Author Archives: Robert Elgie

Russia – An American Maidan? Analyzing Russian Press Coverage of President Trump’s Accession to Power

This is a post by Eugene Huskey

In the days before and after Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, the Russian press provided extensive coverage of the American transition of power (see Table below).  Based on a reading of all articles on Donald Trump that were published in eight leading Russian newspapers in the period from January 18-25, 2017, this post assesses the image of the new American president and administration in the Russian press.  Five major conclusions emerge from this assessment.

First, in comparison with Russia’s broadcast media, which are, with very few exceptions, tightly controlled by the Kremlin, newspapers offer a far more complete and nuanced picture of world affairs.[i]  In fact, during the week under review, many Russian newspapers published stories relating to the American transition of power that cast the Russian government and even President Vladimir Putin in an unfavorable light.  An article on the Women’s March on Washington on January 21 informed readers of a button on sale with the slogan: “Trump, Putin: Make Tyranny Great Again.”[ii]  Other versions of anti-Trump signs on display in Washington that were mentioned in the Russian press contained messages such as: “Putin’s Puppet,” “Kremlin Employee of the Month,” and “Welcome to the New Russia.”[iii]

Russian newspapers in this period also provided detailed accusations of Russian government attempts to undermine the integrity of American elections.  To be sure, the more sycophantic newspapers prefaced or followed such accusations with dismissive comments, and all publications tended to bury the lead on these stories.  However, a discerning reader of the Russian press had plenty of evidence to develop a sophisticated understanding of the claims being made about Russian involvement in American elections as well as the unusual affinity of Donald Trump toward Russia and the Russian President.

One of the most widely-covered stories during Inauguration week concerned the seemingly offhand comments made by President Putin at a news conference in the Kremlin with the visiting president of Moldova.  Seeking to squelch rumors that Trump’s infatuation with Putin and Russia was due to kompromat [compromising material] that the Russian government had on the new American president, Putin claimed–somewhat improbably–that because Trump was not a political figure when he stayed in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013, it would not have occurred to the security organs to have entrapped him.  Feigning outrage, Putin then noted that persons who would make such accusations were worse than prostitutes.  As if to establish his own bona fides as a nationalist politician who had little time for political correctness, he quickly added that he could, of course, see how someone could be tempted by Russian prostitutes, given that they are the best in the world.[iv]

Second, the Russian press framed the deeply polarized nature of current American politics in terms borrowed from the post-communist experience.  It was a classic example of mirror imaging–the tendency to read one’s own experience into the affairs of others.  With the streets of the American capital filling with demonstrators on the day after Trump’s inauguration, numerous articles raised the specter of an American Maidan, a reference to the post-election uprising in Kiev that led to the overthrow of the pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovich.[v]  Others compared the Women’s March to the massive protests that occurred on the streets of Moscow in December 2011, in the wake of Russia’s controversial parliamentary elections.[vi]

The specter of the traditional American Establishment rising up against the arrival of an unwelcome populist, and possibly removing him from office, was a central theme in Russian press coverage during Inauguration week.[vii]  Some articles relied on fake news from American sources to support this assertion, including accepting at face value hoax ads that offered to pay demonstrators from $50 to $2500 to join protests against President Trump.[viii]  Such accusations would have resonated with Russian readers, who had been subjected to similar claims about rent-a-crowds participating in color revolutions in post-communist states.

Third, if the Russian press during Inauguration week was united in its criticism of Barack Obama,[ix] it revealed a deep ambivalence about the future of US-Russian relations and about Donald Trump as the new American leader.  On the one hand, Russian newspapers published American polling data and man-on-the-street interviews from Washington that revealed favorable opinions toward Russia.[x]  At the same time, many newspapers cautioned their readers against assuming that Trump’s pro-Russian rhetoric would easily translate into a resolution of issues that divided the two powers, from Ukraine to sanctions and Syria to nuclear arms.  Alongside references to Trump as a pragmatist or “our man”–#Trumpnash, meaning “Trump is Ours,” was a Twitter handle mentioned in one story–there were efforts to lower expectations by preparing the Russian population for a long struggle for pre-eminence among different factions in the American political establishment and even within the Trump White House itself.[xi]

Fourth, where there was considerable uncertainty in the Russian press about the prospects for a Trump presidency, there was a clear consensus among Russian commentators that the world was entering a new, turbulent, and potentially dangerous era.   For one, Trump’s harsh comments on China threatened to upend Russia’s own fledgling partnership with its populous neighbor.[xii]  This undercurrent of discomfort, if not alarm, in stories about developments outside of Russia is something of a paradox.  For years, Putin had been seeking to replace the American-dominated international order with a multi-polar world. Now that this more pluralistic and dynamic order appears to be on the horizon, the Russian press is warning the population to fasten its seat belts.

Russian observers cited approvingly Trump’s rejection of the role of “world’s policeman” for the United States, as well as his apparent willingness to consider dividing the world into spheres of interest.[xiii]  However, several articles suggested that the old ruling class would not fade easily into history.  One article noted that Obama-era threats against Russia were part of the “agony of an Anglo-Saxon elite that for 200 years had been setting the tone for democracy and serving as the main arbiter of morals.”[xiv]  Another compared the hapless position of American liberals to that of the Russian bourgeoisie on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution.[xv]

Some commentators used the occasion of the change of American administrations to remind readers of Russia’s position as a defender of Christianity and traditional values at a time when the West was moving rapidly toward a post-Christian future.[xvi]  Thus, to nationalists as well as religious conservatives in Europe and the United States, Russia was offering itself as a bulwark against globalism and atheism, while for Christian minorities in the Middle East, Russia held itself out as the Protector of the Faithful, a role reprised from tsarist times.[xvii]  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s insistence on January 18 that Russia was “very concerned about the departure of Christians” from the Middle East was followed several days later by a similar statement from Donald Trump in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.[xviii]

Fifth, and finally, the Russian press revealed its preoccupation during Inauguration week with the symbols and rituals of American power.  Newspaper articles offered detailed descriptions of everything from the desk in the Oval Office to the two Bibles on which President Trump swore the oath of office.[xix]  Although these articles may have satisfied the curiosity of readers about ceremonial niceties, they also–perhaps unwittingly–pointed out the contrasts with the succession process in Russia itself.  Descriptions in the Russian press of President Obama voluntarily transferring power to an adversary, Donald Trump, and then departing the ceremony in Marine One, the presidential helicopter, would have reminded some Russian readers of the gap between their own political traditions and those in the West.  In short, both supporters and critics of the Russian president would have found evidence in the Russian coverage of American Inauguration week to sustain their points of view, an illustration of the limits of Putin’s control over his country’s “information space.”

Notes

[i] For a sophisticated essay on the collapse of the American dream, see Anna Krotkina, “Svoi paren’, khotia i milliarder,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, January 24, 2017, p. 15.

[ii] Elena Chinkova, “‘Svobodu Malenii!’–protiv Trampa vyshli ‘pussi-shapki’,” Komsomol’skaia pravda, January 23, 2017, p. 4.

[iii] Aleksandr Panov, “Ves’ Tramp–narodu!” Novaia gazeta, January 23, 2017, pp. 12-13.  This publication is the most prominent opposition paper in Russia.

[iv] Andrei Kolesnikov, “Voskhozhdenie po Trampu,” Kommersant Daily, January 18, 2017, p. 1.

[v] Putin himself raised the specter of an American Maidan in comments to the Russian press.  Kira Latukhina, “VVS, ser!” Rossiiskaia gazeta, January 19, 2017, p. 2.  See also “Zhdet li Trampa svoi Maidan?” Komsomol’skaia pravda, January 23, 2017, p. 3; Aleksei Zabrodin, “Demokraty opasaiutsia sdelki po Ukraine,” Izvestiia, January 20, 2017, p. 3; and Dmitrii Egorchenkov, “Nezhno-rozovyi Maidan,” Izvestiia, January 24, 2017, p. 6.

[vi] One prominent Russian politician compared America in recent years to the period of “stagnation” experienced by the Soviet Union under Brezhnev.  Igor’ Ivanov, “Tramp i Rossiia,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, January 18, 2017, p. 8.

[vii] See, for example, Eduard Lozannskii, “Nastali budni,” Izvestiia, January 23, 2017, p. 6.

[viii] Igor’ Dunaevskii, “Nepyl’naia rabotenka,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, January 19, 2017, p. 8.

[ix] Prime Minister Dmitrii Medvedev insisted that Obama’s destruction of relations between Russia and the US will be remembered as his “worst foreign policy mistake.” Elena Kriviakina, “Dmitrii Medvedev: my ne bananovaia respublika! SShA etogo ne uchli,” Komsomol’skaia pravda, January 21, 2017, p. 2. One correspondent noted that “all that will be needed is a single meeting between Putin and Trump to bring down the wall of disinformation, moratoriums, sanctions, and lies that Obama had constructed.” Oleg Shevtsov, “Chto Tramp griadushchil nam gotovit’,” Trud, January 20, 2017, p. 1.

[x] Aleksei Zabrodin, “Izmeneniia nachnutsia priamo seichas na etoi zemle,” Izvestiia, January 23, 2017, p. 3; Georgii Asatrian, “Konservativnye i religioznye amerikantsy poliubili Rossiiu,” Izvestiia, January 23, p. 3.  One journalist even noted that Russians’ newfound attachment to an American president could help them overcome their desire to be needed in the world again, a sentiment identified by Eduard Limonov, the Russian radical writer, in 2014. Dmitrii Ol’shanskii, “Pochemu nash chelovek poliubil Donal’da Fredycha,” Komsomol’skaia pravda, January 24, 2017, p. 4.

[xi]Mikhail Zubov, “Itogo za nedeliu,” Moskovskii komsomolets, January 20, 2017, p. 2; Igor’ Dunaevskii, “Kogo slushaet Tramp,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, January 24, 2017, p. 8. For the views of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, see Ekaterina Zabrodina, “Dozhdemsia inauguratsii Trampa,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, January 18, 2017, p. 5. In general, Trump received very favorable press in Russia, though one interview with a handwriting expert reported that Trump’s handwriting indicated that he had an authoritarian personality.  Dar’ia Zavgorodniaia, “Grafolog–o pocherke Donal’da Trampa: u takogo cheloveka stil’ pravleniia–avtoritarnyi,” Komsomol’skaia pravda, January 23, 2017, p. 5.

[xii] Among the many articles warning of tensions in the triangular relationship among Russia, China, and the US, see Vladimir Skosyrev, “Si Tszin’pin opasaetsia druzhby Putina s Trampom,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, January 13, 2017, p. 1.

[xiii] Ibid.; Pavel Tarasenko, “Pobednyi sorok piatyi,” Kommersant Daily, January 21, 2017, p. 1;

[xiv] Elena Chinkova, Abbas Dzhuma, “Eks-postpred SShA pri OON Samanta Pauer: Koshmar–vse bol’she amerikantsev doveriaiut Putinu!” Komsomol’skaia pravda, January 19, 2017, p. 4; Fedor Luk’ianov, “Ochevidnoe–neveroiatnoe,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, January 20, 2017, p. 8.

[xv] Mikhail Rostovskii, “Pryzhok k neizvestnost’,” Moskovskii komsomolets, January 21, 2017, p. 1.

[xvi] Iurii Paniev, “Tramp ne vyzyvaet v Moskve ni opasanii, ni vostorga,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, January 18, 2017, p. 8.

[xvii] Foreign Minister Lavrov argued that the so-called “liberal” values of the West had led to a massive exodus of Christians from Iraq and Syria.  Edvard Chesnokov, “Sergei Lavrov: blizhnevostochnyi krizis–rezul’tat ‘eksporta demokratii’,” Komsomolskaia pravda, January 18, 2017, p. 3; Andrei Kortunov, “Chem opasno ‘vechnoe vozrashchenie’,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, January 24, 2017, p. 9; and Mikhael’ Dorfman, “Iskupitel’naia missiia Trampa,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, January 18, 2017, p. 14.

[xviii] Liubov’ Glazunova, “Lavrov rasskazal o tufte i feikakh,” Moskovskii komsomolets, January 18, 2017, p. 3.

[xix] Edvard Chesnokov, Aleksei Osipov, “Vmeste s Trampom v Oval’nyi kabinet v’ekhal Cherchill’,” Komsomol’skaia pravda, January 25, 2017, p. 4.

France – The presidential election takes shape

On Sunday, the Socialist party chose its candidate for the 2017 French presidential election. At the second round of the party primary, voters chose Benoît Hamon over the former Prime Minister, Manuel Valls. Hamon won about 59% of the votes cast. With his selection, the line up of candidates – or at least the serious ones – for April/May’s election is now probably complete.

There are five main candidates in the field. From left to right, they are: Jean-Luc Mélenchon of The Left Party; Benoît Hamon for the left of the Socialist party; Emmanuel Macron for the centre-left or centrist En Marche! movement (the exclamation point is obligatory); François Fillon for the right of the right-wing Republicans; and Marine Le Pen for the populist, alt-right, extreme-right National Front.

The election is François Fillon’s to lose and he seems to be trying his best to do just that. The received wisdom was that whoever the Republicans chose as their presidential candidate would be able to win the election easily. This was because there was no serious candidate on the left and because Marine Le Pen is unelectable at the second ballot. So, when Fillon won the party nomination in November, he seemed to be a shoe-in. However, things are perhaps changing.

Fillon won the primary by appealing to the conservative element within the Republicans. This made sense if we assume that the median voter in the party is also conservative. However, once selected, it would appear to make sense for him to move to the centre. He has to win 50% of the  popular vote to win the second round of the presidential election and he will need the vote of people other than traditional conservatives to reach that figure. Yet, since his selection he has pretty much maintained his conservative stance on moral issues, welfare policy, and public sector cuts. Perhaps he assumes that he is bound to go through to the second ballot. On that assumption, then he may also assume that he actually has to avoid moving to the centre too soon and in so doing cede ground on the conservative right to Le Pen, thus continuing to pen her in as it were on the extreme-right. However, his refusal to move anywhere close to the centre has merely created a wide-open centrist space for Emmanuel Macron to move into. What’s more, last week a story broke about Fillon’s wife. It has become known as ‘Penelopegate’ after his English wife’s first name. The allegation was that Fillon had employed the aforementioned Penelope from his parliamentary allocation, but that she had done no work in return. If so, this is a so-called ’emploi fictif’, which is a crime. In an attempt at political damage limitation, Fillon said that he would withdraw from the contest if he was formally put under investigation. The long timeframe that it would most likely take for a formal investigation to start works in his favour, so it was probably a safe declaration to make. However, his problem is that even if nothing comes of the allegations before the election or indeed ever, which is quite possible, it has painted Fillon as a person of the establishment, remunerating his wife, and it turns out his sons as well, from the public purse. Relative to Sarkozy and Juppé, he was able to position himself as a sort of outsider, despite the fact that he lives in a castle. (Sorry, manoir). Not any more. His poll ratings have dropped and he is now in a tight race to qualify for the second round.

Fillon’s main first-round challenger has emerged as Emmanuel Macron, who has positioned himself somewhere on the centre-left. Perhaps more importantly, while he has some ministerial experience, he too is presenting himself as an outsider. In the context of France, Europe, most of the previously civilised democratic world, and, who knows, perhaps the universe generally, this seems like a winning electoral strategy at the moment. He has been helped by Fillon’s political positioning and #Penelopegate. He should also be helped by the Socialists’ choice of Hamon, who is on the left of the party. Already some PS deputies have said they are going to support Macron ahead of their party’s official candidate. In the most recent poll, Macron came in at 21% on the first ballot, one point behind Fillon. We all know that polls are no longer worth the pixels they’re reported in, but it looks like a closer first-round race now than at any time before. Indeed, all polls show that, like Fillon, if Macron qualifies for the second round, then he will easily beat Le Pen. So, there is now much talk of President Macron.

However, some caution may yet be in order. Macron is still behind Fillon, though only just. More importantly, he has no campaigning experience. He has been astute so far, but the campaign is only really beginning. He could come a cropper, especially as he comes under more scrutiny. More than that, he has no policy programme yet. It’s promised some point soon. But, as it stands, we don’t really know exactly what he is proposing. When it appears, it could raise issues that he has difficulty responding to. Also, he doesn’t have the backing of the Socialist party. More than that, the party establishment, or parts of it at least, would probably wish to see him lose, maximising their chances of maintaining their position as the main force on the left, rather than helping him win and then having to play second fiddle to him and his new movement!. At some point, not being the candidate of a major party might be a problem, especially if the Socialists play dirty. So, while Macron is currently better placed now than ever before and while recent events have been favourable to him, as yet he is no certainty to qualify for the second round.

In terms of Mélenchon and Hamon, we can think of it as a battle for what’s left of the left of the left. Mélenchon would have preferred Valls to win the Socialist primary. This would have allowed him to take up the mantle of the anti-establishment left candidate unopposed. However, Hamon is a Socialist frondeur. He’s been a thorn in the side of the Hollande administration and has gained some popularity by proposing the idea of a ‘universal income’. With Hamon campaigning in the same general space, it’s difficult to see Mélenchon breaking through. The same can be said of Hamon, though. There’s probably around 15-20% of the population that might be tempted by a credible truly left-anchored candidate. However, Mélenchon and Hamon are likely to fight out that vote between them. In fairness to Hamon, though, he has revitalised a certain previously demoralised Socialist electorate that feels hard done by under President Hollande. Hamon has the wind in his sails for a short time at least. He too can credibly position himself as an outsider. He may well beat Mélenchon, but it’s difficult to imagine the circumstances in which he would make it through to the second ballot.

This leaves Marine Le Pen. She is still ahead at the first ballot in all the polls, though sometimes not by much. Her problem is that she loses to everyone at the second ballot by a large margin. Her hope is that she will be the Donald Trump of France. In fact, she had herself pictured in Trump Tower in New York just before the inauguration. She wants to bring together the usual anti-immigrant, extreme-right vote that has been loyal to the FN for a while now, but add to it a working-class electorate that is worried about economic issues and that doesn’t like the EU. She is pushing a certain social welfare agenda, pressing on populist economic issues, and, as usual, identifying lots of enemies at home, the near abroad (read Brussels), and further afield still. It’s a strategy similar to ones that have worked in the US, Austria (nearly anyway), and in the Brexit referendum. In terms of getting elected, it’s a strategy that might have legs, especially if Fillon and the right implodes, and if she faces Macron at the second ballot in the context where Macron’s own campaign has become derailed somehow. In other words, it’s not beyond the bounds of imagination that the polls are underestimating her support, that some of the filloniste right could vote Le Pen at the second round ahead of even Macron, and that some of the left might even stay at home and not vote for Macron, in which concatenation of probably unlikely circumstances Le Pen could perhaps just squeak through. (Did you see all the qualifications I put in there).

But even then it’s a long shot. While Le Pen’s strategy has allowed her to emerge as the first-placed candidate at the first ballot, there are still no signs that she has sufficient support to win at the second. In France, there is already a certain populist left. This makes it more difficult for Le Pen to build a populist left/right coalition that might be possible in other countries. She, and the party, also have their own corruption issues. Indeed, the FN was relatively slow to jump in on the #Penelopegate furore last week, at least partly because of those troubles. More generally, there is still a solid set of voters on the left, the centre, and on the right that sees the FN as illegitimate and that will not vote for it whatever the circumstances. Finally, if you tie your colours to the Trump mast (bright orange presumably), then while you may rise with Trump, you can also fall with him too. No doubt some of the things Trump is doing in the US also appeal to FN voters in France, notably the immigration ban from certain Middle East countries. However, for at least as many voters the prospect that a Le Pen presidency might engender the same sort of chaos in France as Trump is currently causing in the US is likely to be off-putting.

There was a time when the 2017 French presidential was very predictable. No longer.

Walt Kilroy – The Gambia: The Departure of President Jammeh

This is a guest post by Walt Kilroy, Associate Director of the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction and lecturer in the School of Law and Government in Dublin City University

The peaceful handover of power after an election is not normally a major news event, especially when the outgoing president goes on television immediately to accept the results. However, the small West African state of The Gambia has seen high drama, U-turns, and gunboat diplomacy in the weeks since its opposition leader surprised everyone by winning the election on December 1st. In the end, it took sustained pressure from neighbouring countries – both diplomatic and eventually military – to remove Yahya Jammeh, the autocratic and ruthless president who had held power for 22 years. It is in fact the first time that power has been transferred peacefully in The Gambia, which is the smallest country on the continent of Africa, with a population of less than two million.

The first surprise was the election result itself, given that previous votes had confirmed the dictator’s hold on power. The final result gave the presidency to opposition candidate Adama Barrow with 43.3% of the vote, against 39.6% for the incumbent, Jammeh. A third candidate accounted for the rest of the votes. Adama Barrow himself was born in 1965, the same year that Gambia became independent. He spent some years in Britain working in real estate, before returning to set up in business back home. He hardly seemed destined to lead his country, and did not have a particularly high profile. He was chosen as an agreed candidate by a coalition of seven different parties – almost the entire opposition – only a short time before the election.

He was up against the man had ruled the country with an iron fist for 22 years since taking power in a bloodless coup. But his regime was far from bloodless, and political opponents were shown little mercy. Jammeh was not just brutal: he was idiosyncratic in his own sinister ways too. He claimed to have cured AIDS, and that he could rule for a billion years. So it was a further surprise when he conceded defeat graciously within hours of the result being declared by the electoral commission on December 2nd. National television carried the outgoing president’s announcement that he would work with the new leader of country, and went on to show him phoning Adama Barrow to pledge his support. The public responses include what can only be described as outpourings of joy, mixed with disbelief. Gambians were finally losing their fear.

But within days the position had reversed, when Jammeh changed his mind and rejected the election results. He referred the outcome to the Supreme Court, one of the state institutions hollowed out under his rule. It did not actually have enough judges to hear the case. The international reaction was firmly behind Barrow, however, with support from the African Union, UN Security Council, and Organisation of Islamic States. Much of the work was done by the West African grouping, ECOWAS, and by individual leaders from the region. A series of delegations at presidential level held talks with Jammeh, trying to persuade him to stand down. They included Senegal, which surrounds The Gambia entirely apart from a small Atlantic coastline. Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also spent considerable time on the case. So did Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who was appointed head of an ECOWAS mediation committee. He had himself benefitted from his own predecessor – Goodluck Jonathon – quickly conceding defeat in the country’s 2015 elections. Ghana meanwhile held elections on December 10th in which the incumbent lost, and outgoing President John Mahama joined the effort to ease Jammeh from office. The deadline was clear, since the inauguration was due to take place on January 19th.

In ways, the transition is a real success for regional diplomacy, helped by an immediate and clear consensus among neighbouring states. But from quite early on in the process, they made clear that ECOWAS troops would be used to ensure the election results were respected. The regional body had already used its forces during the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which ended in 2002 and 2003 respectively.

Jammeh remained defiant almost to the end, even as former associates began to desert him. The attitude of the military was keenly gauged: the head of the armed forces initially appeared to back Jammeh. Adama Barrow left the country for neighbouring Senegal, with real fears for his safety. Preparations were explicitly made for his swearing in at the Gambian embassy there. And ECOWAS troops crossed into Gambia, meeting no resistance, while Nigeria added a gunboat to the diplomacy, by sending one of its most modern vessels to the area. At this stage head of the army added more colour by saying that ECOWAS forces would be greeted with flowers and tea – although the attitude of the presidential guard was not so clear.

Adama was inaugurated on schedule, albeit in the embassy in Senegal, with clear international backing, while neighbouring presidents visited Jammeh yet again to persuade him to go. Just over days after Barrow’s inauguration, Jammeh was flown out of Banjul, travelling on later to Equatorial Guinea. Naturally there was speculation about why the negotiations dragged on so long, even when it was clear the game was up. Did immunity from prosecution feature in the talks? The example of the former Liberian leader Charles Taylor might have played on Jammeh’s mind. He had been eased out during peace talks in 2003, helped by the idea that he could live an untroubled life in Nigeria. But he was eventually removed from that country, to face charges before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, in whose war he had been leading player. He is now serving a long sentence for his crimes.

Or was it about keeping some of his wealth? The BBC reported that two Rolls Royces and a Bentley were loaded onto a Chadian air force plane on the weekend of his departure. One of President Barrow’s staff later said that $11 million was missing from government coffers, although the report has not been confirmed.

Adama Barrow has now returned to The Gambia as president and received a tumultuous welcome. After years of dictatorship, the country faces some real challenges. The new leader has never held elected office, and was voted in at the head of a coalition of seven parties who will have to work together. State institutions which would ensure accountability, such as the Supreme Court, will have to be rebuilt. Security sector reform will also be important, in a state where critics of the regime faced torture or worse. The recovery of stolen assets may arise. Processes of transitional justice can be important in moving on from the past, and a truth recovery process has already been announced. But what about prosecutions versus impunity for those involved in the brutalities of the old regime, even if Jammeh himself escapes justice? The example set will be watched with interest elsewhere, especially where presidents-for-life are being encouraged to opt for retirement rather than holding onto power to the very end in order to avoid prosecution.

In the meantime, it is clear that is there is a groundswell of goodwill and indeed hope in The Gambia and its neighbours. There is determination throughout civil society to opt for accountable government – along with expectations of real change in a country weighed down by poverty and drained by emigration. This will be an interesting space to watch.

US – Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address: Closed Fist or Open Hand?

This is a guest post by Craig Allen Smith, Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University

Until November I considered the notion of “President Donald J. Trump’s Inaugural Address” a fantasy; perhaps he did, too.  Most polls then predicted his defeat and he won just 45.94% of the vote. But American presidential elections are a tournament of state elections for electoral votes, and Trump won 304 electoral votes and the 2017 inaugural moment.  Presidential inaugurals are planned responses to a recurrent rhetorical situation. Forty-four presidents have addressed that challenge, and their addresses  shape our expectations.

The definitive study of presidential inaugural addresses (Campbell & Jamieson 1985) suggests five guidelines for President Trump’s address. First, the speech should “unify the audiences by reconstituting it as ‘the people’ who witness and ratify the ceremony. Second, the speech should “rehearse shared values drawn from the past” to anchor the new president in the permanent culture of America. Third, the speech should “enunciate the political principles that will guide the new administration” by providing tactical watchwords for the new administration.  Fourth, the speech should “demonstrate that the President appreciates the requirements and limitations of Executive power”. Finally, the speech should pursue its four ends “through means appropriate to epideictic discourse”:  by “Urging contemplation not action”,  by “Focusing on the present while incorporating past and future”,  and by “Praising the institution of the Presidency and the form of government of which it is a part” (Campbell & Jamieson 1985).

Ultimately, every presidents’ rhetorical challenge is to adapt his message to the genre while adjusting that genre to his message.  Let us then consider how President Trump adjusted his message and the inaugural expectations.  All quotations are from the official text (Trump 2017).

Generic inaugurals unify audiences by reconstituting the people as witnesses and ratifiers of the transfer of power (Campbell and Jamieson 1985).  President Trump did so immediately by invoking “We, the citizens of America” — an unusual construction, especially given his focus on legal citizenship in the United States of America.  He then characterized his oath to God to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as “an oath of allegiance to all Americans.”  Both statements functioned as parts of a strategic reconstituting of the country:  “the people” were mentioned nineteen times compared to three mentions of “government” and no mention of the Constitution, Congress, or the judiciary.

“What truly matters is not which party controls our government,” said the President, “but whether our government is controlled by the people.” His position was clear: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” He pounded the wedge between people and government: “Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth.  Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

Thus, said the President, “today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.” Indeed, “January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” Their embodiment — President Donald J. Trump — delivered that message from the steps of the Capitol while flanked by former Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Obama as well as members of Congress and the Supreme Court. In short, President Trump defined himself less as President of the United States and its government than as president of the American people.

Like his predecessors since Theodore Roosevelt, President Trump employed a “Plebiscitary Model” for his address to “envision and articulate a strong connection between the presidency and the public” (Korzi 2004). This is fully consistent with Trump’s defeat of the Republican establishment in the primaries, his defeat of the Democratic establishment in the general election, and with the populist rhetoric of his campaign.

But none of his predecessors went this far in disconnecting the people from their government even though they took office with more than Trump’s 46% of the popular vote and pre-inauguration approval ratings greater than his 37%. (Calfas 2017).  Which people, then, did President Trump mean to empower? President Trump’s “people” were “everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America.  This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.”   “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.” Implicitly, this moment did not belong to those avoiding the ceremony or to those not responsible for electing him, nor did it belong to those who have not perceived themselves as forgotten. Implicit omissions are unavoidable, but an inaugural is an appropriate site for an olive branch or two, and these are largely absent.

Trump’s olive branch was a bit curious. “We are one nation,” he said, “and their pain is our pain.  Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success.  We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.” But who are “they”? If the forgotten people are now his empowered “we” then who is left as the “they” outside his people, his America, and his nation that exists to serve them?

The second generic characteristic of presidential inaugurals is the invocation of “shared values drawn from the past” (Campbell & Jamieson 1985). Trump’s inaugural is light on the American core values of morality, patriotism, effort and optimism, and progress and change (Smith and Smith 1985).  He invokes the Bible (“The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity’”), God (“we are protected by God”), and the Creator (“And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.”) but that seems a bit thin in comparison to the genre. We heard two references to patriotism (“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” and “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag”).

The values heard in this inaugural are of the terminal variety — outcomes to be valued. These include strength, wealth, pride, safety, and greatness — “Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We Will Make America Wealthy Again. We Will Make America Proud Again. We Will Make America Safe Again. And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again.” These are not altruistic goals, but imply a morality of self-interest.

Indeed, the President explicitly indicts America’s history of altruism:  “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry;  Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; And spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.  We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”

The third generic characteristic of presidential inaugurals is that they “enunciate the political principles that will guide the new administration” (Campbell and Jamieson 1985). It is here that President Trump was most explicit, replacing altruism with self-interest:

“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.  Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body – and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before.”

Here again his explicit statement invites an examination of his implicit message. Does “America first” mean the United States or his reconstituted “America” of his people? Does he mean our country first as opposed to other countries, or our people as opposed to their Constitutional government? Surely his ardent supporters will dismiss those questions, but the other 60% of Americans and others around the world will surely wonder.

Fourth, the speech should “demonstrate that the President appreciates the requirements and limitations of Executive power” (Campbell and Jamieson 1985).  Trump’s inaugural is squarely within Korzi’s (2004) “Plebiscitary Model” in which the president “is central and dominant in the political system, with other political actors, such as Congress and political parties, largely absent. Moreover, the Constitution and limits on presidential power are eschewed. Most importantly, these addresses envision and articulate a strong connection between the presidency and the public” (Korzi 2004). Yet Trump never refers to the presidency and mentions no other political actors. Instead “Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.”  Not he but “we” will rebuild America:

“We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders.  We will bring back our wealth.  And we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

Which we? You, sir, and who else? The government that has failed in the past? The 46% who voted for you and the 37% who approve of you? The forgotten people now empowered? This remains unexplained. Except that, “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.” But is that allegiance to the American people, to the disdained government, or to the unmentioned Constitution?

Fifth and finally, an inaugural should pursue its four ends “through means appropriate to epideictic discourse” (Campbell & Jamieson 1985). Whereas we expect epideictic to urge contemplation over action this speech does the opposite: “The time for empty talk is over.  Now arrives the hour of action.” Whereas we expect epideictic to focus on the present while incorporating past and future this speech focuses on the future: “But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” And where we expect an inaugural as epideictic to praise the institution of the Presidency and the form of government of which it is a part, this speech does not mention the presidency and renders government as the villain. The President’s message could have been cast so as to fulfill these generic expectations but it seems more likely that the President wanted to defy those rhetorical expectations just as well as he had defied the political expectations.

Conclusion

President Donald J. Trump delivered an inaugural address that was sufficiently generic to be a recognizable inaugural. Like his predecessors he reconstituted the people, he invoked values, and he articulated principles guiding his administration. But unlike his predecessors he divided his people from his government, he rejected the traditional value of altruism in favor of self-interest, he offered no praise for the presidency or the Constitutional system, and he flaunted the requirements of good epideictic address.

An inaugural address is a point of interface between the politics, rhetoric, and the individual. This address was mostly Trump. A political inaugural would have sought to build bridges, but he worked to burn them. A rhetorical inaugural would have urged contemplation about the present and paid homage to the presidency and the constitutional system, but he spurned contemplation, focused on the future, and said nothing good about the office or the system. Instead a self-confident businessman attacked government. He disdained a tradition of altruism and pledged his administration to “America First”. At his investiture he vested power in “the people”, however clumsily, pitting them against the government of which he is the new CEO. A candidate who won with a divide and conquer strategy exhorted us to be unified and loyal to one another.

President Trump’s inaugural address ended with a raised fist reminiscent of Edward P. J. Corbett’s (1969) essay about the rhetoric of the open hand and the closed fist.  “The open hand might be said to characterize the kind of persuasive discourse that seeks to carry its point by reasoned, sustained, conciliatory discussion of the issues,” wrote Corbett (1969). “The closed fist might signify the kind of persuasive activity that seeks to carry its point by non-rationale, non-sequential, often non-verbal, frequently provocative means.” That seems a fitting description of the Trump we have come to know, although Corbett’s focus was on the raised fist of Black Power and anti-war protesters on the Left.  Corbett argued that the key element of rhetoric is choice and concluded that, “If rhetoric is, as Aristotle defined it, ‘a discovery of all the available means of persuasion,’ let us be prepared to open and close that hand as the occasion demands” (Corbett 1969).

Following Corbett we can be prepared to open and close that hand as appropriate, but the inaugural genre has until now been an open-hand moment.  President Trump’s inaugural address was a close-fisted repudiation of government, altruism, and contemplation.  His calls for unity and togetherness came as commands for unity and allegiance. He offered no assurances to females or non-whites or those aspiring to citizenship unless of course they hear themselves among the Presidents “they” who look at the sky, dream, and bleed.  Surely, President Trump’s inaugural address will have excited his supporters and worried his adversaries…and that should trouble him.

The American constitutional system was designed to complicate change. Rhetorically adept presidents with strong public support who built bridges to their critics still met with mixed success.  Now President Trump begins with a combative closed-fist anchored not in the Constitution but in the popular support of a public that already disapproves of his leadership.  He pits those people against the government he leads.  He offers little to those who fear and/or oppose him. Renounces our record of helping other nations and tells them it will be America First.  His address was more populist and combative than its predecessors; one could even term it “revolutionary”. His path forward will be challenging as he seeks ways to use the open hand and closed fist to forge the allegiance, unity, and togetherness he deems essential to “make America great again”. What could possibly go wrong?

References

Calfas, J. (2017, January 20). Poll: Trump approval rating hits new low hours before inauguration. The Hill. Retrieved 1/20/2017 from http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/315223-poll-trump-approval-rating-hits-new-low-hours-before.

Campbell, K. K.& Jamieson, K. H. (1985). Inaugurating the Presidency. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 15, 395-411. Retrieved 1/19/2017 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/27550215.

Corbett, E. P. J. (1969). The Rhetoric of the open hand and the rhetoric of the closed fist. College Composition and Communication, 20, 288-296. Retrieved 1/20/2017 from http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/pdf/355032.pdf.

Korzi, M. J. (2004). The president and the public: Inaugural addresses in American history. Congress & the Presidency, 31(1), 21-52. Retrieved from http://proxying.lib.ncsu.edu/index.php?url=http://search.proquest.com.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/docview/205929590?accountid=12725

Smith, C. A. & Smith, K. B. (1985). Presidential values and public priorities: Recurrent patterns in addresses to the nation, 1963-1984. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 15(4), 743-753. Retrieved 1/19/2017 from http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/27550274

Trump, D. J. (2017, January 20). The Inaugural Address: Remarks of President Donald J. Trump J. – As prepared for delivery. The White House: Briefing Room. Retrieved 1/20/2017 from https://www.whitehouse.gov/inaugural-address.

Dennis Jett – President Trump and US Ambassadorial Appointments

This is a guest post by Dennis Jett, Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of American Ambassadors: The Past, Present and Future of America’s Diplomats, published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

As was discussed in yesterday’s post and in a recent article, a significant number of American ambassadorial appointments are the result of a thinly veiled system of corruption that is as much a part of Washington politics as flag lapel pins. Ambassadors to the wealthiest countries are almost always large contributors to political campaigns. Furthermore, the greater the gross domestic product per capita of the country, the more the ambassador to it contributed. The same applies to the number of tourists a country receives. In other words, as an ambassadorial posting, London costs more than Lisbon.

This pay-to-play system is not new. In 1971, President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, offered Ruth Farkas, the wife of the owner of a chain of department stores, the ambassadorship to Costa Rice in exchange for a campaign contribution of $250,000. Mrs. Farkas famously replied to that proposal by saying “Isn’t $250,000 an awful lot of money for Costa Rica.” Mr. Kalmbach went to jail for that and other crimes, and Mrs. Farkas went to Luxembourg as ambassador. Following the announcement of her nomination for the post she began to make contributions to Nixon’s campaign, which added up to $300,000, demonstrating that Europe costs more than Central America.

The corruption of the Nixon administration prompted a number of ethics reforms, including the Foreign Service Act of 1980. It states, in part, that ambassadorial appointments should normally go to career diplomats and that campaign contributions should play no part in determining when a noncareer person is nominated as ambassador.

The Act had only a very small impact in reducing the number of political appointee ambassadors, however, and they continue to number about 30 percent of the total. The exception was under President Reagan, where an aggressive White House personnel office, a weak secretary of state and a president disinterested in the details of governing, caused the percent to go up to 38 percent. This was accomplished by sending political appointees as ambassadors to obscure places like Rwanda and Malawi where normal only a career officer would be sent. The Reagan appointees were arguable some of the worst examples of public servants. The embassy in Rwanda, for instance, received an instruction ordering it to refuse cashing the ambassador’s checks because so many had bounced.

While in the earlier blog post there was discussion of theories that might help understand such appointments to high government positions, those theories are of no use when trying to speculate about what the incoming administration might do. The Foreign Service Act notwithstanding, a president has wide latitude about who he appoints as his ambassadors. The 30/70 ratio is more tradition than anything else and, as the Reagan administration demonstrated, can easily be ignored. Perhaps the only real limitation is that there are only so many countries to which political appointees aspire to be ambassador. Those nations where the diplomats earn hardship or danger pay do not attract noncareer ambassadors.

What might therefore be expected from the person that takes office of president on January 20th? If it had been Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, the 30/70 precedent set by previous presidents would undoubtedly have continued.

What will President Trump do? There is no way to judge. He has already broken with traditional practice by insisting that all the political appointee ambassadors currently in place must depart on January 20th. Normally, many of them would have been allowed to stay on until their successors arrived in order to smooth the transition.

One could argue that with few mega-donors, he might make fewer political appointments. The problem is, as with his potential conflicts of interest and ties to Russia, there is no transparency. The most common form of winning favor with a presidential candidate is for a person to bundle the contributions of his or her friends and colleagues and present it to the campaign. There is no legal requirement to reveal who is trying to buy influence in this fashion however.

In the last two presidential elections, the Democratic nominees have released the names of their bundlers, while the Republicans have not. Clinton and Obama put the names of hundreds of their bundlers on their websites. But as with their tax returns, the information on the bundlers for Trump and Romney remains a secret hidden from the voters.

In addition to the lack of transparency there is also the fact that Trump was the first candidate of a major political party in American history to have no experience in either government or the military. Trump, the anti-insider candidate, might appoint only outsiders as ambassadors. Think of the possibilities for a new reality TV show called Ambassador Apprentice.

His announcements for his ambassadorial appointments thus far have been governors for China and the United Nations, a businessman for Japan and his bankruptcy lawyer for Israel. One thing they all have in common is no experience in the federal government and a level of international experience that can at best be described as limited.

The nominee for Israel, David Friedman, is especially important to a president elect since he has declared bankruptcy six times. Friedman could charitably described as a little short on diplomatic ability, however, as he has said American Jews who support the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine are as worse than the Jews who assisted the Nazis in concentration camps. A majority of the American Jewish community would fall under that description.

One might think that lacking any background in foreign affairs beyond real estate deals, Trump might make a greater percentage of his nominations from the career ranks. As anyone in the intelligence community has discovered, however, Trump thinks nothing of denigrating career civil servants if he decides it in his best interest.

So, as Yogi Berra once said “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  A theory about presidential appointments won’t help and the world will have to await more Tweets from Trump Tower.

One thing about which there is no doubt is that whoever gets to serve as ambassador for the next administration will have a foreign policy that will be a challenge to defend. If one wanted to make American embassies and ambassadors bigger targets for terrorism, it would be harder to think of a more effective way to do that than the rhetoric like banning all Muslims from entering the United States, torturing terrorist suspects and murdering their families.

Johannes W. Fedderke and Dennis Jett – Pricing US Ambassadorial Postings: how much would you have to pay to be posted as US ambassador to the Court of St. James?

This is a guest post by Johannes W. Fedderke and Dennis Jett from Pennsylvania State University. It is based on their recent article in Governance.

US ambassadorial postings are unusual. Unlike other major powers, a significant proportion of US ambassadors are political appointees rather than career diplomats. Political appointees, chosen by the White House rather than the State Department, are non-randomly distributed across diplomatic posts, being most common in Western European and Caribbean countries.  They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but they have in common the fact that in some way they helped the president get elected. The largest number do that that through campaign contributions, but others do it by bringing diversity to the ranks of appointees, for some other political purpose, by being personal friends or serving as loyal staff aides to the president. These categories are not mutually exclusive, but one is usually predominant.

In a recent paper,[1] we explore the why and the how of the US ambassadorial appointments process.

Patronage utility frameworks provide plausible explanations of “why” donors and special interest group representatives are chosen for ambassadorships, and we examine two possibilities: all-pay auctions and alternating offer bargaining games.

Since a political appointment to a diplomatic post provides a rent to the recipient, one analytical approach to the contest for the posting is provided by all-pay auctions, in which all bidders pay for the prize regardless of whether their bid proves successful or not. As an alternative to the strategic interaction by means of auction, which does not allow for negotiation over the prize or its value, the strategic interaction between the donor and presidential candidates can also be thought of as a multiperiod alternating offer bargaining game.

Under plausible and readily specifiable conditions, the implication of both frameworks is symmetrical: donors get what they pay for, with low donations eliciting low quality posting offers, high donations high quality posting offers. The immediate empirical prediction is that higher campaign donations should be matched by better quality diplomatic postings.

So why are both theoretical frameworks of relevance?

Direct reliance on bargaining over donations and posts would constitute a violation of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. On the other hand, under all-pay auctions, the expectation is that donors would pay the full underlying valuation of diplomatic posts. Empirically this is not universally true, with both over- and underpayment for posts observable. This can be more readily accounted for in terms of a bargaining framework, with donor and candidate having varying bargaining strengths from case to case. Reality is likely a messy and complex result of both of these processes.

In our paper, we test the proposition that higher donations will be associated with better postings, and extend the analysis to provide a “pricing” of posts in terms of their underlying characteristics.

Our data covers ambassadorial appointments to all countries with whom the United States has diplomatic relations, a total of 170 countries, for both terms of the G.W.Bush presidency, and both terms of the Obama presidency, through 2013. The data covers 13 years of ambassadorial appointments, generating 764 data points. We measure the desirability of diplomatic posts by means of per capita GDP (GDPPC), its attractiveness as a tourist destination (measured as the number of tourist visits), and the level of hardship or danger pay the ambassador receives in a post. We also distinguish between different “types” of donation, directly to presidential campaigns as personal donations, to the political party of the presidential candidate, “bundling” donations by means of which donors act as coordinators for larger groupings of donors to provide financial support to campaigns, as well as “ex post” donations to campaigns (for instance to the inauguration of a successful presidential candidate).

We demonstrate that higher donations to presidential campaigns predict an improved desirability of diplomatic postings for donors, across both the per capita GDP and attractiveness as tourist destination metrics.

Types of donations can also be shown to have a differential impact on the quality of appointment. While donors to political parties realize the highest per capita GDP postings (on average $14,000 higher than career diplomats), while campaign donors realize more moderately improved postings (on average $6,000 higher than career diplomats), in terms of the return on each dollar donated, the highest return is realized by campaign donors. Thus a $100,000 campaign contribution raises the GDP per capita level of the diplomatic posting by $27,000; a $1,000,000 party political donation raises the GDP per capita level of the diplomatic posting by $5,000.

The implication is that donating to the party requires much greater contributions to secure a comparable post to campaign donations, but since there are fewer caps on what can be given to a political party than there are for donations directly to presidential campaigns, there is the opportunity to compete more aggressively for better posts by contributing large amounts to the former.

So how much would you have to pay for a US diplomatic posting? In our paper we explore this question for all feasible posts, and across a range of possible forms of political donations. Here we cut to the chase, and list four of the more up-market options (Berlin, London, Paris, Rome) – see Table below. We list the implied “prices” of the diplomatic posts under either personal campaign contributions to a presidential campaign directly, computed specifically for the first Obama term, or for party political contributions, computed as an average for all four presidential terms in our data set. Both prices are on the per capita GDP metric of country desirability rating.

Should your target post be the Court of St. James, the cheapest option was by means of personal contributions to the first term of the Obama administration (a snip at $1.1 million), the most expensive option via party political donations (on average $4.3 million over the 2000-13 period).

  Personal Contribution
Obama 1st term
GDP per capita metric (US$)
Party Political Contribution
All 4 Presidential Terms
GDP per capita metric (US$)
Berlin 1,170,517 4,514,841
London 1,131,642 4,331,352
Paris 1,089,080 4,140,936
Rome 881,985 3,190,090

Notes

[1] Fedderke, J.W., and Jett, D., 2016, What Price the Court of St. James? Political Influences on Ambassadorial Postings of the United States of America, Governance, forthcoming, DOI 10.1111/gove.12254.

William Crotty – A Trump Presidency

This is a guest post by William J. Crotty, Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Chair in Public Life at Northeastern University. He is the author and editor of Winning the Presidency 2016 (Routledge, 2017)

Donald Trump won the most divisive and most extraordinary presidential election in the modern history of the United States. His campaign broke all the rules to the extent they existed; was the subject of endless controversies, any one of which would have derailed his predecessors; threatened to put his opponent in jail if he won; and refused to agree to accept the results of the election – unless he won. He built a campaign on personal insults, accusations (true or not), wild charges and threats. And it worked! He beat an established, well-informed, prepared and committed opponent in Hillary Clinton.

Trump is a world-class salesman, he can sell almost anything, as the campaign showed. His behavior, actions and targets were unpredictable. They did make for good television and he dominated the coverage.  And, little reported, while running presumably full-time for president, he continued to manage his international business operations in the middle of campaigning, even opening a new golf course and a landmark hotel not far from the White House. I take this to be a clear statement as to his priorities. He did not appear to take the presidential campaign overly seriously, refused to prepare for the debates and relied in both the prenomination and general election phases of the campaign on his instincts and judgments as to his opponents and their weaknesses as he saw them, approaching situations much as he did in his business dealings.

What kind of president then can be expected? I think we know the answer. Donald Trump has no concern for tradition, previous history, institutionalized decision-making (he depends on himself), international agreements and commitments, or much of anything else that has come to define the sphere of concerns an American president must deal with. He will act as President much as he has in the campaign. He will do things his way. He will depend on what he thinks important or what interests him at the moment, will continue to be unpredictable in how he approaches given situations, will see international relations in terms of trade opportunities, will conduct negotiations on a one-on-one basis and will nurture his financial empire.

Clearly there are problems in all of this, in relation to NATO, national security (he distrusts these agencies), terrorism, the Middle East, Russia (he respects Putin), China, Western Europe, Mexico and so on. It will be an unsettled and likely difficult period that could invite disastrous consequences, large or small.

Domestically his early nominees for office – Wall Street insiders for the top economic posts; military generals for national security/defense positions and opponents of climate change, environmental regulations, public education and so on to lead the agencies that deal with such concerns – have shown that he will make good on his campaign promises. He has committed to investing heavily in the military and in nuclear weaponry, not a good sign for a man, unrestrained in practice, who takes a hostile view of those he considers opponents. As he has said, he will prioritize an “America First” approach to the world. He has pledged to end immigration, return undocumented immigrants (11 million in number) to their home countries, set tariffs and end free trade agreements. Confrontations are likely.

He has promised a neoliberal deregulated economy and a tax restructuring even more favorable to the accumulation of wealth by Corporate America and the handful of billionaires (like himself) at the top of the income hierarchy. He has vowed to abort Obamacare and Medicare and will do his best – he has Republican majorities in both houses of the Congress and on the state level in governors and state legislatures – to make good on his promise. The theatrics of the election campaign managed to hide a world view exactly the opposite of what so painfully has been built over the generations. It promises to be an extremely difficult four (or eight), or more years. Political analyst David Remnick (One Bridge: The Life and Times of Barack Obama, 2011) sees Trump’s election as “a constitutional crisis” and “a tragedy for America.”

He writes:

There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event – and it’s a stretch – is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve (Remnick 2016).

Most Americans are not optimistic as the full dimensions of the election and the potential consequences for the nation, present and future, become apparent. It was an election built largely on the anger of the economically bypassed, an indictment of both political parties and their priorities over the last half century.  Should Donald Trump succeed in his design of a new national and international order, the United States and the rest of the world could well enter a period of one-man rule in a weakened democratic state. It is an outcome no one should welcome.

 

Notes

  1. David Remnick, “An American Tragedy,” The New Yorker, November 9, 2016.

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/an-american-tragedy-2

 

 

 

New publications

Robert Elgie, ‘Varieties of Presidentialism and Leadership Outcomes’, Daedalus, Volume 145, Number 3; Summer 2016, pp. 57-68.

Eugene Huskey, ‘Authoritarian Leadership in the Post-Communist World’, Daedalus, Volume 145, Number 3; Summer 2016, pp. 69-82.

Magna Inácio and Mariana Llanos, ‘The Institutional Presidency in Latin America.: A Comparative Analysis’, Presidential Studies Quarterly, online first.

Henry Hale, ‘Constitutional Performance after Communism: Implications for Ukraine’, in Henry Hale, Robert Orttung (eds.), Beyond the Euromaidan: Comparative Perspectives on Advancing Reform in Ukraine, Stanford University Press, 2016.

Łukasz Jakubiak, ‘The systems of government of Senegal and Ivory Coast. Comparative analysis’, Politeja – Pismo Wydzialu Studiow Miedzynarodowych i Politycznych Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego, 42, pp. 247-261.

Kristen A. Harkness, ‘Military loyalty and the failure of democratization in Africa: how ethnic armies shape the capacity of presidents to defy term limits’, Democratization, 2016, DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2016.1241244

The struggle over term limits in Africa:
Brett L. Carter, ‘How international pressure can help’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 27 no. 3, 2016, pp. 36-50.
Janette Yarwood, ‘The power of protest’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 27 no. 3, 2016, pp. 51-60.
Filip Reyntjens, ‘A new look at the evidence’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 27 no. 3, 2016, pp. 61-68.

Karel Kouba, ‘Party Institutionalization and the removal of presidential term limits In Latin America’, Revista de Ciencia Política, Volume 36, No 2, 2016, pp. 433-457.

Javier Corrales, ‘Can Anyone Stop the President? Power Asymmetries and Term Limits in Latin America, 1984–2016’, Latin American Politics and Society, Volume 58, Issue 2, 2016, pp. 3–25.

Victor Araújo, Thiago Silva, and Marcelo Vieira, ‘Measuring Presidential Dominance over Cabinets in Presidential Systems: Constitutional Design and Power Sharing’, Brazilian Political Science Review, (2016) 10 (2), pp. 1-23.

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Patrick Chabal and Toby Green (eds.), Guinea-Bissau: Micro-State to ‘Narco-State’, London: Hurst 2016, inc. chapter by Joshua B. Forrest on Guinea-Bissau’s Colonial and Post-Colonial Political Institutions.

Marcus Mietzner, ‘Coercing Loyalty: Coalitional Presidentialism and Party Politics in Jokowi’s Indonesia’, Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs, Volume 38, Number 2, August 2016 , pp. 209-232.

Andrea Ceron, ‘Competing Principals 2.0? The impact of Facebook in the 2013 selection of the Italian Head of State’, Italian Political Science Review/Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica, 46(3), 2016, pp. 313–333.

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Lisa P. Argyle, Marcus Arrajj, Skylar Covich, E. G. Garay, Julian Gottlieb, Heather E. Hodges, and Eric R. A. N. Smith, Economic performance and presidential trait evaluations: A longitudinal analysis’, Electoral Studies, vol. 43 (2016), pp. 52-62.

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Simona Kukovič and Marjan Brezovšek, ‘From Parliamentarisation Towards Presidentialisation: Institutional Aspects of Local Political Leadership in Slovenia’, World Political Science. Volume 12, Issue 1, Pages 69–85.

Jacobsen Dag Ingvar and Skollevold Ann Sherin, ‘Presidentialisation on the executive arena at the local level? The case of Norway 1992–2012’, Zarządzanie Publiczne, 2016, 1(35), pp. 7-19.

Ioannis N. Grigoriadis (2015), ‘The Turkish Presidential Elections of 10 August 2014’, Mediterranean Politics, 20:1, 105-110.

Ziya Öniş, ‘Turkey’s Two Elections: The AKP Comes Back’, Journal of Democracy, Volume 27, Number 2, April 2016, pp. 141-154.

Mario Gavenda and Resul Umit, ‘The 2016 Austrian Presidential Election: A Tale of Three Divides‘, Regional & Federal Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13597566.2016.1206528

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Veronica Anghel – In the making: A Romanian government with a potentially enhanced life-expectancy

This is a guest post by Veronica Anghel, University of Bucharest

The outcome of the December 11th parliamentary elections in Romania left little room for surprises in terms of composition of the future cabinet. The Social Democrat Party (PSD) won slightly over 45% of the popular vote, which translated into 221 seats out of 465, just short of 12 for an absolute majority. The main contender, the National Liberal Party (PNL) trailed at slightly over 20% of the votes, attaining 99 seats. Newcomer Save Romania Union (USR) won 43 seats, the Democrat Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) 30, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) 29 and the Popular Movement Party (PMP) 26. An added 17 guaranteed seats for minority representatives bring the total number to 465 members of parliament.[i]

The most likely outcome of the government is a PSD and ALDE coalition with a PSD PM. President Klaus Iohannis, a formerly PNL supported candidate, has some institutional leverage in nominating the PM, but the final say rests with the parliamentary parties according to the constitutionally set investiture rules[ii]. The final decision for PM nomination of the president, as a rational participant in the government formation game, is expected to meet a plausibility criterion of acquiring parliamentary support. This reasoning excludes the nomination of a non-PSD + ALDE proposed candidate. While acknowledging PSD’s democratic win, Iohannis has also put forward his own integrity criteria for the PM which excluded PSD chairman Liviu Dragnea, who serves a suspended two year sentence for electoral fraud[iii]. The PSD nomination for PM was predictably a longstanding PSD member and working partner of his during former positions in central administration, Sevil Shhaideh.[iv]

The groundwork for a would be functional political marriage

While rhetorically the PSD/anti-PSD cleavage is kept alive, the Romanian party system overcame this polarization (and others that followed) and is no longer unidimensional. This outcome hinders the potential of looking at government formation from a “most valuable coalition” cooperative game approach. ALDE is a splinter of PNL which merged with another traditionally PSD political supporter, the Conservative Party (PC) in 2014. Although a scenario for an anti-PSD large coalition that should have comprised all other parliamentary parties kept commentators’ imagination alive following elections, the possibility of a shift of allegiance of ALDE from the side of the PSD to an ad–hoc heterogeneous coalition of “others” on pseudo-reasons of ideological proximity on the center – right was an improbable option.

The PSD – ALDE cabinet is a successful result of rational – choice calculations of balancing costs and benefits to reach a goal that maximizes each party’s advantage under given rules. Choosing to be a part of this coalition is the consequence of individually played optimal strategies.  While the PSD could, on paper, govern as a minority cabinet with the support of the 17 minority votes or some other form of negotiated legislative support and not share any of the governing cake, choosing to be on shaky grounds rather than forging a strong commitment with a longstanding loyal partner would not make for a good strategic move. A choice of a different partner for the PSD among the other parties that got over the threshold would increase costs for no benefits. Equally, the possibility of engaging in a cooperative game with all the others, as there is little reason to assume a superior individual gain as a part of a multi – member coalition with histories of dissent, should provide ALDE with little incentives for shifting.

These decisions would seem to be made based on office seeking assumptions, but the blend of motivations is more complex and also includes shared policies. Since there was little real distinction between the governing programs of all parties who stood elections, a suggestion of ideological closeness between PSD and ALDE in particular would be a stretch.  However, there is a match of agendas on key issues. For instance, both PSD and ALDE share a similar understanding that the judicial anti-corruption process has led not only to reforms but also to abuse.

Another reason why the PSD ALDE government stands as an option equal to none is their longstanding history of collaboration that dates back to the beginning of the 1990s. The current ALDE chairman, Calin Popescu – Tariceanu, was a founding member of a 1990 splinter of the then PNL, which signed the first Romanian coalition agreement with the National Salvation Front (FSN), the earliest incarnation of the PSD. As the PM of a PNL led minority coalition cabinet in 2007 – 2008, Tariceanu benefited from PSD legislative support on the basis of an informal arrangement and jointly worked to also impeach the president at that time, Traian Basescu. In 2009, PNL, of which Tariceanu was once more a prominent member although no longer president, stroke one of the most size successful political alliances in Romanian history, the Liberal – Socialist Union (USL). Once this alliance broke in 2013, Tariceanu and his supporters split once more from the PNL in early 2014 to support PSD political strategies, policies and a common presidential candidate. He was rewarded with the position of Speaker of the Senate and his then Reformist Liberal Party (PLR) entered the government at the end of the same year. He remained on the side of the PSD ever since while also merging with the Conservative Party (PC), which had served as the political arm of a powerful media trust owner who greatly supported the PSD and who now serves a ten year prison sentence.

Institutional conditionality and tamed cohabitation

In the making of the cabinet, bargaining happened less between parties, as the matter of who governs and who stays in the opposition was mostly intuitively settled. The absence of a pre-electoral coalition agreement between PSD and ALDE could have been a reason to assume some potential of a break, but this was not a strong enough alert. The pattern of signing coalition agreements in Romania between a dominant and a support party has more often than not only met a symbolic meaning, while informal ties between party leaders carried the actual weight of the commitment. Also, history has shown that such alliances could be broken under different conditions even in the eventuality of a written set of rules.[v]All suppositions have been cleared with a post – electoral coalition agreement between PSD and ALDE signed on December 19th[vi], at the beginning of the week of scheduled party consultations with the president.

The matter of the two established camps was further settled by a PNL announcement that they would not put forward a PM nomination during consultations with the president.[vii] This was confirmed on December 21st.

Nevertheless, a sort of public negotiating took place between the president and the winning PSD. As Iohannis placed as a sole conditionality the need for a PM with a clean judicial track, he required from PSD to consider well their choice so as to avoid unneeded conflict. Dragnea chose to step back for the time being by nominating a loyal representative who could serve the interest of the party just as well. The median voter thus benefits from this one policy accommodation as he would not witness a new process of negotiating with the law (there is a 2001 Law that prohibits convicts from being cabinet members) and the Constitution (there have been sparse voices which contested the constitutionality of this 2001 Law).

All things equal, there are some signs for a mutual consent for a tamed cohabitation. The president has little coalition potential as he has no strong enough political organisations to work through and shows limited interest in getting involved in political negotiations. In the absence of such a dependable, strong party and after his institutionally granted moment of nominating the PM, the president only preserves little, localised effect on the governance of the state.

Government stability, but to what end?

Once in place, there is reason to believe in an enhanced life-expectancy for the PSD – ALDE government, as they tick all the needed boxes: controlling a legislative majority; low ideological dissent among cabinet members; a reduced fragmentation in the party system, limited to the opposition; a favourable institutional design (no formal presidential powers for government breakup and no informal authority to the same end in the absence of a strong presidential agenda support party). The legislative support agreement signed with the UDMR is only the icing on a quite stable cake.[viii]

All in all, the soon to be invested cabinet provides some positive signs on the front of government stability. A new episode of negotiating with the president is clearly not desired by the PSD leadership, enough to assume that both the government composition and the would-be PSD PM are here to stay. Even so, one must take into account that so far, Romanian cabinets have had an average lifespan of about one year.

With the presidential elections three years from now and some projects that have the incentives for consensus building among institutions on the way (the 2018 100 years anniversary since the unification of Romanian historic territories and the 2019 EU Romanian Presidency) a time of silence could descend on the otherwise loud politics of the Eastern European state. But stability to what end? It is in the hands of the opposition parties now to make sure that the silence they endorse is not a free hand offered to the PSD to roam unhindered through the realm.

Along similar lines, should Sevil Shheideh be invested as PM, her gender, ethnicity (Tatar – Turkish) and religion (Muslim) will lead to a confrontation of the Romanian nation’s xenophobic, misogynistic streaks. On the one hand, this is a positive, as the PSD would have to eliminate such elements from their own speech. On the negative side, the PNL will enhance theirs. All in all, having these issues steal the political show would only deviate attention from the actual worries related to a PSD one dominant party government: the continuity of the processes to consolidate democratic institutions through the limitation of informality and the independence of the justice system. These are not irreversible projects and stability for stability’s sake in the absence of an articulated opposition on policy issues might prove detrimental for the quality of democracy in the long run.

Notes

[i]  http://infogr.am/_/5sQoCfE3K4ndWwGlQsbO

[ii] Romanian Constitution, Article 103 http://www.cdep.ro/pls/dic/site.page?den=act2_2&par1=3#t3c3s0sba103

[iii]http://www.romaniajournal.ro/president-iohannis-i-wont-designate-a-criminally-prosecuted-or-convicted-person-as-pm/

[iv] http://www.romaniajournal.ro/psd-proposes-woman-of-turkish-origin-as-prime-minister-liviu-dragnea-says-it-will-be-their-only-proposal/

[v] In 2004, parliamentary elections were won by a PSD+PC political alliance which had signed a pre-electoral coalition agreement, but their candidate failed to also secure the presidency. The winner, Traian Basescu, made use of his institutionally enhanced coalition potential to break PC from the PSD and join the runner up political alliance made up of his support Democrat Party (PD) and PNL.

[vi] PSD – ALDE Coalition Agreement (in Romanian) http://www.alde.ro/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/PROTOCOL-Coalitie-guvernare-PSD-ALDE_19.12.2016.pdf

[vii] http://www.romaniajournal.ro/liberals-wont-forward-any-proposal-for-the-pm-seat/

[viii] Legislative support agreement (in Romanian) http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-politic-21486638-udmr-semant-acordul-sustinere-parlamentara-coalitia-psd-alde.htm

Giorgio Comai – The presidential election in Transnistria

This is a guest post by Giorgio Comai, Marie Curie ITN “Post-Soviet Tensions” fellow at Dublin City University

The presidential election that took place on 11 December 2016 in Transnistria, a de facto independent state within the internationally recognised borders of Moldova, ended with the resounding victory of the speaker of parliament, Vadim Krasnoselski (62,3%), over the incumbent president, Yevgeny Shevchuk (27,38%), the candidate of the Communist party, Oleg Khorzhan (3,17%), and others (including 3,4% who voted “against all”, which is formally one of the options given on the ballot). According to official data published by the local electoral commission, voter turnout reached 60,1% (corresponding to 252,659 voters), which is higher than both at the 2015 parliamentary election (47%) and at the previous presidential election in 2011 (58,88%).[1] There was, thus, no need for a second round, and Krasnoselski officially took office after an inauguration ceremony on 16 December.

The outcome was largely in line with the results of parliamentary elections in 2015 and with expectations on the eve of the vote. Krasnoselski was seen as the favourite thanks to his good connections in Moscow, strong support from Transnistria’s main economic actor (the Sheriff holding), and the economic uncertainty that has characterised Shevchuk’s rule.[2] Yet, the incumbent Shevchuk did fight to win the vote until the end, in an increasingly polarised context that at least in part explains the high turnout. Formally, the transition has been smooth so far, with a candidate winning a clear mandate, the electoral commission declaring him the president, and both the incumbent Shevchuk and the first Transnistria president, Igor Smirnov, being present at the inauguration ceremony.

Ensuring a smooth transition

An article published by the Russian newspaper “Kommersant” highlights the key role of Russian observers in defusing possible tensions, including remaining in contact with both of the main candidates on election day. Two days after the vote, Shevchuk flew to Moscow “invited by the Russian side” – as a concise press release put it – to hold a number of working meetings, where presumably he received instructions about how to ensure a smooth transition and was given reassurances about his own future.[3] On the same day, he signed a decree anticipating the inauguration ceremony to 16 December (a decree issued just a few hours earlier scheduled the inauguration on 27 December).

In his first meeting with journalists as president elect, Krasnoselski stated he would not take revenge on those working in the state media and security services who took sides with Shevchuk before the vote.  His words of reassurance should be seen in light of his commitment to keep stability in Transnistria during this period of transition. The fallout from the elections in the state media, the security services and other state institutions remains however to be seen, and in all likelihood there will be significant changes, in particular in senior positions. Immediate dismissals include the director of Transnistria’s public broadcaster, the head of the investigative committee, the republican prosecutor, as well as the head of Transnistria’s national bank.[4] The new configuration of power also implies that Transnistrian residents will have very little chance to hear any criticism of state institutions in the coming years, since both the Sheriff-owned TSV channel and the public broadcaster are due to support Kransoselski and the new government.

Developments

Krasnoselski’s victory puts an end to the institutional deadlock between president and parliament that stalled much needed reforms, in particular in relation to the ongoing currency crisis. After ensuring a strong majority in parliament at the 2015 vote,[5] the interest group around the Sheriff holding can now celebrate the victory of its candidate at the presidential election. In the short term, the renewed harmony between parliament, president, Sheriff, and Moscow is due to open the way for pragmatic solutions to long-standing problems that were hostage of the pre-electoral season. The newly installed government led by Aleksandr Martynov comes with a number of initiatives aimed at improving the economic situation in the territory.[6] But ultimately, Krasnoselski is not coming to power with fundamentally new recipes for enhancing Transnistria’s economy, or with a new foreign policy course.

When Shevchuk was elected five years ago, he was hailed as a reformist and there were even some hopes of an enhanced dialogue with Chişinău. No such hopes come with Krasnoselski. In line with his predecessor, Krasnoselski supports Transnistria’s integration (and eventual unification) with Russia. In spite of the monolithically pro-Russian rhetoric that characterised his campaign, however, he will also have to take a pragmatic stance and take all efforts needed to keep Transnistria’s export routes towards the West open. Limited room for manoeuvre is ultimately a defining characteristic of politics in de facto states, and in the next five years newly elected Krasnoselski will inevitably have to adapt to circumstances and external developments to keep Transnistria afloat.

Notes

[1]    An evaluation of voter turnout should take in consideration the fact that a significant share of Transnistria’s population effectively lives and works abroad (local scholars estimate that migrant workers make up about 20-33% percent of Transnistria’s population), and that it was not possible to vote from outside the territory.

[2]    See the previous post, The upcoming presidential election in Transnistria, for more background information.

[3]    In spite of accusations of corruption, also the first president of Transnistria Igor Smirnov has never been prosecuted after he has been voted out of office in 2011. He has been able to live in Tiraspol since then and has mostly remained out of public life (until the latest electoral campaign, during which he supported Krasnoselski), living – as he put it – the life of a pensioner. It seems likely that at least in the short term the younger Shevchuk will have the chance to spend more time with his wife Nina Shtanski (former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Transnistria) and their daughter.

[4]    The new head of the Transnistrian Republican Bank was until his nomination a senior manager in Sheriff-owned AgropromBank.

[5]    The well known connections between Sheriff and current members of parliament have also been recently highlighted by a report by a group of investigative journalists; in fact, 15 out of 43 members of the Transnistrian parliament are currently employed by Sheriff in managerial positions.

[6]    For a closer analysis of the economic issues the new government has to face, see Andrey Devyatkov’s analysis on Lact (18 December 2016).