Author Archives: Lydia Beuman

Presidential Profile – Timor-Leste: President-elect ‘Lu-Olo’ Guterres (2017 – )

Francisco Lu-Olo Guterres is one of the most powerful people within the ruling party FRETILIN. He joined the party in 1974, became commander of the party’s military wing during Timor-Leste’s war for independence and played a key role in the country’s transition towards an independent and democratic state. And unlike many other key political figures, he never gave up his FRETILIN party membership.

Guterres, in Timor-Leste better known by his code name from the liberation struggle, ‘Lu-Olo’, was born on 7 September 1954. He describes himself as ‘the son of a poor family, of humble poor people’. Lu-Olo became member of the left-wing FRETILIN[1] in 1974, the main party of the resistance throughout Indonesian occupation. After the Indonesian invasion of Timor-Leste in December 1975, Guterres joined FALINTIL, the military arm of FRETILIN. As a FALINTIL commander he was responsible for organising the resistance in the Eastern part of Timor-Leste where until today the party is hugely popular. In the resistance movement he worked closely with Xanana Gusmão and Taur Matan Ruak and with those living in exile during the occupation, like Marí Alkatiri and José Ramos-Horta. All were former FRETILIN members, but only Alkatiri and Guterres have remained loyal to the party.

In 2001 Guterres was elected president of FRETILIN at the party’s first congress and has stayed in that role since. From 2001 to 2002 he headed the constituent assembly, the body that was responsible for writing Timor-Leste’s new constitution. Under his leadership, Timor-Leste adopted premier-parliamentarism, a semi-presidential subtype. In the constitution the president is the symbol and guarantor of national independence and the supreme commander of the defence force. The president is endowed with certain unilateral powers, such as the power to veto legislation and appoint officials, and has special powers in the area of defence and foreign affairs. FRETILIN had won the 2001 parliamentary elections and on Independence Day on 20 May 2002 the CA turned into Timor-Leste’s National Parliament with Guterres as president. He remained in this function until 2007, when following the parliamentary elections FRETILIN was forced to the opposition bench.

Since 2007 Guterres ran three times for president but only his last bid was successful. Indeed, in 2007 and 2012 he lost the presidential run-off elections against Ramos-Horta and Ruak, respectively. With the crucial support of Gusmão and his own FRETILIN party, Guterres managed to win an outright majority in the first round of the presidential elections on 20 March 2017. In his victory speech, the president-elect promised to keep peace and unity as his primary goals of his presidency. “I’ll be president for all people in Timor-Leste, even those who didn’t vote for me,” he told a crowd of supporters. “I’ll keep fighting for peace and unity of our nation.” Yet, given that virtually all political parties are represented in a government of national unity, it is not entirely clear who, precisely, Guterres wants to unite.

Perhaps the unity government anticipates that in the near future its policy of ‘buying peace’ will no longer be an option. Ever since the massive inflow of petrol dollars in the mid-2000s, the government has spent millions of dollars in social benefits to appease the so-called veterans who (claim to) have played an active role in the independence struggle. These well-organised trained guerrilla fighters have shown to be capable to create chaos whenever they disagree with government policy. The problem now is that the government is rapidly running out of cash due to dropping oil and gas revenues[2], so it may no longer have the financial means to buy off the potential troublemakers.

The president-elect has announced to back the current government’s foreign policy direction when it comes to relations with Australia and Indonesia. This means that the current standoff between Timor-Leste and Australia over the exploitation of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field will continue to deprive the state of the much-needed oil revenues to fill up the rapidly growing budget hole. Furthermore, those who are dissatisfied with the current unity government may find it difficult to cast their vote in the upcoming parliamentary election as opposition is virtually non-existent.

Guterres will be sworn in as the fourth president of post-independent Timor-Leste on 20 May 2017.

Notes

[1] In 1974 FRETILIN was called ASDT (Timorese Social Democratic Association).

[2] Oil revenues make up 90 per cent of the budget and roughly 80 per cent of the country’s national income is derived from oil. It is estimated that the oil fields with production agreements will be depleted by 2025.

Former resistance leader becomes Timor-Leste’s first partisan president

The presidential election seems to have delivered a decisive victory for FRETILIN’s Francisco ‘Lu Olo’ Guterres. With some two-thirds of votes counted, the former independence fighter has received just under 60 per cent of the vote. For the first time since 2002 Timor-Leste will have a president formally affiliated to a political party.

It is the third time presidential elections have taken place in Timor-Leste, but the first time that a presidential candidate has managed to win a majority of the votes cast in the first round. Guterres owes much of his electoral success to the support of former President and PM Xanana Gusmão (CNRT) and FRETILIN. Together, the two parties control 55 out of 65 seats in parliament. In February 2015 cooperation between the CNRT and FRETILIN resulted in the formation of a government of national unity in which all political parties were represented, including opposition parties. The fact that Guterres managed to win an outright majority in the first round shows the broad popular support these parties have in Timor-Leste.

President Taur Matan Ruak did not seek re-election but supported Guterres’ closest rival António da Conceição of the Democratic Party (PD) who received 30 per cent of the vote. Last year, President Ruak created his own People’s Liberation Party (PLP), which will participate in upcoming parliamentary elections. Recently, President Ruak has announced his desire to become the next PM.

To some extent, the presidential election was ‘business as usual’ in Timor-Leste: the candidate who has Gusmão’s support won the elections. What is new is that the president-elect is formally affiliated to a political party. So far, presidents have run on an independent ticket. Whereas under Timor-Leste’s semi-presidential system the head of state has limited executive power, in practice Timorese presidents have tended to take on the role of the opposition. During their presidency, Ramos-Horta and Ruak have frequently publicly expressed their concern with the rapid growth of the state budget, the increasing number of cases of corruption in which government officials were involved, and ‘unsustainable’ capital-intensive government investments. Both presidents lost Gusmão’s support and have only served one term.

It is unlikely Guterres will play a similarly active supervisory role during his five-year term in office. The president-elect is the official leader of the ruling party FRETILIN, which together with the CNRT will easily win the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Guterres will assume the presidency on 20 May. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for early July.

Presidential Profile – Mário Soares, Portuguese President and Prime Minister (1924-2017)

Mário Soares, who has died aged 92, was widely regarded as the father of Portugal’s modern democracy. Following his death on 7 January the government decreed three days of national mourning. Soares was the first civilian to head an elected government in more than half a century and served as the president of Portugal between 1986 and 1996.

The former Socialist party leader played a crucial role in stabilizing the country after the 1974 Carnation revolution that overthrew four decades of dictatorship. He was arrested a dozen times, tortured and was living in forced exile, amongst others, in France and on the island colony of Sao Tome off the West African coast. In 1973 he founded the Socialist party (PS), which he led until 1985.

After the 1974 coup, Soares became minister in a provisional government led by moderate factions of the Portuguese military. As minister for overseas negotiations he was responsible for initiating the policy under which Portugal divested itself of its colonies. His role in granting rapid independence to Portugal’s colonies made him widely respected in Africa, but earned the lasting enmity of many of the hundreds-of-thousands of Portuguese settlers who fled from Angola and the other territories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soares between two key actors in Angola’s decolonization process, José Eduardo dos Santos of the MPLA and Jonas Savimbi, leader of UNITA.

His greatest achievement was, arguably, to prevent the communists from overtaking the country in the turbulent years following the Carnation revolution. In November 1975 Portuguese communists organised a coup against the governing bodies but failed. Supported by Soares, pro-democracy and moderate General António Ramalho Eanes then carried out a counter coup, and thereby re-established the democratic process. The close relationship between both men resurfaced during the 1976 elections. Soares supported Eanes in his bid for presidency and the latter asked Soares to head a minority government. Soares resigned in December 1977 following the government’s defeat of a confidence motion. He was asked to form a new government, this time with the rightwing Democratic Social Centre (CDS). Yet, the gap in outlook between the two parties soon made the arrangement unworkable and in July 1978 the CDS withdrew its support. Soares did not resign immediately and was sacked by President Eanes, a move that caused ill-feeling between the two men for years afterwards.

Soares resignation in 1978 marked the beginning of a less successful period in his political career. President Eanes appointed three technocratic cabinets in a row in the period 1978-1979 (the cabinets Nobre da Costa, Mota Pinto and Pintasilgo). Furthermore, the centre-right wing parties succeeded in forming the Democratic Alliance (AD)[1], which won the 1979 and 1980 election. In 1981, Soares also had to endure intense criticism from leftwingers in his party for backing the AD’s proposal to revise the revolutionary constitution, which would limit the power of the president. With the support of the PS, which gave the AD the required two-thirds majorities, constitutional amendments were passed in 1982.

The PS returned to government in 1983 as part of a “Central Bloc” coalition with the Social Democrat Party (PSD). Barely two years later, Soares was again forced to resign after the new PSD leader Aníbal Cavaco Silva announced his party’s withdrawal from the government. The early 1985 elections resulted in a staggering loss for the PS and, to Soares’ great frustration, it was the PSD leader who took Portugal into the EU the following year.

 

Soares signs the EU membership treaty in 1985.

After his removal from government, Soares decided to run for the presidency in 1986. He won and remained president until 1996. Throughout the whole period in office, President Soares faced political opponent and PM Cavaco Silva whose cabinet enjoyed the support of a parliamentary majority. Tensions increased between both leaders: while the President used the veto power seven times during his first term in office (1986-1991) he vetoed thirty laws during his second term (1991-1996).

Soares served as a member of the European parliament from 1999 until 2004, and made an unsuccessful bid for a further term as president of Portugal in 2006.

His wife, actor, teacher and political activist Maria de Jesus Simões Barroso, whom he married in prison in 1949, died in 2015. He is survived by their daughter, Isabel, and son João who served as mayor of Lisbon and minister of culture.

Notes

[1] The Democratic Alliance (AD) was composed of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Democratic and Social Centre (CDS), the People’s Monarchist Party (PPM), including also a group of dissidents of the right wing of the Socialist Party (PS) who were disappointed by the previous Soares government.

Rui Graça Feijó – Semi-Presidentialism in Portugal: Towards Co-Government?

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

As 2016 was approaching its end, a popular political commentator-cum-humorist claimed that the major novelty of the year was the apparition on the scene of “Costelo”, suggesting that PM António COSTa had fused with PR MarcELO Rebelo de Sousa (MRS) in one single political entity. With all the exaggeration that all caricature implies, this joke struck a sensitive chord. In this post I wish to explore one side of this joke: what is driving the new PR to make it plausible?

In an earlier post, I suggested that the 2016 presidential elections had heralded a new era in Portuguese semi-presidentialism, reinforcing both the role of Parliament and the Presidency (see my post of 25 July 2016). The reasons for the resurgence of the presidency are manifold. First of all, the new PR is a reputed constitutionalist who wrote many pieces on the subject of presidential power, and he can be quoted expressing a view on presidential competences that goes beyond what others have expressed. Even if he is not known for the firmness of his positions which tend to evolve (and more than thirty years have elapsed since he first commented on the 1982 constitutional revision), there is a coherent background to the claim that presidential powers derived from a direct election without party mediation (as is his case) transcend a literal reading of the constitutional word and require the contemplation of a “material constitution” in Sartori’s sense that encompasses established practices, precedents, and even public expectations that do not run contrary to the formal law. Secondly, MRS was also a popular pundit who entered everybody’s home every Sunday evening expressing reputedly common sense ideas on political events, and was acutely aware that his predecessor, Cavaco Silva, had sank the popularity of the presidency to its record lowest levels – he left office with an overall negative rating of -13 points according to the regular barometer published by the weekly Expresso, the only president to have ever recorded negative ratings (some have been credited with +70 or more). The plummeting of popularity impaired his capacity to intervene on the political arena, as his failure to stop the novel convergence of the parliamentary left clearly demonstrated. For this reason, MRS, an expert on media communication, set himself the goal to reverse such course and dispute with former president Mario Soares (and to a lesser extent, Jorge Sampaio) the championship of popularity – and therefore increase his room for manoeuvre. It must be stated that he has been very successful in such endeavour, Eurosondagem barometer crediting him with circa +70 positive against -13 negative ratings. He has championed what he labels “a presidency of affections”, stepping down from a pedestal erected by Cavaco to mingle with the people. Few persons in the country do not possess a “selfie” with the president smiling in their midst. And for everybody, the president is “o Marcelo” – addressed by his first name preceded by the definite article that instils even more familiarity. The question to be raised is: what does the PR use his power for?

For one, he uses his power in line with other presidents have done. The strongest traditional competence is le pouvoir d’empêcher: to use his veto powers. Marcelo has done it on a few occasions (e.g., on bank secrecy, changes in the status of metropolitan transport systems, and on surrogate motherhood – one bill he later signed after being amended in parliament in line with some of his suggestions) – none being critical for the survival of the parliamentary convergence sustaining the PM, almost all of them destined to send a signal to his conservative constituency.

If his “reaction powers” have not exceeded what might be expected, the use of “action powers” has proved to be somewhat more controversial. One of Marcelo’s idiosyncratic features his is alleged hyper-activism which brings him to issue comments and public statements on everything that goes under his nose – take for instance a note on the presidency’s official site expressing condolences on the passing of the English pop star George Michael, with no known special relation with Portugal. Other instances are politically more relevant, although not always coherent. For instance, Marcelo criticized the new salaries of the public commercial bank’s administrators (in tune with popular sentiments) but promulgated the law that allows them (arguing with the need to secure a “professional solution”).

In a political and institutional system in which the function of the president is distinct from the executive branch entrusted to the PM and his government, and is rather derived from Benjamin Constant’s notion of “pouvoir moderateur”, it is not a novelty that presidents have expressed their desire to “contribute” to political solutions that pertain to the realm of the executive. Mario Soares famous “open presidencies” were expressions of his agenda setting powers with important consequences in his so called “magistracy of influence”. Jorge Sampaio’s more subtle workshops of experts also set the tone for the intervention of the PR. Cavaco Silva boasted of having introduced amendments to a third of all bills brought before him (maybe in the memoirs he is currently writing he will explain this in detail). In all these instances – that constitute precedents for a PR who is thirsty of prominence – the presidential intervention was kept within the framework of separate powers, not invading the executive prerogatives. Will this hold true for Marcelo?

Fernando Pessoa, the modernist poet, coined the term “President-King” to allude to the brief term in office of Sidónio Pais during the First Republic – a charismatic figure that fell assassinated one year after seizing power in a coup and making himself elected by “universal” suffrage. This term was not supposed to evoke the 19th century constitutional monarchs who exercised a “moderating power” in Constant’s vein, but rather to the authoritative figure of an elusive, undisputed leader of yesteryear. This epithet has recently been retrieved in discussions about Marcelo’s self-ascribed role in national politics. In other words, several commentators and constitutionalists like Vital Moreira (an expert on presidential powers) fear he is mobilizing his enormous popularity and stepping on a thin line that defines the separation of powers. One recent example can be briefly discussed.

An important theatre company announced it was closing down after 43 years, suggesting that differences with public policies (dependent on the government) were to blame for the decision. Marcelo decided to attend their last performance, and the Minister for Culture felt compelled to follow him. Before the performance started, on stage, and with TV crews broadcasting the event, Marcelo debated with the minister the solution for this case.

Previous public decisions of presidents that allegedly interfered with the government competences were all carried through contacts with the PM – never directly with a minister, let alone in full public view. That was the case, for instance, with Jorge Sampaio who withdrew political confidence from one military chief and one minister, forcing the PM to propose their replacement, and who opposed the deployment of Portuguese troops in the Iraq war but did not debate the issue with the Minister for Defence but rather with the PM.

Even if Marcelo’s view was not upheld by the Minister for Culture and the closing down of the theatre company could not be avoided, this episode signals the willingness of the PR to use all the instruments in his toolbox to advance his own agenda, grounded on his capacity to capture the popular sympathy. He did so on other occasions with more success. Two examples: Marcelo publicly stated he would veto a presumed government attempt (inscribed in the Socialist Party manifesto and the government official programme) to reform the metropolitan areas governing bodies – prompting the PM to abandon his electoral compromise. He also made it known he supported the continuation of important “Public-Private Partnerships” (and therefore of significant private sector interests) in the health sector. The Minister for Health agreed to give PPPs a new chance in conflict with the parliamentary left that supports the integration of all public hospitals in the NHS.

There will be no constitutional court to set the limits to the PR’s initiatives. This will rather depend on the political relation of forces – and the force on the president’s side sits with his capacity to mobilize public opinion. That will be the critical factor determining if he succeeds in imposing a share of executive competences at a time when the right of centre is facing severe partisan difficulties to sustain a modicum of influence after a turbulent four and a half years in power. The fact that Marcelo was elected on a rather “independent” platform with the ill-disguised antagonism of PSD and CDS leaderships, with whom he entertains cold relations as his agenda is perceived to be distinct from theirs, enhances his stance and the chances that he will leave a new imprint in the political system.

The Portuguese system is not grounded on the centrality of the presidency to advance political agendas, as one could argue to be the case in France. Carlos Jalali has stressed that the premiership is the most coveted job for active politicians, and political parties are organized round this fact. For this reason, the notion of “cohabitation”and the parallelism with France that it entails is somewhat misplaced to grasp the dynamics of the Portuguese situation. The tense relations between the president and the leadership of his political family’s parties prevents one from considering his intervention as the surrogate for those who sit in the parliamentary minority, or to be strictly articulated with their strategies. Rather, it requires a new form of approach that considers at once the fact that the president has a personal agenda and that he intends to press for its implementation through what I suggest to call “co-government”on the limits of his constitutional powers, and clearly more aggressive than all other presidents after the revision of the Constitution in 1982.

Guinea-Bissau – PM Embalo’s unity government is unlikely to survive

President Vaz, a member of the dominant PAIGC party, fired PM Baciro Dja on 14 November. Four days later, Umaro Sissoco Embalo was appointed to head a new unity government. Dja’s dismissal was in accordance with the Conakry Accord, a peace agreement to quell the political crisis in the country. Yet, the peace agreement is on the brink of collapse now that the PAIGC has rejected Embalo’s appointment.

Embalo is Guinea-Bissau’s fifth prime minister since Vaz was elected president in May 2014. First, PM Pereira was appointed in July 2014 after the PAIGC won the majority of seats in the parliamentary elections. Barely one year later, in August 2015, President Vaz replaced Pereira by his political ally Baciro Dja who resigned after 48 hours following the Constitutional Court’s ruling that Dja’s appointment was unconstitutional. In September 2015 Carlos Correia was named PM but his premiership lasted until May 2016 and the same month Dja was again appointed PM. In accordance with the Conakry Accord, Dja resigned and Embalo was named PM.

The Conakry Accord was the outcome of an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States)-mediated mission, led by Alpha Conde, president of neighbouring country Guinea, which aimed at ending the institutional crisis in Guinea-Bissau. The Accord provided for, among others, “consensus on the choice of a Prime Minister who has the confidence of the President of the Republic” and stipulated that “the Prime Minister should be in office until the 2018 legislative elections.” Moreover, it called upon the parties “to form an inclusive government based on an organigram agreed upon by all political parties in the National Assembly, in line with the principle of proportional representation.” The principal tasks of the new inclusive government would be to reform the Constitution in order to “establishing stable relations between the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary”, to revise the electoral law and reform Guinea-Bissau’s security sector. Key political actors, like Guinea-Bissau’s speaker of the National Assembly, Cipriano Cassama, PAIGC president Pereira, as well as the secretary-general of Guinea-Bissau’s largest opposition party (PRS), Florentino Mendes Pereira, and Braima Camara, a representative of 15 former PAIGC MPs, signed the agreement on 14 October 2016. It is important to note that the document does not include the name and signature of the President of Guinea-Bissau.

The Conakry Accord did not specify the name of the prime minister. Instead, the warring parties agreed on three names from which the President could pick a new prime minister: Embalo, a member of the PAIGC and one of the President’s principal advisors, Joao Mamadu Fadia, an independent and National Director of the ECOWAS bank, and Augusto Olivais, the former national secretary of the PAIGC. The PAIGC reportedly supported Olivais, while opposition party PRS wanted Embalo to head the new unity government. The President chose Embalo – brigadier general, his adviser and a minister in previous administrations.

The President’s decision to appoint Embalo as the new PM was not well received by the PAIGC. The party has declared it would not join Embalo’s “unity” government and warned that PAIGC MPs would vote against the budget.

The Conakry Accord has failed to end the political impasse. PM Embalo is clearly not the right candidate to resolve the conflict between, principally, President Vaz and PAIGC leader Pereira. So, it is unlikely the Embalo government will survive until the general elections scheduled for 2018. Perhaps the best option to resolve the institutional crisis would be to hold snap elections.

Cape Verde – President Fonseca’s ‘historic victory’

President Jorge Carlos Fonseca called it ‘an historic victory’. The incumbent president succeeded in winning no fewer than 74% of the vote in the presidential election that took place on 2 October 2016. His rivals, independent candidates Albertino Graça en Joaquim Monteiro, gathered just 22.6% and 3.4%, respectively.

The recent presidential election concluded a successful election year for the President’s centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD). Earlier this year, the party had defeated the socialist African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) in both the legislative elections and the municipal elections. The MpD and PAICV dominate political life in Cape Verde and have alternated in power since the first multi-party elections were held in 1991.

To many, Fonseca’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections came as no surprise. Fonseca (66) is a lawyer, university professor, and perhaps most importantly, an experienced politician. He co-founded the ruling MpD party and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1991-1993). In 1994 he gave up his party membership and founded the Party of Democratic Convergence (PCD), an MpD splinter party. In 2001, he stood as an independent candidate in the presidential election, but finished third, winning only 3.6% of the vote. Ten years later, in 2011, and this time with the support of the MpD party, Fonseca beat PAICV candidate and former foreign minister Manuel Inocêncio Sousa in a runoff with 54.45% of the vote. Compared to Fonseca, university rector Graça and former freedom fighter Monteiro have less political experience and, perhaps more importantly, lacked party support. To be sure, in Cape Verde no candidate has ever won the elections without the open support of either the MpD or the PAICV.

The President partly owed his election victory to a successful first term. In particular, his decision in March 2015 to veto the Statute for Political Office Holders was well received by the people of Cape Verde. The law granted, amongst other things, a 65% wage increase to all elected officials. While the law was unanimously approved by the National Assembly it provoked outrage amongst the Cape Verdeans who considered it as a form of ‘legal robbery’. President Fonseca considered the concerns legitimate and decided to veto and return the law to the National Assembly. In a recent interview, the President said the decision was taken in an environment of great social tension. ‘It was not an easy decision to question a position that had been adopted and supported by virtually all the main political actors. There were long hours of meditation. The fact that the National Assembly did not re-examine the law revealed, indirectly, agreement with the measure adopted,’ he concluded.

It is important to note that the results of Cape Verde’s presidential elections have generally mirrored those of its legislative elections. So, from 1991 to 2001, the MpD held a majority in the National Assembly while its candidate António Mascarenhas Monteiro occupied the presidential palace. From 2001 to 2011, the PAICV controlled the National Assembly while its former leader, Pedro Pires, held the presidency. Cape Verde experienced cohabitation once in 2011. This unique situation emerged when the PAICV won the legislative elections in February and MpD candidate Fonseca the August presidential elections.[1] The emergence of another unified government is thus far from being an exceptional situation in Cape Verde.

Fonseca’s victory was, however, ‘historic’ in that another sense: the presidential election was marked by record low turnout (36%), the lowest since 1991. Several factors may account for the high abstention rate. First, most PAICV supporters abstained from voting given that no PAICV candidate had joined the presidential race.[2] The low turnout may also have been caused by voter fatigue. To be sure, it was the third time Cape Verdean had been asked to cast their votes in a period of less than half a year. Finally, it has been argued that the high abstention rate is a symptom of the people’s dissatisfaction with and distrust of the country’s ruling elite. Turnout in the parliamentary elections this year fell to just 66% from 76% in 2011. Political commentators have accused both the MpD and the PAICV of putting party loyalties above national interests.

Although the country is considered to be one of the most stable democracies in Africa, the 2014 survey by Afrobarometer concludes that more than 50% of citizens are distrustful of key institutions and the political system in general. Likewise, Cape Verde’s performance in the 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance worsened.

Notes

[1] Yet, it has been argued that Fonseca won the elections because the PAICV vote was split between two party-affiliated candidates.

[2] The PAICV decided not to nominate a candidate following its landslide defeats in the legislative and municipal elections of this year.

Rui Graça Feijó – Timor-Leste’s upcoming elections and the prospects for semi-presidentialism

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

Timor-Leste is preparing for next year’s elections (presidentials in March/April, legislative in July). To a large extent, these will be centred around the president’s opposition to the ruling majority as from late 2015.

In 2012, Taur Matan Ruak (TMR) – the last leader of the guerrilla and Chief of Staff of the armed forces – ran as an “independent supported by Xanana’s party, ousting the incumbent Ramos-Horta in the first round and defeating Fretilin’s Lu Olo in the second. In preparation for those elections, some members of Fretilin were inclined to give TMR their support based on his track record of good relations with the party. The party’s leadership chose otherwise, but the seed for cooperation was there. It came as no surprise then that the major political event of TMR’s presidency was a broad parliamentary agreement that opened up the doors for Fretilin to join the government. In February 2015, Rui Maria de Araujo, a member of Fretilin acting in a non-party capacity, was sworn in a PM of the 6th Government – a government of “national inclusion”. For the first time since independence, all parliamentary parties had a seat in government[1]. TMR is widely credited with this development, and he came out in favour of it when he said:

“How does a democracy work without opposition? Democracy is not an end to Timor, it is a means. Between a classical form of democracy and another one consisting of reinforcing social and political cohesion, we have chosen the latter.”[2]

However, the president kept his “independent” persona: he toured more than 350 of the country’s 440-odd sukus (villages), thus decentralising contact with citizens (“It is incredible what I see there. The government has done its job. But people always want more.”), and made sure his channels of communication via the media were kept open (and thus opposed as much as he could alterations to the freedom of the press bill).

By the end of 2015 the political scenario had evolved. Parliament passed a bill making it more difficult to register new political parties. The president held back the law until a party widely tipped to be his own creation had the chance to register under the old rules. A few weeks later, he vetoed the 2016 state budget that had been passed by a unanimous vote in the House, and appealed to parliamentarians to introduce substantial changes, arguing for his vision of the country based on contacts with the population. They took a blind eye to the president’s recommendations and insisted on the very same budget. The rupture between the president and the government majority was consummated. In hindsight, it is possible that the president believed the change of government also meant a new political orientation that never materialized.

Last February, using his constitutional powers, the government proposed to extend the mandate of the Chief of Staff of the armed forces, who had been TMR’s second in command. The president disagreed – a decision within his powers. However, he went two steps further: he dismissed the military commander and appointed a new one without consultation with government – and this was not within his constitutional powers. A serious conflict ensued, the result of which is still pending. The president stepped back from the dismissal and the new appointment, but has thus far not resolved the issue in spite of lengthy negotiations.

More recently, the parliamentary majority enacted a law on the composition of the National Electoral Commission which met with TMR’s opposition, but which he was again forced to sign after a second parliamentary vote. TMR expressed the hope that the new body would not be implemented before the next round of elections – as the Commission is dependent on the government and parliament, excluding civil society from its composition, thus being prone to manipulation by those who already have seats – but it seems the old members have been notified of the termination of their term in office.

TMR has made it known that he would not seek re-election, creating a situation in which none of the first three presidents was elected for a second consecutive term. It is believed he will follow Xanana’s example of creating his own political party and fight the legislative elections after he steps down. An “executive syndrome” seems to have struck again in a country whose president is entrusted with significant but not executive powers.

In spite of serious confrontations between the president and the government (after the 2006 crisis), including in prominent place the definition of the president’s competences in matters of national defence and security that Lydia M. Beuman (2016) considered the “Achiles heel” of semipresidentialism in young democracies, but which have extended to other realms, there is no sign that the Timorese will place a revision of their constitutional system on the agenda for the upcoming elections. The debate will continue on the profile of presidential powers (Beuman 2016, Strating 2016) which, in my view, are quite considerable but lack executive competences. In a way, the “pouvoir d’empêcher” overweighs the competences for initiative, which nevertheless are present in the array of his powers (Feijo, 2016).

After having elected three “independent” presidents, entertaining the idea that there was a clear difference between the realm of presidential powers and that of government, the 2017 elections could finally see the election of a party candidate, as Fretilin seems to insist that it is now “Lu Olo’s turn”. However, it may also be that a strong “independent” candidate may emerge (rumours have it that former president Ramos-Horta is considering his bid). Without constitutional changes, the upcoming elections may bring substantial innovations nonetheless.

References

Beuman, Lydia M., 2016. Political Institutions in East Timor. Semi-presidentialism and Democratisation. London & New York, Routledge

Feijó, Rui Graça, 2016. Dynamics of Democracy in Timor-Leste. The birth of a democratic nation, 1999-2012. Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press

Strating. Rebecca, 2016. Social Democracy in East Timor. London & New York, Routledge

[1] Later, PD would be removed from the governing coalition.

[2] http://www.rtp.pt/noticias/mundo/timorenses-tem-estado-a-aprender-fazendo-afirma-taur-matan-ruak_n874728 accessed July 8, 2016

São Tomé and Principe – Election Commission annuls election results, opens door to second round vote

Initial election results indicated that Evaristo Carvalho, candidate of the ruling ADI party, won the presidential election held on 17 July. Carvalho defeated incumbent President Pinto da Costa. Yet, on 22 July, the Election Commission (CEN) cancelled the election results. The Constitutional Court has recently decided that a second round of voting will take place on 7 August.

According to provisional data, Carvalho won 50.1% (34,629) of the votes, incumbent President Manuel Pinto da Costa who ran as an independent garnered 24.8% (17.121), and Maria das Neves of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MSTP-PSD) managed to win 24.1% (16,638). Two other candidates, Hélder Barros and Manuel do Rosário, won 0.3% (194) and 0.7% (488) of the votes respectively. Roughly 70,000 people voted and the abstention rate was 35.91%.[1] President Pinto da Costa and Maria das Neves contested the election results before the country’s Constitutional Court.

In São Tomé and Príncipe the presidential term is five years, and is limited to two consecutive terms. The electoral system for presidential elections is based on the majority principle where the winning candidate is required to obtain an absolute majority (a minimum of 50% plus one vote) of the votes. A second election is organised if none of the candidates receives an absolute majority. In the second round, only the two top candidates are allowed to contest.

The CEN cancelled the election results because of changes in the provisional results affected by vote counts from the diaspora (Portugal, Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea) and because voting had been delayed in one district. According to the Election Commission, no candidate managed to get more than half the votes validly cast. On 22 July, the Constitutional Court decided that a second round between President Pinto da Costa and Carvalho will take place on 7 August.

Both presidential candidates are experienced politicians. President Pinto da Costa, 79, was the first president after independence (1975-1991) and was co-founder of the opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD). Since 2011, he is again president of São Tomé and Príncipe. Pinto da Costa ran three times for president (1994, 2001 and 2011). Yet, his presidential bid was only successful in 2011 when he ran as an independent candidate. Carvalho, 74, was chief of staff to President Pinto da Costa. He was defence minister in 1992 and headed a ‘government of presidential initiative’ in 1994 and in 2001. From 2010 to 2012 Carvalho was the speaker of parliament and became vice-president of the ADI after the 2014 parliamentary elections. This is the second time Carvalho has run for president on the ADI ticket. In 2011, he was defeated by President Pinto da Costa by 47.1% to 52.9%. Yet, it is unclear if President da Costa will beat Carvalho again. For one thing, the incumbent president wants the President of the Election Commission Alberto Pereira to resign and has threatened to withdraw from the presidential elections if he refuses to do so.

If Carvalho becomes president, PM Trovoada’s government may well be the first to finish its four-year term. Under São Tomé and Príncipe’s semi-presidential system, the president can dismiss the prime minister, albeit under circumscribed conditions. Presidents have actively used this power: President Miguel Trovoada (1991-2001) dismissed two prime ministers in his time, while his successor, President Fradique de Menezes (2001-2011) dismissed three.[2] Since 1991 when the first multiparty elections were held in São Tomé and Príncipe, there have been 17 different governments.

Should Carvalho win the elections, intra-executive conflict is unlikely because he is from the same party as the prime minister. The ADI won an absolute majority (33 of the 55 seats) in the 2014 parliamentary election, which resulted into the formation of a single-party government led by PM Trovoada. If President Pinto da Costa were reelected, intra-executive tensions may continue but not escalate. The president’s relationship with the prime minister has not been marked by conflict, but rather distance and non-interference.

Notes

[1] See data published online by the Election Commission (CEN): http://cen.st/index.php/publicacoes/noticias/item/212-resultados-geral-das-eleicoes-presidenciais-2016.

[2] In 2006, constitutional changes reduced the presidency’s executive powers in the areas of defence and foreign affairs and made it harder for the head of state to dismiss the PM and dissolve the 55-member National Assembly. For a detailed description of São Tomé and Príncipe’s semi-presidential system, see: SEIBERT, G. 2009. Instabilidade política e revisão constitucional: semipresidencialismo em São Tomé e Príncipe. In: LOBO, M. C. & NETO, O. A. (eds.) O Semipresidencialismo nos Países de Língua Portuguesa. Lisbon: ICS.

Portugal – President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa: hyperactive and omnipresent in uncertain times

On 16 June President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa marked his first 100 days in office. Rebelo de Sousa is a new kind of president: hyperactive and omnipresent. His relationship with Prime Minister Costa, leader of the Socialist Party (PS) is peaceful and co-operative. Who is President Rebelo de Sousa and why does the conservative president support a socialist government?

The 67-year old law professor Rebelo de Sousa is a centre-right politician. He was one of the founders of the Democratic People’s party (PPD), later renamed as the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Under Prime Minister Francisco Pinto Balsemão (PSD, 1981-1983), Rebelo de Sousa served as Secretary of State for the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (1981-1982) and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (1982-1983). He was leader of the PSD party (1996-1999), and member of the Council of State (2000-2001, 2006-2016). In the presidential election, he was not an official candidate of PSD but stood as an independent. Unlike his predecessor Aníbal Cavaco Silva (PSD)[1], President Rebelo de Sousa known as ‘Professor Marcelo’ never held a top state position but gained widespread popularity thanks to his long years of work as a political commentator on television.

The new president, who claims to read two books a day and sleep no more than four-and-a-half hours a night, is considered to be ‘hyperactive’. Since his inauguration on 9 March, he has participated, reportedly, in no fewer than 250 initiatives, including seven state visits abroad. His speeches, statements and other kind of public appearances have received much media attention, which, allegedly, has contributed to his rising popularity. Critics believe that the President’s ‘omnipresence’ could put him on a collision course with Prime Minister Costa.

Compared with Cavaco Silva, the new president is closer to the people, cares less about protocol and acts more like a non-partisan president. “He [Cavaco Silva] just wasn’t present in the lives of the our citizens”, said Maria de Belém, the former acting leader of the PS. Marisa Matias of the Left Bloc said: “Cavaco [Silva] was a president who occupied himself with inaugurations in the intervals of his subservience to the ruling party, his own.”

Prime Minister Costa’s government consists solely of members of the PS but enjoys parliamentary support from the Left Bloc (BE), the Communist Party (PCP), and the Green Party (PEV). Underpinning this leftist alliance – together they control 122 seats in Portugal’s 230-seat National Parliament – is a 138-page compromise agreement between the four parties aimed at gradually winding back the austerity measures adopted by the Passos Coelho government. Yet, government decisions are ultimately subject to the approval of the BE, PCP and PEV. Policy is thus the outcome of ad-hoc agreements between the government and their parliamentary coalition partners.

Despite the fact that the President and Prime Minister are from opposing political forces, institutional conflict has been largely absent in Portugal because, firstly, President Rebelo de Sousa supports the current government in order to encourage political stability. In his presidential victory speech, he called for consensus between political parties to “heal the wounds” of the political crisis.[2] “I won’t create any problem, any instability, any criticism of government action. I will try to keep the basis of support for the government intact.” True to his word, the President approved the 2016 anti-austerity budget and promulgated the 35-hour working week law for civil servants[3], despite the fact that the Popular Party (CDS-PP) and PSD had voted against both laws. The President vetoed the surrogacy law. Another reason why ‘intra-executive conflict’ has been largely absent is because the President and Prime Minister are close personal friends, which, most probably, has facilitated peaceful institutional cooperation.

President Rebelo de Sousa knows he plays a critical role in fostering political stability. His hyperactivity is one symptom of this. The president has the power to dissolve parliament when, for instance, decision-making is paralysed due to interparty conflicts. This scenario is not unlikely to unfold in reality. The socialists and communists have a long history of intense hostility, which prevented them from forming a left-wing coalition government. In particular, EU related issues could generate friction between the pro-EU government and its “anti-European” allies. The leftist alliance is the first since the birth of democratic Portugal four decades ago.

[1] Former President Aníbal Cavaco Silva was Prime Minister from 1985-1995.

[2] In October 2015, Portugal was plunged into crisis following inconclusive parliamentary elections. The centre-right coalition of PM Pedro Passos Coelho (PSD) won the most votes in the 2015 parliamentary elections but lost the absolute majority it had enjoyed since 2011. Passos Coelho formed a centre-right minority government, but was forced to resign after parliament passed a censure motion.

[3] The law reduces the length of a working week for civil servants from 40 to 35 hours.

The President is dancing on a volcano, and Guinea-Bissau may go up in flames

On 25 May President Vaz appointed one of his most trusted allies, Baciro Dja, to form a new government, a move that triggered protests from the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Outgoing PM Carlos Correia denounced his dismissal as a ‘constitutional coup d’état’ and members of his government are refusing to leave the government palace. According to an order issued by the attorney-general last Friday, the dismissed government members have 48 hours to leave the government building.

Dja had been named prime minister once before, in August 2015, but was forced to resign after Guinea-Bissau’s Supreme Court declared his appointment unconstitutional. His successor, former PM Correia, temporarily appeared to resolve the dispute — but in December, 15 PAIGC deputies refused to back Correia’s policies, depriving the PM of a parliamentary majority. Vaz sacked former PM Correia and his government on 12 May, saying they had proved incapable of managing a months-long political crisis.

In his speech to the nation carried out on national television and radio, the President said ‘I have taken a decision which makes the political parties aware of their responsibilities in giving them the chance to prove that they place greater importance on the nation and the people over their personal interests or their group or party.’ The President also rejected PAIGC’s recommendation to hold fresh elections because in his view ‘elections are not an adequate means of resolving the problems with discipline, cohesion and internal unity in the political parties.’ He added that the country lacked the financial means necessary to organize elections. For its part, the former government members refuse to resign, saying that the choice of a prime minister was up to the majority party in parliament. ‘We will not accept a prime minister chosen by the president’, said ex-PM Correia.

On 3 June, President Vaz swore in Guinea-Bissau’s fourth government since the 2014 general elections, which despite PAIGC’s majority in Guinea-Bissau’s national assembly is dominated by members of opposition party Party for Social Renewal (PRS). According to a presidential decree, the new government has 31 members: 19 ministers and 12 secretaries of state. Yet, members of the ousted Correia government have announced not to transfer their duties to ministers named by PM Dja and are refusing to leave the government palace. ‘We are not going to give an inch of our offices so they can be occupied by an illegal government,’ former communication minister Regala said. Last Friday, tensions rose sharply in Guinea-Bissau’s capital city Bissau after the country’s most senior Supreme Court judge gave government members only 48 hours to leave the government building.

Political instability will have a negative impact on the popularity of President Vaz who, almost certainly, wants to be re-elected for a second term. Presidential elections are scheduled for 2018.