Author Archives: Robert Elgie

Manuel Alcantara, Jean Blondel and Jean-Louis Thiébault – The influence of the presidential system on the character of Latin American democracy

This is a guest post by Manuel Alcantara, Jean Blondel and Jean-Louis Thiébault. It is based on their recent book, Presidents and Democracy in Latin America, London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

The aim of this book is to study the effect of the presidential form of government on democracy in Latin America. The adoption of the presidential system, specifically the personality type of those who have occupied the presidential office, the leadership style of those presidents, and the type of government they have led, helps to explain the consolidation of democracy there.

In this study, six countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) were chosen. They were chosen because they have successfully completed the process of democratic consolidation. Within each of the six countries, two presidents were chosen, reflecting broad trends in the political and electoral life of these countries. The goal was to select presidents belonging to one of the key political ‘families’ of the country, grouped under the banner of a political party, or who were representative of two particular approaches to the same problem in the same political family. These presidents were in office in the 1990s or the first decade of the 21st century. Some were liberal or conservative, left-wing or right-wing populists, socialists or social democrats, leaders of a political party or ‘outsiders,’ members of parliament or technocrats. They are:

  • Carlos Menem (July 1989-December 1999) and Nestor Kirchner (May 2003-December 2007) for Argentina.
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso (January 1995-December 2002) and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (January 2003-December 2010) for Brazil.
  • Patricio Aylwin (March 1990-March 1994) and Ricardo Lagos (March 2000-March 2006) for Chile.
  • Cesar Gaviria (September 1994-September 2004) and Alvaro Uribe (August 2002-August 2010) for Colombia.
  • Ernesto Zedillo (December 1994-November 2000) and Felipe Calderon (December 2006-December 2012) for Mexico.
  • Alan García (July 1985-July 1990 and July 2006 to July 2011) and Alberto Fujimori (July 1990-November 2000) for Peru.

In practice, these presidents were all center-right or center-left leaders. They were not members of the military, dictators, or revolutionaries. Right-wing populist presidents (Menem, Fujimori and Uribe) were chosen based on the idea that populists can be either on the right or on the left. However, García and Kirchner were chosen as moderate populists, claiming to be an Aprist and a Peronist respectively; both represent different periods. These choices make it possible to analyze processes in a consolidated democracy, but not in military regimes or in dominant party systems.

From the 1930s to the 1980s, these Latin American countries had a long period of instability. Argentina wavered between three types of political regimes: military dictatorship, a populist-corporatist regime, and restrictive democracy. From 1930 to the reestablishment of liberal democracy in 1983, there were six major military coups (1930, 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966 and 1976). There were eighteen presidents, and all those elected were overthrown except one, Peron, who died less than a year after his election. Governments in Peru have been more unstable than in any other South American country. Between 1945 and 1992, Peru’s government was civilian and constitutional almost 60 percent of the time, and a military regime 40 percent of the time. There were nearly two decades of military rule in Brazil and Chile. A military coup overthrew President Goulart in 1964 and began the longest period of authoritarian rule in Brazil’s history. With the collapse of democracy in September 1973, Chile was abruptly transformed from an open and participatory political system into a repressive and authoritarian one. General Pinochet was selected as the junta’s president by virtue of his position as leader of the oldest military branch. Unlike many of its continental neighbors, Colombia has avoided military rule, but there was intense violence between members of the two major parties in the late 1940s and 1950s, known as « la violenca » (the violence). A coalition government resulted from party negotiations. From 1958 to 1974, all governments in Colombia consisted of a bipartisan coalition. The main factors commonly associated with good prospects for democracy have long persisted in Mexico without producing full democracy.

Presidential regimes in Latin America are now a success, despite the pessimistic comments directed at this form of government. There are indeed manifest reasons why the Latin American presidential government should be considered a success. Latin American countries have overcome the fundamental dangers to which they were exposed. Although difficulties continue in a number of countries, presidential government in the region is no longer interrupted as it so frequently was in the past. Democratic development also mean that the number of countries regularly holding free and fair elections has increased. Executive governments are often elected by voters mobilized by clientelistic ties or by a candidate’s personality, rather than programmatic, appeal, all in the context of weak parties that are, moreover, rejected by citizens. The presidential elections of Zedillo in 1994 and Calderon in 2006 were intricate and controversial. Both involved critical moments of acute social tension and political instability that produced distinctive results.

Latin American governments have been influenced by the adoption of the presidential system. They set up institutions drawn largely from the US constitutional model. But Latin American presidents represent another type of executive. In the United States, there is a president, but there is no government. Latin America has a large number of presidential regimes characterised by a high degree of consistency and similarity. They constitute a type of intermediary regime, comprising many elements of presidential regimes, but with some of the features of parliamentary systems with coalition governments so as to ensure a majority in congress. For almost twenty years, Brazil has been considered an extraordinary case of « coalition presidentialism ». This explains why the president’s leadership is important and has an impact on the nature of government. The Brazilian party system is highly fragmented. Dealing with loosely disciplined parties is thus a major problem for presidents because it makes the formation of stable congressional majorities much harder to achieve due to the excessive number of party factions. But there were also the broad multi-party coalition governments seen in Chile. Presidents of these countries have demonstrated leadership skills, arising from a good political performance and cohesive majority coalitions that support them: Aylwin and Lagos in Chile, Cardoso in Brazil. It is impossible to explain the stability of these coalitions without referring to the various mechanisms of coalition management and to presidential leadership. Most importantly, these three presidents facilitated the transition to democracy following the failure of authoritarian regimes in Chile and Brazil. They did not have the same authority as Lula, but they showed great skills of conciliation and moderation during the difficult transition period, namely the restoration and the consolidation of the democratic regime in Chile and Brazil.

This explains why the presidential leadership is important and has an impact on the nature of government. The key feature of the popular election of the president has been the inherent tendency of Latin American countries to emphasize the role of personalities in political life. Latin American political regimes have been markedly affected by patronage and clientelism; with the extension of the right to vote, elections were deeply influenced by these practices. The impact of personalities on the political life of Latin American countries has continued to this day, but it is less substantial. There is a decline in the extent to which Latin American presidentialism is personalized compared to the extent it had been previously. In the past personalization undoubtedly rendered presidential rule more chaotic and less rule-based. The fact that, on the whole, presidencies have tended to follow previously adopted rules during the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first century has surely resulted in the personalization of presidents being been less marked than in the past. Whereas presidents often enjoy high levels of popularity, these levels vary from president to president as well as over time in the case of each president. One president exhibited exceptional leadership boosted by his personal dominance: Lula. His performance was strengthened by the fact that he had an interesting experience as founder and president of the Workers’ Party. He is often regarded as one of the most popular politicians in the history of Brazil, boasting approval ratings over 80 percent and, at the time of his mandate, one of the most popular in the world.

A new type of personalised populism emerged with the appearance of formulas promoting demobilization and anti-political behavior. Fujimori in Peru, Menem in Argentina, and Uribe in Colombia. These three presidents have adopted a more or less authoritarian manner, being hostile to or even repressing the opposition. They used exceptional means, such as a state of emergency or government by decree, to implement their economic and social policies, as well as the fight against armed rebellions and drug trafficking. However, these exceptional means did not enable them to achieve the expected results. Their presidency was characterized by an authoritarianism and corruption. The populism of Carlos S. Menem in Argentina was strengthened by the political machine of the historic Justicialita Party. Carlos Menem governed within the framework of « peronism » and enjoyed remarkable popular support. Menem’s economic policy involved profound structural reforms, including the privatisation of public enterprises, economic deregulation and the opening up of the economy to foreign trade and investment. This policy created the conditions for monetary stability and remained in force after Menem left office in 1999 and until the crisis of December 2001. However, the policies of the Menem era led to a deepening of social inequality and a rise in unemployment. However he was considered a true peronist. He was the main player in the political regime, with a negative view of parliament and the judiciary. Menem’s leadership has been labelled neopopulist and delegative due to the continuous use of unilateral measures and emergency legislation. It was of a different nature to the populism of Fujimori in Peru. Fujimori sought to distance his government from politics, disdaining the social and/or political mobilization that could have been mounted through some movement or party. Fujimori outlined a strategy in which criticism of the traditional parties was a part of his discourse. He decided to confront the political class instead of building bridges with it. Instead, he expressly renounced such mobilizations, and depoliticized all the other political bodies. Uribe presented himself as the saviour of a Colombia that seemed to be on the brink of destruction. He portrayed himself as a messiah who would redeem Colombia of all its evils and built a strategy around certain core components. He adopted a radical discourse against armed groups and proposed resolving the internal conflict through war and the subjugation of guerrillas. He withdrew from the Liberal Party, to which he had belonged throughout his political life. He spoke out against the parties and the political class despite having belonged to both and adhering to their norms and rules throughout his political career.

Some presidents demonstrated weaker leadership skills (Kirchner in Argentine, Gaviria in Colombia, Zedillo and Calderon in Mexico). They came to power without holding important positions in the governments headed by their predecessors. They have become second-rate candidates, indirectly because of events that have upset or disrupted the appointment of the first office holder. They have never been able to exercise strong authority, muddling through in the face of significant obstacles and divisions.

The fact that the presidential system had become ‘established’ in Latin America by the second half of the 20th century does not mean that these countries have not suffered serious problems. In the 1990s, democracy spread across the region, even if Colombia, Brazil and Mexico experienced marked political violence, the state being unable to maintain order and public security. What is clear is that, in the context of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil in particular, one very serious problem was identified: violence, and this problem affected the regular development of the presidential system in these three countries. The amount of violence that has affected Colombia has been huge, to the extent that it is surprising that the regular conduct of the electoral process has not been prevented from taking place. The policies of the two Colombian presidents, Gaviria and Uribe, were fundamentally different, the first having pursued the ‘war effort’ against the rebels, whereas the second attempted (unsuccessfully) to find a peaceful solution: his successor was able to make substantial progress in that direction, however. In Colombia it has thus been possible, rather surprisingly, to maintain the main electoral rules of the liberal democratic process, although, at least in a substantial part of the country, confrontation has taken in effect the form of a civil war.

In recent decades, presidential elections have taken place regularly in Latin America. Certainly, some presidents have been more popular than others. Some have been unable to conclude their terms. Others have gradually learned to adjust to the particularities of the institutional system. Overall, though, the presidential form of government has gradually begun to function smoothly. The fact that presidents have tended to follow democratic rules has resulted from the presence of patterns of parliamentary presidentialism. In spite of serious problems (political violence, corruption), the emergence of these tools (coalitional presidentialism, the (de-) institutionalization of party systems, the internal organization of the executive branch) must be seen as having constituted the key institutional development of democracy in Latin America.

Ludger Helms – Resources, constraints, and the mystery of presidential performance

This is a guest post by Ludger Helms, Professor of Political Science and Chair of Comparative Politics at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. It is the expanded summary of an article that has just been published in Politics. The full article is ungated and can be accessed free of charge.

As observers of presidential power and leadership we have a vested interest in understanding what makes presidents successful leaders, and what may limit and undermine presidential performance. One of the most basic and popular positions to be encountered in the international literature on presidential power and leadership is that the president’s status and performance depends largely on the number and substance of the resources that he or she commands. Resources are usually considered to include in particular a wealth of institutional and political items (such as the powers of office, the availability of administrative and political support staff, large and stable majorities, or a fresh electoral mandate).

Arguably the greatest advantage of resource-oriented approaches, compared to classic personalist or institutionalist understandings of presidential power and leadership, is that they are keen to avoid both reductionism and determinism, and leave ample room for agency. That is, presidents are not already efficient and successful performers if they command a decent set of resources, but only if they are able to use them adroitly. Still, the dominant assumption of most authors in the field clearly seems to be that the more institutional and political resources are available to a president, the more successful he or she is likely to be.

This may seem plausible, even compelling. And yet, this is not what political reality in many presidential (and other) regimes would appear to correspond to. The presidency of Donald Trump is just the most obvious recent example of a newly elected president whose party controls both the executive and the legislative branch, but who nevertheless conspicuously failed to make any major move for about the first 11 months in power (until the passage of the major tax cut bill early in  December 2017). In terms of job approval, Trump soon became the most unpopular president in the history of political polling. Other examples of presidents who appeared to have what it takes to perform successfully, and still failed spectacularly, can be found. Just think of President François Hollande of France who succeeded what had by then been the Fifth Republic’s most unpopular president, and was the first Socialist president facing a National Assembly and Senate controlled by the Socialist Party. Later on, following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris of November 2015, he was even fitted with special emergency powers, which seemed set to honour the unspoken promise of crises as welcome opportunities and power boosters for political chief executives. And yet, Hollande ended up as clearly one of the Fifth Republic’s weakest presidents ever, and the only one as yet who did not even dare to seek re-election when his first term drew to a close.

What may seem an arbitrary glance at the larger picture of presidential leadership and performance is actually substantiated by more systematic assessments of the political status and fate of presidents in different regimes. For example, a recent empirical study on US presidents found that ‘presidents are considered stronger under divided as opposed to unified government’, and ‘divided government presidents are more popular than unified government ones’ (Cohen 2015, p. 81). In the same vein, those French presidents that had to perform under the strongly power-restricting state of ‘cohabitation’ (the French counterpart to American ‘divided government’) overall had better re-election records than many presidents commanding a sizeable majority. And while this forum is dedicated to presidential politics, it still seems worth noting that these patterns are not confined to the family of presidential or semi-presidential democracies: Indeed, many prime ministers in parliamentary democracies heading particularly cumbersome coalition governments, widely believed to make prime ministers weak and vulnerable, have enjoyed higher job approval scores than their counterparts in more power-concentrating environments.

How can this be explained? One key to this would appear to be expectations: Presidents commanding an impressive arsenal of institutional and political resources are likely to raise high expectations among the public, which will then play an independent role in shaping presidential performance, or more precisely in influencing the perceived performance of presidents. Ultimately, in politics as elsewhere, virtually all performance is perceived performance, and perceptions tend to be strongly shaped by previous expectations.

A second possible source of this apparent paradox could be the presidents themselves:  Exceptionally resource-rich presidents may tend towards complacency which may undermine the seriousness of their efforts to provide effective problem-solving and leadership, and will eventually be reflected in unfavourable assessments of their performance. Alternatively, they may make full and unconditional use of their resources, possibly resorting to overly aggressive and ruthless leadership styles, in a desperate attempt to meet the towering expectations they face, which is equally unlikely to find the approval and support of the wider public.

Are less resource-rich leaders, after all, better off than their structurally better situated counterparts? As highlighted above, there is some evidence suggesting that, in fact, ‘less can be more’. In order to fully capture this phenomenon, it is useful to remind ourselves that in mainstream political research resources and constraints are widely considered to mark two opposite and complementary phenomena. Understood this way, leaders having few resources at their disposal could, alternatively, be characterized as leaders facing strong constraints. Strictly speaking, of course, even resource-rich leaders may face strong constraints, and leaders facing few obvious constraints may still have limited resources, but the main thrust of the argument is that, other things being equal, resources make leaders powerful, while constraints limit and weaken them.

Rethinking the observations about presidential and prime ministerial performance made above, I suggest to develop an alternative understanding of constraints, and to think of constraints as potential ‘negative resources’. The term ‘negative resource’ seeks to highlight the hidden potential of an apparent constraint. A ‘negative resource’ is a constraint successfully transformed into a positive source that may benefit the status and performance of a political leader. This possible transformation is the result of a complex process which involves in particular a leader’s skills, yet also a wealth of highly contingent contextual factors and, not least, the perception of that leader by others. Again, expectations, in this case modest expectations, would appear to explain much of the support and success that constrained leaders may have. As empirical studies suggest, citizens prefer politicians who set a low expectation and exceed it to those who promise much, and then fail to deliver (Malhotra and Margalit 2014: 1014). But it’s not all about subjective expectations and promises kept: Providing effective leadership from a resource-poor position and in power-dispersing environments marks, by any standard, a more difficult task and greater achievement than simply pulling the levers of power in strongly power-concentrating regimes, and thus deserves to be valued more highly.

More recently, this realization has come to be acknowledged also in normative reflections about leadership in contemporary politics. For most contemporary scholars of political leadership, strong leaders and leadership are two things of the past, not only dated but outright dangerous to any form of genuine democratic governance. Collaborative leadership, shared leadership, and other related concepts are widely seen to mark superior alternative approaches for political leadership in the twenty-first century.

To be sure, all this may seem to amount to a major paradox marking the challenges of presidential leadership, and political leadership more generally, in a new ‘anti-political age’. However, it is important to note that the basic phenomenon is not new at all. In fact, at least since the Philadelphia Convention ambitions have been made ‘to promote ‘leadership’ while constraining ‘leaders’’ (Rhodes and ‘t Hart 2014: 2). It just seems to have taken another quarter of a millennium, witnessing some great successes and many more disastrous failures of political leadership, to truly bring out the deeper truth in this.

References

Cohen, Jeffrey E. (2015) Presidential Leadership in Public Opinion: Causes and Consequences. Cambridge University Press.

Malhotra, N and Margalit Y (2014) Expectation setting and retrospective voting. The Journal of Politics 76:4, 1000-1016.

Rhodes, R.A.W. and Paul ‘t Hart (2014) Puzzles of Political Leadership. In: R.A.W. Rhodes and Paul t’Hart, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Political Leadership, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-21.

Marijke Breuning and John Ishiyama – Rebels-Turned-President and Cabinet Stability

This is a guest post by Marijke Breuning and John Ishiyama. It is based on the article by John Ishiyama, Marijke Breuning, and Michael Widmeier, ‘Organising to rule: structure, agent and presidential management styles in Africa’, that was recently published in Democratization. The article is now available ungated and free to download until the end of February.

Former rebel leaders who become presidents are significantly less likely to make major changes to their cabinet than other presidents. We show this in our study of the impact of presidents’ professional backgrounds on how they manage their cabinet.

Why would former rebels be less likely to replace their cabinet ministers or move them to different posts? We argue that presidents who were former rebel leaders will be less likely to make changes to their cabinets, because their experiences as rebel leaders predispose them to maintaining a team of ministers whom they know and trust.

There has been surprising little attention paid to the impact of presidents’ professional backgrounds on how they constitute and manage their cabinets. Our study begins to fill that gap, examining 98 individual presidential administrations from 36 countries in Africa with presidential or semi-presidential systems, for the period 1990-2009. We included only those presidents who had served at least one complete year in office.

We focus on Africa, because there has been a strong focus on the personality of the president, perhaps due to the neo-patrimonial nature of the state in the continent. However, there has not been much attention paid to presidential management style and its impact on cabinet stability in Africa. Yet, cabinet stability, as well as political and ethnic inclusivity, may be important keys to the durability of a regime – something that is especially relevant for post-conflict societies.

We argue that, after becoming president, the previous experience as a rebel leader is not erased, but instead has an impact on the style of leadership. Rebel leaders have been said to be motivated by both greed and grievance, but often they also have a transcendental goal that motivates followers. They may seek a fundamental change in the political status quo, an end to colonialism, a social revolution, or the creation a new state. All of these objectives require a great deal of persuasion. After all, the potential cost of being a rebel is death.

Hence, rebel leaders need to overcome great odds to entice others to follow them. The result is often a tight-knit group of comrades with strong solidarity. We expect that this revolutionary camaraderie carries over into the former rebel leader’s executive administration.

We find that this is indeed the case, at least in Africa: presidents who are former rebel leaders are significantly less likely than other presidents to engage in major cabinet changes. We found that, on average, the likelihood of major cabinet turnover was 34% when a former rebel was president, whereas the likelihood of major cabinet turnover was 57% for all other presidents. This is shown graphically in Figure 1. This finding supports the idea that rebel commanders, after they become president, seek to maintain solidarity and stability in cabinets – and are more likely to do so than other presidents.

Figure 1: Presidents who were former rebel leaders are less likely to engage in major cabinet turnover (with 95% confidence intervals)

Do these stable cabinets of former rebel leaders differ from those of other leaders on other dimensions as well? We investigated whether former rebel leaders and other presidents differ in the political and ethnic inclusivity of their cabinets. We also sought to establish whether it makes a difference if the leader came to power through regular (e.g. elections or other legally sanctioned processes) or irregular means (such as coups, rebellions, or mass protests).

We found that former rebels leaders are not different from other presidents in terms of the partisan inclusivity of their cabinets. Instead, the political inclusivity of the cabinet was lessened by greater fractionalization of the legislature, as well as the dominance of the president’s party in the legislature. The more dominant the president’s party, the more politically homogeneous and, hence, less inclusive the cabinet.

There is a significant difference, however, between former rebel leaders and other presidents in terms of the inclusion of various ethnic groups in their cabinets. This finding can perhaps be explained by the nature of many African rebellions. Insurrections are often fueled by ethnic grievances and, once in power, a former rebel leader will seek to include only members of his or her own ethnic group. This is consistent with the desire to work only with subordinates the leader knows well and trusts.

Interestingly, presidents who came to power via irregular means (such as coups, rebellions, or mass protests) were more likely to engage in major cabinet turnovers during their presidencies than those who had come to power via regular means (such as elections and other legally sanctioned processes). This may suggest that presidents who come to power under conditions of political crisis have greater uncertainty about their political allies, and this may result in greater turnover in the cabinet. This is not a surprising result: turnover is higher for presidents who ascend to power via coups, rebellion or protest, because they seek to purge the cabinet of holdovers from the previous administration.

Our findings support the notion that the characteristics the president as agent, here operationalized as the leader’s previous experiences, have a powerful effect on his or her managerial behavior. We theorized that rebel leaders are more likely to be transformative leaders, who value transcendental political goals and group solidarity. This translates into greater cabinet stability, but also into less inclusivity (at least in ethnic terms).

In sum, the characteristics of the president as a political agent – and particularly his or her professional background – warrant far more attention than they have thus far received.

Marijke Breuning is Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. She can be reached at Marijke.Breuning@unt.edu

John Ishiyama is University Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. He can be reached at John.Ishiyama@unt.edu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Philippine political system and veto players

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

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

The preference of the institutional veto players on the peace process

The president

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

The House of Representatives

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

The Senate

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

The judiciary

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

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

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

The peace process under Arroyo (2001-10)

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

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

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

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

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

The peace process under Aquino (2010-16)

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenya – A look into pivotal role observers play in elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GUESTS

What are observers to do?

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

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

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

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

RIGGING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That role falls to domestic civil society and international donors.

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

EXPECTATION
What did observers do well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second criticism is also misguided.

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

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

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

CREDIBILITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECOMMENDATIONS

What can be improved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two ways in which this can be done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFORMS

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

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

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

EXPERTISE

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

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

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

TECHNOLOGY

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

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

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

As elections change, so must election observers.

New publications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher A. Martínez – Democratic tradition and Lucio Gutiérrez’s ‘survival’ in office

This is a guest post by Christopher A. Martínez from Temuco Catholic University

In a previous post, I briefly described the main findings of a quantitative analysis that showed a significant (and consistent) effect of a country’s democratic tradition on presidential survival (Martínez 2017a). However, that study does not delve into how both variables are theoretically or empirically connected. I tackle this issue by analysing how Ecuador’s democratic tradition, along with other determinants of presidential survival, affected the chances of former President Lucio Gutiérrez staying in office (Martínez 2017b).

Ecuador has been historically known for its feeble democratic institutionalisation, undisciplined parties and a highly volatile party system. Zamosc (2007: 8) states that during the 1990s, even after 10 years of civilian government, Ecuadorean political actors remained weakly committed to abiding by democratic rules and that the electorate still lacked a well-developed ‘political culture.’ Bearing this in mind, I use the case of Gutiérrez to closely study how democratic tradition might have contributed to his political demise.

Democratic tradition: radicalism, normative preferences for democratic institutions and institutional equilibria

I argue that a country’s democratic tradition may have important effects on how political actors behave. Countries with stronger, longer democratic experiences are less likely to witness chief executives ousted from power. I posit that a country’s democratic tradition is a distant force, one that unfolds through three more proximate causes: level of radicalism, normative preferences for democratic institutions, and institutional equilibria (see Table I).

First, radicalism is observable when actors pursue political goals that dramatically deviate from the status quo. When these radical objectives cannot be attained through institutional mechanisms, actors may use non-institutional or even violent methods to accomplish them. These actions naturally spawn political friction and polarisation among those who oppose, which may increase political instability (Pérez-Liñán and Polga-Hecimovich 2017). Second, actors’ behaviour may also be driven by the values and attitudes they hold toward democracy. Weak normative preferences for democratic institutions would make actors more inclined to break the rules of the game if they interfere with their goals (Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán 2013). Thus, it may come as no surprise if actors resort to non-institutional or even illegal means to unseat a standing president. Finally, it might also be the case that actors do not intend to pursue radical goals and even value democratic institutions but still decide to break the rules and seek dramatic political changes. This may occur when negative institutional equilibria are in place in which ‘cheating’ is the equilibrium strategy (Greif and Kingston 2011; Calvert 1995), an arrangement that does not favour presidential survival.

Table I. Democratic tradition and its three proximate causes

I hypothesise that countries with shorter democratic traditions are more likely to witness political actors attempting to achieve rapid and dramatic changes to the status quo, displaying scant regard for democratic rules, and being prone to ‘cheat’ when other actors do so. These conditions tend to produce highly polarised and unstable scenarios which may pose insurmountable obstacles for presidents attempting to hold on to power.

The Gutiérrez case:

Following the steps of Abdalá Bucaram (August 1996 – February 1997) and Jamil Mahuad (Agustu 1998 – January 2000), Lucio Gutiérrez became the third consecutive elected Ecuadorian president to be unseated before completing his constitutional term. Still, the failed presidency of Gutiérrez is a curious case since he was ousted amid a period of mild economic bonanza. Shortly after taking office, President Gutiérrez betrayed his campaign promises and turned to the right. Following the left-leaning indigenous Pachakutik party’s walkout from the ruling coalition, Gutiérrez—with few parties willing to support him and after facing an ill-fated impeachment attempt—packed the Supreme Court with friendly judges so as to allow former President Abdalá Bucaram to return from exile as part of a deal struck with Bucaram’s party. In the following months, social discontent, which had been building up since Gutiérrez packed the Supreme Court in December 2004, led to widespread protests after Bucaram finally arrived in Ecuador in April 2005. Demonstrators took over the streets of Quito and broke into Congress, beleaguering the president who found himself politically isolated and struggling to hold on to power. After a couple of weeks of strong social mobilisations and lacking support from the military, the legislative opposition seized the opportunity and dismissed Gutiérrez after declaring his abandonment of office and appointed his vice-president in his place.

Ecuador’s democratic tradition and Gutiérrez’s ‘failure’:

Before and during the presidential crisis, Ecuador’s main political players exhibited low normative preferences for democratic rules. For instance, the temporary withdrawal of charges against Bucaram in exchange for political support and how Gutiérrez was irregularly voted out are clear examples of actors considering their goals to be far more important than the mechanisms to achieve them. Similarly, Gutiérrez blatantly intervening the Supreme Court in December 2004 represented a serious threat to the system of checks and balances, another sign of weak attitudes toward democracy and its institutions.

Still, a question worth asking is what would have happened if Gutiérrez had not packed the Supreme Court. He would have probably been out of office months earlier than he actually was. This means that ‘intervening’ in the Supreme Court was a very rational decision for the president and his political ‘survival.’ Analogously, had protestors not taken to the streets and broken into Congress, Gutiérrez would have stayed in office longer. Both moves cannot be considered fully democratic in the sense that they bypassed institutional mechanisms, at the very least, but they can still be regarded as rational.

Unreliable parties, erosion of legislative coalition and legislative shield

In addition to the effects of democratic tradition, Gutiérrez’s failure was also influenced by Ecuador’s undisciplined political parties. A remarkable sign of this was that apart from Gutiérrez’s own party, Partido Sociedad Patriótica (PSP), all of the largest parties were members of both the president’s coalition and the opposition at different moments during his administration.

Given that democratic tradition gradually changes over time, and undisciplined political parties are not new in Ecuador, why did presidential failures only occur after 1996? Mejía-Acosta and Polga-Hecimovich (2011) argue that before that time, presidents resorted to gastos reservados (discretionary budget allocations) which helped oil executive-opposition relations that reduced the likelihood of presidential failures. Nevertheless, a constitutional reform in 1996 took away the gastos reservados from the president; thus, negotiations between the ruling coalition and the opposition became increasingly difficult.

Final comments

The ouster of Lucio Gutiérrez was chiefly driven by institutional and political factors. Ecuador’s notoriously undisciplined parties, lack of incentives for executive-legislative collaboration and weak democratic tradition posed a challenging scenario for the president. Specifically, the behaviour of parties, protestors and Gutiérrez himself was influenced by the existence of a negative institutional equilibrium which rewarded cheating rather than complying with rules and a frail intrinsic commitment with democratic institutions, all of which heightened the risk of presidential failure.

Christopher A. Martínez holds a PhD in Political Science from Loyola University Chicago. He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Political Science, Temuco Catholic University, Chile. His current research interests include the executive branch, government survival, institutional performance and democratic consolidation in Latin America. He can be reached at christopher.martinez@fulbrightmail.org and @martineznourdin.

Rui Graça Feijó – On forest fires and Portuguese semi-presidentialism

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

Since late 2015, Portugal has had a minority government led by the Socialist Party – the second largest in the House – and supported by some sort of confidence and supply agreement with the two parties to its left that provide it with a majority in critical moments. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, from the centre-right, was elected a few months after the new government, was reluctantly inaugurated by the outgoing President Cavaco Silva, and distanced himself from the right-wing coalition in parliament and the legacy of his presidential predecessor who wanted the new president to dissolve the House and call fresh elections. Instead, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa stated publicly that the government would have until the local elections scheduled for October 2017 the chance to prove  its value and capacity. In between time – and in spite of some gestures to appease his electorate – the president did not stop supporting the prime minister and never questioned his legitimacy. In an earlier post, I discussed the possibility that a form of co-government was emerging nicknamed “Costelo” (an amalgam of  PM Costa and President Marcelo). This support was highlighted last June when the country was hit by a severe forest fire (with over 60 casualties) and the President stepped in to claim that “all that was humanly possible had been done”, backing up the government in the face of mounting popular shock for the failure of the civilian protection system.

On October 1, local elections returned a very comfortable victory for the Socialist party – as if the government had been excused for its June failure and in the recognition that new economic and financial policies had largely turned the page of austerity, offering the prospect not only of economic growth, unemployment reduction, deficit control, but more importantly, the recovery of some purchasing power and improved conditions of access to social utilities by millions of Portuguese. The right-wing parties were defeated – and this is particularly true of the largest one, the PPD/PSD, whose leader and former PM announced that he would step down when fresh party elections are called in January. In the face of these results, there would be no reason for the president to challenge the legitimacy of the government or to change his previous stance.

However, on Sunday October 15, a new wave of forest fires broke out, claiming another 45 victims. This second fire exposed the fragility not only of decades-old forest policies, but the inability of the current government to draw adequate conclusions from the June events – it had merely asked for an “independent inquiry” lasting over three months, with little having been done in the meantime to reform the civilian protection authority, which is ravaged by scandals. The shock in the country was even bigger than in June: twice the government had badly failed those who live far away from Lisbon.

After a very uninspired speech by the PM, the President took a bold initiative. He addressed the country from the heart of the ravaged areas. In a short sentence, he asked for a “new cycle of policies” that will force the government to consider “what, by whom, how and when” these new policies are to be devised and implemented. He mentioned that budgetary priorities should be considered again – this was only three days after the budget had been formally presented in the House. And he made it clear that the government needed to refresh its parliamentary legitimacy – either by presenting a confidence motion or winning a no-confidence motion presented by the right wing CDS party, which had fared quite well in the local elections. Unless his plea was heard, he would make use of “all his constitutional powers” to see that the Portuguese would not be let down yet another time, implying he might choose to dismiss the PM or dissolve the parliament. His popularity soared to the point that a left-of-centre commentator wrote: this is the example we can tell our children and grandchildren when they ask us why do we elect a President by universal, direct vote. Only a small number of voices claimed that the President had overstepped his competences. The last barometer (Expresso online, 17 November) shows that the president is the only politician who has risen in popularity to a very high net figure of 62.5% (70% positive, 7.5% negative opinions).

The government responded by immediately accepting the resignation of the minister in charge of Home Affairs. It held a special meeting of the cabinet to approve a string of measures to fight forest fires and reform forest policies which met the approval of the President. It announced that new items would be incorporated in the budget before the final vote. It defeated the no-confidence motion in parliament – although the left-wing partners kept a critical stance during the debate and did not approve all the government’s decisions on this issue. In brief, even if some of this activity was anticipated before the presidential speech, the government was seen as responding to the President’s ultimatum.

This episode lasted less than a week but has shown very clearly that the President, who is a professor of constitutional law, interprets his relations with government not only on a merely institutional basis – as some still argue ought to be his role – but that he believes the government must enjoy political confidence. In his view, the President has the power to oversee government policies and take action if he considers them to be failing to secure minimum standards – as was the case of the forest fires. Here we touch upon a critical point in the definition of the subtype of semi-presidentialism that exists in Portugal, as the dynamics of the relations of power are clearly at stake. The constitutional definition of a dual responsibility of the PM both before the President and the parliament cannot simply be divided in two: a political confidence vis-à-vis the House, a merely institutional confidence regarding the President, as much of the literature on Portugal has sustained. Marcelo has made it clear that, as long as he is President, he enjoys the right to set political boundaries to the action of the government. Going further than merely stating “strategic goals” aimed at capturing a “broad consensus (and being timid in the actual formulation of specific policies), Marcelo is moving one step forward. Take the example of the issue of the homeless. He has publicly asked the government to prepare measures aimed at eradicating homelessness by the end of his term (2021), but rather than waiting for the prime minister to present him with the government’s proposals and discussing the matter with him, Marcelo promoted meetings (which he chaired) to which he “invited” the junior minister in charge of the dossier, plus a number of national NGO’s and, critically, representatives of the Church – intervening directly in the design of public policies in tune with his “social-christian” (and rather assistencialist) personal views on the issue. This is an example of a presidential intervention in the formulation of public policies with few precedents.

It has been assumed that, in semi-presidential systems, there is an inbuilt pendulum which sometimes favours a “presidentialisation” of the situation, and which at other times oscilates in the opposite direction. One well-known commentator proposed thinking of the current situation as “semi-presidentialism of assembly”, given the fact that parliament played such an important role in the formation of Antonio Costa’a government. In other words, when parliaments have solid majorities, the role of the president tends to be less prominent than when different solutions emerge in the House. The example of President Marcelo somewhat defies this “rule”. Confronted with a minority government supported by a majority that has shown no signs of fracturing on critical issues, Marcelo has nevertheless created a high political profile for himself, intervening on a daily basis in the media on everything – as if he were still the political commentator that he was for fifteen years on prime time TV. His influence is directly linked with his popularity (a problem that the previous president, Cavaco Silva, felt acutely during his second term). And President Marcelo’s popularity – which he considers to be his best political asset – comes from a combination of support for the popular measures of the government and incisive criticism of its failures

Much as he is inclined to respect the formal political legitimacy derived from the existence of a majority in the House and to be willing to cooperate with the PM, President Marcelo’s speech on October 17, 2017 marked a decisive moment in the debate on the nature of the relations between the president and the PM in the Portuguese semi-presidential system in a way that emphasized the political competences of the head of state, and thus the double nature of the dependency of the prime minister before both the House and the President. There may be a time when those competences are more dormant, others when they surface more vigorously – but they remain in the DNA of Portuguese semi-presidentialism.