Category Archives: Non-partisan presidents

New book series – Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics: Robert Elgie and Gianluca Passarelli (series editors)

We are announcing a new book series, Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics. The series is edited by Robert Elgie and Gianluca Passarelli and the books will be published by Palgrave Macmillan. The series will include books on all aspects of presidential politics. We are currently accepting proposals for books in the series. The first volume, authored Philipp Köker, will be published in 2017.

Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics will include books on contemporary presidencies, including presidential powers, the administrative presidency, and presidential advisers, as well as the history of presidential offices, and presidential biographies. The series will also include books on presidential elections, including presidential party politics, and the media and presidential communication.

The series will focus on presidents throughout the world including the US, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, including both directly elected and indirectly elected presidents. The series will publish single-country and comparative studies of presidential politics. The series will also publish books on individual presidents. The series will focus primarily on empirical studies of presidential politics, but it could include volumes on conceptual or theoretical aspects, such as how to measure presidential power.

The series will publish books that look at the reform of presidential politics, e.g. the reform of presidential elections. However, it will not publish obviously partisan, clearly normative, or personally critical studies of presidents or presidential politics. The series will have a disinterested, academic focus.

The series will normally take the form of 80,000-word monographs, or edited volumes. However, shorter books, or Palgrave Pivots, will also be considered. To submit a proposal, you should complete a proposal form. These are available from Ambra Finotello (ambra.finotello@palgrave.com), or from the series editors.

For further information about the series and to submit a proposal for consideration, please contact Ambra Finotello (ambra.finotello@palgrave.com) at Palgrave, or the series editors, Robert Elgie (robert.elgie@dcu.ie), and Gianluca Passarelli (gianluca.passarelli@uniroma1.it).

Feel free to send an informal e-mail to the series editors if you wish to discuss a book idea prior to the formal submission of a proposal. We look forward to hearing your ideas for books and to receiving your submissions.

Slovakia – One year on, conflict over president’s refusal to appoint judges remains unsolved

In a post last year I discussed Slovak president Andrej Kiska’s first three months in office and in particular his activism in the area of judicial reform. Since then, the conflict over the appointment of constitutional court judges between Kiska and the government has taken a number of unexpected turns which have opened a new chapter in the complicated relationship between presidents, governments and the judiciary in Slovakia.

The Slovak Constitutional Court | photo via www.concourt.sk

On 18 June, Andrej Kiska celebrated his first year in the presidential office. Having beaten Prime Minister Robert Fico, Kiska is the country’s first truly non-partisan president yet given his centre-right policy positions has found himself in cohabitation with the government since his inauguration. While minor conflicts over health care reform and other legislation as well as foreign policy emerged appeared throughout the first year, the most controversial issue has been Kiska’s decision from last July to only appoint one of the six candidates for constitutional court judges proposed by parliament. The Slovak Constitution stipulates that the president chooses candidates from a set proposed by parliament (which is always twice the number of open positions) but offers no guidance on how to proceed if the president fails to do so or by which criteria s/he is allowed to ask parliament for more/other nominees. Since last year, two seats of the constitutional court have thus been left vacant.

After being denied appointment, all three of the judges filed complaints against Kiska in the constitutional court, claiming that his refusal to appoint them had violated their right to take up public office under equal conditions. In March this year, the court’s third Senate ruled in favour of three of the judges, yet apart from determination of guilt and ruling on compensation, it did not issue any further guidance on how the president should proceed (or should have proceeded) – an issue of which some hoped that it would be discussed in the judgement of the other Senate dealing with the separate complaint of the two candidates. However, during the last weeks the two remaining judges have withdrawn their complaint and the court subsequently seized any proceedings in the matter.

The court’s decision in March – although making clear that the president overstepped his boundaries in rejecting five out of six candidates – has unfortunately not brought political actors closer to resolving the issue much closer than a year ago. This is mostly because Kiska and his advisors still question the legitimacy of the ruling. The third Senate includes Jana Baricová -the only judge Kiska appointed last year – who Kiska accuses of being biased as she was involved in the nomination procedure. Nevertheless, a formal complaint and request to hear Baricová as a witness (which would have disqualified her from acting as a judge on the case) was rejected. Yet, eventually a single vote made the difference in the court’s decision which Kiska and his advisors interpret as supporting their claim of bias. These arguments notwithstanding, there are also some problems with the content of the decision as it only insufficiently discusses the way in which the candidates’ rights were violated and failed to spell out criteria under which a rejection would have been lawful (although it should be added that Kiska, too, failed to spell out why exactly he only appointed Baricová). Constitutional experts are currently at a loss of what should be done and by whom. Some argue that Kiska now has to appoint two of the five rejected candidates while others assert that parliament should present four new candidates (i.e. twice the number of open positions) or would only need to present one more candidate as the three nominees from the March decision were still eligible while the remaining two had disqualified themselves by withdrawing their complaint.

The tug-of-war between president and parliament/government over constitutional court appointments is thus likely to continue. Due to the fact that the term of constitutional court judges runs for twelve years and an increasing number of political conflicts is fought in the court, both sides are engaged in a high-stakes game in which one wrong move could have long-lasting consequences. At first sight, Prime Minister Fico and his government appear to be at an advantage given the court’s ruling in March as well as their strong majority in parliament which lets them control all subsequent nominations. However, with general elections approaching (scheduled for March 2016) Fico and his SMER party will be wary to seek a legislative solution (e.g. by changing the constitution or passing a law specifying the nomination procedures to their advantage) which could backfire in the next legislature. Kiska on the other hand needs to make sure that he does not become too active on this issue, thus spoiling his chances to affect policy change in other areas. Yet as the positions of all constitutional judges are up for renewal during Kiska’s term, he may well try to hold out and wait whether parliament will eventually give in to his demands, thus creating a precedent which would significantly increase his power.

Non-Partisan Presidents in the Lusophone World

The last blog on non-partisan presidents provided an overview of the number of non-partisan presidents in all consolidated democracies[1] around the world between 1990 and 2013. This post will focus on non-partisan presidents in Portuguese-speaking countries during the same period.[2] I found non-partisan presidents in countries where the head of state has relatively little constitutional power.[3]

Only São Tomé and Príncipe and Timor-Leste experienced non-partisan presidents in the period 1990-2013.

In São Tomé and Príncipe incumbent President Manuel Pinto da Costa was the co-founder of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD). Yet during the 2011 presidential elections he ran as an independent candidate. All presidents of post-independence Timor-Leste are recorded as non-partisan. The former leader of the resistance movement, Xanana Gusmão, was elected president in April 2002. His successor, José Ramos-Horta, won the May 2007 presidential elections. Incumbent president Taur Matan Ruak, a former commander of the Timorese armed forces, became Timor-Leste’s third non-partisan president in May 2012.

Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Portugal did not experience a non-partisan president in the period 1990-2013. It is worth noting that in Guinea-Bissau two interim non-partisan presidents were appointed, namely former President Henrique Pereira Rosa (Sept 2003-Oct 2005) and Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo (May 2012-May 2014).[4]

In the book “O Semipresidencialismo nos Países de Língua Portuguesa”, Lobo and Neto[5] used Shugart and Carey’s method[6], later modified by Metcalf[7] to measure and compare the constitutional powers of presidents in Portuguese-speaking countries. They found that the president of Angola is the most powerful president in the Lusophone world and the president of Timor-Leste the weakest. In the following table I have added the number of non-partisan presidents to Lobo and Neto’s findings.

Number of non-partisan presidents and constitutional powers of Lusophone presidents elected between 1990 and 2013

Country Presidential Powers Number of Non-Partisan Presidents
Angola 19 0
Mozambique 18 0
Guinea-Bissau 13 0
Portugal 11.5 0
São Tomé and Príncipe 10 1
Cabo Verde 9.5 0
Timor-Leste 8.5 3

The table demonstrates that non-partisan presidents are elected in Lusophone countries where presidents have relatively little constitutional power. Two remarks are in order. Firstly, the time period under consideration is short and, secondly, Cabo Verde, a country with a relatively weak president, did not experience a non-partisan president. Nevertheless, the findings seem to confirm an intuitive logic that non-partisans presidents are more likely to be elected in countries where the head of state has relatively little constitutional power. To be sure, political parties may be disinterested in winning the presidency if the head of state has only limited power to intervene in government affairs. Yet, so far, a possible relationship between presidential powers and non-partisanship has not been examined.

[1] A democracy is considered consolidated if it scores at least 5 on the Polity IV scale for five or more consecutive years.

[2] The analysis includes a non-democracy, Angola, but excludes Brazil.

[3] I have used the worldstatesmen.org to identify non-partisan presidents.

[4] The worldstatesmen.org records Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo as a PAIGC president. Yet, online sources like Lexis-Nexis Academic and World Political Leaders, list Nhamadjo as non-partisan.

[5]Lobo, M. C. and Neto, O. A. (2009) ‘Um Modelo Lusófono de Semipresidencialismo?’, in Lobo, M. C. and Neto, O. A. (eds) O Semipresidencialismo nos Países de Língua Portuguesa, Lisbon: ICS, 261-279.

[6]Shugart, M. S. and Carey, J. M. (1992) Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[7]Metcalf, L. K. (2000) ‘Measuring Presidential Power’, Comparative Political Studies, 33, 660-685.

Non-partisan presidents

There is a wide agreement among political scientists that political parties fulfil a crucial role in democracies. They nominate candidates, coordinate election campaigns, aggregate interests, formulate and implement policy proposals, and manage government power. Yet various democracies around the world have experienced non-partisan presidents.

The website worldstatesmen.org is a unique data source which provides us with information about the party affiliation of presidents. According to its founder, Ben Cahoon, non-partisan presidents are “those who were not affiliated with a political party at the time of taking office.” Here we are interested in presidents of presidential and semi-presidential systems. So, presidents of parliamentary regimes are excluded from our list. The chart below provides an overview of the number of non-partisan presidents in consolidated democracies[1], sorted by continent.

Number of non-partisan presidents in presidential and semi-presidential democracies between 1990-2013

image002

Source: World Statesmen: http://worldstatesmen.org/

We found the highest number of non-partisan presidents in Europe. In total 18 non-partisan candidates were elected president in European consolidated democracies between 1990 and 2013. It should be noted that all non-partisan presidents were elected in third, or better, fourth-wave democracies.[2] Indeed, we did not find any non-partisan president in the so-called bastions of democracy in Western Europe. In addition, all of these new democratic states adopted a semi-presidential system.[3]

In Asia we found four non-partisan presidents. Three of them were elected in semi-presidential Timor-Leste. The other was elected in presidential South Korea.

In Africa, three non-partisan presidents were elected: one in a presidential democracy, Benin, and two in semi-presidential regimes, namely São Tomé and Príncipe and Mali. In South America two presidential democracies, Bolivia and Ecuador, have experienced a non-partisan president. The only country that experienced a non-partisan president in North America was Guatemala, a presidential democracy. In Australia/Oceania all countries have adopted a parliamentary regime. These non-partisan presidents have been excluded from our list.

All in all, out of a total of 223 presidents who were elected between 1990 and 2013, 29 (13%) presidents were not affiliated to a political party. In Europe 26% of all presidents were non-partisan.

What do these numbers tell us? They demonstrate that the election of a non-partisan president is a relatively rare phenomenon in all continents but Europe. In Europe, more than a quarter of the elected presidents is non-partisan. The election of a non-partisan president may affect crucial matters like democratic representation. To be sure, non-partisan presidents are not accountable to a political party during their time of office. Worse still, when such presidents do not wish to get re-elected, they are free to act according to their own wishes. Yet, their existence has been largely ignored in the literature. More research is therefore needed on the effect of non-partisan presidents on the quality of democracy.


[1] A democracy is considered consolidated if it scores at least 5 on the Polity IV scale for five or more consecutive years.

[2] Doorenspleet, R. (2005) Democratic Transitions: Exploring the Structural Sources of the Fourth Wave. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

[3] The web site “The semi-presidential one” provides a list of countries with a presidential and semi-presidential constitution.