Category Archives: Caribbean

Fernando Meireles – Latin American presidents and their oversized government coalitions

This is a guest post by Fernando Meireles, Ph.D candidate in Political Science at Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil). E-mail: fmeireles@ufmg.br

In many countries, presidents have a difficult time governing because their parties lack a legislative majority. In fact, because of the combination of separate elections for executive and legislative branches with multiparty systems, this situation is far from uncommon: during the last two decades in all 18 Latin American countries with presidential systems, only 26% of the time has the president’s party had a majority in the lower house. Due to this constraint, as a vast amount of research now highlights, minority presidents usually form multiparty government coalitions by including other parties in their cabinets. Again, only four Latin American presidential countries in the last twenty years were not governed by a multiparty coalition at some point since the 1980s.

However, the need to craft a legislative majority alone does not explain why presidents frequently include more parties in their governments than necessary to obtain a minimum winning coalition – forming what I call an oversized government coalition. The distribution of this type of coalition in Latin America is shown in the graph below. As can be seen, it is not a rare phenomenon.

If government coalitions are costly to maintain, as presidents have to keep tabs on their coalition partners to ensure they are not exploiting their portfolios to their own advantage – not to mention the fact that by splitting spoils and resources between coalition partners, the president’s own party is worse off – then why are these oversized coalitions prevalent in some Latin American countries?

In a recent article in Brazilian Political Science Review, I tackled this puzzle by analyzing the emergence of oversized government coalitions in all 18 presidential countries in Latin America[1], followed by a case study focusing on Brazil, spanning from 1979 to 2012. To this end, I gathered data on cabinet composition[2] from several sources to calculate the size of each government coalition in the sample: if a coalition had at least one party that could be removed without hampering the majority status of the government in the lower house in a given year, I classified it as an oversized coalition.

Specifically, I examined three main factors that, according to previous research, should incentivize presidents to include more parties in their coalitions than necessary to ensure majority support: 1) the motivation party leaders have to maximize votes, which would make joining the government attractive to opposition parties (vote-seeking); 2) the motivation presidents have to avoid coalition defections to implement their policy agendas (policy-seeking); and 3) the institutional context, considering the effects of bicameralism, qualified majority rules, and party system format on government coalition size.

The results support some of the hypothesis suggested by the literature. First, presidents are more prone to form oversized coalitions at the beginning of their terms, which shows that the proximity to the election affects Latin American presidents’ decision to form, and opposition parties to accept being part of, large coalitions – as others studies argue, this is mainly due to parties defecting from a coalition to present themselves as opposition when elections are approaching. Second, party fragmentation also has a positive effect on the emergence of oversized coalitions, consistent with the hypothesis that presidents might include additional parties in their coalitions anticipating legislative defections. Yet on the other hand, presidential approval, party discipline, and ideological polarization do not have the same positive effects on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

The factor that has the most impact on the occurrence of oversized coalitions, however, is the legislative powers of the president. As the literature points out, legislative decrees and urgency bills could be used by skilled presidents to coordinate their coalitions, facilitating horizontal bargaining between coalition partners. The comparative results show that this is the case in Latin America: the difference in the predicted probability of a president with maximum legislative powers in the sample forming an oversized coalition and another with minimum powers is about 32 percent points.

By exploring the Brazilian case in more depth, I also found that bicameralism dynamics and qualified majority rules impact the emergence of oversized coalitions. With two chambers elected through different electoral rules, parties in Brazil are often unable to secure the same seat share in both houses; to make things worse for presidents, party switching is still widespread in the country. In this context, as my results uncovered, differences in the number of seats controlled by the government in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate positively affect the emergence of oversized coalitions. Finally, as some bills require supermajorities to be approved, such as constitutional amendments, reformist presidents also tend to form and maintain larger coalitions: the maximum value in this variable predicts increases by up to 10 percentage points on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

Taken together, these results show a more nuanced picture of why and how presidents form multiparty government coalitions in Latin America: often, obtaining a legislative majority is not enough to implement their legislative agendas, and so they might resort to a complementary strategy: to form larger coalitions. And presidents with greater legislative power, at the beginning of their terms or facing fragmented party systems, are in the best position to pursue such a strategy. In this way, both electoral and programmatic factors, as well as the institutional context, become key to understand variations in the size and the composition of government coalitions in presidential countries.

Notes

[1] These countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

[2] The criteria employed to identify a government coalition is the party affiliation of the ministers of the principal ministerial portfolios in each country – taking into account that ministers are not always recruited due to their connections or their congressional influence, and that in some cases they are not recognized by their parties as legitimate representatives of the same.

Haiti – The end of the transition

After a year of crisis and uncertainty, Jovenel Moise was sworn in as the 58th president of Haiti on February 7. The ceremony marks the end of the transition period that began on the same date last year with the departure of President Martelly. In a stunning reversal of fortunes, his party (the PHTK) went from being tossed out of power to now securing the control of the two branches of government: the Legislative (both chambers) and the Executive. Elections that were expected to mark the burial of the legacy of PHTK’s politicians turned out to be ones that vindicated the previous administration. In this post, we point out some obstacles that might lie ahead of the new government, despite the triumphal appearance of the last few days.

Despite having won at the first round of the election by a healthy margin (55.6% versus 19.5% for his nearest competitor) and which should give President Moise some much needed room in which to maneuver, certain structural weaknesses might prevent him from benefiting from his seeming popularity. The truth of the matter is that he has won by default, with little support of the elegible voters, with an opposition that is already questioning his legitimacy, and an accusation of money laundering pending in the judicial system.

Table I shows the level of participation in the last presidential election. On average, only 18% of citizens went to the polls. That average is lower in two key Departments, Ouest and Artibonite, where most voters are concentrated (54% of the total voters). These two regions are also known as the two most active areas for protests and political demonstrations. In fact, the mobilization against Martelly was mostly confined to Port-au-Prince, the capital and the most important city in the Ouest.

Table I. Participation in the elections of November 2016, by Department

Department # elegible citizens # of votes cast Turnout (%)
Ouest 2,407,133 361,496 15,01
Sud-Est 317,884 72,037 22,6
Nord 573,179 122,355 21,3
Nord-Est 230,734 53,051 23
Artibonite 760,153 129,831 17,07
Centre 392,791 81,425 20,7
Sud 444,955 82,043 18,4
Grande-Anse 241,974 54,916 22,6
Nord-Ouest 308,988 58,030 18,7
Nippes 193,659 47,655 24,6
Total 5,871,450 1,062,839 18,1

Jude Célestin, Moise Jean Charles, and Maryse Narcisse (who together won 39.6% of the votes) used the courts to challenge the electoral results. After the verification of the results, the Electoral Council (CEP) confirmed the election of Jovenel Moise. However, supporters of all three former candidates took to the street to contest the decision. In the end, they failed to generate widespread protests against the CEP’s decision. Nonetheless, they have declared the election of Moise illegitimate and have vowed to oppose his government by any means. So far, they have avoided any form of contact with the president elect (and since February 7 the president) and decided not to participate in his inauguration ceremony.

If recent history can serve as a blue print for what might come in the future, it is worth remembering that the allegations against the legitimacy of a president has been used in the past for waging permanent protests against the incumbent administration. In the case of President Aristide in 2004, these protests led lead to his premature departure. In other cases, chronic instability was the result.

As president elect, Jovene Moise has been forced to declare before an investigating judge that, as an entrepreneur, he might have commited the crime of money laundering. The accusations were floated during the electoral campaign in a report from the Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (UCREF), which is responsible for investigating financial fraud in Haiti. Moise denied the accusations and his allies argue that they were orchestrated by the government to discredit their candidate. Independently of the veracity of the allegations, the fact is that the president has taken office and the judge has not yet completed the investigation. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that the accusations could come back to haunt the president. If the judge decides not to proceed any further, the opposition will denounce the role of the judicial system and if the decision is to indict the president, the next new political crisis will be on the horizon.

In a nutshell, the inauguration of Jovenel Moise as the 58th president of Haiti means that the transition is now complete. Power has changed hands peacefully and a president and legislators chosen in the polls are in charge of the country. In contrast to his predecessor, the new president can count on his party and allies to use their majority in both chambers to take swift actions to redress the economy and make important changes in the lives of the citizens. But, as we have seen in this post, many challenges lied ahead. The legitimacy won from the polls will not suffice to govern.

Suriname – Defying the President, Suriname’s Military Court Decides to Continue Murder Trial Against Bouterse

Last Monday (30 January), Suriname’s military court – the Krijgsraad – decided to continue with the murder trial against President Bouterse. The President of Suriname faces criminal charges for his involvement in the 1982 ‘December murders’, as part of which fifteen political opponents of his military regime were killed in Fort Zeelandia, Bouterse’s headquarters. The trial against Bouterse, who between 1980 and 1988 ruled Suriname as a military dictator, started already in 2007. However, in the 2010 elections Bouterse and his NDP party claimed a resounding victory at the polls, after which the former dictator was once again installed as Suriname’s president. Since then, there has been a continuous tug of war between the president and the courts. Bouterse’s party first modified the amnesty law in an attempt to adjourn the trial, but the court considered this to be illegitimate interference in an ongoing process. Subsequently, Bouterse instructed the public prosecutor to halt the process in the interest of state security. After first postponing the trial, judge Cynthia Valstein-Montnor this week decided to continue with the trial, thereby not complying with the public prosecutor’s request. The judge summoned the prosecutor to start his address and propose a punishment straightaway, but his request for adjournment until Thursday 9 February was approved.

The relatives of the victims of 1982 are relieved about the court’s decision, and are optimistic about the likelihood that Bouterse will be convicted. However, many people in Suriname fear that the president will not quietly undergo the court’s verdict, and the lawyer of the victims’ families warned that he might now declare a state of emergency in order to sideline the military court. While praising the perseverance of the Krijgsraad and cherishing the court’s decision as a victory for the rule of law in Suriname, the lawyer expressed deep worries about the tensions surrounding the process and the political pressure on the judiciary, which was accused of compromising state security and conspiring with the president’s foreign enemies. Bouterse’s lawyer, on the other hand, argued that nobody in Suriname cares about these murders anymore, since they occurred thirty-five years ago. He claimed that a continuation of the trial would needlessly upset Suriname’s society and undermine the country’s fragile stability, and emphasized that the government’s order to adjourn the trial was fully in line with the Surinamese constitution, and should therefore be respected by the court.

The new developments in the murder trial against Bouterse cannot be regarded in isolation from broader developments in Surinamese society. While the country’s economic prospects appeared to be excellent not more than five years ago, at present Suriname faces a severe economic crisis, and according to the IMF the country’s economy contracted by a staggering 9 per cent in 2016. This economic downturn unquestionably damages Bouterse’s popularity: while the president enjoyed widespread support when he was voted into office in 2010, the deep recession has made him increasingly unpopular, especially because most of the NDP’s lavish campaign promises remain unfulfilled. In turn, while it may be accurate that most younger people do not care much about the 1982 murders, their increasing dissatisfaction with the president now appears to reinforce popular support for the murder trial.

Haiti – The vindication of Michel Martelly

On November 20 Haiti held presidential and parliamentary elections. The preliminary results indicate that the candidate of the PHTK party, Jovenel Moise, has won enough votes to secure the presidency in the first round of the elections. The party has also won, or is in good position to control, the majority of the senate and a healthy plurality of deputies. These results represent a very important departure from the situation a few months ago.

On February 7 Michel Joseph Martelly was forced to leave power after a constellation of opponents, through massive demonstrations on the streets, successfully discredited the electoral results that placed the now winner, Jovenel Moise, in ballotage. On that occasion Moise won a mere 33% of the votes ahead of Jude Célestin, with 25% percent. At that time, the opposition took power. Jocelerme Privert, a senator from the opposition, was sworn in as interim president. Ten months later, what appeared to be an opportunity for the opposition to oust the Martelly regime has become the most important vindication of the ex-president and his party.

What went wrong for the opposition? How was Jovenel Moise finally able to win? This post analyzes briefly the political situation that led to the triumph of the Pro-Martelly camp. Two elements stands out in explaining the results: the fragmentation of the opposition and the massive investment of the economic elites in Jovenel Moise. 

The designation of Privert to the interim Presidency and his subsequent decision not to honor the deal to give the office of the Prime Minister to an ally of the Martelly Camp, had a double effect on the political actors. On the one hand, the PHTK party and its allies quickly coalesced around the candidacy of Jovenel Moise. The amount of money they invested in the elections is a good indicator of their commitment. We do not have exact information about the level of spending, but all observers recognize that the PHTK heavily outspent all of their opponents. The endless resources available were in full display during the weeks after the powerful category 4 storm that ripped through Haiti on October 4 and forced the cancellation of the election previously set for October 20. All of the candidates used the emergency to manipulate the vote from the most affected regions by handing out goods to them. Yet Jovenel Moise was the one that spent most heavily. Evidence shows that his investment in the Departments most affected by the storm was rewardedAlthough Moise dominated in all regions, he especially outperformed his rivals in these regions. According to the preliminary results, outside the Northern regions where the candidate has been always very strong, he performed relatively well in the South, the Nippes and Grand Anse, the regions devastated by the storm.

As regards the opponents of Jovenel Moise, the popular front they created and that successfuly forced the departure of Martelly did not endure in the face of the real possibility that they might win the elections. With Martelly ousted and delegitimized, they entirely underestimated his protégé. Instead of using the new situation to campaign, like Moise was doing all through the transition period, they spent their time trying to influence and gain control over the new government. In the end, Jovenel Moise was able to use successfully all the resources that the economic elites were putting at his disposition. These facts explain in some measure the electoral results.

But can we expect a period of political stability after the elections? The answer, again, is not a definitive yes. It will depend on the ability of the new president to navigate the complicated political, economic and social situation. On one hand, it is worth pointing out that only 21% of the electorate went to the poll. On the other, the most important candidates are already protesting the results, both on the streets and before the Electoral Council (CEP). Three out of the 9 members of the CEP did not sign the preliminary results. The evolution of the situation in the next days will tell us what kind of 2017 Haiti will face politically.

Johannes Freudenreich – The Formation of Cabinet Coalitions in Presidential Systems

This is a guest post by Johannes Freudenreich, Postdoctoral research fellow at the Geschwister-Scholl-Institut für Politikwissenschaft at the University of Munich. It is based on an recent article in Latin American Politics and Society

In the beginning of the 21st century, prospects of Latin American presidential democracies were good. The dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s had vanished, economies were constantly growing, and comprehensive social welfare programs were implemented. Many political scientists link these successes to the ability of Latin American presidents to form, maintain and manage cabinet coalitions (Cheibub 2007). The differences between presidential and parliamentary systems of government seemed to have become rather marginal. Both presidents and prime ministers achieved legislative majorities by forming broad cabinet coalitions and critics of the presidential form of democracy, such as Juan Linz (1994), seemed to be proven wrong. However, soon presidential impeachments became the new pattern of political instability in the region (Pérez Liñan 2007). Cabinet reshuffling remains constantly high and broad corruption schemes, directly linked to coalition politics, have been disclosed, such as the Mensalão Scandal in Brazil, where the ruling party of President Lula da Silva used illegal side payments to secure the legislative support of members of the ruling coalition.

My recent article in Latin American Politics and Society takes a systematic look at the formation of cabinet coalitions in presidential systems over the past 25 years. It analyzes the extent to which presidents in 13 Latin American countries have formed coalitions that increase their law-making capabilities, and whether presidents form coalitions tailored to find majorities in Congress especially when presidents have low independent influence over policy based on their institutional law-making powers.

The study complements the perspective that cabinet coalitions are largely an instrument for finding legislative majorities with the idea that presidents use cabinet posts to honor pre-electoral support. The reason is the following: presidential elections provide strong incentives for electoral coordination because they tend to favor two-candidate competition. In a multi-party setting, this means that parties have incentives to form pre-electoral coalitions to present joint presidential candidates. When negotiating pre-electoral pacts, parties are likely to agree on how to share the benefits of winning including cabinet posts. After the election, presidents find it difficult to abandon these agreements as they need the trust and support of other parties within and outside of their coalition during their presidential term. Thus, it is expected that cabinet coalitions are likely to be based on the electoral team of presidents and that other legislative parties are invited to join the cabinet only additionally to parties of the existing pre-electoral coalition.

The study further argues that parties attractive as pre-electoral coalition partners are not necessarily the ones that would achieve cabinet participation if the negotiations of cabinet posts were an unconstrained post-electoral process. For example, in a one-dimensional policy space, extreme parties, parties more extreme than the president to the median legislator, are relatively unimportant for legislative decisions and thus unlikely to be included in the cabinet for legislative reasons. In a presidential race, however, extreme parties can provide valuable votes and campaign resources and therefore have far stronger blackmailing power. Furthermore, presidential contests produce a strong antagonism between the president and the parties of the president’s electoral rivals. Since the president’s survival in office is not contingent on the support of other parties in parliament, parties that present a strong presidential candidate are likely to be excluded from the cabinet, even if their inclusion is rational from a lawmaking perspective. It is therefore expected that the party of the runner-up is generally excluded from the presidential cabinet and that the overall explanatory power of variables of legislative bargaining increases once one controls for the effects of pre-electoral coalition formation and competition.

The study empirically evaluates this argumentation on the basis of so-called conditional logit models, presenting a new empirical strategy to analyze cabinet formation under this type of regime. The tests are conducted on a new dataset of 107 democratic cabinets in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Based on the new method and data, this study presents the most comprehensive test yet of the determinants of the partisan composition of presidential cabinets.

The most note-worthy empirical results are:

First, presidents try to form majority coalitions, but it is the upper house majority not the lower house majority which makes cabinet coalitions significantly likely to from. One potential explanation for this phenomenon is that there are generally fewer parties in the upper than in the lower chamber, due to the disproportionality of electoral systems used to elect upper chambers in Latin America. Thus, the president’s party is often overrepresented in the upper house, which makes it easier for presidents to find majorities. Furthermore, upper chambers are generally strong in Latin America (Nolte and Llanos 2004), and controlling an upper chamber is often sufficient for the president to prevent a veto override.

Second, contrary to expectations in the literature, extensive presidential decree powers decrease the probability of the occurrence of cabinets which control only a minority of seats in the lower house of congress. A potential explanation for this phenomenon is similar to the argument developed by Strøm (1990) for minority governments in parliamentary systems. Parties prefer to stay in opposition when the government has a weak independent influence on policy. The other explanation is that pre-electoral coalition formation is more prevalent when presidents’ institutional authority is high, as political actors make a relatively simple calculation about the benefits and the costs of coordination in presidential elections. The more powerful the president, the higher the incentives for pre-electoral coalition formation (Hicken and Stoll 2008; Freudenreich 2013). And if the a coalition is in power anyway, it is easier to extend this coalition to secure a majority in the lower house of congress.

Third, considerations of governability and pre-electoral bargaining describe two distinct yet compatible sets of factors that influence cabinet formation in presidential systems. Many cabinet coalitions in Latin America are congruent or extended versions of the pre-electoral coalition of the president and parties of the main presidential competitor are generally excluded from the cabinet, but these factors are distinct to the incentives of legislative bargaining. The explanatory power of variables associated with governability increases once variables of pre-electoral bargaining are included in the statistical model. For example, cabinet coalitions are more likely to form when they include the median party in the lower chamber of congress, but this effect is only statistically significant when one controls for the effects of pre-electoral bargaining.

Overall, the paper tries to show that an inclusive approach is necessary to study coalition dynamics in presidential systems. Pre-electoral commitments strongly affect cabinet formation and thereby also confound the relationship between cabinet formation, legislative bargaining and governability.

Literature

Cheibub, José A. 2007. Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Freudenreich, Johannes. 2013. Coalition Formation in Presidential Systems. Ph.D. diss., University of Potsdam.

Hicken, Allen, and Heather Stoll. 2008. Electoral Rules and the Size of the Prize: How Political Institutions Shape Presidential Party Systems. Journal of Politics 70, 4: 1109–27.

Linz, Juan J. 1994. Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference? In The Failure of Presidential Democracy: The Case of Latin America, ed. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 3–89.

Nolte, Detlef/Mariana Llanos. 2004. “Starker Bikameralismus? Zur Verfassungslage lateinamerikanischer Zweikammersysteme.” Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen 35: 113-131.

Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press: New York.

Strøm, Kaare. 1990. Minority Government and Majority Rule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Leiv Marsteintredet – Mega-elections in the Dominican Republic: Consolidating a dominant party system?

This is a guest post by Leiv Marsteintredet, Associate professor Latin American Studies, University of Oslo, and Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, Twitter: @leivm_academic

The Dominican Republic held what was locally dubbed as a mega-election on May 15, 2016. For the first time since 1994 the country organised local, congressional and presidential elections on the same day. This year the 6.7 million registered voters could go to the polls to elect a president, 222 members of both chambers of Congress, 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament, and around 4,000 new members of municipal councils and mayors. Elections were synchronised in the 2010 Constitution in an attempt to avoid the constant electoral campaigns resulting from midterm elections. The sheer size of the elections combined with outdated electoral laws, poor administration and preparation by the Central Electoral Board made for a chaotic electoral day and counting process. Although the opposition cried fraud and protested several congressional and local results, most observers judged the election as free and fair, but also that the quality of the electoral process and organisation had clearly deteriorated compared to earlier elections.

Dominican voters voted for continuity this year, reelecting the incumbent President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). Medina won handsomely with 61.7% of the votes over his main opponent Luis Abinader of the newly created Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), a splinter from the traditional Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). The PLD also kept its majority control over both chambers of Congress, a majority it has held since 2002. Participation was around 70% in both congressional and presidential elections.

Background and campaign

The Dominican party system is among the least polarised ideologically in Latin America, and electoral campaigns seldom deal with issues and ideology, but rather become conflicts about persons and positions. Instead of campaign promises and programmes, voters mostly see accusations and negative messages, in addition to a series of caravans with politicians touring cities with large followings of all types of vehicles. This year’s campaign was no exception, and the greatest conflicts and controversies over positions occurred within rather than between parties.

Besides a new national security plan presented by Abinader and his security advisor Rudy Guiliani(!), the former mayor of New York, and the first ever presidential candidate debate in the country, which President Danilo Medina declined to participate in, the campaign was relatively uneventful. President Medina has since his election in 2012 been among the most popular presidents in Latin America, and his reelection was never in danger. Medina campaigned on a promise of stability and continuity. Supported by a positive macro-economy, and abundant state and private resources Medina and PLD managed to run an effective campaign. A splintered opposition led by Abinader who lacked charisma and ideas in the confrontation with Medina, never stood a chance to challenge the PLD in the presidential or congressional elections.

The real campaign, however, had already occurred within the political parties. In 2012, when Medina was elected, there was a constitutional ban on immediate presidential reelection.[1] Using his popularity, political capital, and backroom deals, Medina managed in April 2015 to win the support of the Political Committee of the PLD to support a constitutional reform to allow for his immediate reelection. The result surprised many since a constitutional reform would come at the expense of three times former president and undisputed PLD leader Leonel Fernández, who otherwise would have been PLD’s presidential candidate for 2016. At the time, Fernández was already campaigning for the presidency, and he strongly lobbied against the reform. Although a terrible loss for Fernández, who suddenly lost control over the party he had led since 1994, the deep conflict did not split the PLD, and the party’s tradition of maintaining unity prevailed.

The PRD, however, holds a long tradition of splintering after conflicts. The nominally social-democratic PRD is the oldest party in the country, founded in exile during the Trujillo regime in 1937, and has split several times throughout history. The PLD is in fact a splinter party from the PRD, founded in 1973 when Juan Bosch left the party he founded. PRD also experienced serious splits in the late 1980s and in 2004. The most serious splinter, however, occurred in 2013-2014 when the majority of the party left, or was expulsed from, the PRD to found the PRM. The conflict was about the leadership of the PRD, in the hands of the unpopular Miguel Vargas Maldonado since 2009. In 2013 Vargas Maldonado refused to organise a party convention to elect a new president (an election he would most certainly have lost). Vargas Maldonado bunkered in to keep control over the PRD, while the majority of the party’s leaders and followers left to organise the new PRM. While PRM managed to overcome a split over the presidential candidacy, a very weakened PRD ended up supporting Medina’s constitutional reform for immediate reelection, and becoming part of Medina’s electoral coalition. Given the historical enmity between the PRD and the PLD resulting from bad blood from their split in1973, their coalition is historic in Dominican politics. It was also historic that the PRD for the first time since 1974 (and before that since 1962) did not present a presidential candidate.

The split in the PRD thus strengthened the PLD and Medina, and weakened what was left of the opposition. These conflicts in the opposition helped Medina not only win the presidency handsomely, but the PLD won 55.8% of the seats in the Lower Chamber, and 81% of the seats in the Senate, after receiving 41.8% of the votes in the congressional elections. With its allies in Congress, PLD holds a 2/3 majority in the Lower Chamber (127 of 190 seats), and a full 91% of the seats in the Senate.

Towards a dominant party system?

Kenneth Greene defines a dominant party system as a hybrid that combines “meaningful electoral competition with continuous executive and legislative rule by a single party for at least 20 years or at least four consecutive elections”.[2] The PLD has now won the last four presidential elections, and enjoyed a handsome majority in both chambers of Congress since 2002 (also over four elections). According to Greene’s definition, the PLD is on its way to consolidate as a dominant party. The last 12 years have increased the asymmetry in terms of resources, professionalism and expertise between the PLD and the other parties. From the government the PLD has managed to co-opt parts of the opposition, first the Reformist party (PRSC), and now the PRD, and both opposition parties have suffered self-inflicted splits: Thus the PLD has ruled almost unopposed since 2004. Now it is within the party organisation the important decisions are made, not Congress or the presidency. For instance, this July it was the PLD’s Political Committee that selected the leadership of both chambers of Congress a month before the new Congress was sworn in.

PLD’s control over the Senate has enabled the party to select its supporters to all the high courts and autonomous state institutions since the 2010 Constitutional reform, which called for a renewal of these institutions, so that it now dominates all parts of the state. Controversial decisions in the Central Electoral Board, and the other high courts in favour of the PLD and its high-ranking members have served to strengthen the accusations of politicisation of these institutions. The controversies surrounding the 2016 elections is yet another example that the nominally autonomous institutions of the state are slowly deteriorating.

Although the PLD in power has managed to secure growth and macro-economic stability, ruling unopposed is never good for democracy. This year’s election consolidated the PLD’s hold on power and control over what we now can call the PLD-state. The weak opposition, on its hand, is becoming increasingly desperate to gain influence over politics, and has started questioning the democratic merits of the government and state institutions. The question is whether the opposition will win elections before or after the PLD’s uncontrolled power converts into abuse of power and mismanagement. Right now the opposition is fighting an ever-increasing uphill battle.

Notes

[1] This is also a result of the 2010 Constitutional overhaul. The Dominican Republic has changed its presidential reelection rules a total of four times since 1994.

[2] Kenneth F. Greene (2007). Why Dominant Parties Lose. Mexico’s Democratization in Comparative Perspective. (Cambridge University Press): p. 12

Haiti – Last-chance elections?

On 9 October 2016, for the second time in less than a year, the first round of a presidential elections will be held in Haiti. The country will experience a very difficult electoral event, which will have tremendous impact on its stability in the near feature. This post intends to assess the political conjuncture on the eve of this event. It will focus on the readiness of the new Electoral Council, the expectations of the most important actors, and the likelihood of successfully handing the presidential sash to a constitutionally elected president on February 7, 2017.

The new Electoral Council (CEP in French), which was appointed in March to organize the elections (presidential and the completion of the legislative), has so far managed not to be the main focus of the political battle. Despite some criticisms about some important organizational decisions, it is a fact that the main political news and comments are no longer concentrating on the performance of this institution.

The relative acceptance of the work of the CEP means that the political actors have been able to express their political visions more openly. A total of 27 candidates are running for the presidency, which is down form 54 in the previous electoral process. Only four of these candidates have any real possibility of being elected. Jovenel Moise, from the pro-Martelly camp, represents the right that arrived for the first time to the presidency in 2010 with the election of the former president. Maryse Narcisse and Moise Jean Charles are associated with the left. Both are basically competing in the same political space. Finally, Jude Célestin occupies a more central ideological position.

Despite the clear ideological differences between the candidates, the election is not being fought on an ideological basis. The pro- and anti-Martelly camp is the main cleavage that will define the results at the second round of the election. Since Jovenel Moise (Party PHTK) is expected to be in the second round, Moise Jean Charles, Maryse Narcisse, and Jude Célestin are basically competing to make it through to the second ballot where, eventually, they will form a coalition against the protégé of the former president.

A particularity of this political process is the relative weakness of all the actors. When Martelly was in power the opposition denounced the use of the state apparatus in favor of Jovenel Moise. But now, with the departure of the ex-president, his protégé has the press pulpit to advance his case. Even though the current interim president, Jocelerme Privert, is more inclined to favor the former opposition, its own weakness and the high number of opposition candidates (three) prevents any meaningful intervention by Privert.

The party PHTK legislators have managed to tie down Jocelerme Privert, the interim president. Even though his original mandate expired on June and should have been renewed in order to for him to serve as a fully legitimate caretaker president, they chose for political reasons not to reappoint him. In this context, while they do regular business with the government and the president, they can still raise the fact that he has not been approved by the legislators to question his legitimacy.

In this sense, as is the case with the CEP, Privert and his government have not so far been a focal point in this electoral process. His government has not intervened (or has not been able to do so in any decisive way) in favor of the candidates of the former opposition. While some decisions made by the government can be interpreted in the sense of an intervention against the candidate of the party PHTK (for example, a report produced by a branch of the government of alleged money laundering activities against Jovenel Moise has been circulated on the internet), it is not clear who would benefit from any such interventions. The three candidates that could reap the benefits of the government intervention are busier watching and tackling each other than attacking their opponent on the right.

In some respects, the political situation in Haiti is exactly where all the actors would, by default, like it to be. No one seems to have the upper hand. No sector has the ability to dominate any other. Even the International Community, which has been very influential in political events in Haiti in the last decades, now has less power to influence the actors. In order to punish the opposition for their decision to denounce the results of the last election, the US government decided not to fund the organization of this election. With this decision they also lost a certain ability to influence the decision in their preferred way.

The weakness of all the actors provides a unique opportunity for good elections. This is the first time since the departure of Duvalier in 1986 that at this stage of the electoral process no one seems to have the power and resources to  dictate the outcome alone. This situation might affect the behavior of the actors and prevent them from being too aggressive. It is possible, therefore, that if this situation holds for the rest of the process these elections will not be rigged and may finally lead to a peaceful transfer of power in 2017.

Suriname – President Bouterse Keeps Dodging Murder Trial

On 5 August 2016, Suriname’s military court decided to once more postpone the murder trial of the country’s ruling president, Dési Bouterse, who is accused of participating in the killings of fifteen political opponents more than thirty years ago. These so-called ‘December murders’ (Dutch: Decembermoorden) occurred on the night of 8 December 1982, at the height of Suriname’s military regime, which was headed by Bouterse. In 2000, one month before the crime became too old to prosecute, a legal investigation was started by the Surinamese judiciary, which in 2007 resulted in a criminal proceeding against Bouterse. The elections of 2010 however produced a resounding victory for the former military ruler, who in that year was inaugurated as Suriname’s next president. In 2012, shortly before the conclusion of the criminal case, the Surinamese Parliament – headed by Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) – modified the country’s amnesty law, as a result of which the murder trial was adjourned. Suriname’s military court (the krijgsraad) reopened the proceedings in June 2016, considering that the new amnesty law illegitimately intervened in an ongoing trial, after which Bouterse instructed the public prosecutor’s office to halt the prosecution in the interest of state security. In reaction, the judge decided to once more postpone the murder trial until November of this year.

Suriname is a former Dutch colony which became a sovereign state in 1975. In the first five years after the attainment of independence, the country was ruled by a coalition of political parties, reflecting the multi-ethnic composition of the Surinamese population. Taking advantage of growing disenchantment stemming from the dire economic situation, in 1980 Sergeant Bouterse and fifteen other military officials led a successful coup d’état, known as the Sergeants’ Coup. In subsequent years, the country was ruled as a military dictatorship headed by Bouterse, and its ties with The Netherlands were severed. In addition to the ‘December murders’, Bouterse’s troops committed various war crimes as part of the Surinamese Interior War, among which the murder of forty innocent civilians in the village of Moiwana. In the late 1980s, multi-party democracy was reinstated in Suriname, and Bouterse established the NDP with the goal of remaining in power by democratic means. In the Netherlands, Bouterse was sentenced in absentia to eleven years in prison for his involvement in the transport of 474 kilos of cocaine, and Interpol issued an international arrest warrant against the former dictator.

While Bouterse’s NDP remained in the opposition for most of the 1990s and 2000s, the 2010 elections were won decisively by a political coalition (the Megacombinatie) spearheaded by the NDP. The subsequent installment of Bouterse as President led to renewed tensions with The Netherlands and the termination of Dutch development aid to Suriname, but as head of state, Bouterse obtained diplomatic immunity and Interpol’s arrest warrant was dropped. While Bouterse publicly accepted responsibility for the 1982 killings, he has argued that the country must move past its history, and has explained the Dutch actions against him as attempts of the former colonial power to keep controlling Suriname. Whereas Bouterse enjoyed great popular support at the start of his presidency – especially among the youth, who have little recollection of the events of the 1980s – the persistent economic malaise in Suriname has led to a sharp decrease in his popularity. In turn, this might have an effect on the President’s attempts to obstruct his own trial: while supporters of Bouterse continue to call for a complete cessation of the proceedings, the size of this group has been decreasing in recent months.

Haiti – A country on Autopilot

Joseph Michel Martelly’s presidency ended without a successor being directly elected. The interim president, Jocelerme Privert, has not yet been able to fulfil his mandate to organize new elections. Even though political tensions have somewhat abated, the country is still not out the woods. This post offers a brief overview of the political situation since February, with a focus on the behavior and calculations of the principal actors.

On February 14 when Privert was sworn in to lead the interim government the mandate was clear: He had to complete the electoral process in 120 days. The agreement between then outgoing President Martelly and the Presidents of both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies clearly stipulated that within this timeframe the interim president had to appoint a new government, reconstitute the Electoral Council (CEP in French), put in place the technical recommendations of the Independent Commision of Evaluation of the elections (CIEVE, in French), and organize the second round of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

It was clear both to Privert and to most of the political actors that it would be impossible to respect this deadline. Indeed, Privert was elected seven days after the departure of Martelly, not within the 48 hours set out in the agreement. The new CEP was installed on March 30, nearly a month after the interim President took office. The CIEVE was put in place on April 14 and handed in its recommendations more than a month later on May 29. What is more, the CIEVE recomended not the continuation of the presidential election, but its cancellation altogether.

The first 120 days of interim president Privert’s office have now passed and he has been unable to fullfill the key objective of the transition: handing over the presidential sash to a newly elected president. The CEP has set the first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections for October 9 and the second round for January 8, 2017. Thus, the transition will have lasted almost 365 days, instead of the 120 previously agreed. In this context, the most important question for the principal actors has revolved around what strategy to adopt given this new timetable.

So far the transition has rewarded some actors and punished others. Some are weaker than when the process began. Others are in better position today than before. Others still are looking for a way to reinter the game, after having previously been pushed out by other actors. For simplicity, I will refer to these three groups of actors as pro-Martelly camp, the International Community, and the Opposition during the Martelly government.

The International Community is the group that has lost out the most during this process. From the start, the International Community (namely the United States of America, the European Union, the OAS and the UN) assumed that they could force the opposition to the Martelly government to accept any electoral results independently of their assesment of the fairness and transparency of the process. After the first round of the parliamentary elections on August 2015, while some key actors in the opposition were denouncing widespread fraud, the International Community supported the CEP. The same situation occurred when the results of the first round of the presidential election were published. The opposition parties took to the streets to denounce the results. Meanwhile the International Community was working behind closed doors to force the result to be accepted. When the first Commision of Evaluation put in place by President Martelly recommended a thorough evaluation of the situation and measures to build confidence in the process, the representatives of International Community looked the other way. They were against the idea of interim president and, naturally, are opposed to the most recent recommendations for new presidential elections.

The representatives of the European Union have left the country to signal their opposition. The US Department of the State has made it clear that it will not support new elections financially. It goes without saying that the decision not to fund the CEP will have important repercussions for the already difficult budgetary situation of the Haitian government. But, it means also that the International Community will have less say in the political process.

The decision of the International Community to turn its back on the electoral process has meant that its protegé, the pro-Martelly camp, also has less power to impose an outcome on its adversaries. The various strategies adopted by this group are good example of how they have gauged their strength. At the beginning they were against any concessions to the opposition. Their analysis of the elections converged with that of the International Community. But, once it was clear the second round of the presidential election would not take place, they supported the interim solution agreed between Martelly and the leaders of the two houses of parliament. Their candidate for the new presidential election, Jovenel Moise, has now been chosen.

The most recent strategy of the pro-Martelly camp has been the decision not to permit a vote in the chambers on the continuation of Privert as interim president. The agreement stipulates that if elections were not held in 120 days, legislators should convene and decide what to do. The pro-Martelly group argues that this should mean the end of the Privert government. However, they do not have enough votes to force out the interim president. Consequently they have decided not to participate in parliamentary meetings. This means that since July 14, there is a president without any legitimacy, waiting to be confirmed by the Parliament.

The former opposition to the Martelly government is in a far better situation than it was before the beginning of the transition. In some measure, it has the control of the state apparatus. But it has two formidable opponents in the pro-Martelly camp and the International Community. The new situation has forced them to evolve their strategy from one of trying to derail the system to one that wants to protect the status quo. They are now more interested in keeping Privert in power than any of the other actors.

The future will show how the situation evolves in Haiti. For the moment, with a president without legitimacy, an International actor with less leverage over the key internal actors, and the pro-Martelly group being branded as corrupt, the country is almost literally on automatic pilot.

Wouter Veenendaal – Microstate Foreign Policy: How Much Leeway for Presidents?

This is a guest post by Wouter Veenendaal of the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde / Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV)

On 18 December 2015, James Alix Michel was reelected as President of Seychelles, defeating his opponent by a razor-thin margin of 0,30 per cent, or 193 votes. Michel’s election victory ensured that the Parti Lepep (People’s Party), which had been in office since its coup d’état of 1977, will remain in power in the archipelago. While multiparty democracy was reinstated in Seychelles in the early 1990s, putting an end to the Marxist single-party regime, the ruling party has won all subsequent elections. It has now been in power for almost 40 years.

Michel’s election victory was contested by the opposition, which cried foul over alleged irregularities. Commonwealth observers, however, noted that the fundamental rights of candidates, political parties, and the electorate had been respected. Regardless of whether the recent Seychellois election was fair or not, the outcome means that no major political changes can be expected in the island archipelago. This is especially true for foreign policy, which, as in other small island states, appears to be largely (pre-) determined by the country’s weakness and relative insignificance within the international system.

As actors in international relations, small states are typically considered to be vulnerable and dependent. Their survival rests on the benevolence of larger states, as a result of which small countries do not have the capacity to develop a foreign policy of their own; they are regarded as mere ‘objects’ in world politics. The extent to which individual leaders in small states can influence the foreign policies of their countries is thus considered to be inherently limited. The case of Seychelles appears to support this view: the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 necessitated a drastic reorientation towards the West, which was entirely motivated by a change in the international system.

In fact, however, the smallest countries in the world (so-called microstates) often act in remarkable and rather exceptional ways in global politics. Together, Caribbean and Pacific island nations for instance constitute the bulk of states that recognize the international sovereignty of Taiwan, and the Pacific microstates of Nauru, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu were among the first and only countries to extend diplomatic recognition to the Caucasian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Out of the nine states that in 2012 opposed Palestine’s bid to become a United Nations observer state, five were Pacific small island states. How can these foreign policy choices be explained? The answer is: money.

The examples above highlight that microstates often make strategic use of their sovereignty, negotiating their political support in exchange for material gains. In return for diplomatic recognition, Taiwan, for example, develops ICT facilities, provides police cars, or constructs new government buildings in various small island states. As a token for its continuing support for the People’s Republic, in 2008 China, on the other hand, constructed a new parliament building for Seychelles, and recently donated two aircraft to the archipelago. And in exchange for Nauru’s diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian government bestowed this Pacific island nation with US $31 million in hard cash.

Whereas Seychelles has been steadfast in its support for Beijing, other microstates have occasionally shifted their diplomatic recognition. The Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, for example, recognized Taiwan between 1984 and 1997, but then withdrew its recognition and established relations with China instead. In 2005, the St. Lucian government decided to reestablish its diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Microstates like St. Lucia thus take part in the so-called two-China game, in which they essentially award their diplomatic support to the highest bidder. Instead of having a passive and submissive role in international politics, these countries therefore actively and successfully make gains by playing off two large powers against each other. The examples also demonstrate that small states often do have a range of foreign policy options to choose from, which supposedly gives more leeway to presidents and political leaders in crafting the foreign policies of their countries.

Another example is provided by the Micronesian island nation of Palau, which became independent from the United States in 1994. A large share of the public finances of Palau is derived from its Compact of Free Association with the United States, and it is hardly a surprise that Palau’s voting behavior in the United Nations General Assembly overlaps by over 97% with that of the US. In addition, in 2009 the Palauan President Johnson Toribiong came to the aid of Washington by agreeing to provide shelter to 19 Uyghurs who had been released from the Guantánamo Bay detention center, and under US law could not be returned to China. In exchange for financial aid, Palau, therefore, willingly plays the role of staunch US ally in the international system.

In addition to the United States, Palau maintains close ties with Taiwan (which provided crucial disaster relief after a typhoon had hit the island) and Japan (which constructed the Japan-Palau friendship bridge between Palau’s two largest islands). Although Palau, in exchange for economic assistance, always supported Japan’s position on whale hunting in international fora, in 2012 President Toribiong suddenly dropped this support, arguing that whaling is incompatible with Palau’s support for nature conservation. In a similar fashion, newly elected Palauan President Remengesau recently made some cautious statements about potential cooperation with China, raising suspicions in Taiwan and the US. These examples demonstrate that political leaders of even the smallest states can and do strategically influence or pressure larger countries.

In an upcoming article in Foreign Policy Analysis, I argue that the international relations between microstates and large powers can, in many ways, be seen as a patron-client linkage, in which political support is exchanged for material gains. Just like clientelism in a domestic context, from a normative perspective such relations can be denounced as opportunistic, immoral, or even corrupt. On the other hand, for microstates these relations offer unique opportunities to make the most of their sovereignty, and to independently position themselves in international affairs. While presidents of small island nations still only have a very limited range of foreign policy options, the presence of multiple potential patron states – and their growing number since the end of the Cold War – does give political leaders of microstates some say about their countries’ foreign relations.

Dr. Wouter Veenendaal is a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, The Netherlands. His research focuses on politics, democracy, and governance in small states, and he is presently part of a larger academic project that investigates non-sovereign territories in the Caribbean and elsewhere.