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“Can I have your signature?” – Comparing requirements for registering presidential candidates in Europe

Every so often, I receive a message from colleagues asking whether I know of a comparative overview on a particular aspect of presidential politics. I have previously written blog posts with such overviews on presidential term length and possibilities of re-election, salaries of West European and Central East European presidents, and the question of who acts as head of state when presidents are incapacitated or resign. Three weeks ago, I received another enquiry asking about the number of signatures required to register as a presidential candidate in popular presidential election – prompted by the seemingly high number of 200,000 signatures in Romania (notably, this threshold also applies to European elections, a fact highlighted by the extra-parliamentary “Democracy and Solidarity Party – DEMOS” earlier this year).

Electoral laws often specify various requirements for candidates, such as age, no criminal record, residency etc, but these all relate to the candidacy of a person as such, not its registration with authorities. To register one’s candidacy for president, collecting a certain number of supporting signatures arguably presents the most common requirement (closely followed by making a – often non-refundable – deposit to the Electoral Commission). Collecting signatures helps to prove that a candidate is a serious contender and can attract at least a minimum of support. In this post, I hence provide an overview and assessment of the signature requirements for presidential candidates in Europe and beyond.

The Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters of the Venice Commission (an advisory body to the Council of Europe on matters of Constitutional Law) states that “The law should not require collection of the signatures of more than 1% of voters in the constituency concerned” (Part I, Chapter 1.3, point ii) – hence, for popular presidential elections signatures of no more than 1% of all registered voters in the whole country should be required for registration. Overall, all but three European nations adhere to this recommendation, albeit still showing considerable variation.

On average, a little less than half a percent of registered voters (0.454%) is required to register a candidacy as presidential candidate in European semipresidential and presidential republics. Requirements range from 0.016% (i.e. 100) of registered voters in Cyprus to 1.5% in Montenegro, yet the median of 0.396% (BiH Republika Srbska) illustrates that most countries can be found towards the bottom of the range. Three countries stand out because they do not foresee any kind of public signature collection: Ukraine abolished any kind of signature requirement in 2009 (it had previously been 500,000 in 2004 and 1m in 1999).  In contrast, presidential hopefuls in France and Ireland need to collect support from public officials – 500 signatures of elected public officials in France, and nomination by 20 members of parliament or four county or city councils in Ireland. Four other countries also have rules for the nomination of candidates by legislators – such rules generally benefit established parties.

Romania indeed belongs to countries with the highest signature requirements in European comparison, yet it is still surpassed by Montenegro. While Romania only exceeds the Council of Europe recommendation by 0.1% (ca. 17,300 signatures), this margin would already be enough to register a candidate in Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, or Portugal! The Montenegrin electoral law actually specifies that signatures equal to 1.5% of registered need to be collected in order to register a candidate for the presidency (and has subsequently been the subject of repeated criticism by the Venice Commission and the OSCE).

What do these numbers mean for parties, candidates and competition in popular presidential elections? Generally, higher signature requirements increase entry costs for political newcomers and can be a serious impediment to democratic competition. Candidates nominated by political parties can rely on established organisations for the collection of signature (often under a tight deadline) as well as for the financing of such an exercise – even in smaller countries with lower requirements, a small army of volunteers is needed. Given that signatures can later be ruled invalid for various reasons, candidates actually need to collect more signatures than the official number to prepared for this eventuality. Regulations that allow (or restrict) the nomination of candidates by a handful of members of parliament (e.g. in the Czech Republic, Ireland, or Slovakia), also benefit established parties and provide obstacles to independents and newcomers. Nevertheless, a greater number of candidates in direct presidential elections does not automatically equal a better or more democratic process. In the prevalent two-round run-off systems (only Ireland used preference voting and Iceland a plurality run-off), a highly fragmented candidate field in the first round can easily lead to the elimination of a Pareto-winner as well as voter dissatisfaction if a large proportion of voters do not see their preferred candidate advance to the second round.

When it comes to signatures for registering a presidential candidate, there is no objective “magic number”; yet, when looking at the various requirements across Europe, it would likely be around 0.4% of registered voters.

Tanzania – Opening salvo, or final shot? Factional challenges to President Magufuli

A recent letter from two former ruling party secretary generals—widely interpreted as an open criticism of President Magufuli—has caused something of a stir in Tanzanian politics over the past two weeks.

Yusuf Makamba and Abdulrahman Kinana took direct aim at the controversial newspaper publisher, Cyprian Musiba, who has been accused of libel for printing allegations that various high-profile figures within CCM and the opposition are plotting to undermine Magufuli. Addressing their letter to the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Council of Elders, Makamba and Kinana warned that these “unfounded allegations” pose a threat to the party’s “unity, solidarity and tranquillity” and called on the former presidents and party officials who make up the Council to take action. The two erstwhile secretary generals also emphasised that Musiba was being protected so that he could “carry out a special mission for important people and with evil intent.”

The letter triggered a flurry of reactions. Several CCM MPs lined up to defend the President. Among them was Hussein Bashe, a sometimes critic and strong backer of Magufuli’s main rival in the 2015 elections, Edward Lowassa. In this instance, though, Bashe was uncompromising in his support for the President, describing the letter as “a plot to deny President Magufuli of a chance to contest a second term in 2020”. Other responses, all coming from figures outside CCM, were more sympathetic to the letter writers, suggesting they were right to break their silence.

Why the excitement?

Since assuming the Presidency in 2015, Magufuli has made a concerted effort to tame CCM’s rival factions, centralising power under his control. In the process, he has alienated many party grandees as well as party-aligned economic elites. This re-balancing—and especially some of the violent means through which it has been executed—has fed simmering tensions in CCM with much speculation about whether and when they could boil over into open conflict.

In this vein, observers have wondered whether disgruntled CCM heavyweights—including Makamba and Kinana—might be coordinating in the background, preparing the groundwork to challenge Magufuli ahead of the 2020 elections. While such coordination efforts have seemed increasingly unlikely, the President and those closest to him nevertheless continue to demonstrate a high level of paranoia, expressed in part through the accusations published by the now infamous Musiba in his Tanzanite newspaper. For instance, the current Secretary General, Bashiru Ally, issued a public summons late last year, demanding that former contender for the CCM presidential nomination, Bernard Membe, come see him about allegations (again, published in Tanzanite) that Membe was plotting to supplant Magufuli in 2020.

Viewed against this backdrop, Makamba and Kinana’s letter implied the situation had finally reached the much-anticipated boiling point. As one paper intoned, it “raised a storm that exposed major cracks within CCM”.

Beyond simply exposing those cracks, though, the letter marked a moment of reckoning for the ruling party. As the political economist Mushtaq Khan argues, who has power is not obvious until that power is subjected to a contest, at which point the competitors see who can hold out and thus determine who has the upper hand. So long as internal CCM rivalries remain in the shadowy domain of rumour and allegation, there is room to doubt who is really in control—to query whether Magufuli’s grip is as strong as it appears.

So, who won?

Clearly, the President.

For all the excitement, Makamba and Kinana’s effort was a flop. The events that followed its release have left Magufuli’s dominance seeming greater than before.

The letter’s authors refer to conversations with supporters—fellow CCM members, religious leaders and the like—who share their frustrations. Yet none of these came forward to defend the letter once it was made public. As noted earlier, no CCM figure openly backed it.

In his response, the secretary of the Council of Elders, former CCM Vice Chair Pius Msekwa, simply reaffirmed the weakness of that body, saying it would refer the complaint to a “higher level”. The Council was created in 2012 under then President Jakaya Kikwete, who used it opportunistically to help block the presidential ambitions of his rival, Lowassa. Having served its function, the Council seemingly no longer has much relevance.

Another blow to the letter-writers, if more indirect this time, came when only days after they released their statement, Magufuli fired Yusuf Makamba’s son, January Makamba, who was serving as Environment Minister. Although Magufuli claimed his decision was motivated by frustrations with delays in issuing environmental assessment certificates to would-be investors, observers were sceptical about the timing of his move. Those close to January Makamba have reported that he was on borrowed time anyway, kept in post partially so that the President could keep a close eye on him. But the letter appeared to force the issue and led to his decisive ouster. Not in a position to hit back, Makamba simply thanked the President in a graciously worded tweet, after which his usually busy account went quiet.

While Makamba was on his way out, the above-mentioned Bashe rose up the ladder, seemingly rewarded for his interjection with an appointment as deputy minister of agriculture.

Wither CCM?

With no sign of effective factional coordination to challenge Magufuli from within the ruling party, his rivals face a choice; either they remain in the cold—with the added prospect of economic and physical coercion—or renegotiate an entry into the President’s inner circle.

Rostam Aziz—long-time Lowassa ally and one-time billionaire—has managed just such a re-entry. After a period of seemingly self-imposed exile following Magufuli’s election, he has returned, met privately with Magufuli, ushered Lowassa back into CCM after his defection to opposition party CHADEMA, and added to the volley of accusations thrown at the much-maligned Membe for his supposed efforts to undermine the President. Aziz’s latest business venture, a $60m liquefied gas plant, was inaugurated by Magufuli last month.

The apparent predictability of Magufuli’s continued dominance, at least through the 2020 elections, does not however reduce the prospect of further violence and paranoia. The recent spate of seemingly state-orchestrated abductions and murders shows no sign of abating. Nor do the accusations levied by Musiba and others against Magufuli’s supposed detractors.

Meanwhile, after 2020, it is the 2025 elections that will become the main focus. Barring a constitutional amendment lifting presidential term limits, Magufuli will be stepping down and, in the CCM tradition, opening the floodgates for renewed factional manoeuvring ahead of a fresh CCM presidential nomination contest. Given the levels of tension and outright violence within the party at present, the prospect of that contest is scarier than in the past—its peaceful resolution, harder to imagine.

Turkey – Is there a way out of Erdoğan’s populist authoritarianism?

In the March 2019 local elections President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party suffered a blow when it lost almost all big cities, including the capital Ankara, Istanbul, İzmir, Adana and Antalya, to the opposition (the Nation Alliance of the Republican Peoples Party/CHP, the Good Party/IP). The greatest loss was undoubtedly Istanbul. Ekrem Imamoglu, a rising start of Turkish politics was a relatively unknown candidate for Istanbul before the election. He ran against the former PM Binali Yıldırım, but his real rival was President Erdoğan himself. President Erdoğan campaigned fiercely for his candidate, using state resources and public funds; the government controlled major media outlets ignored all opposition candidates, including Imamoglu.

Defying all obstacles, Imamoglu won the election with a small margin of 13.000 votes. The High Election Board, however, annulled the Istanbul mayoral election after the the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) alleged irregularities. While President Erdoğan called on the Board several times to rerun the election alleging vote rigging, the board found no evidence of election fraud. Its decision was based on a weak legal argument that certain ballot officers were not civil servants, despite the fact that they had been appointed and cleared by the Board itself.

Many Istanbul voters reacted negatively to this decision, convinced that the government had pressured the Board to cancel Imamoglu’s rightful victory. In the end, Imamoglu won again in the rerun, this time with more than 800.000 votes, thereby increasing his support nearly ten per cent in two months’ time. In a short time, Imamoglu transformed from a relatively unknown mayor of the not “so important district” of Beylikdüzü into a hugely popular politician, winning twice against president Erdoğan who had not lost a single election for a long time.

In the Turkish context, Imamoğlu’s victory may be more significant than a simple mayoral election win. President Erdoğan who was once the mayor of Istanbul himself, famously said that “whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey”. Erdoğan’s regime has been said to have four distinct characteristics; electoral authoritarianism as its electoral system, neo-patrimonialism as its economic system, populism as political strategy, and Islamism as political ideology.[1] Losing big cities in general, and Istanbul in particular, has the potential to affect all four aspects.

Imamoğlu gives hope to people that it is still possible to win and transfer political power through the ballot box – meaning that Turkey’s electoral authoritarian regime is competitive in nature. There is an uneven playing field, but there may still be a slight window of opportunity for the opposition to gain political power through elections, no matter how unfair or unfree they are.

Imamoğlu’s campaign strategy was to reach people in the streets, talk, and listen without grand meetings. All major media outlets are controlled by Erdoğan and they all proved useless against this strategy. Erdoğan’s discourse is premised on the existence of an enemy. His often angry, divisive, and threatening rhetoric was beaten by Imamoğlu’s good natured, hopeful, inclusive, and pluralist approach. He has been backed not only by The Nation Alliance but also the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party/HDP and the conservative Happiness Party/SP. He managed to form a larger alliance to restore Turkish democracy which he called the “Istanbul coalition”. Many people believe that he now has an opportunity to create a viable alternative to Erdoğan’s regime by running Istanbul successfully. He might also prove that it is possible to beat populist, authoritarian politicians in their game.

As for the economic system, opposition wins in big cities including Istanbul means losing one of the biggest sources of patronage for the AKP. Funds and public companies run by mayors have been channels for charitable patronage as well as other types of economic “reward” and “punishment” mechanisms. Under the current poor economic conditions in Turkey, the government has been increasingly short of funds to feed its patron-client relations, especially through charitable patronage.

Campaigning fiercely for big cities, and especially for Istanbul and losing it twice, Erdoğan seems to find it hard to keep his political support intact. This display of political weakness affects his position as the patron of his neo-patrimonial regime, as the patron’s weakness pushes clients to search for other patrons or new positions under the changing conditions.  There are already signs of this happening as former Prime Minister Davutoğlu and former Finance Minister Babacan have resigned from the AKP to form new parties. But the most important client disobedience has yet to come from the judicial elite which meters out punishments for the regime. The rule of law and constitutional rights have long been undermined in Turkey. Many journalists, academics, elected mayors, and members of parliaments have been imprisoned due to their opposition to Erdoğan’s regime.

As Erdoğan’s regime is rapidly losing legitimacy and funds to feed its patronage network, he may try to compensate by increasingly leveraging the judicial system to prosecute opponents. There is already a criminal case filed against the new mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavaş, and another case against Imamoğlu is to be filed. President Erdoğan has alleged that İmamoğlu insulted the governor of Ordu while visiting the town and the governor has declared his determination to file a criminal case, adding that Imamoğlu will lose his office if he is convicted. Erdoğan has also threatened breakaways from his party, saying that “they will pay the price for treachery”.

As for the ideological power of political Islam to support and sustain Erdoğan’s weakening regime, it is highly doubtful that it could replace legitimacy derived from the ballot box or economic performance, or that it could console voters for the lack of charitable patronage. In short, Erdoğan’s political charm is no longer unbeatable – there is a new rival in town charming voters by just being the opposite of everything that Erdoğan is.  

[1] Ihsan Yilmaz & Galib Bashirov (2018) The AKP after 15 years: emergence of Erdoganism in Turkey, Third World Quarterly, 39:9, 1812-1830, DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2018.1447371.

Presidents and term-limits in Africa: a tribute to Robert Elgie

There are three types of academics. Some work hard to publish their ideas, and have an influence through the body of work they leave behind. Others combine this with a zeal for teaching and mentorship, imprinting their ideas and approach on a new generation. A very select few somehow achieve combine this with also setting up new institutions and creating new ways for people to learn and share their ideas.

Robert Elgie, who sadly died earlier this month, belonged in the third category. In addition to publishing his own work – which was always greatly respected – he was a constant source of innovation and creativity. As well as running his own website, the Semi-Presidential One, he created Presidential Power, which has become an incredible resource for academics, journalists, and students. In doing so, Robert didn’t just start a website, he built a community.

Presidential Power has been sustained by an alliance of scholars from across the world who only have one thing in common: we had the good fortune to know Robert. I was particularly lucky in this respect. In addition to being part of the Presidential Power team, he invited me to contribute two chapters to his important book projects – one on presidential term-limits and the other on coalitional presidentialism with my colleagues Paul Chaisty and Tim Power.

That he did so demonstrates another key feature of Robert’s career: his determination to overcome regional boundaries and to take all parts of the globe seriously. Instead of adopting a narrow focus on Europe, Robert had a global interest. A genuine comparativist, he was rare in not only taking African cases seriously and asking for chapters from people like me on countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Zambia – which so often left out of mainstream approaches to political institutions – but also wrote on Africa himself.

This blog is a tribute to Robert. The chapter it is drawn on would not have been written without him.


Encouraged by Robert’s prompting, I set out to explain the fate of term-limits in three African countries: Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. The struggle over the enforcement of presidential term-limits in Africa has received considerable media and scholarly attention. However, while there have been a number of studies about how often term-limits are respected, less attention has been given to the question of under what conditions term-limits are challenged and upheld.

The cases of Kenya, Uganda and Zambia are useful in this regard, because they provide the full range of possible outcomes. While term limits were overturned in Uganda, and respected after a struggle in Zambia, all presidents have respected term limits in Kenya without the need for opposition and civil society mobilization.

These cases are also suitable for comparison because, while they have very different economies, they are all former British colonies and all feature high levels of ethnic diversity. Moreover, all three countries fall within the category of competitive-authoritarian regimes, employ the same combination of direct presidential elections along with a Westminster style legislature, and have held uninterrupted elections since the transition to multipartyism. They therefore allow me to hold a number of important historical and institutional factors – though by no means all – constant, and so make it easier to identify the causal impact of others.

Based on a comparative analysis of these countries, I demonstrate that three of the factors that are most commonly cited in the wider literature – the presence of natural resources, the quality of democracy and the position of the international community – cannot explain the fate of term-limits. While Kenya and Uganda discovered oil very recently, none of the three states considered here was particularly resource rich when presidential term limits first came to be tested – unless one counts Zambia’s copper mines, but these have rarely generated sufficient income to sustain government expenditure.

Similarly, there is no clear relationship between respect for term-limits and international financial support: Kenya was the least aid dependent nation during this period but the only country in which they have never been threatened. The same is true when it comes to while the quality of democracy. While this proves to be an important background factor in all three countries, term limits have come under greater threat in Zambia than in Kenya, despite the fact that both countries featured the same level of democracy in the relevant period.

I therefore investigate alternative structural and contingent factors, and identify two issues that play an important but often overlooked role, namely the extent of organized opposition and the ability of the president to enforce unity within the ruling party. While the importance of international, opposition and civil society resistance has often been noted – for example in accounts of how the OASIS Forum campaigned against President Frederick Chiliba’s unsuccessful attempt to secure a third term in Zambia – the significance of the internal dynamics of the ruling party has often been underestimated.

This oversight has significantly undermined our ability to fully understand the battle over term-limits. For example, in Zambia it was not the OASIS Forum that ultimately put paid to his ambitions, but the fact that Chiluba could not marshal a majority of his own MPs to back his proposals within the National Assembly. The same was true in Nigeria, where President Olesegun Obasanjo might have used the country’s oil wealth to ignore complaints from international donors and stay for a third term, had his plans not been rejected by the Senate. By contrast, figures such as Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, and Paul Kagame in Rwanda, have been able to marshal strong support for their proposals from within the ruling party, smoothing their transformation into presidents for life.

Significantly, while these factors are shaped by the quality of democracy, they are not reducible to it. On the one hand, internal party unity clearly varies at each level of democracy as a result of the size of the party and the ethnic and economic cleavages that it contains. On the other hand, while authoritarian leaders have more tools at their disposal to deal with domestic opposition, it is also true that many of Africa’s less democratic regimes face strong resistance either in the form of political parties, as with the Movement of Democratic Change in Zimbabwe, or rebel groups, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I am grateful to Robert for encouraging me to take on this research, and for starting Presidential Power, which has taught me so much about how presidents govern. He will be sorely missed, but his influence will live on through this website, his writings and the people he inspired.


This chapter was published as ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go? Term-limits, elections, and political change in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia’, In Alexander Baturo and Robert Elgie (eds), The Politics of Presidential Term-limits, Oxford, OUP, 2019.


Remembering Robert Elgie – Scholar, Colleague, Friend

Robert Elgie (1965-2019)

Robert Elgie, our dear friend, colleague, supporter, and founder of the Presidential Power blog, passed away on July 14, 2019. We bid Robert farewell in this memorial post, with testimonials from current and former contributors.

“Sometimes the waiting can seem endless. But be patient and in time everything will turn out right”. Robert’s last post on his Half-Life Music blog is as inspiring in its simplicity as every other piece he ever wrote. His contribution to comparative politics scholarship is enormous, but it was his gift of clear, simple writing that always stood out to me. Even in the quickest of blog posts, Robert was able to pack a breakthrough idea in a single sentence that made more sense than whole chapters written before. Arguably, there are few things more daunting for a PhD student than to have their work read by somebody like him. His “this is not English” scribbles in the margins of the first thesis chapter I handed in were etched in my mind for a long time. Later on, I would never miss an opportunity to take him back to his harsh words, and he would always say that I fully deserved them. No need for sugar-coating then or ever. Undoubtedly, if my writing is any better nowadays, it is because I tried hard to reach (not successfully enough, I’m afraid) the high bar he had set. Sure enough, in his book, the wait never meant sitting idly by until things just happened. It was more about how hard work will eventually turn everything right. It was a great honour to be one of the founding members of the Presidential Power blog – and indeed witness the idea of the collaborative blog forming into his mind. I was simply astonished by the energy he put into making sure that not a day passed by without a new post, that we covered a wide range of regions, came up with new sections often enough, used every possible social media to spread the message… quite simply, the determination with which he made sure that every single piece of a project he ran was fine tuned to perfection, as if it had not been just one of the tens of things he was juggling with at the same time, was out of this world. I will deeply miss Robert’s kindness, wise words, his everyday “less-is-more” examples, and a myriad of other little caring gestures that he seemed to make so effortlessly…

Cristina Bucur

“Robert shared his knowledge, his experiences and his enthusiasm freely, he was a wonderful scholar and treated everybody with a great amount of respect. He will be terribly missed, not only as a scholar but as a mentor and a friend. And, I will never forget his pure joy in discussing a paper: both the big questions – of which he asked plenty –  and the very, very specific details – with his mountain of knowledge.”

Anna Fruhstorfer

“Robert and I first met in late 2013, yet as bloggers on presidential politics had ‘known’ each other ‘virtually’ for at least two years before then. Starting with the creation of the Presidential Power Blog, we were often in weekly contact. After Robert served as the external examiner for my PhD in 2014, emails were no longer limited to discussing aspects of the blog and he became a trusted colleague, resourceful advisor, and one of my most important mentors (only second to my doctoral supervisor). As such, Robert was always empathetic, supportive, and accommodating in my professional and personal struggles as an early career academic. This is also how I got to know him as a scholar. Robert was always curious and had an amazing ability to ask (very) critical questions without stifling enthusiasm or innovative thought. Despite his prestige as a scholar, he was approachable; he was always happy to reach out to others, particularly to junior scholars, for new insights; he did not mind when others disagreed with his work but valued them and their contributions regardless. Robert leaves an impressive scholarly legacy; however, and maybe more importantly so, he also leaves an unparalleled legacy of kindness to others.”

Philipp Köker

“I met Robert at the beginning of my PhD. He was my ‘research design’ lecturer. His classes were extremely clear and inspiring, I learned an awful lot in these months. I also got a lot of encouragement down the line; even if he was a senior faculty member, he was always available to give me clear feedback on my essays and related issues. One year after he asked me to contribute a guest post to ‘Presidential Power blog’ and, immediately after, he invited me to join as a regular contributor. For three years I was part of that project. Sometimes I wonder if Robert had more than 24 hours in a day. No matter what time I sent the blogpost in, it was always edited within a few hours. We all were motivated by the love and passion he put into the project. I will always remember Robert as an inspiring person, extremely competent and approachable at the same time. His premature departure is a loss not only for political science but also for all current and past researchers who had the luck to meet him.”

Chiara Maria Loda

“Robert was an outstanding scholar, friend and colleague. As a scholar of political institutions, he put semi-presidentialism on the academic map and vastly expanded the study of presidential powers, including by creating the Presidential Power blog. As a friend and colleague, Robert was extraordinarily generous with his time and advice, establishing networks across continents and specializations that we have all benefited greatly from. Fifteen years ago, he accepted to work with me on a book project though we had never met, and that became the start of a long friendship and collaboration I will forever be grateful for. His passing is a great loss. Though we will miss him terribly, the impact of Robert’s many scholarly contributions and friendship will live on.”

Sophia Moestrup

“I met Robert Elgie in 2008, when I started my doctoral studies at Dublin City University. I knew that he was a leading academic in comparative politics, and because of this, as a young PhD student who was trying to find his feet in academia, I couldn’t help feeling a bit intimidated by his wealth of knowledge and academic authority.
He was not directly involved in my studies, but I was fortunate enough to meet him in person and to get his advice in several occasions, be it to improve a paper, to understand the functioning of the academic market, or simply to encourage me to develop confidence. He did not receive a better salary for assuming those roles, he did it out of vocation. Many people who knew him or read his work know about his significant contributions to political science, but he was also a kind teacher and mentor who inspired many students like me.
I consider Robert one of my mentors, to whom I am also deeply grateful for taking me into account to participate in his latest projects, such as this blog.”

Juan Muñoz-Portillo

“Robert was the best colleague, a friend who was always ready to support people. In 2012 I was looking for a Mentor for my post-doctoral research project. In fact this was my first program abroad and I was worried. I wrote a letter via e-mail to a number of professors. To my surprise, Robert whom I did not know at all gave me the chance to be my host professor in Dublin. His immeasurable attention and daily support during that visit had a great influence on my career. I was surprised by his approach to professional activities. At the end of the visit, Robert suggested to me that I write a chapter on Georgia for his book, which was a great honor for me. From then on, I was a part of many important projects with Robert’s support and I was very proud to work with him. Finally we met in Oslo, Norway, where he offered me to think about a book on Georgia and gave me recommendations on the book structure with his usual attention. I don’t know of any other scientist who gave this kind of attention and support to young researchers. I will always appreciate his help and kindness, and I am very saddened by the sudden passing of Robert. My sincere condolences are with his family and all his friends.”

Malkhaz Nakashidze

“I had the great fortune to have Professor Robert Elgie as my PhD Supervisor. Beginning a PhD in my forties was a huge challenge, but one that was made infinitely easier thanks to Robert’s unstinting support and guidance. In spite of his innumerable achievements and responsibilities, Robert was never anything less than generous with his time and constructive with his opinions. I learned a great deal from Robert, both personally and professionally, and will be forever grateful that I got to work with him. May he rest in peace.”

Chris O’Connell

“I come to praise Robert, for there is so much about Robert to honour and praise.[1]
I met Robert some 15 years ago, at a three-day workshop and conference at the University of Edinburgh. We used to joke about the fact that our friendship was due in no small part to three-nights of whiskey drinking – almost all on my part, but Robert was always too English to say so – which was, in turn facilitated by the thoughtfulness of our hosts to put us up right next to an all-night pub.
He was a prolific, insightful, deep-thinker, with no fewer than 10 single-authored or co-authored books, 8 edited books, 58 journal articles, and 73 book chapters. So accomplished, dedicated and successful a scholar was Robert that he was inducted to the Royal Irish Academy in 2016.
But Robert was more than that: he was a generous and enthusiastic mentor, supporter, cheer-leader, champion. He founded the Presidential Power Blog, which has become a platform that many early career researchers find handy for information, disseminating research, and networking. So many have flourished with Robert’s help, support, encouragement, and guidance.
But Robert was more than that: he was also worldly. He could talk about soccer, music, food, whiskey, and, of course, politics. I have never seen Robert drink much at all, yet he knew and shared and suggested. And, wise about drinking: for instance, he shared the adage, “grape after grain, never more pain.” Or was that, “grain after grape, never more ache?” And don’t get him started on Thatcher, or May.
Yes, Robert was more than that: he had a great sense of humour. I can always count on him for a wry comment. I remember asking if he’d come through Australia to visit with me, to which he replied drolly: sure, with all the improvements to transportation, it only takes 2-3 weeks by boat now, doesn’t it?
Yes, Robert was remarkable in so many ways. I wish I wasn’t lulled by the complacency of expecting to see him, hear from him, talk to him, write to him, that I forgot how far-flung we are, as academics. Or how isolated we can be, as academics. Or how solitary our work usually is, as academics.
Robert, I will miss you deeply, and for a very long time. May you rest in peace, until we meet up again for whiskey, my dear friend.”

[1] With apologies to Shakespeare, capturing the spirit, if not the wording, here.

Fiona Yap

Sad and untimely passing of Robert Elgie

We are profoundly sad to share news of the sudden passing of our dear friend, colleague, and founding editor of the Presidential Power blog, Professor Robert Elgie. Robert’s kind, gentle, and unstinting generosity as an academic, mentor, and friend will be greatly missed. Our deep condolences are with his family.

Robert’s funeral will take place Tuesday, July 23, in Dublin. More details on the arrangements can be found under this link.

Choosing Their Nominee: The Democrats’ Not So “Invisible” Primary

The invisible primary just became a lot more visible.  

On the nights of June 26th and 27th, 20 of the 25 announced candidates for the Democrat presidential nomination took the stage in Miami – 10 candidates each night – in the first head-to-head debates of the 2019-20 election season. The twenty were chosen based on drawing at least 1% support in three polls or by raising money from at least 65,000 unique donors. Three more sets of debates are scheduled for late July, September and October.  These are perhaps the most important campaign events taking place during what political scientists dub the “invisible primary” – the period prior to the start of the actual delegate selection process in next February’s Iowa caucuses.  For party activists, the debates provide an opportunity to gauge candidates’ policy positions and their electoral viability. The goal is to select a candidate who most represents the party’s ideological center-of-gravity while generating enough support to win the general election. Based in part on these judgments, the activists will then use endorsements, financial contributions and other signaling devices to begin culling candidates from the race even before public voting begins.  

The debates are a reminder, however, that the media also plays an important and somewhat independent role in this winnowing process.  And its interest does not fully coincide with that of party activists.  As a for-profit industry, the media focuses much more on attracting a large audience – a prerequisite for generating advertising revenue.  To do so, its coverage tends to emphasize controversy, and to center on candidate personalities and horse race strategy as opposed to substantive policy discussion.

Coverage of the first two Democrat debates highlight the media’s independent role during the invisible primary.  One indication is the relative media focus on the second of the two debates. Due to the luck of the draw, most of the top-tier candidates, including the purported front-runner former Vice President Joe Biden, senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, were in the second debate.  This left Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with senators Corey Booker and Amy Klobuchar, as the main attractions during the first debate.  Not surprisingly, the second debate attracted greater media attention and, as a consequence, generated higher ratings, with nearly 18.1 million viewers tuning in – a number that broke the record for the biggest television audience for a Democratic primary debate – compared to about 15 million who watched the first debate.  This meant that although Warren was judged by most commentators to have performed well, she does not appear to have generated much if any momentum from her debate performance.  Nor did others, including Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, both of whom were also viewed as having had a strong performances during the first debate.  Instead, it was the second debate that seems to have had the bigger impact on the race, at least as gauged by media commentary and early polling.

The debate format and the questions asked by moderators, and to whom, also showed the media’s focus on the horse race and its role handicapping the field in ways that favored some candidates over others.  Candidates were only allowed 60 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds to respond to follow-ups, which meant they might get at most 10 minutes of talking time during a two-hour debate.  This left little time for substantive discussion, and instead placed a premium on candidates’ ability to generate memorable sound bites. Indeed, on some key issues, such as whether they supported providing health care to undocumented immigrants, candidates were simply asked to raise their hand rather than to explain their positions. Not surprisingly, on both nights those candidates who entered the night near the top of the polls ended up getting the most speaking time.  To be sure, the differences were slight, often measured in minutes or less, but with 10 candidates vying to get their message across, even slight differences in speaking time can be significant.  This left second-tier candidates forced to cut into the conversation in order to be heard. As a consequence there were frequent moments of candidates talking over each other. 

Equally important, however, is how the media conducted its debate post-mortem. By focusing on a specific exchanges between candidates, or framing the debate through a specific lens, media coverage can influence perceptions regarding winners and losers in ways that do not necessarily coincide with party interests, as Republican activists learned to their dismay in 2016 when media coverage of Donald Trump’s debate performances helped solidify his lead in the polls.  Although the Democrat field lacks a candidate with Trump’s capacity to stir an audience, the post-debate coverage does appear to have benefited some candidates while hurting others, at least marginally.  Harris, in particular, seems to have gained the most due largely to the media replaying her exchange with Biden regarding his opposition during the 1970’s to federally-mandated forced busing to integrate public schools.  Harris sought to personalize the issue, and to paint Biden as out-of-touch on civil rights, by noting that she was bused as part of the second class to integrate her public school. Biden seemed to respond defensively, arguing that he supported busing as a local choice, but not as a federal mandate. Most media accounts of the second debate highlighted that exchange as the lead story – a choice that worked in Harris’ favor, even though in the weeks after the debate it became clear that Harris’ stance on busing was, in fact, quite similar to Biden’s. By then, however, the media had already cast the debate as a victory for Harris, and she received an 8% boost in the aggregate polls, pushing her to 15% support and in a virtual tie with Sanders and Warren for second place behind Biden. Most of Harris’ surge, moreover, appears to have come at Biden’s expense; his post-debate aggregate polling numbers dropped six points down to 26%.

It bears repeating that this was one set of debates, and that it is still early in the nominating race.  The upcoming debates will undoubtedly generate more media-defined moments that may further reshuffle the top half of the field.  However, most of the current front-runners have the resources to make it to Iowa, no matter what happens in the debates.  For second tier candidates, on the other hand, the prospects of surviving the invisible primary are far less certain.  As of today 14 candidates appear to have cleared the threshold for the July debates, which leaves 11 candidates jockeying for the final six debate slots.  Moreover, for the September and October debates, the bar to get on the debate stage increases to 2 percent in four qualifying polls and 130,000 unique donors, which may further winnow the field. Whether these second-tier candidates participate in debates or not, history teaches that the media’s focus on the horserace and its desire for a competitive nominating contest will lead them to signal that these candidates are not electorally viable.  That negative coverage will likely contribute to their dropping out of the race even before voting begins, as campaign resources begin to dry up.

Potential debate flash points going forward include candidates’ positions on health care, immigration, trade policy and foreign policy.  In handicapping the field, two cleavages stand out.  One is between candidates such as Biden, Klobuchar and Gillibrand who emphasize their relative pragmatism and ability to defeat Trump versus the more progressive firebrands like Warren, Sanders and Harris who believe the Democrat voters have moved left and will embrace a more left-leaning candidate. A second divide is generational, pitting the older candidates including Biden, Warren and Sanders against a younger cohort who are seeking support from millennial voters. It remains to be seen which side of these divides will prove more popular, with whom – and how the media will judge the results.

Lithuania’s new president to be sworn in on July 12, 2019

This is a guest post by Gerda Jakštaitė, Lecturer at Vytautas Magnus University and Researcher at General Jonas Zemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania

On July 12th, Gitanas Nausėda will be sworn into office as president of the Republic of Lithuania.  Nausėda, who is 55, is a former chief economist at SEB bank. He defeated former Finance Minister Ingrida Šimonytė with 67% of votes in the second round of the presidential election. In his first address to the nation, on the evening election results were announced, Mr Nausėda promised that “from this day forward things will be different.”

Who is Gitanas Nausėda?

Lithuania‘s incoming president is a long-time chief economist of SEB bank, and an associate professor at the International Business School at Vilnius University. He has a degree in economics and holds a PhD in social sciences. He previously worked at the Competition Council of the Republic of Lithuania and at the Bank of Lithuania. During the presidential election campaign, Nausėda declared his intention to unite Lithuania‘s political parties and increase political cohesion, promote the openness of the presidential institution, and seek to establish a welfare state. Nevertheless, the presidential election campaign and Nausėda‘s public pronouncements tell us little of his political character and personality.

During the presidential election campaign, Mr Nausėda demonstrated openness, participated in debates, visited Lithuania‘s regions and probably intended to distance himself from President Dalia Grybauskaitė‘s style of communication. On the other hand, it has been difficult to pinpoint the ideology and main political principles that Mr Nausėda represents. Some analysts (such as Šarūnas Liekis) have referred to Gitanas Nausėda as a candidate who lacks character and is supported by business interest groups.

The composition of the president‘s team does not shed much further light on the new president‘s political program. The formation of the president‘s team is still underway and its membership remains unclear.  Although the new president has not been communicative about his new advisors, he has made it clear that he prefers professionals from academia and the diplomatic corps to political party members. So far, only a couple of names are known: Aistis Zabarauskas, who was responsible for communication during Nausėdas‘ election campaign, and Povilas Mačiulis, a former vice mayor of the Kaunas city municipality. Among potential foreign policy advisors, the name of Linas Kojala, director of Eastern Europe Studies Center, a PhD student at Vilnius University, was mentioned, but Mr Kojala declined the offer. Under circumstances such as these, when a president does not have extensive political experience, his choice of domestic and foreign policy advisors might give a strong indication of his future politics, but in this case Lithuanians will have to wait a bit longer.

Why did Gitanas Nausėda win the presidential election?

When Gitanas Nausėda announced his decision to run for president in the autumn of 2018, some analysts (Kęstutis Girnius, for instance) were sceptical about his chances to win the election as an independent, nonpartisan candidate without experience in politics. However, during the presidential campaign, public opinion polls (SPINTER, Baltijos tyrimai, Vilmorus) constantly mentioned Mr Nausėda as one of the top presidential candidates.

Several factors could have contributed to Nausėda‘s victory in the presidential election. First may actually have been the fact that he ran as an independent, nonpartisan candidate. Some analysts claim that in Lithuania‘s presidential election many people voted not for Gitanas Nausėda, but against Ingrida Šimonytė who was supported by the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats. During the presidential election campaign, Gitanas Nausėda consistently highlighted his independence from any political party. This proved to be a wise strategy since Lithuanians do not trust political parties. Public polls demonstrate that political parties are the least trusted political institution in Lithuania: according to the latest polls (Vilmorus: June 2019), only 6.2% of Lithuanians trust political parties (in comparison, 58.2% of Lithuanians trust the presidential institution). Second, Nausėda‘s opponent‘s election campaign was not aggressive enough: under criticism for poor management of the 2008 financial crisis (she was Finance minister back then), Ingrida Šimonytė chose to talk about future plans instead of effectively countering criticism of her past performance. Third, for some of the voters Gitanas Nausėda embodied an example of the classical ideal family, in contrast to his opponent and current president Dalia Grybauskaitė. Finally, Lithuania‘s 2019 presidential election once again shows that the electorate tends to vote for „hope“ and new faces in politics.

How might Nausėda‘s foreign policy look like?

So far, it seems that the new president will follow up on his earlier expressed foreign policy ideas. It is already known that for the first official state visit the new president of Lithuania will continue a tradition started by Valdas Adamkus (interrupted by D. Grybauskaitė) by going to Poland (the visit is scheduled for 16 July). Soon after the election, Mr Nausėda also reaffirmed his intention to maintain the current foreign policy line towards Russia, while also claiming that he will aim to be more diplomatic. The current minister of foreign affairs, Linas Linkevičius, states that there will not be any strategic changes in Lithuania‘s foreign policy.

During the presidential election campaign, Mr. Nausėda expressed support for Lithuania‘s status quo policy and pro-Western orientation based on membership in NATO and the European Union: he claimed to perceive the United States as a security guarantor and one of the most important allies of Lithuania; emphasized the importance of a value-based foreign policy and a strict position towards Russia; underscored the need for stronger cooperation with Poland; and stressed the need for closer cooperation with Latvia and Estonia, and for regular meetings with Baltic leaders.

Some analysts claim that in the 2019 presidential election the Lithuanian electorate demonstrated its political maturity. Indeed, Lithuanians gave their support for the candidates with a declared pro-EU and pro-NATO orientation. On the other hand, the electorate voted in the second round for the candidate who does not have any political experience. Thus, Lithuania‘s presidential election results still confirm a general trend to vote for new faces in politics.

Romania: the strategic use of referendums. Power to the people (later)!

by Veronica Anghel, Johns Hopkins University – SAIS Europe and Institute for Central Europe, Vienna

Spontaneous anti-government protest followed the result of EU elections and referendum on justice  under the eye of the gendarmerie. Bucharest has witnessed several large scale  protests that resulted in clashes with police forces  ©Marius Tudor

In broad strokes, we may identify the purpose of referendums as a useful tool to enhance democracy and citizen participation in policy outcome ( e.g. Bowler et al. 2007) or a populist weapon to mobilize supporters for electoral gains (e.g.Nemčok and Spáč 2019). Considering the increase of the use of referendums during the past decades (Qvortrup 2018), we are further motivated to better understand elite incentives to resort to this tool. In this text, I introduce the case of Romania as a study into the strategic use of this electoral institution by the executive branch– whether government or presidency. The Romanian case comes in support of the latter strand of scholarship and emphasizes how a referendum reveals its main use for the initiating actors to spread their message and gain popularity while the actual act of popular vote is irrelevant and has rather limited ability to shape policy outcome.  

During the past legislative year (2018 – 2019), the tool of referendum was used twice. In October 2018, Romanians voted to narrow the constitutional definition of family from a ‘marriage based on the union of spouses’ to ‘marriage between man and woman’. The governing Social Democrat Party (PSD) and coalition partner Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) organised the referendum faced with a petition in favour of the constitutional change signed by 3 million citizens and supported by the Orthodox Church. Turn-out did not reach the 30% quorum needed. From the 21,1% of voters who turned –out for the referendum, over 90% supported the change.  This figure represents about 3,5 million Romanians. The referendum was boycotted by the opposition in a display of anti-government protest. This strategy was less as a show of solidarity with the human rights demands of the LGBTQ community than an oppositional stance.  President Klaus Iohannis, the most vocal contender of the government, nevertheless turned out to vote in the referendum. In a largely conservative country, it is of little worth to antagonise potential voters.   (see European Values Study and The Romanian Group for the Study of Social Values for useful data-bases). In this case, the motivation to organise the referendum lacked on all political sides, but mitigating potential loses not to have it became paramount.

The lack of interest in this issue was evident from the start. The PSD led cabinet set up a helpful legal context for the referendum to pass (lower threshold, two day voting process) and counted on the conservative values of the electorate and the involvement of the Orthodox Church to take effect. However, in a country where voter turn-out has constantly decreased in the last 30 years – averaging 40% – main parties’ ability to mobilise their active electorate is key for any election outcome. This requires willingness to invest significant financial and human resources and see potential gains out of such a feat. The dominant PSD calculated a lower investment return for this referendum and had no incentives for party activism compared to their usual display of organisational force during local and legislative elections. However, not organising it was a risk the government was not willing to take. The Orthodox Church has always served as an ally for the PSD. As in many Eastern European countries, politics and religion have an interdependent relationship. Incumbent politicians who associated their image with the church benefit from public acclaim and a positive standing with the well organised ecclesiastical network. The referendum had no actual effects over policy outcome and it did not lead to greater debate regarding same-sex marriage.

The second referendum was triggered by President Klaus Iohannis and organised on May 26th together with elections for the European Parliament. According to the Romanian semi-presidential constitutional system, the president has little formal powers to constrain the government or the parliament (see a previous blog post). Mr. Iohannis decided to use one of his prerogatives in response to what he considered ‘an assault through emergency ordinances on the justice system’ led by the PSD – ALDE governing coalition. In a country which witnessed massive anti-corruption and anti-justice reform protests, all association with this issue is electorally beneficial.  

Citizens were asked two yes/no questions: whether they agree to prohibit granting amnesty and pardons for sentences of corruption and whether they agree to outlaw issuing emergency ordinances regulating crimes, punishments and the reorganization of the judiciary. The results showed great support in favour of limitations to government led justice reform. Despite the complexity of the questions, their actual meaning was less debated. The underlying message was rather understood as a separation between those in favour of ‘tough justice’ vs. ‘lenience for corruption’. The referendum results are thus mostly symbolic. It is highly unlikely to see written into law the outcome of the vote.  They reconfirm the anti-corruption sentiment of Romanians who in recent years have often mobilized in protest to stop the governing elite from delivering self-serving justice reforms. 

The electoral gains of anti-government parties were far greater. With six month to go before the presidential elections in December 2019, front-runner and incumbent Klaus Iohannis benefited from an early electoral platform. Calling for this referendum gave him the opportunity to participate in rallies for the EU elections organised by his party, the National Liberal Party (PNL), despite the constitutional ban for the president to engage in partisan politics. The ‘anti-corruption’ rhetoric primarily benefited newcomer Save Romania Union (USR) – PLUS 2020 Alliance and their leader and presidential hopeful Dacian Ciolos. USR – PLUS received 22% of the vote, a significant feat for a new comer. Mr. Ciolos is now also in the run for the same anti-government votes of enraged citizens. Similar to Mr. Iohannis, he will also employ an anti-corruption, anti-establishment strategy in the upcoming elections.


In the first case, the exercise of the referendum was a way to fend off unwanted criticism and mostly employed a ‘nothing to lose strategy’. It failed as a result of lack of party mobilization in its favour, despite a favourable social values milieu. The second referendum benefited from heavy mobilisation on a salient issue. Regardless of the technicality of the questions, the mobilising message was perceived. Electoral gains were at the core of both of these decisions, while neither referendum will shape policy outcomes.

Guinea headed towards controversial constitutional change

It appears to be official. For months rumors have been swirling that President Alpha Condé was planning a constitutional referendum to adopt a new constitution and by the same token remove presidential term limits. Condé, who is 81 years old, is currently serving his second five-year term which will end next year. According to Guinea’s 2010 constitution, “no one may exercise more than two presidential mandates, consecutive or not.” The constitution also provides that “the number and the duration of the mandates of the President of the Republic may not be made the object of a revision.” So, logically, the only means of amending the presidential term limits is through the adoption of a brand new constitution.

On June 19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guinea reportedly issued a note to the country’s diplomatic representations across the world, confirming the government’s intention of submitting a new constitution to a referendum, and laying out the reasons for this initiative. The official reasons for the adoption of a new constitution include among others:

  • That the 2010 constitution was elaborated and adopted by a transitional council and not submitted to a popular vote;
  • That the roles and responsibilities between the president and prime minister are not clearly defined in the existing fundamental text;
  • The cumulatively short duration of legislative sessions during the year;
  • The need to reformulate the articles governing the constitutional court; and
  • The absence of a more elaborate bill of rights, including environmental, defense and women’s and children’s rights.

Interestingly, the note does not make reference to changing presidential term limits. However, revising term limits for the incumbent president is among the changes supported by Conde’s ruling RPG which include the following:

  • Replacing the prime minister with a vice-president;
  • Replacing the existing economic and social council with a senate;
  • Increasing the number of legislators and allowing for independent candidates;
  • Facilitating greater gender equity in elected positions;
  • Reducing the minimum age requirement for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 years of age; and
  • Allowing the incumbent president to run again.

Guinea’s opposition parties are, not surprisingly, less than thrilled with plans to change the constitution and allow President Condé to run for a third term. A coalition of opposition parties, civil society groups and trade unions have come together to form the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), in an effort designed to counter initiatives to change the constitution.

In the context of West Africa where countries have been gradually consolidating mechanisms for the peaceful transfer of executive power, notably through presidential term limits, Guinea would be rowing against the tide. Currently, President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo is the only president serving more that two terms in the subregion. Moreover, Togo just recently reintroduced presidential term limits – though they will not apply retroactively to the sitting president. In The Gambia, ongoing debates on constitutional reform are centered on entrenching, not eliminating presidential term limits. Even in Mauritania, not otherwise known for a stellar democratic record, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is stepping down at the end of his second presidential term, following presidential elections held on June 22.

Guinea is headed towards turbulent times, with presidential elections on the horizon for October 2020. Given the country’s history of violent demonstrations, significant loss of life is to be feared should the referendum to change the constitution proceed. Even if term limits are not revised, the adoption of a new constitution can reset the term limit counter, as we saw President Abdoulaye Wade argue in Senegal when he ran for a third term in 2012. Tensions in Guinea over the constitutional change debate have already boiled over with deadly consequences. At least one person was killed in clashes between police and demonstrators against a third term in the south-eastern city of N’Zerekoré earlier this month. As the announcement of the constitutional referendum becomes official, more violence is likely to follow.