Presidential Influence over Government Formation Process: Towards a Classification

This post is based on the article by Lubomír Kopeček and Miloš Brunclík, which has just been published in East European Politics and Societies (L. Kopeček and M. Brunclík, “How Strong Is the President in Government Formation? A New Classification and the Czech Case.” East European Politics and Societies (2018).

In this article we focus on the influence of formally weak presidents over the outcome of the government formation, which is often neglected in scholarly literature. However, as contemporary Czech or Slovak presidents have shown, weak presidents may still become key players in the process leading to appointment of government, i.e. a collective body headed by prime minister, who can be considered to be the chief executive in most European countries. The task of assessing the role of presidents in the government formation process (GFP) is tricky. One can take account of formal presidential powers enshrined in constitutions, but as many researchers have shown[i], formal powers may not tell us much about the real influence presidents exert over the GFP. It should be borne in mind that the actual influence of presidents varies from case to case. It is contingent on a number of circumstances, such as the president’s relationship with the parliamentary majority, the president’s political orientation, the degree of fragmentation of the party system, the organizational capacity of parties, historical precedents, the public’s expectations of the president, the president’s popularity and informal authority, the mode of election of the president, the timing of the presidential election, etc.[ii]

In order to assess the degree of influence presidents have over the GFP, we developed a classification of the roles of presidents in the GFP reflecting real practice, moving beyond comparing formal constitutional rules. We believe that this simple qualitative framework enables us to compare the degree of presidential influence within single presidencies (the degree of influence may vary significantly from one government formation to another), within a polity as well as across polities.

When analyzing the GFP,[iii] it is necessary to examine formal-constitutional rules regulating the GFP, as well as the actual course of the GFP in terms of real politics. An analysis of the GFP in European states in formal terms, e.g. studying constitutional texts, shows that government formation is the result of negotiations between parliamentary parties (and also among them) and the president (although the former is usually stronger than the latter)[iv]. Hence, it is logical to distinguish between parliamentary and presidential cabinets. The parliamentary cabinet largely results from an agreement between parliamentary parties. The president’s role in the GFP is rather formal: he/she formally confirms the cabinet determined by the parliamentary parties. On the other hand, the presidential cabinet primarily reflects the will of the president, whereas the parliamentary parties’ role in the GFP is only secondary. In political practice we can find a number of examples which are somewhere in between the two above-mentioned cases: these cabinets are formed as a compromise between the parties and the president, with each holding a varying degree of influence. The whole process can be seen as a trade-off: the greater the influence a president has over the GFP, the less influence the parliamentary parties exert and vice versa. For this reason, we define more subtle categories, which are presented below from the perspective of the president. The categories mainly reflect the real influence of the president in the GFP. Our classification categories are compiled inductively, i.e. on the basis of a generalization of knowledge about the GFP in particular European countries:[v] 1) observer, 2) notary, 3) regulator, 4) co-designer and 5) creator (see table below).

Table: Presidents’ influence over the GFP

  Control over the GFP Political preferences Level of activity
Observer no irrelevant no
Notary limited irrelevant low
Regulator medium relevant medium
Co-designer main relevant high
Creator exclusive relevant very high

This classification is further based on the assumption that the activity level of parliamentary parties may differ significantly from that of the president. While weaker heads of state (observer or notary) are rather passive and let the parliamentary parties take the initiative, stronger presidents (co-designer and creator) tend to be more active and play a more important role in the GFP. The extent of the actors’ activity is also linked to the relevance of their political preferences as to the government and its shape. While weaker heads of state do not display their preferences (as they are irrelevant anyway), stronger presidents tend to reveal their preferences in an effort to defend the steps they take in the course of the GFP.

Let us explore the categories in more detail. The observer, unlike any of the following patterns, has neither a formal nor an informal role in the GFP. In this case, the GFP is exclusively in the hands of the parliament. However, in European republics we cannot find any president that would fit the observer pattern (nevertheless, the observer type can surely be identified in some European monarchies: Sweden since 1975 and the Netherlands since 2012).

The regulator plays a relatively important role in the GFP. S/he is involved (directly or through mediators) in parties’ bargaining over a new cabinet. The regulator reveals his/her political preferences, which are thus relevant to the outcome of the GFP. S/he does not necessarily come up with his own government alternative. However, s/he may set some conditions for the new cabinet, e.g. a preference for a majority cabinet; a preference for a cabinet that includes/excludes a certain party or some candidates for prime ministers, ministers etc. The role of the regulator is no longer passive, but rather reactive. S/he expects that parties will propose their alternatives for the future cabinet within the limits set by him/her and s/he reveals his/her preferences for a certain alternative. Good examples of this situation come from Austria in the 1950s.[vii]

The co-designer is a strong player in the GFP and his/her overall influence over the outcome of this process is greater than that of the parliamentary parties. Unlike the regulator who does not usually propose governmental alternatives on his/her own, nor does s/he assert them, the co-designer promotes his/her own idea and composition of the future cabinet, and his/her opinion largely, but not completely, determines the outcome of the GFP. The co-designer is typically a powerful president, who however lacks majority support in parliament and who cannot afford to push his/her idea completely independently and against the will of the parliament. Instead, s/he needs cooperative parliamentary parties to set up the new cabinet. The co-designer can also be identified in situations in which a president has fewer constitutional powers in the GFP, but the parliamentary parties are unable to generate a cabinet on their own and thus encourage the president to step significantly into the process, so that an originally weak president becomes a co-designer. It follows from our observations that co-designer is rather infrequent pattern. Still, we can identify some examples[viii].

The creator clearly dominates the GFP. S/he forms the cabinet alone, in line with his/her ideas and political preferences. Parliament’s role is either limited to a minimum (e.g. formalizing the president’s choice in a vote of confidence) or parliament is out of the game altogether (in countries were the new cabinet is not obliged to ask for confidence). The designer creates so-called “presidential cabinets”, i.e. cabinets that are created primarily at the will of the president, while the parliament is sidelined.[ix] The creator is typical for countries where the president is usually responsible for the executive and has a wide range of executive powers. S/he is at the same time the leader of the parliamentary majority, and it is generally expected that the president will actually determine the government. French presidents during the Fifth Republic are a classic example. Of course, with the exception of the periods of cohabitation, when president faces a parliamentary majority from a different political camp. However, a creator might be also a president who is formally strong enough to appoint his/her own presidential (usually technocratic) cabinet, even though s/he lacks the support of the parliamentary majority, and the continuation of such a government in power and pursuit of its program may be extremely problematic.[xi] Good examples of this practice might be three short-lived technocratic cabinets appointed by the Portuguese president António Eanes in 1978 and 1979.[xi].

The classification can be applied almost to both republics and monarchies, indeed all cases where the government is a separate executive body from the head of state. Our classification rests on the qualitative assessment of individual cases of the GFP and requires detailed information about each GFP. Yet, it allows us to compare heads of state with different formal powers in different countries and different periods of time, thus making it a useful tool for comparative analysis. It may help us demonstrate that even extremely weak heads of state may occassionally significantly affect the outcome of the GFP, which cannot be reduced only to inter-party bargaining and coalition theories.

Notes

[i]  E.g. M. Duverger, “A new political system model: semi‐presidential government.” European Journal of Political Research 8(1980);

[ii] O. Protsyk, “Prime Ministers’ Identity in Semi-Presidential Regimes: Constitutional Norms and Cabinet Formation Outcomes”; O. Neto and K. Strøm, “Breaking the Parliamentary Chain of Delegation: Presidents and Non-partisan Cabinet Members in European Democracies.“ P. Köker, “Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe.”; S. G. Kang, “The influence of presidential heads of state on government formation in European democracies: Empirical evidence.”

[iii] In line with the literature, we analyze the GFP when a new cabinet is to be formed after one of the following situations: 1) parliamentary elections, 2) PM’s resignation, including the fall of the cabinet following a successful vote of no-confidence, or rejection to pass a vote of confidence in the cabinet, 3) cabinet is recalled by the head of state, 4) change of partisan composition of the cabinet. Cf. J. Woldendorp, H. Keman and I. Budge. Party Government in 48 Democracies (1945-1998): Composition –Duration –Personnel (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publisher, 2000).

[iv] R. Carroll and G. Cox, “Presidents and their Formateurs”; cf. S. Choudhry and R. Stacey. Semi-Presidentialism as Power-Sharing (IDEA, 2014).

[v] E.g. T. Bergman, “Formation rules and minority governments.” European Journal of Political Research 23(1993); J. Blondel and F. Müller-Rommel, Cabinets in Eastern Europe (Gordonsville: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); K. Strøm, W. Müller and T. Bergman, Delegation and accountability in parliamentary democracies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

[vi] This pattern can be also found in parliamentary monarchies where the sovereign is equipped with formally great powers but, in accordance with constitutional traditions, does not fully use them and lets the parliament decide on the future cabinet. The monarch only formalizes such decisions (e.g. Great Britain).

[vii] Wolfgang C. Müller, “Austria. Tight Coalitions and Stable Government”, in Coalition Governments in Western Europe. eds. W. C. Müller and K. Strøm, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 90.

[viii] I. Jeffries, Eastern Europe at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century: A Guide to the Economies in Transition (London: Routledge, 2002); . Bilefsky, “Serbia approves pro-Western government.” New York Times, 7 July, 2008.

[ix] Cf. A. Kuusisto, “Parliamentary crises and presidial governments in Finland.” Parliamentary Affairs 11(1958); E. Kolb, The Weimar Republic (London: Routledge, 2005); M. Needler, “The Theory of the Weimar Presidency.” The Review of Politics 21(1958).

[x] H. Bahro, B. Bayerlein and E. Veser, “Duverger’s concept: Semi–presidential government revisited.” European Journal of Political Research 34(1998).

[xi] P. Manuel, The Challenges of Democratic Consolidation in Portugal: Political, Economic, and Military Issues, 1976-1991. (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996); J. Magone, “Portugal. The Rationale of Democratic Regime Building,” in Coalition Governments in Western Europe. dd. W. Müller and K. Strøm, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Nicaragua – Protests Erupt against President Ortega

In Nicaragua, talks have opened between the administration of President Daniel Ortega and protestors who, for the past month, have taken to the streets of Managua to call for the removal of Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murrillo. The talks, mediated by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua and held at a seminary in Managua, are designed to diffuse the tension between the government and opposition groups following the death of approximately 65 protestors. The talks, in a bid for transparency, are being broadcast live on television.

The protests began just over three weeks ago in response to proposed reform of Nicaragua’s social security system and the beleaguered Instituto Nicaragüense de Seguridad Social (INSS). The reforms imposed a five per cent tax on old age and disability pensions, which the government defended as needed to address the fiscal mismanagement of INSS. Protests, led by student groups, soon erupted in Managua and by the first weekend, ten protestors lay dead at the hands of police. The protests soon evolved into a general clarion call for an end to Ortega’s eleven-year rule.

The intensity of the protests eventually forced Ortega to pull back on his proposed social security reform and to approach the Catholic Church to intercede. The televised talks did not begin well for Ortega however. Hundreds chanted “Killer” as Ortega arrived at the seminary and once the talks actually began, a student leader interrupted Ortega and began reading out the names of all of those who had been killed by police. And even though the talks were aimed at reducing the number of clashes between protestors and the police, hundreds still gathered at the Universidad Centroamericana.

Daniel Ortega, previously President of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990 and a former member of the leftist revolutionary Junta Provisional de Reconstucción Ncaional that overthrew the Somaza dictatorship in 1979, re-gained office in 2006 and has adopted both a more socially conservative and business friendly stance. As he tightened his grip on power, Ortega has been frequently compared to the Maduro regime in Venezuela and he has been accused of adopting tactics straight out of the playbook of electoral or competitive authoritarians, a coin termed by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way in a seminal paper back in 2002. These are regimes that they describe as a ‘diminished form of authoritarianism’ and involve the reform of political institutions to centralize power and distort the electoral arena in order to stack the deck in favor of the incumbent.

For example, in 2009, Ortega sought to alter the constitution to allow him run for a third term. At the time, Ortega and the Sandinistas lacked the necessary 60 per cent majority in the Assembly and so were forced to turn to the Supreme Court, which overturned the constitutional ban on consecutive re-election, thereby enabling him to return to power in 2011. In 2013, he sought reform of 39 articles in the constitution, the most significant of which abolished presidential term limits; altered the election of the president; and increased presidential power. Specifically, the proposal changed article 147, and removed the prohibition on consecutive presidential terms and the previous, two-term limit. And in December 2016, Ortega, with his wife Rosario Murillo as his running mate, won the presidential election with 72 per cent of the vote. Critics alleged that this huge electoral victory was due to manipulation of the political playing field, which, with just five months to go before the election, saw the Supreme Court rule that Eduardo Montealegre, the leader of one of the main opposition parties, the Partido Liberal Independiente, was no longer allowed to remain in that role.

Ortega’s administration is not the first Latin American government (democratic or otherwise) to face wide-ranging protests. Protests, and the wide-scale deaths of protestors, have also rocked Venezuela and the government of Nicolás Maduro and Maduro remains in power, albeit after tightening his authoritarian grip. Large sustained street protests nonetheless have acted as the trigger for a number of presidential impeachments and forced resignations in Latin America. So is Ortega in trouble? Presidential instability in Latin America appears to lie at the intersection of popular protest and vanishing partisan support in the and even in the face of mass protests, presidents who can boast secure support in the assembly, a ‘legislative shield,’ become very difficult to remove from office.[1] Given Ortega’s grip on the political institutions in Nicaragua, this means he can probably weather an amount of further unrest. At least for a while.

[1] See for example, Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press; Mainstrendet, Leiv. and Einar. Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions.” Comparative Politics, 41(1), pp. 83-101; Hochstetler, Kathryn. 2006. “Rethinking Presidentialism: Challenges and Presidential Falls in South America,” Comparative Politics 38 (4), pp. 401-418.

Kyrgyzstan – Raging against the Dying of the Light: Kyrgyzstan’s Ex-President Struggles to Retain his Political Influence

In weak democracies, leaders relinquish power reluctantly. Confirmation of this aphorism has come recently from Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. In these two post-communist countries, presidents approaching the end of their terms in office engineered revisions to the constitution that pushed the center of power from the presidency toward the prime minister’s office as a means of prolonging their political relevance. Yet in both cases, carefully-laid post-presidential plans came unraveled, in one case because of opposition from the streets, and in the other because of resistance within the halls of power.

In Armenia, the departing president, Serzh Sargsian, stepped immediately into the role of prime minister, prompting massive demonstrations and ultimately the resignation of Sargsian and the installation of an opposition leader, Nikol Pashinian, as prime minister. Developments in Kyrgyzstan have followed a less dramatic, but equally unexpected, path. Instead of directly assuming the newly-strengthened office of prime minister, the outgoing president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambaev, sought to wield the reins of power behind the scenes in his role as chair of the country’s largest party, the Social Democrats. To assure his position at the pinnacle of Kyrgyzstani politics after leaving the presidency, Atambaev had appointed an unseasoned technocrat from his own party to the post of prime minister in August 2017, in the waning months of his single, seven-year term. He had also overseen a bruising and ultimately successful campaign to elect his long-time political ally, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, as the country’s new president.

Even in the first days of the Jeenbekov presidency there was evidence that the new head of state was willing to depart from the policies of his predecessor and patron, most notably on matters of foreign policy. For example, President Jeenbekov quickly healed the rift between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan occasioned by inflammatory comments that Atambaev had directed at Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbaev during the presidential election campaign. The first frontal assault on the Atambaev legacy came only a few weeks later, at the end of February 2018, when the new president accused the security services and law enforcement organs of laxity in their fight against corruption, including in their own ranks. In essence, the new president was now attacking the personnel and policies of the old.

President Jeenbekov followed up this unanticipated assertion of political independence with a series of moves designed to use the diminished but still formidable prerogatives of the presidency to elevate further his personal power and authority—and to distance himself from his patron.1 Because the constitutional revisions introduced under Atambaev did not remove the Kyrgyzstani president’s direct oversight and appointment powers over officials responsible for the criminal justice system, Jeenbekov had available to him potent levers of influence over political and economic elites if he could replace Atambaev loyalists with his own men and women. In March, after removing the chief of staff that he had inherited from Atambaev, Farid Niiazov, President Jeenbekov began pushing out numerous hold-overs from the Atambaev era who occupied key positions in the “power bloc,” including the Procurator-General, the head of the National Security Agency, and several deputy ministers in law enforcement institutions. Predictably for a patronalist system where the maintenance of client networks across the government-business divide depends on the protection of the chief patron, the personnel shakeups in the power ministries—and subsequent criminal investigations involving members of the elite—have put much of the country’s political and economic establishment on edge.

By the end of March 2018, it was clear that former President Atambaev was facing not only a rebellion against his influence by the new president but also by forces within his own party, which he had created and led for a quarter century. Although the Social Democrats elected Atambaev as their chairman at a party conference held in the last days of March, that gathering exposed growing divisions with the party’s ranks, in spite of Atambaev’s best efforts to present an image of a unified party by holding the meetings in secret and banning from the conference several prominent Social Democrats, including a leading parliamentary deputy and former speaker, Asylbek Jeenbekov, who is the brother of President Jeenbekov.

In a combative press conference at the end of the party gathering, former President Atambaev signaled his displeasure with President Jeenbekov and his continued support for the prime minister that he had appointed six months earlier, Sapar Isakov. In Atambaev’s words:

I think that a good prime minister is working today. Energetic and young. He may be mistaken, but this is a person who is doing something.

Less than three weeks later, on April 18, 101 members of the country’s 120-member parliament, including most of the 28 Social Democratic deputies, supported the first no-confidence vote in the country’s history, which ousted Prime Minister Isakov.2 His replacement was a fellow northerner and Social Democrat, Mukhammetkali Abulgaziev.

Whatever the precise involvement of Atambaev and Jeenbekov in the behind-the-scenes maneuvers that led to the no-confidence vote, it is clear that the country is now in the throes of a potentially destabilizing intra-elite struggle. In recent weeks, Jeenbekov has been subject to withering criticism in segments of the press for allegedly showing favoritism along geographic (North-South) or family-clan lines.3 Almost certainly representing interests tied to former President Atambaev or those who have benefitted from his patronage, the current president’s critics have stooped to using the old divisive tropes that had begun to be discarded in recent years, tropes for which Jeenbekov’s behavior in office provides little evidence. Defending himself against his critics, Jeenbekov offered the following comments at his first major press conference.

This is the first time I voice these names today. [Former Presidents] Akayev, Bakiyev — we all remember how they left office. I will not go that way. I want to honestly look into the eyes of my people and not be ashamed.4

If one is searching for another encouraging sign amid the rising tension in the Kyrgyzstani political elite, it is that neither side has yet turned to the traditional weapons of mass mobilization employed in intra-elite struggles: demonstrations, road blockages, or the erection of yurt cities.

Although Kyrgyzstan can claim to have the most open and competitive political system by far in Central Asia, it has still not mastered a central task of mature democracies: the retreat of a former president into a dignified retirement. The first two Kyrgyzstani presidents, Askar Akaev and Kurmanbek Bakiev, were ousted from office in popular rebellions and now live in exile, in Russia and Belarus’, respectively. For his part, as the discussion above illustrates, President Atambaev has reneged on his earlier promise of devoting his retirement to playing the piano, and, at the age of 61, has sought to carve out a role as Kyrgyzstan’s Deng Xiaoping.

If Kyrgyzstan is to join the ranks of stable democracies, future presidents will need to follow the example of Roza Otunbaeva, who has devoted herself to philanthropic and good governance initiatives since leaving the presidency in 2010. There are, to be sure, special circumstances in her case. Appointed as president by the Interim Government that took power following the April Revolution of 2010, Otunbaeva came to the presidency in June of that year through a referendum rather than a competitive election, and she agreed to serve only a single, 18-month transitional term. Nevertheless, in her six years since leaving the presidency, Otunbaeva has found ways to remain publicly engaged while eschewing direct involvement in the political struggle. Of course, if the country should move closer to a traditional parliamentary model of government under its new constitutional arrangements, it may be less appropriate to expect future prime ministers to go gently into that good night.

Notes

1 For accounts of the growing tensions between current and former presidents, see “Krakh operazii ‘preemnik’ v Kirgizii,” Delo No., May 4, 2018. http://www.centrasia.ru/newsA.php?st=1523740320; Ulugbek Babakulov, “Atambaev vs Zheenbekov. Zachem byvshii president Kyrgyzstana vozvrashchaetsia v politiku,” Informatsionnoe agentstvo Ferghana, April 2, 2018. http://www.fergananews.com/articles/9879; and Bruce Pannier, “Won’t Fade Away: Former, Current Kyrgyz Presidents On Collision Course,” Qishloq Ovozi, RFE/RL, April 4, 2018. https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-kyrgyzstan-atambaev-jeenbekov-collision-course/29144713.html

2 The use of a proportional representation voting system in a country divided along regional lines has led to a highly-fragmented parliament, with the Social Democrats representing the largest single voting bloc, with 28 members.

3 Typical of this genre is an article accusing President Jeenbekov’s son-in-law of using his relationship to the president to interfere in personnel decisions and business matters. Arstan Algyrbekov, “Aliiarbek Abzhalieva nuzhno stavit’ na mesto segodnia, inache zavtra prevratitsia v Zhanysha ili Ikrama!,” Aziia News, no. 18, May 10, 2018, p. 3 [reprinted in Gezitter.org, May 10, 2018]. http://www.gezitter.org/society/69847_aliyarbeka_abjalieva_nujno_stavit_na_mesto_segodnya_inache_zavtra_prevratitsya_v_janyisha_ili_ikrama/

4 “President of Kyrgyzstan about family, brothers, their interference in his work,” Informatsionnoe agentstvo 24kg, March 6, 2018. https://24.kg/english/77877_President_of_Kyrgyzstan_about_family_brothers_their_interference_in_his_work/ During an official visit to the northern region of Issyk-Kul’ in early May, President Jeenbekov, a son of the South, admitted that some were trying to raise the North-South question as a way of undermining the unity of the Kyrgyzstani people. “We all see who is spreading these provocative things,” he said, “and we will take measures against those who are imposing on society the North-South question.” Prezident Sooronbai Zheenbekov: Budut priniaty mery k tem, kto naviazyvaet obshchestvu vopros ‘Sever-Iug’,” Kabar, May 3, 2018. http://kabar.kg/news/zheenbekov-budut-priniaty-mery-k-tem-kto-naviazyvaet-obshchestvu-vopros-sever-iug/

Steffen Ganghof – On consistently defining forms of government: A reply to Robert Elgie

This is a guest post by Steffen Ganghof, Chair of Comparative Politics at the University of Potsdam


I recently introduced the concept of semi-parliamentary government as part of a comprehensive typology of democratic forms of government 1 (Ganghof 2018). The typology sees “semi-parliamentary government” as one of six basic ways to structure the principal-agent relationship in a democracy (Table 1). It exists when the legislature is divided into two parts, both of which are directly elected, but only one of which has the constitutional right to dismiss the cabinet in a vote of no-confidence.

The typological innovation had three related goals: (1) to apply the existing typological approach more consistently, (2) to highlight semi-parliamentary systems as a neglected form and (3) to theorize new semi-parliamentary designs as reform options in democratic nation-states as well as the European Union. Here I will focus on the first goal.

One worry raised by Robert Elgie (2018, blog post) is that my approach has too many classificatory clauses or dimensions. Yet we must not conflate two separate issues. One is whether we should include criteria other than the origin and the survival of the executive, in particular the rules of assembly dissolution. As I never proposed this (see Table 1), there is no disagreement here and no need for adjectives like “semi-fixed”.

The real disagreement concerns what the consistent application of the established criteria requires (Ganghof et al. 2018b). Robert maintains in his post that “[i]f we stick to the separate origin and survival of the executive and legislature, we get the three standard categories (presidentialism, semi-presidentialism and parliamentarism).” I think this statement is incorrect and that it shows the predicament of the existing approach.

To see this, let us first ignore the internal divisions within both the executive and legislature. The focus on the origin and survival then gives us a four-fold table (consisting of the two outer columns in Table 1). It distinguishes pure parliamentarism and pure presidentialism from the two “mirror hybrids” that exist in Switzerland (assembly-selected fixed-term cabinet) and existed in Israel (directly-elected but assembly-dependent prime minister). In this elegant and consistent typology neither semi-presidentialism nor semi-parliamentarism are distinct types; both are merely sub-types of parliamentarism.

To delineate semi-presidentialism as a distinct type, as Robert wants to do, he has to make a further distinction between “single” and “dual” executives in otherwise parliamentary systems. Indeed, other leading scholars like Samuels and Shugart (2010: 27) first distinguish between systems with single and dual executives and then use the fourfold table to subdivide the single-executive systems. This two-step classification procedure is straightforward, but also somewhat ad hoc and inconsistent. For if we introduce the internal division of the executive into the typology or classification, we ought to do the same for the legislature. After all, just as only one part of the executive may be dependent on assembly confidence, only one part of the legislature may be required to supply it. There is a logical symmetry here that existing classifications neglect. Their asymmetric focus on the internal division of the executive would at least have to be justified, but I am not aware of any such justification.

The same asymmetry and inconsistency shows when we consider the criterion used to distinguish semi-presidential from parliamentary systems. The criterion is the direct election of the president. This criterion is usually not justified explicitly and, again, not applied consistently. If direct election is used as a criterion for an agent’s sufficient democratic legitimacy – for being a primary rather than subsidiary agent of voters – then it ought to be applied to the legislature as well. This is what my typology and the concept of semi-parliamentarism do. They systematically consider the role that direct election plays in constituting a typologically relevant internal division within executive and legislature.

In sum, I contend that the proposed typology results from a symmetric application of long-established criteria. In contrast to Robert, I think it is inconsistent to treat semi-presidentialism and semi-parliamentarism differently. Either both are sub-types of parliamentarism or both are distinct types. The two forms of hybridization can also be combined, as is the case in the Czech Republic, but there is no logical reason to see the semi-presidential characteristic of this case as being conceptually prior to its semi-parliamentary characteristic.

As mentioned, the proposed typology has two other goals. One is to conceptualize and analyze a neglected form of government. A recent symposium in the Australian Journal of Political Science has confirmed the usefulness of the concept of semi-parliamentarism in this regard. For example, Marija Taflaga (2018: 252) states that it “better describes politics as it really is practiced” and offers a “simpler and more coherent description of the Australian system.”

The other goal, and the most important one for me, is to guide our thinking towards new semi-parliamentary designs as reform options for democracies, not only but especially for presidential systems (Ganghof 2016, 2018). In my view, this heuristic function is an important purpose of typologies. And if this is the purpose, the number of democracies that fall into each category is quite irrelevant. The current empirical predominance of democracies with directly (or at least popularly) elected presidents certainly tells us nothing about their normative justifiability.

A crucial insight of the analysis of semi-parliamentary constitutions is that they can potentially reap all the alleged benefits of presidential systems highlighted in the political science literature – constitutional separation of powers, pre-electoral identifiability, post-electoral clarity of responsibility, cabinet stability, a single system-wide constituency, and issue-specific coalition building in the legislature – but without the cost of concentrating massive executive power in a single human being and thereby “presidentializing” political parties (Samuels and Shugart 2010).

This raises deep and thorny questions about the democratic justifiability of presidentialism. As Josep Colomer (2013) and others have reminded us, presidentialism has deep monarchical roots. Maybe it is time for us to think about how we can separate what is good about presidentialism from what is dangerous for the quality and survival of democracy. The analysis of semi-parliamentarism would not be a bad place to start.

References

Colomer, Josep M. 2013. “Elected Kings with the Name of Presidents. On the origins of presidentialism in the United States and Latin America.” Revista Lationamericana de Politica Comparada 7:79-97.

Ganghof, Steffen. 2016. “Combining proportional and majoritarian democracy: An institutional design proposal.” Research & Politics 3 (3):1-7.

———. 2018. “A new political system model: Semi-parliamentary government.” European Journal of Political Research (57):261-81.

Ganghof, Steffen, Sebastian Eppner, and Alexander Pörschke. 2018a. “Australian Bicameralism as Semi-Parliamentarism: Patterns of Majority Formation in 29 Democracies.” Australian Journal of Political Science 53 (2):211-33.

———. 2018b. “Semi-parliamentary government in perspective: concepts, values, and designs.” Australian Journal of Political Science 53 (2):264–9.

Samuels, David, and Matthew Shugart. 2010. Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers – How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Taflaga, Marija. 2018. “What’s in a name? Semi-parliamentarism and Australian Commonwealth executive-legislative relations.” Australian Journal of Political Science 53 (2):248-55.

Georgia – Confrontation in the ruling party and the former Prime Minister’s return to politics  

Georgia’s current Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikshvili, noted at a special briefing on April 24, 2018 that Bidzina Ivanishvili, the former Prime Minister and founder of the ruling party “Georgian Dream”, is coming back to politics. Kvirikashvili said that Ivanishvili was asked to return to politics because the party needs to be renewed. “On behalf of my team and the whole team I personally requested the founder of our party to lead the party and I am glad that Mr. Bidzina Ivanishvili has agreed.” [1]

Ivanishvili’s return was preceded by a controversy within the parliamentary majority. This followed a statement from one of its deputies against the appointment of an opposition candidate to the board of the Public Broadcaster of Georgia by the ruling majority. The statement was criticized by the speaker of parliament and was followed by a confrontation between different groups within the majority over several days. Bidzina Ivanishvili left politics in 2013[2], but he said then that he would come back if the government was not listening to the people.[3] Apparently, Ivanishvili now thinks it is time to return. On May 11 he was elected as the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

In fact, Bidzina Ivanishvili never went away. He has always ruled the Georgian Dream and important political decisions were not taken without him. The representatives of the majority spoke openly about it and did not hide the fact that they consulted him. It is true that Ivanishvili did not like being a public figure. He had no prior experience of politics before becoming prime minister and he did not feel comfortable in this space. That is why he formally left politics, but he managed events from behind the scenes. This led to talk of a system of ‘informal governance’ both in the country and the international arena.

The parliamentary majority is not united around concrete values, nor is it based on a specific ideological platform. The only factor they have in common is Bidzina Ivanishvili himself. This is one of the reasons why Ivanishvili decided to return, but from his speech at the congress suggested he was not happy doing so.

At the party congress, Ivanishvili said that he returned because he recognised the problems that the country still faced after 6 years of the Georgian Dream coalition: the socio-economic condition; political opponents; and party problems. With the opposition talking about uniting and with Georgian Dream having a very low level of trust in the society, Ivanishvili’s return is a way of increasing the chances of the party’s success in the presidential election and ensuring the continuation of the party’s position in power. His return is also an attempt to renew the ruling party, even though at the party congress there was no talk of changing the party’s policies. Moreover, even with his return as party chair, questions about informal governance have not been removed. Political power lies formally with the Prime Minister.

The upcoming presidential election is important even though the president has limited powers in the current constitution. In 2018, the president will still be chosen by the people for a term of six years. An opposition victory in the presidential election would be a significant event. In this context, Ivanishvili may stand as a presidential candidate, which would increase the ruling party’s chances of winning.

Everyone understands that despite the low trust in Georgian Dream, it will only be defeated if the opposition is united. However, the opposition is very weak. A single opposition candidate is unlikely and the ruling party will also try to increase the divisions among the the opposition. At the same time, current president’s position is also very important. President Margvelashvili has not officially announced that he will stand for re-election, but his recent speeches suggest that he is going to take part in the elections and some opposition parties have said that they will support his candidacy. However, this does not necessarily increase the chances of a unified opposition candidate. 

A victory by the opposition would be a step forward for Georgian democracy. However, if the Georgian Dream candidate wins, the future president should distance himself/herself from the ruling party as President Margvelashvili has done. This would help ensure a balance of power and also help the development of Georgian democracy.

Notes

[1] Bidzina Ivanishvili Returns to Politics, 04-26-2018,  http://primetime.ge/news/1524732614-ბიძინიტიკაში-ბრუნდება

[2] Ivanishvili’s Open Letter, 21 November 2013 https://old.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=26708

[3] I am a good spare player, I will return in politics only in the wonders, 2015-07-22 http://www.newposts.ge/?l=G&id=82195

France – President Macron’s European Window of Opportunity: Double or Quits?

On the first anniversary of his election as President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron can make a credible claim to have imposed a new style and rhythm on French politics: characterized by a vertical chain of command, a distrust of intermediaries (parties, trade unions, interests) between the President and the People; a robust form of political expression, based on an explicit rejection of left and right and organized political parties, and a routine dismissal of the ‘old world’. The enterprise has encountered a measure of domestic success, it we are to believe Macron’s poll ratings after one year in office (more popular in various surveys at this stage than Sarkozy or Hollande). The drive to reform France domestically during the first year has, in part, been a function of restoring the country’s good name on the European level, by demonstrating the capacity to undertake reforms, to withstand the street and to overcome the usual veto players (the railway strikes are particularly symbolic in this respect). The claim that ‘France is back’ requires the nation getting its own house in order. From the outset, there has been an explicit linkage between domestic and European politics. But are domestic styles and remedies transferable to the European scene? The first year of Macron’s presidency is rather inconclusive in this respect.

That Macron has made an impact is not open to doubt. In recognition of his contribution to the ideal of European Union, he was awarded the prestigious Charlemagne Prize in May 2018, the first French president to have been thus honored since, in 1988, former President Mitterrand and former Chancellor Helmut Kohl were joint recipients of the award. The Charlemagne Prize was awarded mainly in recognition of the 2017 campaign itself, where Macron had been the only candidate explicitly endorsing enhanced European integration. Through his election in May 2017, Macron was widely credited with stemming the rise of populism after the Brexit referendum, at a critical juncture in European history – shortly before Germany, Austria and Italy would each in their own way call into question the reality of a new European consensus. Be that as it may, Macron’s activism in favour of a new European deal contrasted very starkly with the inaction of predecessors Chirac (after the 2005 referendum defeat), Sarkozy and Hollande. Macron’s European vision was articulated in four key speeches: at the Acropolis in Athens in August 2017, at the Sorbonne University, Paris, in September 2017, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg and at Aix-la-Chapelle (Germany) in May 2018.

As in domestic politics, once elected President Macron enjoyed a seemingly favourable concatenation of circumstances in Europe. Quite apart from the moral credit of being elected as the only explicitly pro-European candidate in the French presidential election, Macron’s capacity to articulate a European vision contrasted with that of France’s main neighbors and partners. The self-exile of the UK via the BREXIT process presents challenges and opportunities for France, but in the short run it removed a competitor, notably in the field of European security and defense policy. Macron’s dynamic leadership contrasted with the running out of steam of that of Chancellor Merkel, with the Federal elections of September 2017 being followed by five months of coalition bargaining before a chastened CDU-CSU alliance finally agreed to renew its coalition agreement with the SPD. In some respects, the withering of Angela Merkel, after over a decade of uncontested European leadership, presents challenges for Macron but it also allows the French President to re-claim to a certain leadership role in Europe. The traditional Mediterranean countries that looked to France for leadership, or at least alliance – Spain and Italy – were both in a state of stasis (Rajoy confronted with the Catalan crisis in Spain; Italy having to manage the inconclusive election of March 2018, marked by the rise of the League and the 5 Star movement). Both countries were ill-placed to launch European initiatives. At the same time, the hardening of relations with several of the countries of central and eastern Europe – though dangerous in some respects – provided Macron with an opportunity to deliver on one of his domestic commitments (the reform of the posted workers directive). In this confused European context, Macron diagnosed a window of opportunity for European reform in a manner consistent with French preferences.

His European vision was central to his speech at the Sorbonne (September 26th 2017), renewing with a repertory not really seen since Mitterrand in the 1980s and early 1990s. In his Sorbonne speech, the French President called for a European relaunch, characterized by: a more integrated foreign, security and defense policy; more EU-wide defense procurement; measures to tackle the democratic deficit at the EU level (reforms of the European parliament, the introduction of EU-wide constituencies for the European elections; a new democratic dialogue across Europe); procedures for differentiated integration, where groups of member-states could engage in ‘enhanced cooperation’ in specific areas; and a Europe that ‘protects’ its citizens (reforms of the posted workers’ directive) and its industries (from Chinese assault, notably). The most ambitious EU proposals related to the governance of the euro-zone. Macron argued in favour of the creation of a Euro-zone Super-minister, with a separate dedicated budget, and the transformation of the European Security Mechanism into a fully pledged European Monetary Fund, all to be supervised by a new Euro-zone parliament. These positions were a powerful restatement of French preferences: namely, to ensure political supervision of the governing mechanisms for the euro (the Super-minister), to facilitate transfers from richer countries (especially Germany) to poorer ones, in the name of economic convergence and solidarity, and to endow the EU with new fiscal resources. Macron’s European en même temps reconciled a staunch belief in the merits of European integration with a recognition that it was essential to renew the citizenship compact after a tough decade of economic reform. The substance of the new European grand bargain reflected French preferences in other fields also. His call for there to be a Europe-wide consultative process – the EU conventions, modelled on his own practice (les marcheurs) – was given a polite reception in Brussels and in most European countries.

Ultimately, the limits of the Macron enterprise lay in the need to build the necessary coalitions (first and foremost with Merkel) and to demonstrate the economic success of the French model. In a rather predictable construction, Macron looked to the Franco-German relationship to assume a central role; the terms of which tied the success of the window of opportunity to developments in Germany, France’s main political partner, though figures published recently saw France retroceding to the 4th place in terms of economic exchanges with Germany. For months, the Macron proposals were met with a constrained, polite silence from Germany. After the German elections of September 2017, the CDU-CSU-SPD coalition agreement which eventually emerged (in March 2018) was potentially more favorable to Macron’s grand bargain than the alternative failed Jamaica coalition (the CDU, CSU, FPD and the Greens).

The reception of the Macron agenda in Brussels and other EU capitals has been mixed. The CDU-SPD coalition agreement, published in March 2018, did not mention the Euro-zone minister. It soon became apparent that the temperature in the new Merkel-led coalition was lukewarm to the French proposals. It is difficult to see the Germans allowing further mutualisation of euro-debts, or agreeing to more fiscal transfers within the Euro-zone – and even completing the banking union is fraught with angst. In the context of the rise of the AFD in 2017, the Germans have other priorities: ensuring more pan-European solidarity in relation to migration and refugees in particular. Moreover, the new German coalition is divided on issues of European solidarity and a more integrated EU defense policy, matters of great concern to French President Macron. Macron’s call for there to be EU wide lists for elections to the European parliament was specifically rejected by the European parliament. His proposal for creating a euro-zone parliament, which echoed that of his predecessor Hollande, faced hostility from Berlin, as well as from the European Commission, for whom the European parliament already provides a democratic oversight of EU institutions. And his call for a separate budgetary chapter for the euro-zone economies – if understandably well received amongst the euro-zone ‘sinners’ in southern Europe – provoked eight northern EU states led by the Netherlands to publish their own rebuttal of the roadmap and to restate the importance of respecting the rules of euro membership.

Does this episode demonstrate the victory of style over substance? Such a judgement would be a harsh one. At the very least Macron has restored France’s seat at the table; there has been a credible restatement of the Franco-German relationship and its role in driving major new policy initiatives (the ‘roadmap’ agreed by Macron and Merkel in March 2018). The real issues are now being played out. The European Commission’s draft budgetary perspectives 2021-2027 – represent a direct challenge to traditional French priorities in agriculture – by advocating cuts to the Common Agricultural Policy. The proposed creation of a modest budgetary line for the euro-zone would appear to fall well short of Macron’s proposals for a very substantial budget to oversee transfers to the poorer Eurozone members as a measure of solidarity. Macron’s European credibility will be tested in the European council meeting of June 28th and 29th, the last meaningful occasion to provoke a European awakening before the 2019 European elections. Whatever the outcome this summit being billed as historic, there are obvious questions to be asked in relation to the goodness of fit between domestic and European leadership styles. There is arguably no office more capable of expressing an idealistic European vision than that of the French presidency, especially as personified by Emmanuel Macron. Rather paradoxically, however, the ‘vision thing’ might appear as counter-productive in European arenas, insofar as a holistic and non-negotiated vision has to confront the realities of EU bargaining and the continuing attraction of alternative narratives of the future of Europe.

New publications

Paul Chaisty and Timothy J. Power, ‘Flying solo: Explaining single-party cabinets under minority presidentialism’, European Journal of Political Research, available on-line first: rdcu.be/KxnR

Lubomír Kopeček and Miloš Brunclík, ‘How Strong Is the President in Government Formation? A New Classification and the Czech Case’, East European Politics and Societies: and Cultures, Online first.

Australian Journal of Political Science, Symposium: Majority Formation in Semi-Parliamentary Regimes, vol. 53, no. 2, 2018, including Steffen Ganghof, Sebastian Eppner and Alexander Pörschke, ‘What’s so good about parliamentary hybrids? Comment on ‘Australian bicameralism as semi-parliamentarianism: patterns of majority formation in 29 democracies’, p. 211-233, and Robert Elgie, ‘ On new forms of government’, pp. 241-247.

Danny Gittings, ‘Separation of powers and deliberative democracy’, in Ron Levy, Hoi Kong, Graeme Orr, and Jeff King (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Deliberative Constitutionalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018, pp. 113-124.

Eduardo Mello and Matias Spektor, ‘Brazil: The Costs of Multiparty Presidentialism’, Journal of Democracy, Volume 29, Number 2, April 2018, pp. 113-127.

Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, Special Issue, Donald Trump’s Challenge to the Study of Elections, vol. 28, no. 2, 2018.

Graeme AM Davies, Marcus Schulzke, and Thomas Almond, ‘Sheltering the president from blame: Drone strikes, media assessments and heterogeneous responsibility 2002-2014’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 477-496.

Scott Pegg and Michael Walls, ‘Back on track? Somaliland after its 2017 presidential election’, African Affairs, Volume 117, Issue 467, April 2018, pp. 326–337.

Michael Chege, ‘Kenya’s Electoral Misfire’, Journal of Democracy, Volume 29, Number 2, April 2018, pp. 158-172.

Estonia – Reforming the presidential election: A neverending story?

Estonia has debated the way in which the presidency should be elected since its creation by the constitutional convention in 1991-1992, After several unsuccessful initiatives and cosmetic changes throughout the years, the failure to elect a president in 5 rounds of voting in 2016 finally appears to have given the reformers sufficient momentum. Nevertheless, to date neither the new system nor the way it will be introduced is clear and there is still a minor chance the process will come to naught, thus continuing the ‘neverending story’ of presidential election reform in Estonia.

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

The Estonian constitutional assembly debated the presidency at length. After many drafts for the new constitution included a powerful and popularly elected presidency, the assembly eventually chose a strongly parliamentarian draft that included an indirect presidential election by parliament and an electoral college. To appease the public and some critics of the constitution, the first presidential election was however held by semi-popular vote: The public voted on candidates in the first round and the Riigikogu (the unicameral parliament) then decided between the two frontrunners. Since 1996, Estonian presidents have been elected through an entirely indirect process. There are three rounds of voting in the Riigikogu in which an absolute two-thirds majority (68/101 deputies) is required to elect a president (n.b. the third round just includes the two frontrunners from the second round). Failing that, the election is handed to the Valimiskogu (electoral college) consisting of the 101 members of the Riigikogu and roughly 2.3 times as many representatives of local councils (sending 1-10 councillors each based on population size). The Valimiskogu then has two rounds to elect a winner with an absolute majority. Thereby, the first round automatically includes the candidates from the third round in the Riigikogu and can include newly nominated candidates; the second round once again only includes the two frontrunners.

Since the constitutional assembly, there has been sizeable support in the Estonian population to introduce popular elections. Former presidents Lennart Meri (1993-2001) and Arnold Rüütel (2001-2006) called for popular elections and proposals were floated again and again. However, they were never supported by a majority of parties and were regularly voted down or shelved given more pressing political problems. One of the most important factors in this appears to be politicians’ idea of Estonia as a parliamentary republic which would be thrown out of balance by introducing a popularly elected president. To date, the only successful change to presidential election procedures happened in 2010, yet had little substantive effect. Up until then, local council did not follow a coherent set of rules when selecting their representatives for the Valimiskogu. The amendment supported by all parties bar the Centre Party (which stood to lose the most) now stipulated that there was only to be a single round of voting on the representatives. Officially, this was to ensure that larger parties would not be able to claim a disproportionate share of electors. Nevertheless, as only the city councils of Tartu and Tallinn send more than two electors (4 and 10, respectively), this was rather an attempt to curb the Centre Party’s traditionally large influence in these councils.

The failure to elect a successor for president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2006-2016) in five rounds of voting – the election had to be handed back to the Riigikogu after voting in the Valimiskogu remained inconclusive – finally gave reformers sufficient momentum, albeit only in combination with an impending territorial reform that would reduce the number of local councillors by half if the current system was kept. However, two reform attempts were necessary to start the process. An initiative to introduce direct presidential elections with a two-round run-off was proposed by the Centre Party in early 2017 but was withdrawn soon after. Only after further negotiations between government parties were new proposals worked out and are currently debated in coalition working group.

Should a reform in fact take place, then a direct presidential election appears out of the question – despite the Centre Party’s insistence, its coalition partners just cannot be persuaded to even consider the proposal. Likewise, it appears that the ratio of local electors vs Riigikogu deputies will remain the same if not increase (ratios of 2:1 to 3:1 are currently debated). This would of course mean that local municipalities would send more electors than before – likely a minimum of two (instead of one). Furthermore, there seems to be more and more support to transfer the whole election to the Valimiskogu (only one out of five elections was completed in parliament in any case). The latter proposal was already once presented by president Lennart Meri in the late 1990s, yet was torn apart by media and politicians alike. The voting procedure, too, is likely to change – a preliminary draft foresees a maximum of five rounds of voting with the worst performing candidates being consecutively eliminated and a relative majority requirement in the last round (n.b. this is similar to the Latvian system).

These proposals for change go above and beyond the simpler solutions suggested after the 2016 election debacle, e.g. merely removing the absolute majority requirement from the last round of voting in the Riigikogu. Apart from the fact that all proposals are still at a draft stage (and include some controversial changes unrelated to the election procedure, e.g. a limitation of incumbency to a single seven-year term instead of two consecutive five-year terms), there are still some hurdles facing their implementation. An absolute majority of votes is necessary to the change the constitution and it is not guaranteed that the government coalition will be able to persuade the rest of the Riigikogu (including some of its own deputies) of the reform proposals. Furthermore, the presidential election law will need to amended as well. Thus, it remains to be seen whether there will be a substantive change after all or whether this will simply be another chapter in the neverending story that is presidential election reform in Estonia.

Political Trust in East and Southeast Asia

This post is based on a recent publication, “How political trust matters in emergent democracies: evidence from East and Southeast Asia,” available at the Journal of Public Policy

How does political trust matter in emergent democracies? Studies suggest that political trust may potentially buffer against public pressures for performance. For emergent democracies that are under pressure to perform on the competing fronts of policy and political performance, the promise of political trust providing policy or political leeway is useful to help with prioritization of the tasks of nation-building.[1] In particular, studies show governments in emergent democracies to be under considerable pressure to deliver on policy performance to broaden support for political survival; meanwhile, the nascent institutions in these democracies need further development to regularize facilities and capacities that will deliver political goods and inspire stalwart “democrats” to uphold democratic processes in the face of poor policy performance.

Unfortunately, limited empirical evidence exists for whether political trust provides such a leeway, and even fewer studies examine the possibility in emergent democracies. This neglect reflects that much of the literature has built around mature democracies, where the trade-off for policy performance versus political performance is unlikely to upend long-standing democratic practices and institutions.

This paper addresses that critical question: it considers if political trust provides political or policy leeway or both in emergent democracies, through assessments of how political trust displaces economic performance in explaining incumbent-approval or system-support. We use economic performance to take into account findings from economic voting studies that consistently show economic achievements to be integral to support for the government or the political system; consequently, if results show that political trust displaces economic performance in explaining public support for the government or the democratizing system, then they are strongly indicative of how political trust directed at incumbent-approval or system-support may provide leeway against public demands for economic performance. If political trust does not provide the political or policy leeway as suggested, then the government and the political system remain hostage to policy performance; if, however, political trust displaces policy-performance, it follows that voters may remain committed to the incumbent or political system or both despite poor policy performance.

The data are drawn from Asian Barometer Survey for the East and Southeast Asia countries of South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, i.e., three presidential, one semi-presidential, and one (previously) parliamentary systems. The countries for East and Southeast Asia are interesting for examination: they vary in terms of democratic age and economic levels and, importantly, were countries with high economic achievements. More so than other countries, then, the public in the East and Southeast Asian countries may be inclined towards economic performance over political ones; consequently, if the results indicate that political trust displaces the economic performance in these countries to explain support, the results are likely to be highly generalizable.

Three results from successive waves of survey from the Asian Barometer are informative. First, they show that where political trust is statistically significant in explaining democratic support, economic performance is not relevant. That is, the results show where political trust is directed at system-support, it displaces economic performance to buffer political systems from the pressures of economic performance. Second, for incumbent-approval, both political trust and economic performance are relevant explanators; thus, political trust does not displace economic performance to explain incumbent-approval. Third, in conjunction, the results clarify that an economic focus in the respective countries may keep a government in office but political trust undergirds the political system. This emphasizes the priority of building political trust to deepen peace and stability in the region.

These results are particularly relevant for expanding study and understanding of the political trust literature to issues of democratic progression and consolidation that are unique to emergent democracies. By these results, recent events in the emergent democracies of East and Southeast Asia – where governments have prioritized growth over institution-building – are cause for concern. In particular, the results show that the pursuing growth in place of institution-building undermines long-term political peace and social stability. Thus, even for governments with primary interests in office-tenure, the results highlight an overlooked consideration: the long-term benefits of institution-building that helps build political trust in the emergent democracies.

_________________

[1] These arguments of the effects of political trust align with Easton (1975)’s framing of specific and diffuse support. See Easton, D. 1975. “A Re-assessment of the Concept of Political Support.” British Journal of Political Science no. 5 (4):435-457. doi: 10.1017/S0007123400008309.

Sierra Leone – Minority government leads to parliamentary impasse

This is a guest post by Iris Navarro de Tomas, Senior Program Assistant at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Washington, DC

Sierra Leone’s March 8 presidential and parliamentary elections and subsequent March 31 presidential runoff marked an important benchmark as the country saw the second peaceful transfer of power between its two major parties since the end of a decade-long civil war in 2002. Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) defeated Samura Kamara of the incumbent All People’s Congress (APC) with 51.8 percent of the vote in the runoff. However, the APC maintained its majority in parliament, resulting in the first time in Sierra Leone’s history that parliament is controlled by the opposition party. The country is now faced with its first experience of minority government, and early indications are it is likely to be challenging.  

A divided government

The SLPP won a close presidential race, but did not succeed in securing a legislative majority. In the first-past-the-post parliamentary elections, the SLPP only increased its representation from 42 seats to 49, while the APC won 68 in a parliament with 132 elected seats. With a divided government, the SLPP will need to find ways to govern effectively without a majority in the House, facing additional hurdles in passing legislation and government budgets. President Bio will need to rely on cross-party consensus to successfully implement his political agenda.   

A few days after the run-off, newly elected President Bio made an appeal for cross-party cooperation as post-election violence erupted in Freetown, Kenema and Makeni after the announcement of results. The SLPP took to the streets to celebrate its victory, which led  to violent clashes between SLPP and APC supporters, confrontations with security forces and rioting. Bio established a joint APC and SLPP commission to investigate the violent incidents. These developments seemed to be a sign that the SLPP could make concessions to the opposition in the interest of moving the country forward.

President Maada Bio’s strategic move

Despite early signs of cooperation, a recent political impasse in Parliament is a concerning signal that when presented with a divided government, the ruling party is ready to use all means to regain power in the legislature.

In late April, Sierra Leone saw a political deadlock as the High Court placed injunctions on 16 APC and two SLPP parliamentarians, barring them from participating in the opening session of Parliament and thus in the election of the speaker of the House. The injunctions are based on SLPP and APC claims that the MPs illegally received government salaries during the campaign period and tampered with election results. In advance of the first parliamentary session scheduled for April 24, the outgoing speaker of the House postponed the session indefinitely due to the uncertainty. President Bio, citing article 84.1 of the Constitution that gives the President power to summon a parliamentary session, proclaimed that the first session of Parliament would occur on April 25, despite the large number of APC MPs barred from taking oath. All APC MPs attended the session, prompting police to forcibly remove the 16 APC parliamentarians who could not be sworn in due to the injunctions. In a moment of political solidarity, the remaining 52 members of the APC also left Parliament. The APC and its supporters claimed that President Bio’s move was evidence of an attempt to undermine the APC majority in parliament and ensure that an SLPP representative became speaker.  

As a result of the APC walkout, Dr. Abass Chernoh Bundu of the SLPP was elected speaker unopposed. While article 79.1 of the Sierra Leonean Constitution mandates that two thirds of parliamentarians must be present for the vote on the speaker, it does not clarify how the quorum is reached. SLPP claims that two thirds of the MPs who took oath were present, however APC interprets this requirement differently, claiming that at least two thirds of elected MPs must be present to elect the speaker, which would make this vote unconstitutional.

Bio’s push to move the vote of the speaker forward despite pending court cases appears as a strategic move to ensure a more favorable legislature to back his policy priorities.  Not only does the speaker administer proceedings on the House floor and has the power to recognize MPs to make motions, but the speaker acts as head of government when the President and the Vice President are out of the country. Both the post-election violence carried out by SLPP supporters and the events in Parliament are concerning  signals of the continued fragility of Sierra Leone’s nascent democracy.

What next?

Mediation efforts. In response to the events, a joint high-level delegation comprised of President of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS), Mr. Jean Claude Kassi Brou, and the Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Mr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, began mediation efforts between the SLPP and APC leadership on April 29. Four days later, the delegation recommended that both parties establish effective channels and mechanisms for dialogue to resolve their political differences. The delegation also encouraged the judiciary to ensure prompt, fair, independent and timely adjudication of all injunctions, so all MPs can be sworn-in.  

High Court proceedings. The High Court asked the SLPP and APC to provide evidence by May 4 to substantiate the injunctions on the parliamentarians, and after review of the evidence, the High Court lifted the injunctions on the MPs. The parliamentarians have all now been sworn-in, and the APC will likely ask for a re-election of the speaker on the grounds that the vote was unconstitutional. Considering the likelihood that the SLPP will not allow a re-election and given that there are no provisions in the Constitution governing such a situation, further deadlock in Parliament is probable.

Constitutional Reform. A constitutional review process was initiated in 2014 but was paused until 2016 due to the Ebola outbreak. While consultations with political stakeholders and constitutional experts have taken place since 2016, the constitutional review recommendations have not yet been passed by Parliament. As political parties interpret the Constitution to fit their interests during the impasse in Parliament, it is expected that civil society groups will apply pressure to push the review forward. Groups are primarily advocating for measures to reduce presidential powers and mandate that the speaker of the House be a High Court judge to foster neutrality.

Passing Legislation. President Bio will need to build consensus and reach compromises between SLPP and opposition parties moving forward if the country is to avoid an ongoing impasse in the legislature. This could benefit APC MPs who may leverage their majority in the House to advance legislation that would benefit their local constituencies. If the APC majority in Parliament becomes obstructive in passing legislation, the government may resort to using the extensive powers of the executive to force policy adoption and implementation. Particularly, education policy is a potential source of political deadlock, as the SLPP’s key campaign promise was the establishment of a free education system, which was strongly opposed by the APC.  It should also be noted that there are significant divisions within the APC that emerged from the party nomination process and led to breakaway parties, which could make it easier for the SLPP to generate cross-party support on key issues.

While recent events in Sierra Leone are concerning for the stability of this nascent democracy, there remain opportunities for political dialogue and cooperation to strengthen democratic processes in the country. As Sierra Leoneans are anxious for change, with 80 percent responding the country was going in the wrong direction in the latest Afrobarometer survey in 2015, scrutiny of the government’s policymaking and demands for accountability and transparency are likely to be more sustained than under previous administrations. If the SLPP can overcome the current impasse and find ways to successfully manage a divided government, Sierra Leone would come out as a strengthened democracy.