Kazakhstan: “Operation successor” complete or in jeopardy?


 

When Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s interim President, called early presidential elections on April 9, his victory was a foregone conclusion. In fact, the ballot on June 9 brought him 6.54 million votes, nearly 71 percent of all votes cast.

The next day, the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, a presidentially appointed advisory body of the President, declared Tokayev’s victory the confirmation of “a clear and understandable mechanism for the continuation of the strategic course of Elbasy,” i.e., Nazarbayev.

At the same time, international observers made their comments. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization called the elections “transparent, reliable and democratic.” The same conclusion was reached by the CIS observer mission, the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (Turkic Council), the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries (TURKPA), and official observers from Russia.

Only the OSCE mission, acknowledging the efficiency of the preparation and administration of the election, criticized the ballot as “tarnished by clear violations of fundamental freedoms as well as pressure on critical voices.” The observers found “considerable restrictions on the right [of independent candidates] to stand” and “limits to peaceful assembly and expression [inhibiting] genuine political pluralism.” On election day, they witnessed “significant irregularities, […] including cases of ballot box stuffing, and a disregard of counting procedures” as well as “widespread detentions of peaceful protesters” in major cities.

However, the main problem with the recent presidential election is not its lack of integrity. Trying to measure electoral integrity in a country like Kazakhstan, which has never been a democracy in the first place, misses the point. In a very basic sense, democratic elections are but the method by which the top executive leadership is selected. In Kazakhstan, however, the people were not meant to choose who would run the country in the years to come. The election was announced, because of the new President’s need for legitimacy. Winning the election by a huge margin would strengthen his position against intra-elite rivals as well as vis-à-vis Nazarbayev, the “Leader of the Nation,” Chairman of the so-called ruling party Nur-Otan and Chairman for life of the National Security Council.

This situation is a consequence of the logic of personalistic regimes. To survive, this kind of regime is in urgent need of a strong leader, able to coopt all relevant elite groups into a nation-wide politico-economic network, i.e., an integrated “power pyramid.” Thus, a president who cares about the future of the regime he created, must also arrange for a successor who is acceptable to the main elite groups, instead of leaving this critical question to an aggregated and unpredictable “will of the people”.

Since about 2013, Nazarbayev—the most experienced, smartest post-Soviet leader beside Putin—had repeatedly been explicit in public about the personal responsibility he felt for managing an orderly succession of power to secure political stability in the country. With the 2017 and 2018 constitutional reforms, he implemented the institutional design of a possible post-Nazarbayev regime – a slight redistribution of competencies between the power branches at the expense of the future president, and a lifelong supervisory position for the retired “Leader of the Nation.” The next step followed in March 2019, when he resigned from the presidency, paving the way for his trusted ally Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, then Chairman of the Upper House of Kazakhstan’s Parliament.

What happened since then seems to fit well into the picture of a thoroughly choreographed transition. The successor in office preponed elections by almost a year, declaring that “in order to secure social and political accord, confidently move forward, and deal with the tasks of socioeconomic development, it is necessary to eliminate any uncertainty.” The goal of this move was to gain legitimate power via electoral acclamation as well as to shorten the window of opportunity for the opposition to organize and unite.

Obviously stage-managed was also the nomination process of the contenders. A total of seven candidates were registered by the country’s Central Election Commission, which claimed the upcoming election to become the most competitive one in the country’s history. Nur-Otan nominated Tokayev as the chosen successor. Three other candidates were nominated by the loyal pro-government opposition, i.e., by parties owing their orchestrated existence to serve specific clienteles: the Democratic Party Ak Zhol, which is somewhat more reform-oriented than Nur-Otan, the Social Democratic Party Auyl, which addresses the needs of the countryside, as well as the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan. In addition, Kazakhstan’s Trade Unions nominated a former short-term member of the parliament, and a movement aiming to develop Kazakhstan’s cultural and national values nominated the President of the Equestrian Federation.

The only surprise was the participation of Amirzhan Kossanov, a moderate opposition politician. Since leaving the ruling coalition two decades ago, he has been engaged in the loyal opposition, and later in political organizations that were denied official registration. In 2006 and 2012, he was sentenced to several 15-day jail terms for organizing unauthorized rallies in support of the victims of political repression.

Kossanov’s nomination was widely seen as a political concession by the authorities, but critics suspected him in having struck a deal with the ruling elite group or blamed him for legitimizing an unfree and unfair election. Actually, any textbook for authoritarian rulers would recommend staging select oppositional candidates to divide the opposition over the question of whether or not to boycott elections. In fact, domestic experts noted rising levels of activity among the electorate during the rather low-key, even sluggish election campaign, with the boycott question moving center stage. This eased Tokayev’s situation, whose campaign ran under the motto “Prosperity for all! Continuity. Justice. Progress.”

At first glance, the results of the presidential race seem to attest a happy end of Nazarbayev’s thoroughly managed “operation successor.” Having won the election, Tokayev declared the power transfer complete. All contenders—including oppositional Kossanov—accepted his victory and offered congratulations.

However, there are some signs that this conclusion might be premature. Power transfer in a heavily personalized regime is a risky endeavor for various reasons. The obvious one is that people might not agree to accept the chosen successor. In fact, the table below shows that the authorities rightly claim the presidential elections to be the most competitive elections ever held in the country. This is true not only by the number of competitors—which was under the ultimate control of the Election Commission—, but also by the results of the ballot itself.

Results of presidential elections in Kazakhstan (in percent)

Date Number of
candidates
Votes for the
winning candidate
Votes for the
“best loser”
Turnout
01.12.1991 1 98.8 88.2
29.04.1995 * 95.5 91.2
10.01.1999 4 81 11.9 87
04.12.2005 5 91.15 6.61 76.8
03.04.2011 4 95.55 1.85 89.98
26.04.2015 3 97.75 1.61 95.22
09.06.2019 7 70.96 16.23 77.5

* Referendum on extending Nazarbayev‘s presidential term without elections

First, as big as the margin of victory between the victor and the second-place finisher remains, it was never as small as in 2019. Kossanov’s 1.5 million votes are a solid, respectable result. Second, turnout was notably lower than in all previous elections except in 2005, meaning that the regime was unable to mobilize the electorate to the same degree as during the last decade when Nazarbayev was the country’s uncontested leader. If the ballot count was indeed manipulated, which is highly likely, the degree of non-approval may be much higher than reported.

Moreover, independent, mostly international, media such as Eurasianet, Radio Free Europe and the BBC reported rising civil disobedience on the streets and on the internet, signaling widespread discontent and annoyance with politics in general—ranging from the renaming of the capital into Nur-Sultan over entrenched corruption and poor public sector services to socioeconomic grievances—and the handling of the succession question in particular. New civil society groups emerged, such as “Wake up, Kazakhstan,” calling citizens to demand more say in government. Public awareness for possible electoral fraud was also on the rise, and many Kazakhstanis became eager not only to cast their vote, but also to become election observers.

On election day, a series of protest rallies took place, and over two days, around 700 people were detained by the police. According to the latest news on June 11, protests continue. Reuters speaks of “the biggest display of public discontent since 2016”.

While the Kazakhstani people do not select their president, mass protest would become meaningful, because it would damage the legitimacy of the newly elected office-holder. This, in turn, might spur elite competition, affecting the expectations of various elite groups whether Tokayev will hold himself at the helm of the power pyramid or not. Consequently, they would have to decide whether to back him or to coordinate around a more promising candidate. At the time being, Kossanov, for example, did not rule out the possibility to create a political party to run in the legislative elections, scheduled for 2021.

It is too early to speculate about whether Tokayev will manage to stabilize his position. The next couple of weeks will show, whether the recent presidential election completed “operation successor” or, instead, was the prelude to severe regime turbulences.

Elections 2019 in Georgia – the chances of ruling party and opposition

Elections 2019 in Georgia – the chances of ruling party and opposition

On May 19, 2019, several extraordinary elections were held in Georgia. In particular, the Mayor’s extraordinary elections were held in 5 cities: Zugdidi, Marneuli, Zestafoni, Chiatura and Khulo. By-elections of Local self-governance councils – Sakrebulos were held in 8 electoral districts: Sagarejo, Akhmeta, Adigeni, Zestafoni, Chiatura, Tkibuli, Tskaltubo and Ozurgeti. In addition, elections were held in the capital city of Tbilisi, Mtatsminda majoritarian district, where the MP was elected. This parliamentary mandate became free after the majoritarian MP Salome Zurabishvili became the President of Georgia. As for the Mayor’s extraordinary elections, some of them were detained by the self-regulatory bodies, and the second one was addressing the council for early termination of authority. The city mayors were elected directly in 2017, and the termination of the power in such a short period had a lot of questions in the opposition and non-governmental sector. The corruption scandal was also preceded by the suspension of some of them. Also, the termination of the authority of Sakrebulo deputies were based on their own application, due to absence of sessions or on the basis of the decision of the court.

At first we can think that these elections are one of the usual election processes, but they had a great deal of importance both for the government and the opposition before the parliamentary election of 2020, when the second term of the Georgian Dream ruling party expires. This midterm election was to examine some forces before the next parliamentary elections for the government and the opposition. The main battle was not held between the United National Movement and the United Opposition and the ruling party. Candidates were also nominated by other opposition parties for the elections but the opposition could notmake coalition before the election. It is possible to say that the ruling party has more advantages in terms of utilization of financial and non-governmental resources in this election. Observer organizations noted that the elections were largely peaceful, but it was also pointed out that observers have observed voters’ bribing, illegal agitation, violation of voting secrets and unauthorized persons at the polling stations.[1]

In the mid-term elections, Zugdidi mayoral elections were the most important where Sandra Roelofs, the former First Lady of Georgia, the wife of former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili was nominated as a candidate. Opposition parties and various experts also noted that the opposition had a chance to win in this election district. The victory of the election in this district for the government was strategically important because he did not want to let the opposition, in this case the victory of the former ruling party Candidate, because it was negatively affected on the political rating of ruling party. That is why a particularly tense fight was held in this election and finally the ruling party was declared the winner in the first round. According to the vote count, the ruling party’s candidate won 54.18 percent (30 470), while Sandra Roelofs candidate of “National Movement” received 42.84 percent of votes (24 095).[2]

Candidate of the opposition Sandra Roelofs said on the same day that she do not recognize the ruling party’s election results, according to which his opponent, Georgian Dream candidate Giorgi Shengelia won. He said that it was not the elections, it was very simple, joint operation of the CSU and criminals was held in Zugdidi. It’s unprecedented, unprecedented sadism, intimidation, intimidation, and criminal all that can be imagined. [3] He also said that if the second round would be announced, I would continue fighting in the name of Zugdidi. [4]  However, the ruling candidate was declared the winner in the first round.

In fact, in the first round of May 19, 2019, all candidates of “Georgian Dream” won the Mayor’s extraordinary and Sakrebulo midterm elections. [5] The only district where the second round of elections was appointed was Tbilisi Mtatsminda district where in the second round of parliamentary elections the candidate of European Georgia and Free Democrats Shalva Shavgulidze and Candidate of “Georgian Dream” Lado Kakhadze participated because no candidate in the first round could not get more than 50% of the votes.

The second round was held on June 9, 2019 in this election district. Both candidates were convinced of victory, but the activation of citizens was important for the opposition and in case of high voter turnout of opposition, the chance of opposition was increased. Kakha Kaladze congratulated Lado Kakhadze on 4 minutes after the end of the election and said that “the preliminary data shows that the big advantage is to congratulate Mr. Lado Kakhadze.[6] ” 75% of the votes are numbered and 62, 5% are “dreams Lado Kakhadze has a candidate, and 37, 5% has Shalva Shavgulidze. [7] In turn, the opposition has testified that it is completely unclear to Kakha Kaladze’s preliminary congratulation and the announcement of Mayor’s announcement is not clear for the final results of the elections.[8] Later, the opposition candidate admitted defeat and said that it was a badly organized government, not for democracy and the government had made a dirty campaign against him.[9]

It is important who will win in Mtatsminda election district, which is a kind of rehearsal for the 2020 elections. Support of the opposition parties by candidates who took support in the first round of elections for the second round was very important. It should be noted that the UNM said that party will support the opposition’s candidacy in the second round. As for the some other political parties, party “Girchi”, as well as the “Civil Movement” [10], said they would not support any candidate. Independent candidates Koba Davitashvili and Grigol Gegelia also did not call for voters to support any candidate. [11] Thus, in the second round of the elections, the unity of the opposition was important for the defeat of the government, but such an extensive agreement could not be achieved.

Finally we can say that the ruling party, despite its low trust[12], managed to win the mid-term elections and saved some extent the political preservation, but it is hard to say what the results of the 2020 parliamentary elections will be completed in Georgia.


[1]ISFED: The voting day passed without significant violations, 20.05.2019. 00:32,  https://droa.ge/?p=47556

[2] After counting all the precincts in Zugdidi, “Georgian Dream” candidate Giorgi Shengelia wins by 54.18 percent, 03:12, 20.05.2019, https://1tv.ge/news/zugdidshi-yvela-saarchevno-ubnis-datvlis-shemdeg-qartuli-ocnebis-kandidati-giorgi-shengelia-54-18-procentit-imarjvebs/

[3] Sandra Roelofs: We do not recognize their victory, especially their elections Monday, May 20,2019 – http://www.tabula.ge/ge/story/149040-sandra-rulovsichven-ar-vaghiarebt-mat-gamarjvebas-mit-umetes-mat-archevnebs

[4] If the second round will be announced, I am ready to continue fighting in the name of Zugdidi – Sandra Roelofs, May 20, 2019, http://liberali.ge/news/view/45192/tu-meore-turi-gamotskhaddeba-mzad-var-gavagrdzelo-brdzola-zugdidis-sakhelit—sandra-rulovsi

[5] Mayor’s extraordinary and municipal elections were won by “Georgian Dream” candidates, 20.05.2019, https://droa.ge/?p=47577

[6] Kakha Kaladze congratulated Lado Kakhadze on 4 minutes after the end of the elections, https://on.ge/story/38851-კალაძემ-კახაძეს-გამარჯვება-არჩევნების-დამთავრებიდან-20-წუთში-მიულოცა

[7] Lado Kakhadze 62.5%, Shalva Shavgulidze 37,5% – Kakha Kaladze publishes data obtained by “Dream”, 10 June 2019, http://www.rustavi2.ge/ka/news/135543

[8] Elene Khoshtaria is absolutely incomprehensible to Kakha Kaladze’s pre-congratulations, June 09, 2019https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/29989839.html

[9] Shalva Shavgulidze admitted defeat: “We look at the fact that the parliamentary candidate will be the candidate of the government”, http://guardian.ge/44634-shalva-shavgulidzem-damarckheba-aghiara-chven-thvals-vustsorebth-im-faqts-rom-parlamentis-tsevri-khelisuflebis-kandidati-iqneba.html

[10] Levan Ioseliani, former candidate of Mtatsminda Majoritarian MP, does not support any candidate in the second round, 29-05-2019, https://palitranews.ge/video/mtatsmindis-mazhoritarobis-qofili-kandidati-levan-ioseliani-meore-turshi-mkhars-arts-ert-kandidats-ar-uchers

[11] https://civil.ge/ka/archives/307019

[12] If the elections are held tomorrow, 17% of the respondents will vote for the Georgian Dream – NDI, 21 May, 2019, https://on.ge/story/37947-ხვალ-რომ-არჩევნები-ტარდებოდეს-ქართულ-ოცნებას-გამოკითხულთა-17-დაუჭერდა-მხარს-ndi

Honduras – President Juan Orlando Hernández confronts migrant caravans to the United States, surveillance of the DEA, and mass protests

This post was co-authored with Andrés Palma of the University of Costa Rica.

Juan Orlando Hernández is the first re-elected president in the history of Honduras, in highly contested elections held on November 26, 2017, which left many doubts about whether minimum standards of free and fair elections were met. The process by which the presidential re-election was made possible was already highly questioned.

It has been a year and six months since the inauguration of the second presidency of Hernandez, time during which has had to navigate through many difficulties. The political, social and economic situation in Honduras is more complicated than what Juan Orlando Hernández had to face during his first term (2014-2017). The once very popular president elected under the banner of the National Party of Honduras, is now getting one of the worst approval ratings since transition to democracy.

The country has been international news in recent months due to several massive caravans of migrants marching to the United States. The US President, Donald Trump, far from offering help to tackle the roots of the problem causing emigration to the United States from the countries of the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala), has hardened its foreign policy towards Central America, withdrawing millions of dollars in aid under the premise that their governments are not making enough to prevent emigration.

For several weeks now the government of Juan Orlando has been challenged by strikes and mass demonstrations. What began as a protest against a plan that seemingly would privatize education and health services, became a demand for the resignation of Hernández. As if that were not enough, a few days ago it was known that President Hernández was being investigated by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) due to possible drug trafficking. It is not clear if the case has been closed or he still remains under investigation.

The migrant caravans

A year ago, a caravan of migrants headed to the United States started in Honduras, and caught the attention of the US government. Immigration overall has been one of the prioritized themes in US foreign policy towards Central America. At the time, President Trump gave a loath coverage of the issue, by just threatening in social media of sending troops at the Southern border to prevent the caravan to get into American soil. Nonetheless, it is no novelty that even during his campaign for the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump held a hardline position towards Central American immigration into the United States.

But that first caravan was not the only one that formed; in fact, on October 12, 2018 a bigger one got on its way to the US. This caravan has been the largest and more mediatic in the past few years. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that the caravan consisted of around 7,000 people, although some media outlets have given different numbers. The conjuncture caught the immigration offices and governments of the countries involved (Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico) with little time and resources to handle the situation.

The circumstances in which these caravans formed are not new. Emigration from most Central American countries into the United States has traditionally been very high. Comparing the census rounds of 2000 and 2010, it is estimated that the population of Honduran migrants who left to the US increased during that period 191.1%, followed by Guatemala (180.3%), and El Salvador (151.7%) (Carlos Sandoval García, No Más Muros: Exclusión y Migración Forzada En Centroamérica. San José: Editorial UCR, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales).

In Central America, and in the case of the Northern coast of Honduras the problems are generally poverty and unemployment. There are historic conflicts that push people to leave, including land issues, and forced displacement that many farmers and peasants have suffered from agro-export businesses. San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city, is where the first migrant caravan formed to leave to the United States.

There are no clear reasons why migrant caravans formed. A possible explanation is that opposition movements against Juan Orlando Hernández have been helping them to organize them, in order to embarrass his government and promote instability. They gained momentum with more migrants from El Salvador and Guatemala joining them.

Albeit some in the caravan have agreed on staying in Mexico as refugees, some have desisted on their attempt by their own will, returning to Honduras; others less fortunate have been deported along the way. Some others do not lose hope in reaching their desired destination. This first mediatic big caravan, did not succeed in its attempt to enter into the US as asylum seekers; nonetheless, it got very close, as its final destination got to be Tijuana, a Mexican location near the American southern border. The uncertainty, high inequality and poverty conditions do not seem to be solved any time soon, as it is becoming more of a rule than an exceptional crisis. At the time of writing, more caravans have been organized in El Salvador and Guatemala too, noticeable, at least three have departed. By April, another caravan got going, having its starting point in San Pedro Sula, as the first one did. Thus, is expected that some other caravans might be encouraged to leave from the Northern Triangle.

What is to be seen, too, is the course in the immigration policies of these countries involved as they got pressures from very different actors, specially Mexico which connects between the US and the Northern Triangle, and the Trump Administration, as it is coming towards the end of its four-year term. But, importantly too, is the fate of these people who escape from the conditions of their countries, since in most cases, people who choose to migrate this urgently do not so for their own sake; many of them have no control over the causes of their situation.

Strikes and demonstrations

The strikes and social protests began at the end of April this year, when the government was preparing to put into effect two highly controversial executive decrees, PCM-026 and PCM-027. With these norms, the Executive was declaring a national emergency in the health and education systems. The decrees proposed to create special commissions in each sector. These would be responsible for preparing national plans for transforming the systems that provide the healthcare and education public services. In addition, it created a budget for salary settlements in case of dismissal.

The confusing wording in these documents about the potential dismissal of employees, was interpreted by the unions of educators and workers of the health sector as a plan to privatize these services. Although Hernandez repealed the decrees, the protests have been transformed into a movement to demand the resignation of Hernández. Nonetheless, the roots of the problem are also to be found in the underfunding of these services, which have received significant cuts over the past decade, impoverishing the already low quality services.

The DEA investigates Hernández over possible drug trafficking

In the last week of May, it was reported that Juan Orlando Hernández and several of his collaborators were being investigated for drug trafficking by the US Drug Enforcement Administration under the suspicion that he was taking part of “large-scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities relating to the importation of cocaine into the United States.” The report was released by the Southern District of New York, which has not clarified if the investigations continue.

The President’s brother and former Honduran deputy to the National Congress, Antonio Hernández Alvarado, is waiting for trial in the US after being arrested in November 2018, and accused of cocaine trafficking, and weapon offences. It is suspected that Juan Orlando Hernández would have participated in the criminal activities with which he relates to his brother at least in 2013.

Juan Orlando Hernández is undoubtedly a skilled politician. As stated by The Economist, he is a politician with Machiavellian talents. A lawyer who was previously trained in the Honduran Army, a conservative and supporter of the National Party of Honduras, a right-wing party, Hernández comes from Lempira, one of the poorest departments in Honduras; although he himself has not experienced poverty. This politician has achieved what many thought unthinkable in Honduras: the presidential re-election. Only a few years ago, the issue of re-election was a taboo whose insinuation cost former President Manuel Zelaya Rosales the presidency through a military coup.

Hernández was a poster child of the International Monetary Fund because of the fiscal discipline with which he governed during his first term—a strong program of fiscal austerity was imposed throughout his government—with ambitious plans for development. He is trying to implement special economic zones that would attract—they argue—foreign direct investment in different parts of the country. He also manoeuvred to obtain in his first term some of the best popularity ratings for a president in Honduras, a country with high poverty, inequality and one of the highest homicide rates in the world. But now, as mentioned, his popularity ratings have plunged in his second term. Possibly, Hernández expected to start his second term with favorable conditions to accomplish his political, and economic goals. Perhaps he foresaw that it was not going to be an easy term due to the dubious method that lifted term-limits, letting him seek re-election but prompting in response mass protests, and a campaign to discredit him. He dodged skilfully many of those attacks. Nonetheless, this time the President is facing probably one of the most difficult periods of his career as a politician.

Czech Prime Minister’s Troubles and Presidential “Kisses of Death”

In spring 2019, Czech politics was largely shaped by the European Parliament election campaign and election results as well as by ongoing street protests against controversial Prime Minister Andrej Babiš due to allegations of conflict of interests and other affairs.

Before turning to the results of the vote for the European Parliament in the Czech Republic, I will summarize problems Andrej Babiš is currently facing. Anti-Babiš demonstrations have been regularly organized by a civic initiative called „Millions of Moments for Democracy“, which seeks to attract the general public’s attention to multiple problems related to Babiš’s political and notably economic interests. First, is in a gigantic conflict of interest because of his business conglomerate “Agrofert” of some 250 companies. Agrofert receives tens of millions of euros each year in EU funding, mostly farm subsidies. Even though Agrofert was placed in trust funds in 2017 to comply with a new conflict of interest law, Babiš has command of trust funds that control the Agrofert group and Babiš’s cabinet formulates farming, environmental and other policies that affect Agrofert business. Since Babiš came to power, there has been a clear rise in the total amount of subsidies for the Agrofert conglomerate. The subsidies outweigh the amount of taxes paid by Agrofert to the state. The above civic as well as partisan opposition, was fueled by a European Commission’s report that confirms that Andrej Babiš has a conflict of interest. The Czech branch of Transparency International which initiated the EU probe estimated the Czech Republic would have to return about 19 million euros in EU subsidies. Consequently, the Czech government will be obliged to claim the money back from Agrofert. The opposition Pirate Party claimed it would seek a vote of no confidence in the minority cabinet led by Babiš. However, the government may count on a solid base of support in the Chamber of Deputies. The far-left Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, as well as the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy, have proved reliable support parties.

However, this is not the only instance of conflict of interests for Babiš. Agrofert is the owner of two national newspapers with high circulation, several magazines and a radio station, a fact that allows Babiš to significantly affect the media atmosphere in the country, including his own media image. Babiš also faces the charge of the alleged misuse of 2 mil euros in EU subsidy. Moreover, Babiš has been criticized for having sacked the Minister of Justice, Jan Kněžínek, who resigned without giving a clear reason a day after police wrapped up their investigation and recommended that Babis stand trial over the above-mentioned affair of misappropriating an EU subsidy. Mrs. Marie Benešová, President’s Zeman advisor, was appointed to replace him at the head of the Ministry of Justice. Protesters complain that Benešová may hinder the independent work of judges and affect the final outcome of the trial.

Despite these serious problems which would likely derail the political careers of most politicians elsewhere, Babiš remains the dominant figure of Czech party politics. This is exemplified by the fact that his political party (officially called “movement”) – ANO 2011 – won a relative majority in the European Parliament elections. Sure, his victory was not as great as expected by many commentators and polls, still, ANO 2011 gained two more seats in comparison to the 2014 EP elections. Overall, opposition parties won a majority of 12 out of 21 MEPs, whereas the ruling parties, including the two support parties scored 9 MEPs.

To explain the dominance of ANO 2011 in the Czech Republic is not an easy task. The party has been a ruling party since 2014 (as a junior coalition party 2014-2017). One could expect the gradual decline of its popularity, as has been the case of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) that has been in power together with ANO 2011 since 2014 (in 2014-2017 as the leading coalition party). ČSSD and ANO exchanged roles after ANO won in the 2017 elections. It could be generally argued that in contrast to the ČSSD, Andrej Babiš and his business-firm party has been skillful in communicating its policies and political successes to the voters. Babiš is a charismatic figure and remained a popular chairman of the party, portraying himself as a successful businessman which made him also a successful politician. He was able to reap major credit for rising pensions and for a good economic performance of the country, including rising GDP per capita and notably almost non-existent unemployment. His party uses efficient political marketing and promotes Andrej Babiš as a leader who is able to deliver the policies that most people wish for.

In contrast, the ČSSD failed in the elections and gained no MEP. Its voters deserted to ANO and other political parties. The ČSSD lacks charismatic figures, clear policy messages and remains torn between a liberal pro-European wing on the one hand and a national-conservative Eurosceptical wing on the other hand. Some former ČSSD’s voters cannot forgive the party for being in the ruling coalition with Babiš’ ANO 2011. Other voters, who value liberal democratic principles, opt for other parties, including the Czech Pirate Party. Traditional left-wing voters may consider Babiš as more skillful than the ČSSD in securing social benefits. Shortly before the EP elections,  ČSSD’s reputation might have been negatively affected also by the fact that the ČSSD’s Minister of Culture, Antonín Staněk, demonstrated a lack of competence and resigned. It is uncommon that ministers of culture, a generally weak portfolio with a small budget, attract so much attention. In media terms, Staněk was originally almost an invisible minister. Media focused on him only two times, both times unfavorably. First, he participated in the presentation of a controversial book written by a communist MP, Miroslav Grebeníček, who strongly criticized financial compensetion to churches in the Czech Republic. The churches were deprived of their properties during the 1948-1989 Communist dictatorship and in 2013 the right-wing coalition pushed trhough a bill which introduced the compensation. Second, Staněk recalled the director of the National Gallery in Prague as well as the director of the Olomouc Museum of Art. The arguments that were to support the recall of both directors appeared unconvincing and led to a number of protests and petitions against Staněk who eventually resigned from office. The ČSSD was pictured as a party, which lacks enough competent persons to fill ministerial posts.

There is a special feature of the Czech politics that is related to the ČSSD electoral disaster in 2019. There has been a tradition of (at least rhetorically) non-partisan presidents. At the same time, however, the Czech presidents have repeatedly attempted to form a loyal party in the Chamber of Deputies. However, once they openly supported any political party, the party failed in the elections. This phenomenon, which is commonly known as “the kiss of death”, can be consistently and repeatedly illustrated by all the three Czech presidents. None of them was able to create solid partisan support in the Chamber of Deputies. From public opinion surveys, it can be inferred that voters insist on a non-partisan president who is not directly associated with any political party loyal to the head of state.[1] As for the most recent case of the kiss of death, Miloš Zeman strongly advocated for ČSSD’s involvement in Babiš’s cabinet in 2017. At the March 2019 ČSSD party congress, Zeman praised the party for having joined the coalition and made it clear he would vote for the party, which received less than 5 percent in the EP elections. Of course, Zeman’s kiss of death can be hardly identified as the primary source of the ČSSD’s debacle, still it has confirmed this peculiar pattern of Czech politics.



[1]
M. Brunclík and M.
Kubát, Parliamentarism,
Semi-Presidentialism and Presidents. Presidential Politics in Central Europe
 (London and
New York: Routledge, 2019), 110-113

Latvia – President Egils Levits

The next President of Latvia will be Judge of the Court of Justice of the European Union – Egils Levits. The newly elected President will begin his term of office on 8 July 2019.

Egils Levits was elected in an open vote by the Parliament of Latvia in the first round of voting on 29 May 2019 with the backing of the ruling parliamentary majority. Following a constitutional amendment in January this year that changed parliamentary procedures for presidential elections from a closed to an open vote [see my previous post here], MPs cast their vote simultaneously for the candidates nominated for President using ballot papers.

There were three Presidential candidates – Judge of the Court of Justice of the European Union Egils Levits, Ombudsman Juris Jansons and MP Didzis Šmits. 8 MPs voted for Juris Jansons, 24 MPs supported Didzis Šmits, and 61 voted for Levits. In accordance with the revised Constitution of Latvia, Levits was elected president with a majority of not fewer than 51 votes.

This was the second time Egils Levits had been officially nominated for the post of president. Four years ago, Levits conceded to current State President Raimonds Vējonis (2015-1019) in the penultimate round of the Presidential election.

Newly elected President Levits has promised to be the President of all nationalities. He will represent both Latvians living in Latvia and those who live abroad. Levits has stressed that he will support greater solidarity in Latvia so that everyone can feel valued and belonging to the country.

Egils Levits was born in Riga in June 1955. He emigrated with his parents to Germany from the Soviet Union in 1972. In Germany, Levits obtained a degree at the University of Hamburg in law and political science. In 1990 he returned to Latvia and was one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence of Latvia. Levits was the Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to Germany and Switzerland (1992-1993), Austria, Switzerland and Hungary (1994-1995); he was Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, and acting Minister of Foreign Affairs (1993-1994); he has served as Conciliator at the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration within the OSCE, and been a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration; and he was elected as Judge at the European Court of Human Rights in 1995, re-elected in 1998 and 2001. Egils Levits has numerous publications on constitutional and administrative law, law reform and European Community law. He was a Judge at the Court of Justice since 11 May 2004.

Levits has expressed his determination to promote necessary reforms in the country, even if they are unpopular. According to him, it is quite normal for political forces, groups or individuals to exercise their interests in a democracy. Levits has stated that supporting clarity of common interests is a very important task for the newly elected president.

In 2019, Levits published the book “Will of a state: Ideas and thoughts for Latvia 1985–2018”, a fundamental legal, political and moral reasoning regarding the existence, meaning and essence of the Latvian nation, on the relations of citizens with the state and successful governance. Levits states in his book: “For a nation to exist it must not only be aware of the past, but, above all, it needs the will to build the future. It is a common will.”

The 10th President of Latvia believes that “the work on Latvia’s statehood never ends. It is our duty to work and make sure our future generations inherit a strong, secure and green Latvia”. It is his declared intent to focus his presidency on these priorities.

Guest post: “Going Public” in Comparative Perspective: Presidents’ Public Appeals under Pure Presidentialism

Presidents’ abilities to connect with the public are of utmost political importance. As the focal leader of the nation, presidents can leverage their unique connection to this nation-wide constituency to influence their negotiations with the legislative branch. In pure presidential systems, the constitutional separation of origin and survival of the political executive demands constant negotiation and compromise across independent branches of government, incentivizing the president to rely on this unique connection with the public.

While historically, U.S. presidents may have relied on inter-branch negotiations and backroom deals, modern American presidents live and die by their connection to the public: their electoral campaigns take root years in advance, and many attempt to maintain said political momentum with ongoing direct public appeals throughout their administration. Whether it’s FDR’s radio broadcast Fireside Chats to Donald Trump’s ubiquitous use of social media, leveraging public support has become a tool in the president’s arsenal to strategically wield when deemed necessary.  Indeed, many scholars and political spectators attribute President Obama’s campaign success to his effective use of social media and then note the continuance of this strategy of direct public appeals throughout his presidency, taking the form of speeches and weekly YouTube addresses throughout his administration. Direct public appeals, so the story goes, enable U.S. presidents to apply indirect pressure on members of Congress, thereby improving the chances that the presidents’ preferred policy would be adopted into law.

The public presidency is not uniquely American. Work on populism throughout the developing world identifies the rise of anti-establishment rhetoric and the lack of an institutionalized parties as two key facilitating conditions for the emergence of populist leaders.  In all pure presidential systems, presidents may leverage their electoral connection with the nationwide constituency in order to sidestep the negotiations that the institutional separation of powers imposes, applying indirect pressure to legislative coalitions.

Although the notion of ‘going public’ has its origins in U.S. presidency, we have little sense of how direct appeals to the public fit into the broader portfolio of presidential powers. Our research situates presidents’ direct public appeals in the broader portfolio of comparative presidential powers. Rather than construe populism and presidents’ plebiscitarian orientation as a personality trait or leadership style, we consider how a president’s propensity to appeal to the public may vary in response to changes in the bargaining environment, which may vary both across countries and over time as a function of institutional, personal and political factors. In our forthcoming article in Presidential Studies Quarterly, we show show that the frequency of presidents’ public appeals varies with both their partisan support in the legislature, their status as a newcomer to the political system, and electoral and legislative institutions. Further, we make available our original data such that we might not be the last to investigate this sort of question.

We debut the Presidential Speeches of the Americas (PSA) dataset, which is a dataset and archive of appearances and speeches made by 24 presidents across 18 pure presidential systems of the western hemisphere. These data contain the records of presidents’ speeches and public appearances as advertised on the official websites of the presidency, most of which contain the transcript of the presidential address. Our aim was to collect as much information as possible, harvesting presidential speech archives for as long as they were made available online. Most sitting presidents maintain an online archive of presidential activities and speeches, and in several countries online archives were also available for previous presidential administrations through the WayBack Internet Archive. An overview of the data contained in the PSA dataset is shown in Table 1. This dataset and archive include records of (and in most cases transcripts of) more than 12,500 presidential speeches, made by 24 presidents in 18 pure presidential systems throughout the western hemisphere. It is available to the public, may be found on the website https://www.psa-dataset-archive.com

In our forthcoming paper, we collapsed all observations in the PSA dataset into a monthly count of presidential speeches, such that we could track the covariance of presidential speechmaking with our explanatory variables. The heatmap shows the cross-sectional distribution of the monthly average number of presidential appearances as reported on the online press archives of the office of the presidency. Though not shown here in the interest of space, President Obama averaged 36 public speeches and appearances per month over the course of his two terms in office. The hemispheric median number of speeches per month is 7, though the data skews positive, with a mean of nearly 12. President Obama shares the distinction of having the highest number of presidential appearances with President Santos of Colombia, with 56 public appearances in a single calendar month.

Shifting our focus across countries and overtime, we see that beyond individual personality traits, institutional and political contexts offer substantial explanatory power as well. When presidents have less partisan support in the legislature, are in open list electoral systems, have bicameral legislatures, or are political outsiders, they are more likely to appeal to the public.

We set out to fill an important lacunae in the research on comparative presidentialism, to sys- systematically consider how presidents’ direct public appeals serve as one resource among many that presidents may use to advance their policy agendas. To that end, we introduce and publicize a new dataset and archive of presidential speeches, the Presidential Speeches of the Americas dataset and archive. Our statistical analysis of a subset of the PSA data suggests that presidents’ direct appeals to the public might serve as a substitute for other sorts of presidential powers, either those derived from their support in the legislature, or those granted to the executive in constitutional texts. These results underscore the advantage of considering ‘going public’ in a comparative perspective, wherein variance in institutional and partisan support can be empirically considered.

For additional information, or to find our forthcoming research at Presidential Studies Quarterly, please visit our website at https://www.psa-dataset-archive.com.

Authors: Alexandra Cockerham, Florida State University; Amanda Driscoll, Florida State University; Joan Joseph, MIT

Posted by Fiona Yap on behalf of authors

Ethiopia – Sahle-Work Zewde elected first female president

On 25 October 2018, the Ethiopian parliament elected Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s new president. Sahle-Work, who is a long-time diplomat, becomes Ethiopia’s first female president and – following the departure of Malawi’s Joyce Banda and Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from the political scene – Africa’s only female head of state.

The move was been celebrated by women’s rights activists, especially after Sahle-Work used her inauguration to promise to make gender equality a reality. Although the country was governed by Empress Zewditu in the early part of the 20th Century, more recently the political system has been male dominated. As the chief of staff of the Prime Minster put it,

“in a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalises women as decision-makers in public life”.

President Sahle-Work is seen as a credible figure with considerable experience. In addition to serving as Ambassador to Senegal and Djibouti, she has fulfilled a number of different roles for the United Nations, and was most recently the UN’s representative at the African Union. This means that she brings with her a good understanding of how regional bodies operate, and will therefore be an asset to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as he seeks to reformulate Ethiopian foreign policy.

Sahle-Work’s forthright approach – and in particular telling Members of Parliament that if they thought she was talking too much about women she had only just begun – has also led to genuine hope that her strong words will translate into actions. Along with other recent appointments, including Abiy’s decision to split ministerial positions equally between men and women and the selection of a female to Chair the electoral commission, this has led to growing belief that there is political will to deal with issues such as the gender pay gap – which is estimated to stand at around 44% – at the highest levels.

Some analysts are more cautious, however, pointing out that the presidency is a largely ceremonial position and that power is wielded by the Prime Minister. Abiy has committed himself to reforming the country’s political system and promoting equal rights for women, but has not yet had sufficient time in office to effect these changes. Given past experiences, some activists worry that more radical change will not be forthcoming, especially given that the Prime Minister already faces a difficult task to ensure political stability and lead the ruling party into an election that is scheduled for May 2020.

The experience of other states in Africa suggests that the promotion of women in political positions is not always a pathway to broader transformation. In Rwanda, for example, it has been argued that the promotion of women within parliament has been used to sanitise the reputation of an authoritarian regime, rather than to genuinely pursue an agenda of gender equality.

Mozambique – Filipe Nyusi: an embattled president in times of troubled comradery and ominous tides

On 15th October, Mozambique will hold a new round of general elections and also provincial elections to elect governors for the first time.  These polls happen in a year marked by dramatic events which will pose major challenges to the incumbent president, Filipe Nyusi, and his party, the Frelimo. In March and April, the country was hit by the Idai and Kenneth cyclones  leaving death, damage and destruction in its wake in the central and northern provinces of the country, respectively. The new provincial election format is a key part of the peace process that will potentially allow Frelimo’s arch-rival, Renamo, to appoint provincial governors in its strongholds. With less than five months to the polls, Filipe Nyusi faces other serious challenges: unifying the party around his leadership, restoring Frelimo’s credibility and offsetting the negative impact of the corruption scandals involving of the party’s key figures; and continuing to move forward with the most sensitive part of the peace process, i.e. disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).  Nyusi’s performance is hailed as the reason for the relative success of the peace process and is expected to bring payoffs in the next elections.

Building cohesion and strengthening the leadership

Founded on its socialist origins and the spirit of comradery and democratic centralism, Frelimo’s internal disputes rarely become public; thus it came as a relative surprise when Samora Machel Junior (“Samito”), son of Mozambique’s first president, challenged Filipe Nyusi’s leadership. After his exclusion from the party lists, he decided to run as the mayoral candidate in Maputo against the official Frelimo candidate, Eneas Comiche, in the October 2018 local elections. His behavior led the Central Committee to start disciplinary proceedings against him alleging that he had violated the statutes when he ran against the party’s candidate. He then publicly confronted the president accusing him (and the party secretary general Roque Silva) of “gross violation” of the Frelimo statutesfor not allowing criticism, not stimulating dialogue, and not recognizing the constitutional rights of members”. Though the Central Committee verdict is not yet known, the “Samito affair” has caused some damage to the President’s image. Although the affair was not on the agenda in the recent (May) gathering of the Central Committee, it loomed large with Nyusi loyalists distancing themselves from Samito and sometimes criticizing or scolding him for disrespecting Nyusi. At the end of the gathering, most of the party seniors exalted party cohesion and unity. But this does not necessarily mean that internal differences were ironed out or that the party will navigate in smooth waters until the October elections. Indeed, it might mean that Nyusi has at least succeeded in asserting his leadership in key party constituencies, namely those represented by the above-mentioned groups.

“Cleaning” the party, and building credibility

This year the image of the president and party was tainted with corruption scandals – known as the hidden debt scandal – and the involvement of the former Finance Minister, Manuel Chang, in illegal loans of over two billion dollars to three companies: Proindicus, EMATUM (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management). His detention in South Africa in December 2018 gave new momentum to the stalled investigation led by the Mozambican Attorney General’s into a group of individuals linked to the scandal; these included former central bank governor, intelligence chiefs and civil servants who served under Armando Guebuza, whose older son, Ndambi Guebuza, was among those already in jail. The scandal plunged the country into an unprecedented financial crisis and raised criticism from all quarters. Opposition political parties urged the judicial system to continue investigation and to hold the former president, Armando Guebuza, accountable; the Public Integrity Center demanded that the government refuse to pay the debt, and led a public anti-debt campaign. The former minister, Manuel Chang, might be extradited to Mozambique following a decision from the South African Minister of Justice.

This scandal contributed to weakening Filipe Nyusi’s leadership as he was part of the government when the debt was contracted; and it exposes Frelimo as a party at the core of the corruption that so deeply affects the country. In the recent Central Committee, Guebuza accused those questioning his responsibilities in the scandal of being on a “witch hunt”. Despite speculations about his involvement and the imprisonment of some of those implicated in the debt scandal, Nyusi seems to support the demands to hold those involved accountable. But some see this as an electoralist façade, only staged to win over voters, and that after the October elections everything will go back to business as usual. Thus, Nyusi is caught in a dilemma between risking to lose the support of either his comrades or voters, depending on how he manages the debt scandal. 

Moving forward with the DDR process

The DDR process, is a final and important challenge in the backcloth of this year’s elections; this process was part of the Memorandum of understanding on military issues, signed between the Mozambican government and Renamo on August 6th 2018.  The agreement anticipated the reintegration of Renamo’s officials in the Armed forces of Mozambique (FADM); the Republic of Mozambique Police (PRM), the General of the Information and Security Service (SISE) and the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) teaching institutions. 

Negotiations are underway between Filipe Nyusi and Ossufo Momade (elected leader of the Renamo in the first ever leadership elections in January), but the results are coming at a slow pace and Nyusi has even labelled the process as “fatiguing”.  Although some of Renamo’s men have been integrated, it is a sluggish process. In April, Renamo submitted the list of officials to be integrated in the command ranks of the PRM, but the President said that the list included retired and already demobilized men and therefore did not fulfil all criteria discussed. Renamo’s spokesperson José Manteigas reacted saying that the President was being inflexible. Frelimo members have referred to the DDR, along with decentralization, as the “flip side of the peace coin”, which means that its conclusion is critical to the peace process.

An embattled presidency in troubled comradery and ominous tides

In a recent interview for a Mozambican Newspaper (Canal de Moçambique, 15 May 2019), Nyusi responded to a question about the performance of his term by saying that the natural disasters, war and effects of the debt scandal had been major obstacles for the implementation of his programme, and speculated as to whether yet another disaster might be around the corner to hit the country. At the beginning of his term, Nyusi made a gambit in the peace process despite opposition from his party fellows. One year after, the debt scandal erupted with its unfolding negative consequences. However, neither Nyusi nor his comrades seem to know how to deal with the issue without bringing serious consequences for both.  With Nyusi confessing his fatigue as the DDR process drags on, his presidency and leadership are losing steam in what was one of the main achievements of this term and the options to galvanize the electorate in October for his party and himself are meagre.

José Jaime Macuane and Edalina Rodrigues Sanches

Bolivia: A Testing Year for Bolivia’s Democracy

The tide that swept leftist governments to power in Latin America over a decade ago has dramatically receded in recent years. The resulting political struggles between left and right have seen a rise in undemocratic tendencies, with dubious methods utilised both by presidents to retain power, as well as by opponents seeking to depose incumbents. 

Bolivia under Evo Morales has proved no exception, as previously outlined in this blog. In this context, 2019 increasingly looks like being a pivotal year for Bolivia’s democracy. Presidential elections are scheduled to take place on October 20th, where visions of the past and present will vie to control the country’s future. 

In particular, current President Evo Morales will be seeking a fourth consecutive term in office, having managed to overturnthe result of a 2016 plebiscite in which a majority voted against the abolition of term limits. 

Since the shock of that result, Morales and his government have done what they tend to do when faced with setbacks: retrench and find a way around the problem by whatever means necessary. In this case a friendly Supreme Court acceded to the government’s petition to override the plebiscite, thus abolishing term limits. In turn the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) ratified that rulingand registered the candidacy of Morales and Vice-President Alvaro Garcia-Linera.

The government’s manoeuvrings prompted a significant backlash. In the immediate aftermath of the TSE decision, a series of protests eruptedinvolving work stoppages, blockades, marches and vigils. Opponents have come together under the heading of ‘Bolivia Dijo No!’(Bolivia Said No!). The coalition is an uneasy one, however, as it contains a mixture of right-wing opponents from wealthy sectors and disillusioned former Morales supporters. The former group, in particular, has shown violent tendencies, evidenced by the burningof the TSE building in Santa Cruz. Such behaviour is unlikely to win over wavering middle-class voters, however.

Morales has sought to prey on these doubts by offering stability, further poverty reduction, and continued economic growth, which has averaged five per cent during his 13 years in power. Furthermore, the recent launch of a system of universal healthcareis a departure from the more targeted and clientelistic social protection measurestypically employed by the government.

Nevertheless, seasoned observers have noted that Morales has a habit of launching big initiatives in the period before presidential elections. Nor was the healthcare plan well-received by doctors, who launched industrial actionand criticised the lack of funding for beds, supplies and staff.

Other recent initiatives, however, appear to be more overt attempts to utilise state power to influence the outcome of the election. One example was the holding of mandatory primary electionsin January. While on its face a move to enhance democratic processes, critics viewed the primaries as an attempt by Morales to expand his electoral base following the humiliation of the 2016 plebiscite.

Furthermore, the measure was imposed in late 2018with little warning, and provided opposition parties with a very short period within which to register candidates. In particular, the timeframe meant that the opposition was unable to coalesce around a single candidate. The conduct of the processwas also hampered by low turnout – partly explained by many parties calling for a boycott – and allegations of significant irregularities. The result was that the opposition emerged divided, with nine candidates set to contest the election.

Nonetheless, the main rival that has emerged is a name from Bolivia’s past: former president Carlos Mesa. A mild-mannered journalist and historian, Mesa is widely respected. Nevertheless, his association with the unpopular government of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (‘Goni’) – who Mesa served as Vice-President before taking over when Goni was ousted – continues to dog his candidacy. Mesa’s refusal to formalise an alliance with any party is evidence that he is aware of this weakness.

In response to the threat of Mesa, Morales has used more direct tactics to damage his rival. These have included accusing Mesa of causing economic damageto the state due to his nationalisation of a Chilean company when president – ironic given that Morales’ signature promise when first elected was the purported nationalisation of the country’s gas reserves – and levelling charges of accepting bribesfrom a Brazilian construction company. 

The overall image forged by Morales’ actions over the past three years – commencing with the overturning of the result of the 2016 plebiscite, and running through the primaries to the use of the state apparatus to target a political rival – is of a government that increasingly adheres to the typology of “competitive authoritarianism” developed by Levitsky and Way[i]

The reason underlying these actions is that Morales’s grip on power has loosened significantly in recent years due to the inherent contradictions of his governing model. Morales relies heavily on rents from gas, mining and agribusiness for redistribution and public spending. The end of the commodities boom has seen the government go to ever-greater lengths to boost income, even opening up protected areasfor oil and gas exploration. 

The result has been a series of conflicts between the self-styled ‘government of the social movements’ and social movements themselves[ii]. The disconnect between this model and Morales’ environmentalist discourse can no longer be overlooked.

Furthermore, the kind of large-scale infrastructure projects undertaken by the government have traditionally been sources of patronage and bribery in Bolivia. It is far from surprising then that Morales’ government has been dogged by allegations of corruption, nepotism and vanity[iii].

Nevertheless, Morales remains a popular and indeed historic figure in Bolivia whose importance as a symbol continues to resonate with many. Recent opinion pollsappear to show that Morales’s lead over Mesa is growing, albeit slowly.

The biggest problem facing Morales looks likely to be the electoral system, and in particular the run-off vote. In each of his three previous victories, Morales was elected with over 50 per cent of the vote, thereby avoiding a second round of voting. That outcome appears unlikely on this occasion.

Instead Morales’ core vote appears to be closer to 30 per cent. Even allowing for the fact that polls routinely under-estimate support for Morales, if the president fails to triumph over Mesa by more than ten per cent it would trigger a run-off. A second round would place the president in a very different situation, facing a single candidate around whom a diffuse and divided opposition could coalesce. Indeed, opinion pollsindicate that Mesa would win a run-off vote against Morales.

Were this to occur, it would represent a significant test for Bolivia’s institutions and its current president’s commitment to democracy.


[i]Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way. 2001. The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13(2), pp. 51-65.

[ii]The ongoing socio-environmental conflict in the protected area of Tariquiaover hydrocarbon concessions granted without any prior consultation with indigenous communities is just the most recent of such clashes.

[iii]The construction of a 29-storey presidential palace – named The Great House of the People – for a cost of $34 million is the most high-profile example of this tendency.

Guest Post. The Brazilian presidential election of 2018: Does a cartel of parties produce mavericks?

The results of the 2018 Brazilian elections have called into question recent academic conclusions on the institutional dynamics of the largest Latin-American democracy. In fact, prior to 2018, the so-called Brazilian duopoly was even praised for remaining stable for just over two decades.2 The remarkable fact was that such stability occurred thanks to a strange coexistence between a two-party system in the Executive branch and an extreme multi-party system in the Parliament.3 However, recent events seem to indicate that such stability was merely an illusion, constructed upon a party system in which the principal objective of its leaders was to prevent the emergence of new parties (or competitors) in order to continue exploiting the privileges and resources of the state. In other words, using the concept proposed by Katz and Mair,4 the established parties in Brazil developed behaviors similar in nature to a cartel of producers in an economic market. The Brazilian context was conducive to the rise of a marginal candidate with a strong critique of its dominant political parties like Jair Bolsonaro, who defied expectations by achieving victory in the 2018 presidential election and thereby fracturing the dominant parties which ruled Brazil with cartel-like behaviors over the two previous decades.

Literature Review on Brazilian democratic stability

Prior to the Brazilian presidential election on October 7, 2018, the predominant scholarly perspective on Brazilian democratic stability was entirely positive. For instance, Handlin pointed out that while in other countries political outsiders emerged, the representative democracy in Brazil remained consolidated. Handlin’s perspective attributed this tendency to the absence of a prior state crisis5 and the existence of a strong party organization (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT) on the left. According to Handlin, the combination of both factors was enough to minimize political polarization and block or prevent the rise of radical outsiders.6

In turn, Mainwaring, Power and Bizarro developed a more moderate perspective. They considered that Brazilian stability rested on an unevenly institutionalized party system. According to their analysis, the PT was the only party that had taken root in specific sectors of society, while the rest of the political parties had failed to do the same. Nevertheless, they also noted that the percentage of partisan identification in Brazil never exceeded 40% of the population; moreover, in 2015, when a series of acts of governmental corruption were exposed to the public, the percentage of citizens with no partisan self- identification reached a historical high of 75%.7

But some interpretations went further and considered the Brazilian case as proof that the institutional combination that since Linz had been viewed as perverse —or the anti-ideal:  presidentialism plus a multi-party system— was plausible. Proponents of this interpretation argued that the key to successful governance —in terms of stability— is a constitutionally strong Executive branch. In practical terms, this system denotes a president who controls political assets (initiating laws, decrees, etc.) or “goods” (Cabinet positions, “pork projects,” etc.) which are crucial to building coalitions, and thus avoids having a minority or weak position in the government. Of course, the democratic nature of this institutional design should be complemented by reliable and effective institutions (Legislative, judiciary bodies or the media) to prevent the president from taking an autocratic path.

The cartel of parties and the emergence of a maverick

However, the features of the Brazilian case that were used to explain the political stability of a highly fragmented and unevenly institutionalized party system were also the root of its debacle. As Mello and Spektor mentioned, the institutional design of the Brazilian government —which facilitated the relationship between the Executive and the Legislative— “… [also] encouraged exactly the kind of graft that the Car Wash scandal revealed …”. 8 In other words, this institutional framework not only made it possible for the Executive branch to control the Congress based on perks, but also allowed private interests to gain more significant influence on governmental decision-making. The result of all the illicit exchanges/transactions required to sustain this system” was the neutralization of the checks and balances system, and the consolidation of representative institutions of non-democratic countries, such as clientelism, patronage networks, etc.

So, what happened? A viable response is to characterize the Brazilian party system as a cartel of parties. Indeed, after a long period of coexistence —and due to the institutional incentives described above— the PT, the PSDB, the MD9, and various medium-sized parties in the Congress morphed into a political cartel. The evidence of this phenomenon is clear: an increase in public funds directed to government-recognized political parties combined with an increase in legal barriers to the entry of new parties.10 These are precisely the types of party behaviours that Katz and Mair—the creators of the cartel of parties’ concept— identified in their analysis of Europe. 11 The only difference is that in the Brazilian case the parties not only exploited public resources but also channeled private funds in their favor.

In this highly cartelized political context, whenever corruption scandals were exposed by the mass media, the majority of citizens perceived that the uncovered acts of corruption were not exceptional, but rather a routine component of the institutional arrangements that defined relations between the Executive and Legislative branches —and interest groups— for almost two decades. This political environment, along with a period of economic contraction, provoked a low- intensity state crisis in Brazil. In other words, widespread corruption undermined the legitimacy of established political institutions, while economic contraction revealed the weak performance of the state in providing basic services like public safety.

This being the case, the political arena was propitious for the emergence of an external candidate with a strong anti-establishment position; however, as a feature of Brazil’s party system, an anti-establishment candidate was actually able to arise from within the system itself. Having served as a federal deputy in Brazil for more than three decades, Jair Bolsonaro was not an “outsider,” but neither was he an “insider,” despite his long party militancy in a small conservative party.12 In any case, Bolsonaro was a maverick working inside this so-called cartel of parties in Brazil. But, still, how did such a marginal figure within Brazil’s political party system become a strong candidate? Considering that the principal established political forces —both the opposition and the government— represented options from the center in political-ideological terms, Bolsonaro’s extreme political positions were seen as “a virtue” by a significant group of discontent citizens. Why? There was no doubt that his extreme ideological positions had prevented him from participating in the coalitions that governed Brazil during the two previous decades; therefore Bolsonaro was able to portray himself to the public as an unpolluted political figure. In sum, the growing public frustration with the Brazilian cartel of parties led many citizens to search for candidates on the margins of the party system; but the only ones readily available were those with extreme ideological positions.

If what has been said is true, then why was a right-wing and not a left-wing radical elected? The answer can be given considering the hegemony of the PT on the left. Indeed, it is clear that extreme options on left were non-existent; the PT, in its little more than ten years in power had absorbed or moderated such parties. Additionally, there was not a significant amount of free space open to leftist sympathizers for new political options since the PT hegemonically channeled the citizen preferences on the left, especially in northeastern Brazil. However, since no center-right party had been able to consolidate reliable sources of electoral support, the growth potential across the spectrum on the right was enormous; and the parties that did exist were utterly discredited.13 

Furthermore, Bolsonaro correctly perceived that his electoral support relied not only on his “anti-petismo,” (that is to say: anti-PT) but also on his anti-establishment speech.14 In addition, because of the overwhelming lead that he developed in the first round of voting (46,6% of  voters), he targeted his campaign at specific sectors or social groups (evangelicals, rural population, etc.) and not at significant political parties. Seeking the support of or forging an alliance with an established party – and therefore moderating his anti-establishment political posture— before a runoff election would have been a grave mistake on the part of Bolsonaro; in other words, a political maneuver that would have been interpreted by many in Brazil as an undesirable pact with the cartel of parties in power.

In summary, Bolsonaro’s victory has called into question some recent interpretations on the success of political minority presidents. In the case of Brazil, political stability relied on a type of cartel of parties in which incentives came not only from the state (cabinet positions or public funds) but also from the private sector (bribes, extra payments, etc.). Indeed, this reality forces us to rethink about whether there may be other institutional solutions to the consequences of this challenging combination: presidentialism plus a multi-party system. Additionally, extrapolating from the Brazilian case, one could assume that outsiders and mavericks have a similar origin: an ineffective state. Paradoxically, it doesn’t matter if the extreme ideological positions are on the right or the left —that would depend on the political configuration of each society— because both (radicals on the right or the left) share a critique of the incapacity of state to resolve the most prominent social problems of their societies (inequality, poverty, insecurity, etc.). The only difference would be that outsiders emerge more often in a weak institutionalized party system, while the mavericks frequently appear in a party system unevenly institutionalized but whose main parties look to ensure their privileged positions.

Guest post, Gerson Julcarima Alvarez, Department of Political Science, University of Lethbridge, Canada.

ENDNOTES

1 I thank Prof. Alan Siaroff for his comments on a previous version of this article.

Between 1994 and 2014 Brazil only had three finance ministers and with the victory of Dilma Roussef Brazil became the first country in Latin America where three presidents were successively re-elected.

3 In the last six Brazilian elections, two parties (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT and the right-center Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira- PSDB) reached between 70 and 90% of the presidential votes in the first run-off elections. However, in the Lower House, their joint vote was between 26 and 38%. See in this respect: Peter R. Kingstone and Timothy J. Power, eds. (2017), Democratic Brazil Divided, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, p.10; Scott Mainwaring, Timothy J. Power, and Fernando Bizzarro (2018), “The Uneven Institutionalization of a Party System: Brazil” in Party Systems in Latin America: Institutionalization, Decay, and Collapse, ed. Scott Mainwaring, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp.174-75.

4 Richard S. Katz and Peter Mair (2018), Democracy and the Cartelization of Political Parties, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, pp.134-38.

5 The state crisis is the combination of a deficit of public services and a loss of citizen legitimacy towards political institutions. See: Samuel Handlin (20147), State Crisis in Fragile Democracies: Polarization and Political Regimes in South America, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 5-6.

6 Ibid., p. 8.

7 Mainwaring, Power, and Bizzarro, p. 182.

8 Eduardo Mello and Matias Spektor (2018), “Brazil: The Costs of Multiparty Presidentialism,” Journal of Democracy, vol. 29, no. 2, p. 115.

9 Political party created in 2013 from the merger of two left-parties: Partido Popular Socialista (PPS) and Partido da Mobilização Nacional (PMN).

10 Cynthia McClintock (2018), Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America, Oxford: Oxford  University Press, pp. 47-55; Mainwaring, Power, and Bizzarro, p. 192.

11 Katz and Mair, pp. 144-45.

12 Wendy Hunter and Timothy J. Power (2019), “Bolsonaro and Brazil’s Illiberal Backlash,” Journal of Democracy, vol. 30, no. 1, p. 75.

13 Kingstone and Power, p. 13; David J. Samuels and Cesar Zucco (2018), Partisans, Antipartisans, and Nonpartisans: Voting Behavior in Brazil, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 38-39.

14 Hunter and Power, p. 80; Samuels and Zucco, pp. 48-49.