in the context of the party system of the Fifth French Republic since the early 1960s. However, to what extent has Macron’s election reshaped the party system such that there may be a return not just to a short-lived period of marais government, but to the éternel marais?

Building on Gougou and Persico’s recent article in French Politics, the new French party system might be interpreted in one of two ways.

The first interpretation is a tripolar system (or tripartition). Here, the first pole would be an anti-system left pole comprising LFI, the Communists and perhaps also a rump Socialist party that would be anchored on the left and would be willing to work with other groups on the anti-system left but not with LREM. These groups would share a common set of anti-austerity economic values and cultural/universalist values. In this tripartition interpretation, there would be a second pole on the extreme right comprising the FN and a set of parties that would be willing to work with it, including perhaps LR, especially if it were to be led by one of the leading candidates for the party leadership in the vote later this month, Laurent Wauquiez. In this scenario, LREM and allies would constitute the third pole. Here, LREM would remain a combination of moderate left and moderate right figures. This pole would also include other moderate right groups such as MoDem and the Constructifs and perhaps even a small, ex-PS moderate left party that was unwilling to cooperate with the anti-system left. The various elements of this third pole would be irreconcilably opposed to the anti-system left in terms of economic policy and to the extreme right on cultural/universalist values. With the extreme left and the extreme right unable to cooperate and with the various elements of the third pole sharing basic values whether or not LREM managed to remain a united party over time, there would be the potential for a return to ongoing marais governments.

The second interpretation is a four-pole system (or quadripartition). Here, LFI, the Communists and perhaps a rump PS would be on the extreme or anti- system left; LREM would operate as a de facto moderate left pole; LR and various allies would constitute a moderate right pole; and the FN would be on the extreme right. This interpretation assumes that LR would not cooperate with the FN because they would be opposed on economic policy and there would still be a gap between the two parties on cultural/universalist policies, even if the gap narrowed in 2017. Facing an electable moderate right in the form of LR, LREM would choose to compete with LR and its allies on economic issues by moving towards a more clear-cut centre-left position. (There is little evidence of such a move from the very early period of the Macron presidency.)

If the French party system were to take this form of quadripartition, then the prospects for ongoing marais governments would also be very high. Here, there would be considerable opportunity for an alternation in power, but it would be likely to take place only between the moderate left and the moderate right, both of which would always be governing against the extremes. This form of quadripartition would correspond most closely to the pre-1958 situation that Duverger outlined in his 1964 article. This was the period of the éternel marais.

Clearly, the Macron presidency is still in its infancy. President Macron will face many challenges in the years to come. His response to them—and that of his government— will help to shape the future contours of the French party system in no doubt unexpected ways. Nonetheless, the 2017 presidential and legislative elections did mark a change in French party politics. Duverger’s idea of the marais may be a useful way of thinking about the contours of the French party system in the immediate aftermath of these elections and the nature of the governance that flows from it.

The Philippines – The president-led peace process and institutional veto players in the Mindanao conflict

This is guest post by Aya Watanabe, a PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University. It is based on the paper in the Asian Journal of Comparative Politics.

The Philippines is the longest-lived presidential country in Asia. At the same time, it has experienced a protracted civil war with Muslim rebels since the 1970s. The conflict dynamics were related to the political struggles that unfolded within the Philippine government. Nevertheless, much of the existing literature on civil war termination tends to regard civil war as a two-party phenomenon, fought between a government and a rebel group. Although a growing literature exists on how multiple rebel actors affect the outcome or duration of civil wars, only a few studies have examined the impact of dynamics or interactions within government actors on civil war termination.

I examine how relationships between various government actors influence peace processes, using the Mindanao conflict as a case study and drawing on the ‘veto player’ framework presented by Tsebelis (2002) and Cunningham (2011). The Mindanao peace process provides an excellent case study as it involves active political struggles with changes both in government and among the three governmental branches —the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Both the Gloria Macagapal-Arroyo (2001-10) and Benigno Aquino III (2010-16) administrations were engaged in a peace process with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) to achieve a political settlement of the Mindanao conflict. The Aquino administration reached a comprehensive peace agreement, but the peace negotiations fell through under Arroyo. What caused the differing outcomes under these two administrations? What effect did political struggles within the government have on the peace process? To answer these questions, I will provide an overview the political system and identify institutional and partisan veto players in the Philippine political setting.

The Philippine political system and veto players

The Philippines has a presidential system with the bicameral legislature composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The judiciary is active toward the government against the backdrop of the authoritarianism of the Marcos regime. Therefore, there are four institutional veto players in the Philippines: the president, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the judiciary.

Partisan veto players have little influence over government decision-making since party discipline is so weak that many legislators shift their alliances to a strong candidate’s camp in every presidential election. (Kasuya 2008). Having identified the four institutional veto players, I will examine what defines the preferences of each veto player on the peace process.

The preference of the institutional veto players on the peace process

The president

Elected through a nationwide constituency, the president is responsible for pursuing the interests and welfare of the nation. This responsibility includes the resolution of civil war as well. If the president resolves a civil war that has hindered economic development and created national security threats, the accomplishment would be remarkable.

The House of Representatives

80% of house members are elected through single-member districts (SMD). Various scholars have pointed out that SMDs tend to cultivate personal votes (Cain et al., 1987;). To cultivate personal votes, candidates tend to rely on providing private or public local goods and services to constituencies. This tendency enables presidents to hold a grip on the House since the president controls the financial authority necessary for pork-barrel distributions. In fact, the Arroyo camp held more than two-thirds of the seats throughout her tenure, although her net satisfaction rates dropped to around -40% after 2005. Aquino also won stable support from the House, maintaining more than 80% of the seat shares during his tenure. Both presidents’ stable grip on the House indicates that the House is more likely to be supportive of the president’s policy agenda, and rarely functions as a veto player.

The Senate

The Senate is more independent than the House due to the plurality-at-large voting system and Senators’ career aspiration for the presidency or vice-presidency. Their personal attributes in gaining votes and their career aspiration provides senators with few incentives to cooperate with a president who does not have stable support from the people. Thus, senators are less likely to be responsive to the president than the House, and could be a veto player on the president’s policies including the peace process. Upon deciding their attitude towards the president’s policies, what matters is which presidents they are dealing with and whether they are popularly supported or not.

The judiciary

There exist two conditions for the judiciary to be counted as a veto player: judicial independence from political maneuvering, and the power to influence government and legislative activities (Cox and McCubbins, 2001: 32–33). The Philippine judiciary fulfills these two conditions through the expansion of its authority in the 1987 Constitution.

As for its response toward the peace process, the judiciary sees the public’s response as a central factor in ruling a decision even if it goes against government policy (Helmke 2010; Tate 1994).

Having defined the preferences of each veto player, I will provide an overview of how the peace negotiations proceeded under the Arroyo and Aquino administrations.

The peace process under Arroyo (2001-10)

The government and the MILF forged an agreement on security and development issues at a relatively early stage of the Arroyo administration, but it took time to reach an agreement on the political issue. The negotiation resumed in 2005, and the negotiating parties managed to reach the peace agreement on this issue in July 2008. At the negotiating table, the MILF demanded that local elections be postponed in the Muslim-dominated areas.

Arroyo responded quickly to this demand by making a statement calling for prompt action on the issue by Congress. Although the House passed the postponement bill, this met stiff opposition and did not go through the Senate.

The domestic situations became bitter as the content of peace negotiations became public. Opposition movements were initially led by local officials, but allies and opponents of the President expressed skeptical views on the issue in the Senate as opposition movements gained momentum. Against this backdrop, local officials and several senators filed petitions to halt the signing of the peace agreement.

The Supreme Court (SC) responded quickly by issuing the Terms of Reference a day before the signing was scheduled. After that, the SC began oral arguments to examine the constitutionality of the peace agreement. The SC reached its decision in October 2008, emphasizing the enormous consequences of the peace agreement on the public interest. This decision indicates that the SC sees public opinion as a critical factor affecting its decision.

The peace process under Arroyo fell through due to the difficulties President Arroyo faced in gaining support from the Senate and the judiciary.

The peace process under Aquino (2010-16)

Though Benigno Aquino III adopted a positive stance towards resolving the Mindanao conflict through peaceful means, the negotiations only started moving forward a year after Aquino assumed the presidency. Once the peace negotiations had resumed, the Aquino administration forged several critical political agreements with the MILF in three years. The negotiating parties reached the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro in March 2014.

The Senate responded favorably to the peace process. After the negotiating parties agreed on the Framework Agreement in October 2012, President Aquino issued Executive Order 120 to establish the Bangsamoro Transitional Agency. The Senate adopted a resolution two days later, enabling the negotiating parties to proceed with the negotiations in a timely manner. Also, the Aquino administration sought the postponement of local elections in Muslim dominated-areas as Arroyo did. The Senate President at that time expressed full support for the postponement, although he had strongly criticized the Arroyo administration on the same issue.

The Aquino administration was careful not to make the judiciary a veto player since there was no direct judicial response on the peace process as there was under Arroyo. This can be seen in the removal of Chief Justice Corona, who was appointed by Arroyo on the eve of her stepping down from the presidency. Aquino criticised Corona on several occasions for being biased towards Arroyo. Against this backdrop, the House took action to impeach the Chief Justice over alleged graft and removed Corona. Although the presidential office emphasized that the House acted independently, one of the Liberal Party’s leaders revealed that ‘he [the President] felt Corona was the last stumbling block to his core reform agenda and that he did not want to spend the next five years clashing with the Supreme Court’ (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2011). This statement indicates that Aquino clearly viewed the Chief Justice as a veto player over his policy agenda, and that his removal got rid of one of the hurdles that he was likely to face in pursuit of his policy goals.

Second, new Chief Justice Sereno issued a call for a peaceful solution to the conflict after the Mamasapano clash which resulted in 44 deaths on the government side. Against the backdrop of mounting opposition to the peace process, the Chief Justice made a rare public statement, urging the public to stay calm and avoid leaning toward war in resolving the conflict. This indicates that the Chief Justice not only supported a peaceful resolution to the Mindanao conflict, but also that she did not see any legal problems with the peace process.

The Senate and the judiciary supported the peace negotiations under Aquino, enabling the negotiating parties to conclude several political peace agreements in a timely manner.

Conclusion

The Mindanao peace process has provided rich insights into how government dynamics can influence the peace process between government and a rebel group. On the one hand, President Arroyo faced a tough Senate which had little incentive to support the president’s peace policy due to her deteriorating popularity after 2005. Also, the judiciary saw the public’s perception of the issue as one of the important factors when it handled the case, the social situation not being conducive for the eight-year peace-making efforts to bear fruit.

On the other hand, the stable satisfaction rate and congressional situation of the Aquino government made the Senate supportive of the peace process, which was represented by the different Senate responses to the local elections postponement under Arroyo and Aquino. As for the SC, the removal of Corona and the support from Sereno helped the Aquino administration to proceed the peace negotiations.

The differing responses from the Senate and the judiciary show that government dynamics have an impact on negotiated civil war settlements in addition to the rebel group variations as pointed out by Cunningham (2011).

References

Cain B, Ferejohn J and Fiorina M (1987) The Personal Vote: Constituency Service and Electoral Independence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cox GW and McCubbins MD (2001) The institutional determinants of economic policy outcomes: Presidents, parliaments, and policy. In: Haggard S and McCubbins MD (eds) Presidents, Parliaments, and Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 21–63.

Cunningham DE (2011) Barriers to Peace in Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Helmke G (2010) Public support and judicial crises in Latin America. Paper prepared for the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law 2010 Symposium: The Judiciary and the Popular Will, 29–30 January.

Kasuya Y (2008) Presidential Bandwagon: Parties and Party Systems in the Philippines. Tokyo: Keio University Press Inc.

Tate NC (1994) The judicialization of politics in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. International Political Science Review 15(2): 187–197.

Philippine Daily Inquirer (2011) House majority gets over 140 signatures to impeach Chief Justice Corona. 12 December. Available at: https://www.dowjones.com/products/factiva/ (accessed 26 May 2017).

Tsebelis G (2002) Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Georgia – Changes to the government

Structural changes to the government of Georgia were announced on November 13, 2017. The changes are not directly related to the recent constitutional reform. Instead, according to a statement by the Prime Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the changes will play a major role in the development of a modern country with a more flexible administrative body. One of the main goals is to reduce the administrative costs of government.[1]

The changes were announced shortly after a local government election in which the ruling Georgian Dream gained a majority on all local councils and won almost all mayorships. Most citizens and experts think that economy has worsened over the last few years. The Georgian national currency, Lari (GEL), continues to depreciate against the U.S. Dollar, Euro and life is getting more expensive. In this context, more people believe that the government must cut spending on the bureaucracy, but there are questions as to whether the changes will really create a more flexible and effective government.

The government plans to make two types of changes: first, in the structure of the Government and second in the composition of the Government. The changes will modify the Cabinet’s organisation in the following way: 1. The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resource Management component of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resource Protection will be incorporated into the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development; 2. The integration and reorganization of the Emergency Management Agency, currently under the Interior Ministry, and the State Security and Crisis Management Council will result in the creation of the Emergency Management Center; 3. The youth affairs management component of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs will be incorporated into the Ministry of Education; 4. The sports component of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs will be incorporated into the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection; 5. The Ministry of Agriculture will merge with the Ministry of Environment; 6. The State Ministry for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration will be incorporated into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 7. The foreign Intelligence Service will become part of the State Security Service.

Georgian Dream has already submitted the draft changes in the Parliament. After the completion of the legislative process, the new composition of the Cabinet will require a vote of renewed confidence in parliament. However, there has already been criticism of the changes from different political parties, non-governmental organisations, and experts. The main opposition parties said that the changes were linked to ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili. Some party representatives think that the reforms show that Bidzina Ivanishvili is trying to exercise control over all major state institutions. President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s administration also commented on planned changes. Giorgi Abashishvili, the head of the administration, expressed hope that the changes would reflect positively on every member of the Georgian society.[2]

Different non-governmental organizations and experts have also commented on the structural changes, saying that they have not been well prepared. The Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN) issued a statement on the planned structural changes, asking for a detailed analysis of them.[3] Twenty-five Tbilisi-based civil society organizations released a joint statement on the proposed merger of the Office of the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They noted that the existence of the Office of the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration demonstrates that European integration is a national priority and that a decision on the structural changes was made behind closed doors without wide public participation and was unacceptable.[4] One of the problematic issues with the changes is the merger of the State Security (SSS) and the Intelligence Services. Twelve civil society organizations released a joint statement on the planned merger.[5] The changes were also criticized by the monitoring co-rapporteurs for Georgia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The mission noted that “in the context of the need to strengthen the system of checks and balances, we expressly call upon the authorities to ensure proper parliamentary oversight and control over the national security services. This is especially important given the reportedly increasing prominence of the security services in the governance of the country, as shown by the planned merger of the Foreign Intelligence and the State Security Services in Georgia”.[6]

In addition to this kind of criticism, it seems as if there is some dissent within the parliamentary majority. The Speaker of Parliament announced that the structural changes will be considered during next parliamentary session. He noted that there are different opinions about environmental protection, as well as some questions about the intelligence services. For this reason, additional consultations will be made before any parliamentary consideration.[7]

In conclusion, it should be argued that structural changes that lead to more flexible administrative bodies and that reduce administrative costs are welcome. However, whether they will lead to this outcome depends upon the deliberative process in parliament as well as external consultations with experts and interested organizations in the relevant areas. It should also be noted that Georgia needs structural changes not only at the level of ministries, but also in relation to the many state agencies that have been created since 2012 in Georgia and whose functions are not completely clear in many cases.

Notes

[1] Special Statement by the Prime Minister of Georgia, 2017-11-13,  http://gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&sec_id=463&info_id=62772

[2] Political Parties, President on PM’s Cabinet Reshuffle Plans, Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 14 Nov.’17 / 13:25, http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30630

[3] Environmental NGO Calls for ‘In-Depth Analysis’ of Proposed Government Changes, Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 16 Nov.’17 / 12:32, http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30638

[4] http://eap-csf.ge/images/doc/gancxadeba/statement-%20structural%20changes_geo.pdf

[5] Legislative Amendments to Reinstate and Strengthen the Soviet-Style Practice of Planting Security Officers on an Unprecedented Scale, 29 November, 2017http://www.transparency.ge/en/post/legislative-amendments-reinstate-and-strengthen-soviet-style-practice-planting-security

[6] Georgia: call for stronger system of checks and balances, including for security services, 28/11/2017, http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=6882&lang=2&cat=

[7] According to Irakli Kobakhidze, structural changes need to be consulted on intelligence service and environmental protection, December 01, 2017, http://geonews.ge/geo/news/story/81961-irakli-kobakhidzis-gantskhadebit-dazvervis-samsakhursa-da-garemos-datsvastan-dakavshirebit-struqturuli-tsvlilebebi-konsultatsiebs-sachiroebs

Zimbabwe – Removing a tyrant but not a tyranny?

As the upper echelons of Zimbabwe’s ruling party shift following President Robert Mugabe’s ouster, what can we expect from the ‘new’ regime in Harare?

The ‘Soft’ Coup

When on 14 November, army personnel carriers rolled into Harare, social media was ablaze with speculation. At 4 am on the 15th, the military appeared on the public broadcaster to announce that they had ‘secured’ the first family and were working to arrest criminals around the president. Military officials stated repeatedly and emphatically that this was not a coup, and that the constitution had not been abrogated. On 21 November, after a week of negotiations, Mugabe’s removal from the head of the ruling party and the instituting of impeachment proceedings against him, he resigned – ending his 37-year tenure. Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko became possibly the shortest-serving acting president in African history upon Mugabe’s resignation, but his whereabouts remain unknown. Emmerson Mnangagwa was then chosen by ZANU-PF to be the new president of Zimbabwe, just twenty minutes later. Mnangagwa was inaugurated on 24 November as Zimbabwe’s third president.

It appears that the military had been planning their move for some time and had consulted with regional and international allies – although many, including China, deny this – to ensure that any intervention to remove the long-standing head of state would have international buy-in. But to carry it off, they had been warned that it needed to appear as legitimate and bloodless as possible. The military’s move had been planned for just before the December ZANU-PF congress where it was expected that Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa would be removed; but it was moved up when Mnangagwa was unceremoniously removed on 6 November and Army General Constantine Chiwenga (Mnangagwa’s closest ally) received reports that he was to be arrested upon arrival in Harare from a trip to China.

Mugabe’s removal was extremely popular – prompting thousands of Zimbabweans to march and celebrate in the country’s largest cities, and in cities around the world. Despite the popular celebrations, most analysts remain sceptical and believe that his removal has allowed the ruling party which backed him and sustained his regime for four decades to ‘renew’ itself. The title of this article was taken from a quote by Bulawayo MDC Senator, David Coltart on the day of the president’s ouster – a reminder that the system that had sustained Mugabe for so long remained intact, despite his removal.

The Enigmatic Mr Mnangagwa

For those who don’t watch Zimbabwe closely, Emmerson Mnangagwa appeared to be a new, fresh and unknown figure. But Mnangagwa – or the ‘Crocodile’ (Ngwena) – has been at the heart of ZANU-PF and Zimbabwe’s politics for more than four decades. Mnangagwa is one of just two politicians who have served in every cabinet under Mugabe since 1980. Billed as Mugabe’s most likely successor in 2014 when he was appointed republican vice president, he and his allies had increasingly come under attack in 2017 from Women’s League President and First Lady Grace Mugabe as well as the ‘young Turks’ in the faction who supported her.

Despite the public attacks against him, Mnangagwa has spent the last two years positioning himself as a pragmatist and negotiator who would help to resolve the political and economic crisis wrought by the Mugabe administration. He had been reaching out to the farmers dispossessed in the early 2000s, to foreign diplomats in Harare who had been eager to see meaningful re-engagement with ZANU-PF and the opposition whose fortunes had declined markedly since 2009. This was partly the reason for his ouster, when leaked Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) documents reported on by Reuters suggested that Mnangagwa was planning a post-Mugabe future which would involve a 5-year transitional government with the opposition, and the backing of Western diplomats.

Three days after his inauguration, Mnangagwa formally dissolved Cabinet and announced that he was returning his key ally, former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa to his previous position to allow for continuity. Several key members of Mugabe’s last cabinet are facing charges, and their families have been subjected to significant abuse, harassment and intimidation by the security forces following the takeover. The former finance minister was also beaten so badly during his detention by the military that he had to be hospitalised. Despite Mnangagwa’s inaugural statement regarding a ‘return to democracy’ in Zimbabwe, many Zimbabweans are (understandably) sceptical. Analysts Tinashe Chimedza and Tamuka Chirimambowa refer to the new president as the ‘Trojan horse’ of the ‘deep state,’ which was desperate to ensure its political and economic survival. And despite the apparent lack of bloodshed of the ‘soft coup,’ it is clear that the involvement of the military in politics (and their choosing of an amenable successor) may set a concerning precedent.

The new president’s political history also provides some reasons to be suspicious regarding the likelihood of democratic breakthrough in Zimbabwe – he was implicated in the manipulation of electoral processes (including the stolen and violent 2008 polls) and in the misappropriation of diamond revenues in Zimbabwe and the DRC. He was also complicit in – and thus partly responsible for – the politically-motivated killings of 20 000 Zimbabwean civilians in the Matabeleland region between 1983 and 1987. As noted by Historian Stuart Doran, “Along with Mugabe and the minister responsible for defence, Sydney Sekeramayi, none of the Zanu politicians was more embroiled in the Gukurahundi than Mnangagwa. He was not the architect, but he was one of them. Of that there is no doubt.”

Where to from here?

If reports from inside the political negotiations are correct, it appears that Mnangagwa is still considering an ‘inclusive’ government which includes prominent members of the opposition – who had been caught completely unaware by the rejigging of the political playing field. It appears that he would like to use an inclusive arrangement to consolidate international goodwill, and possibly to postpone the elections scheduled for mid-2018. This is a risky prospect for the opposition, as suggested by Brian Raftopoulos; such an arrangement is likely to be a poisoned chalice for the weakened opposition who will almost certainly be given a marginal and negligible role. International political goodwill also already seems to be at a decade-long high, with the arrival of the first British Minister to the country in twenty years – though the content of the engagement was hardly a resounding endorsement. Less than a week after Mnangagwa’s inauguration, a Chinese envoy had also arrived in Harare and extended an official invitation from President Xi to the new head of state. Such events – along with frequent displays of public goodwill – may lead instead to a decision by Mnangagwa to renege on the negotiations for a more inclusive Cabinet.

The four years since Mugabe’s last electoral victory in 2013 have seen a collapse of living standards in the country. Zimbabwe’s economy is now half the size it was in 2000, with 95% of citizens no longer formally employed and a national budget of just $4 billion USD – of which 97% was spent on public sector salaries in 2016. The health and education systems are barely functional and propped up by donor interventions while the substitute currency has seen hyper-inflation soar at over 300% for 2017, despite the dollarization of the economy in 2009. Reports suggest that political insiders had been raiding the economy of hard currency while military elites monopolised the income from the country’s diamond reserves. On 28 November, Mnangagwa announced that he would be combining ministries and streamlining staff in an attempt to speed up decision-making, cut costs and increase productivity. He also plans to quickly revise the country’s indigenisation laws which legislate that all businesses must cede a 51% stake to a Zimbabwean partner. Suddenly – and for the first time in months – there are more dollars available in ATM’s, and reports suggest that black market premiums on notes have dropped from 85% to just 25%.

Although Mnangagwa clearly plans to repair the ailing economy, the likelihood of full liberalisation is low, given the high levels of military involvement – particularly in lucrative sectors such as diamond mining. Meanwhile, Ignatius Chombo – the finance minister at the point of Mugabe’s removal – has been charged with defrauding the central bank. These charges allegedly relate to corruption perpetrated two decades ago while serving as minister of local government, suggesting that the ‘new’ government will be loath to prosecute for more recent crimes in which current members of the administration might be implicated. Having instituted a three-month amnesty period for externalised ill-gotten funds and threatened to prosecute thereafter, it remains to be seen how tough the new administration will be on corruption. The high levels of complicity across the political and military elite suggest that this is unlikely. It appears that Mnangagwa is already reaching out to former dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers to help re-boot the agricultural economy – along with his flagship ‘Command Agriculture’ project.

Looking forward, the most likely outcome for Zimbabwe’s future is that we will probably see the emergence of something approaching a ‘developmental’ authoritarian state – in which levels of repression remain significant and citizen’s political and civic rights continue to be constrained, but the economy begins to grow again and people’s material prospects improve markedly. Having billed himself as a technocrat and pragmatist, Mnangagwa appears to have wagered that he can normalise relations with Western donor states to improve the economy and that – after decades of downward revision of democratic prospects in Zimbabwe and shifting donor goalposts – the international community would be satisfied by a veneer of democratic legitimacy coupled with significant economic growth and improved trade relations. However – in a stark break from the experience of his predecessor – Mnangagwa will only have two presidential terms in which to do so, following the introduction of a new constitution in 2013.

Amidst reports that Western diplomats had long been backing Mnangagwa’s push for the presidency, it is imperative that his administration is treated warmly, but with a healthy dose of scepticism, and that significant levels of aid disbursement are linked to meaningful democratic reforms. Equally, while they still have some leverage, opposition actors must also negotiate for an even playing field and the repeal of the most repressive legislation that had served the ZANU-state project for so long. If they fail to capitalise on it, this opportunity won’t come around again soon.

Kenya – A look into pivotal role observers play in elections

This post by Prof. Nic Cheeseman first appeared in The Nation on 28 November

The Supreme Court approved President Uhuru Kenyatta’s October 26 victory, but it is still too early to fully evaluate the court’s impact on the elections, and the impact of the elections on the Court.

What we can do now is to look back on the role played by international election observers, who have received a great deal of criticism in Kenya.

A week or so ago, I published a piece on this topic in the Washington Post with Todd Moss and Jeffrey Smith.

The article was designed to continue the debate about what role international monitors should play, and how they can be strengthened.

ELECTION OBSERVERS
However, in the rush to edit the piece down to the required word length many important points were cut.

As a result, some people have asked for more information on our argument, others have requested further elaboration on the kinds of reforms that could be introduced, and others still have complained that the analysis did not do justice to the complex challenges that observers face.

In response, I shall use this column to try and set the record straight.

GUESTS

What are observers to do?

One of the main challenges for observation teams is that people tend to exaggerate their power.

Ahead of the elections, many Kenyans invested considerable confidence in the ability of missions from the Carter Center and the European Union.

But the rules that observers must play by, if they are not to get into trouble with both their employers and the governments whose elections they oversee, means that there is only so much they can do.

Most obviously, international observers operate in foreign states at the pleasure of the host government, and so have to be particularly careful when alleging rigging.

RIGGING

There are plenty of countries that do not allow foreign teams in – such as Zimbabwe, from where I am writing – and so observers must protect their reputation in order to maintain access.

As a result, monitors often find it difficult to make strong statements when they suspect foul play but cannot prove it.

This situation held in Kenya following the election of August 8, when the opposition quickly pointed to missing forms and electronic irregularities as evidence of rigging, but hard evidence of exactly how many votes had been added or lost was not available.

The Supreme Court interpreted the failure of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to provide information and access to its servers to imply malpractice, even though it lacked concrete evidence of the extent of rigging.

This was an assumption that the Carter Center and the European Union were simply not in a position to make.

CIVIL SOCIETY
Similarly, it is not well-known that observers have no right to directly intervene in elections, even to stop abuses that they directly witness.

Instead, they are supposed to record and report malpractice – leaving intervention to domestic institutions such as the electoral commission and the police.

This is a particularly weak position when we factor in that observers have no power of enforcement – they can make recommendations in their reports, but they have no financial or judicial leverage with which to ensure they are acted upon.

That role falls to domestic civil society and international donors.

As a result, there is a significant discrepancy between the hope and faith that opposition parties place in international observers and their capacity to deliver.

EXPECTATION
What did observers do well?

Many people have been left with the impression that the teams from the European Union and the Carter Center let the Kenyan people down in 2017, not because they were worse than any other groups, but because people expected more from them.

Most of the times that I have heard this argument rolled out, it has rested on three foundations.

The first is that observers did not condemn the August 8 elections, whereas the Supreme Court did.

The second is that observers did not do their job properly because they stayed in Nairobi, did some shopping, and then went back to their comfortable jobs in Europe and North America.

The third is that observers always do the same thing, letting the bad guys off the hook.

RESEARCH
I have already explained why the first criticism misunderstands the power and role of international election observation.

The second criticism is also misguided.

The better and more thorough international missions, such as the Carter Center and the European Union, have a long-term component, placing observers in the country months ahead of the polls.

They also hire political experts who understand the country’s political history and can explain the context of the elections and the ways in which they tend to be rigged.

It is also incorrect to suggest that observers do not travel outside of the capital city.

CREDIBILITY

Almost all monitoring teams locate their staff in polling stations across the country in a reasonably representative way, and so can report on both the rural and urban experience.

The notion that international observers always do the same thing is also clearly false.

Kenyans only have to think back to 2007, when it was the European Union that called into question President Mwai Kibaki’s victory, citing figures from the Molo and Kieni constituencies.

It is also clear that international teams also adapted their approach in 2017, with both the Carter Center and the European Union making strong statements ahead of the “fresh” election on October 26.

These raised concerns about the lack of reforms within the electoral commission and the treatment of the Judiciary, and made it clear that the election was unlikely to be credible.

Thus, while the 2017 elections highlight a number of problems with the system of selection observation, I see most of these as relating to the way election observation works, rather than the people who do it and the decisions that they make.

RECOMMENDATIONS

What can be improved?

We now face the question of how election observation can be improved.

We need to do this for two reasons. On the one hand, a survey conducted by Ipsos Kenya in mid October 2017 found that a majority (59 per cent) of Kenyans want international observers to monitor future elections.

On the other hand, half of all respondents in the same survey agreed that “they make no difference when it comes to stealing votes”.

Thus, while observers are clearly needed, their reputation needs to be strengthened. How can this be done?

BURDEN OF PROOF
One obvious point is that observers can do a better job of communicating the limits to their powers.

But they cannot do this alone – the media, and the way in which observers statements are reported, is also a problem.

During the 2017 elections in Kenya, a number of observer reports that highlighted positive and negative aspects of the polls were reported as having given the process a “clean bill of health”.

However, while good Public Relations is important it will not be enough. The role of observers also needs to be bolstered.

There are two ways in which this can be done.

The first is to change the burden of proof, so that monitors can ask governments to demonstrate that processes are robust and transparent when they have concerns – even if these have not been proven.

STATEMENTS
A second related change would be to have much stronger pre-electoral statements that flag up issues of concern and highlight key challenges in a much stronger way than tends to occur at present.

Of course, one implication of this more tough approach is that in some cases observers may be asked to leave, or not be invited back – but this might not be such a bad thing.

If being present at an election means legitimising a deeply problematic process, staying away may be better.

International monitors could also take longer to issue their first post-election statements.

We know that in many cases election day looks great and the problems emerge halfway through the counting process.

REFORMS

It therefore makes sense to leave any statement until the counting is near complete – and to go to greater lengths to stress that any comments made at this stage are preliminary and must not be taken or reported as a final evaluation of the quality of the polls.

All of these reforms would represent small but significant improvements, but they will count for little if observers do not have the funding, skills and experience needed to actually detect electoral fraud.

At present, they are managed by good people with considerable experience. But they are also operating in a rather old-fashioned way.

EXPERTISE

As is traditional, the European Union team placed people in polling stations across the country.

Academic research suggests that this has the effect of reducing election rigging in the polling stations in which observers are present, but that this has little impact on the quality of the overall rigging because the malpractice is simply moved elsewhere.

A better use of these staff positions would therefore be to establish a high quality team that can interrogate the electoral register and voting and counting process.

TECHNOLOGY

In 2017, the European Union had a data analyst as part of the team, but not a set of experts on biometric technology and digital electoral processes.

Yet most of the problems with the election related to the transmission of forms, and the need to evaluate claims of hacking and the fabrication of results.

The implication is clear: Detecting rigging in the future will require monitors to adapt.

As elections change, so must election observers.

New publications

Matthew S. Shugart and Rein Taagepera, Votes from Seats: Logical Models of Electoral Systems, Cambridge University Press, chapters 11-12 on presidential elections.

Adrián Albala, ‘Bicameralism and Coalition Cabinets in Presidential Polities: A configurational analysis of the coalition formation and duration processes’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 735-754.

Raul Magni-Berton and Max-Valentin Robert, ‘ Maximizing presidential coattails: the impact of the electoral calendar on the composition of the National Assembly’, French Politics, December 2017, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp. 488–504.

Alexander Baturo and Johan A. Elkink, ‘On the importance of personal sources of power in politics: comparative perspectives and research agenda’, French Politics, December 2017, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp. 505-525.

Enes Kulenović and Krešimir Petković, ‘The Croatian Princes: Power, Politics and Vision (1990-2011)’, Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 53, No. 4, 2016, pp. 105-131, available at: http://hrcak.srce.hr/177258

Vincenc Kopeček, ‘Political Institutions in the Post-Soviet De Facto States in Comparison: Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh’, in Martin Riegl and Bohumil Doboš (eds.), Unrecognized States and Secession in the 21st Century, Springer, 2018, pp. 111-136.

Revista Negócios Estrangeiros, 11.4 Especial, Special issue on semi-presidentialism with a focus on Lusophone Africa (in Portuguese), available here.

Aidan Smith, Gender, Heteronormativity, and the American Presidency, Routledge, 2018.

Aya Watanabe, ‘The president-led peace process and institutional veto players: The Mindanao conflict in the Philippines’, Asian Journal of Comparative Politics, 2017, Online First, 1–19.

Vasiliki Triga, ‘Parties and Change in the Post-Bailout Cyprus: The May 2016 Parliamentary Elections’, South European Society and Politics, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2017, pp. 261-279.

Berk Esen & Şebnem Gümüşçü, ‘A Small Yes for Presidentialism: The Turkish Constitutional Referendum of April 2017’, South European Society and Politics, Vol. 22, No. 3, 2017, pp. 303-326.

Ödül Celep, ‘Perspectives on Turkey’s 2017 Presidential Referendum’, Middle East Review of International Affairs, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 1-8.

US – Trump and Republicans In An Era of Nationalized Elections: Hanging Together, or Hanging Separately?

Late last month, Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake took to the Senate floor to confirm that he would not be seeking reelection in 2018. But most of his remarks, which earned a standing ovation from his Senate colleagues, were directed at President Donald Trump. Flake castigated Trump for “reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior” that was “dangerous to democracy,” and he called on his colleagues to “stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch is normal.” Only hours before Flake’s broadside against the President, his Republican Senate colleague Bob Corker, in an appearance on NBC’s Today show, expressed similar sentiments when he branded Trump “an utterly untruthful president.” It was but the latest in a series of criticisms of Trump by the Tennessee Republican dating back several months, including Corker’s characterization of Trump’s White House as “an adult daycare center.”

In the immediate aftermath journalists were quick to label Corker and Flake’s remarks a “watershed moment”, that signaled a Republican Party on the brink of “civil war”, and they speculated that the growing party fissure would jeopardize Trump’s legislative agenda. However, while Corker’s and Flake’s attacks on their own party’s president are perhaps unprecedented, and thus newsworthy, the bigger story is just how few of their fellow partisans in Congress have followed their lead. It is easy to understand their reluctance to do so. Although many in Congress likely share Flake and Corker’s outrage regarding Trump’s norm-breaking behavior, they also recognize that in an era of ideologically polarized congressional parties and nationalized elections, their political fates depend heavily on working with Trump to achieve legislative success.

By nationalized, I mean that the electoral fortunes of Representatives and Senators are increasingly linked to constituents’ willingness to credit or blame the political parties as a whole for the state of the nation, rather than simply voting on the basis of their individual legislator’s record. Put another way, the legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s famous aphorism that “all politics is local” no longer holds true, at least not when it comes winning a seat in Congress. In fact, most electoral politics is now “national”. Just how nationalized have congressional elections become? One way to estimate the relative influence of national versus local forces is to regress the outcome of the House vote in any given election on the previous House vote and on the most recent presidential vote in that House district, while controlling for incumbency and district partisanship. The coefficients on the House variable serve as a proxy for local influences, and the one on the presidential variable captures national tides. Drawing on data gathered by a number of my research assistants over the years, I have been documenting the relative growth in the nationalization of House election dating back to 1954. As the chart below indicates, elections have become increasingly nationalized since the mid-1980’s, and in 2016 the House experienced the most nationalized elections yet measured for a presidential election year.

As the next chart shows, there is a similar trend in House midterm elections: an increase in nationalization dating back to the 1980’s, with 2014 showing the highest rate of nationalization to date.

Although detecting similar trends in Senate races is more difficult because there are fewer of them and because Senate cohorts are elected at different intervals, there is some evidence, such as the decline in states that split their Senate contingent between two parties, to suggest that Senate elections have become more nationalized as well. Consistent with this claim, in 2016, for the first time since the Senate was elected through a popular vote, every state that elected a Republican candidate for Senate also voted for the Republican presidential candidate, and every state that elected a Democratic Senate candidate voted for the Democratic presidential standard bearer. In short, there is no reason to believe that Senate races are any less susceptible to the forces driving nationalization.

What are those forces – why are U.S. elections increasingly nationalized? A full explanation requires a separate post, but there are likely a number of factors at play. To begin, changes in campaign finance regulations have accentuated the monetary influence of small donors who possess more ideologically-extreme views and, aided by the ease of contributing via the internet, they are increasingly willing to spend that money wherever it will have the greatest electoral impact. That often means challenging incumbents in primaries with more partisan candidates. It also appears that the marginal impact of casework and other constituency-related activities, which helped fuel the rise of the incumbency advantage during the 1960’s, may have diminished as it has become an expected part of congressional service.

However, perhaps the most important factor has been party sorting, in which party labels have become a more reliable indicator of a person’s ideological views. Among other effects, party sorting has led to a decline in split-ticket voting in national elections from its high point in the 1970’s, as indicated in the following table.

It is important to note that the decline in split-ticket voting is not proof that voters are increasingly polarized. Instead, as Morris Fiorina argues, these trends are more likely a function of the changing nature of the candidates and positions from which voters must choose. Candidates, and the issues they run on, may be better sorted ideologically by party label. If so, even if voters retain centrist views, they may increasingly sort themselves into a particular party and vote for a straight party ticket because of the more partisan-based choices in candidates and party platforms. As parties become better sorted ideologically, party labels become an increasingly useful cue for voters trying to decide how to vote in congressional elections, and members of Congress have a greater incentive to bolster their party brand.

Whatever the explanation for the trend toward nationalized elections, I see no evidence it will significantly reverse itself in the 2018 midterms. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Corker and Flake appeared to both suddenly take a principled stand against their own president: neither is running for reelection in 2018. (Corker made his decision not seek another term public in September.) Flake, as Trump was only to happy to point out, faced declining approval ratings and a difficult reelection fight. Before breaking publicly with President and announcing he would not seek reelection, Corker had been one of the first establishment Republicans to back Trump’s presidential candidacy, and reportedly had considered serving as Trump’s running mate. Similar political calculations likely influenced those other congressional Republicans, such as John McCain during the debate over repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, better known as Obamacare), who have recently broken publicly with Trump. McCain, of course, is suffering from brain cancer and is unlikely to seek reelection.

Most Republicans in Congress, however, have little incentive to challenge the head of their own party, no matter how outrageous they may view his behavior. This is particularly the case for those running for reelection in 2018. Midterm elections are always politically precarious for members of the president’s party. Since 1934 the president’s party has lost, on average, 27 House and almost four Senate seats during these elections. If those averages hold in 2018, it will be enough to cost Republicans their majorities in both chambers of Congress. Crucially, in an era of nationalized elections and ideologically well-sorted parties in which party labels serve as an increasingly important voting cue, it is not clear that individual members of Congress can easily insulate themselves from these growing national political tides. Instead, Republicans’ best option looking ahead may be to stick together and boost their party’s reputation by achieving some legislative successes. So far they have come up woefully short by this yardstick, most notably in their failure to repeal ACA. Their best remaining legislative hope before hitting the campaign trail may be tax reform – a version of which has already passed the House. As Republicans learned with the unsuccessful health care repeal effort, however, maintaining party unity in the Senate, where they possess a narrow 52-48 margin, is a more difficult task. Nonetheless, in an era of nationalized congressional elections, they have a strong electoral incentive to hang together. The alternative, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, another legendary American politician, is to find themselves hanging separately during the upcoming midterm elections.