Category Archives: Presidentialism and parliamentarism

Armenia – One year after the Constitutional Reform: Future perspectives for the President and his party

In 2015, after a referendum, Armenia voted to switch from a semi-presidential political system to a parliamentarian one. As a consequence of that, most governing prerogatives are due to shift from the president to the prime minister. This change has been accompanied by discussions about the implications of the change. Notably, both before and after the vote, the public debate has focused on the consequences on the tenure in power of President Serzh Sargsyan, who has been ambiguous as to whether he will run for Prime Minister after the end of his second and last presidential mandate. Almost one year after the constitutional amendment, the debate has not ceased.

The debate about the constitutional reform has centred on the personal gains of politicians (especially the serving President) rather than on the institutional implication. This is nothing new in either an Armenian or the South Caucasian context. More than a decade ago, in the months preceding the Armenian Constitutional Reform in 2005, the public debate in Yerevan focused on how the new legislative provisions would give substantial immunity to the president[1]. Similarly, in 2010, when neighbouring Georgia approved a similar reform to the 2015 Armenian constitutional change, critics observed that it would secure then then President Mikheil Saakashvili’s position in power. In the end, the electoral defeat of Mr Saakashvili’s party (UNM) in the 2012 parliamentary election was followed by a smooth transfer of power, often saluted by external observers as a crucial moment in the Georgian path towards democratisation.

Back in Armenia, the debate has been recently revitalised after the public declarations of the President. At the end of October 2016, when asked by Al Jazeera about his intention to run for Prime Minister in 2017, President Sargsyan answered evasively: “You know, I find it too early for these conversations.” While, for roughly one month, Mr Sargsyan refrained from further comments, in the following days and weeks different comments came from the ruling majority, the opposition and the press. Tatevik Shahunyan, who is Vice Speaker of the Armenian Parliament and Spokesman for the ruling “Republican Party” (RP), declared that it was premature to talk about the political future of the President before knowing the results of the Parliamentary elections in 2017; this statement neither confirmed nor denied the scenario of Mr Sargsyan becoming Prime Minister at the end of his presidential mandate[2].

As expected, the opposition commented on these developments in a much more decisive way. Levon Zurabian, a parliamentary leader of Armenian National Congress (HAK), interpreted President Sarksyan’s statement as an admission of political ambitions beyond his presidential mandate. This opinion was promptly reiterated by Mr Zaruhi Postanjian, the leader of Heritage party. The press enriched the debate by pointing out the potential intra-party implications of this “tandem”. The pro-opposition paper Zhamanak reported that an exceptional electoral result by the ruling Republican Party might be interpreted as stemming from the work of the current Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan. In that case, his resignation in favour of Serzh Sargsyan would seem illogical. President Sargsyan might benefit more from a “moderately good” result which, without jeopardising the ruling majority, would not be interpreted as the personal success of Mr Karapetyan[3].

After roughly a month of silence, President Sargsyan finally spoke both about the Prime Ministership and party unity, denying any conflict between his personal ambitions and the future of his faction. On November 26, in occasion of a speech given at the “16th Convention of the Republican Party of Armenia[4]”, he ruled out the immediate substitution of the Prime Minister, saying that:  “[I]n case we receive the vote of trust in the coming elections, our government will again be headed by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian who will continue to implement the current programs.”. In spite of this declaration, which in any case did not clarify President Sargsyan’s intention after the end of his presidential mandate in 2018, some members of the opposition maintained their comments. For example, Levon Zurabyan (HAK) declared: “Karen Karapetyan is being used by the PR to secure their success in the parliamentary election. That will later pave Serzh Sargsyan’s way to the prime minister’s office”.

In relation to intra-party dynamics, President Sargsyan’s speech placed the emphasis on the need for the Republican Party to unite[5] and promote the modernization of the country. Notably, significant space was devoted to the economic results obtained in the last eight years in the face of the global financial crisis. He pointed out the need for Armenia to undergo a broad process of reforms, both in relation to the economic development of the country and in the face of external challenges. In the words of President Sargsyan: “We need to reduce and eliminate the negative [spill-over of the hostile external environment]. Any successful reform will bring also new success in other areas”. This insistence on change seems to refer not only to future targets but also to measures adopted in the recent months. Notably, a reduction in the gas price, effective as of July 2017, was approved in October. In the same month, an anticorruption bill was voted.

The lengthy speech by President Sargsyan at the annual party convention suggests that the forthcoming parliamentary campaign will be mostly centred on economic themes rather than on strong personalities. That is in line with one of the declared goals of the constitutional reform, namely the replacement of a people-based political culture with the consolidation of ideological platforms. Pertinently, the President’s rhetoric reveals the attempt to minimise intra-party divisions and shift the attention to a programmatic platform. In this perspective, the opposition, which is hardly unified, has already expressed its interest in joining forces to prevent a landslide victory of the Republican Party. The next months will be crucial in understanding whether the soon-to-be introduced parliamentary system can indeed foster democratisation as claimed by its proponents, rather than being the vehicle for personal political ambitions.

Notes

[1] Arminfo News Agency. 2005. “Those Who State that the Bill of Constitutional Reform will lead to Impunity of the President are Unaware of the Bill”, November 26 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[2] ARMINFO News Agency. 2016. “Sharmazanov in the footsteps of Serzh Sargsyan’s interview to Al Jazeera: It is tactless to speak of President’s plans after 2017 elections until election results are known”, November 4 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[3] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2016. “Armenian press discuss president’s interview with Al-Jazeera”, October 29 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[4] In occasion of the 16th Convention of the Republican Party of Armenia, Prime Minister Karapetyan has formally joined the Republican party.

[5] In spite of this pledge for unity, analysts suspect that the inclusion of Mr Karapetyan in the Republican Party has not been received with unanimous enthusiasm [ARMINFO News Agency. 2016. “Expert: with Karapetyan’s assignment the old guard turned the most vulnerable point of Republicans”, November 28 (Retrieved through LexisNexis)].

 

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.

Haiti – The political situation in flux

Joseph Michel Martelly finished his term as president on February 7 2016. As expected, he handed the presidential sash to the president of the National Assembly, Jocelerme Privert. 7 days later, the same Privert was sworn in as interim president for 120 days, to conclude the electoral process that Martelly has been unable to close. This post analyses the political events that have taken place since the departure of Martelly and the implications for the electoral process and political stability in Haiti in the near future.

The consequences of the end of the Martelly era

The failure to hand the presidential sash to a constitutionally elected president on February 7, meant that the worst nightmare of Michel Martelly became true. The election of Privert by the legislators put a hold on the political ambitions of the heirs of Martelly. In practice, since February 14 the opposition forces that contested Martelly in the streets have held the political initiative. Privert has been maneuvering to sidestep the caretaker government left in place by the president.

Two days before leaving office, Martelly signed an agreement with the leaders of the assembly and the senate that would serve as a blueprint for the transition until new elections. The accord stipulates that the parliament would elect an interim president, who would establish a new electoral council, evaluate the results of the first round of the elections, and organise the remaining electoral contests on April 24. The inauguration of a newly elected president is scheduled to take place on May 14.

More than 30 days after the election of the interim president, the political process has been stalled. Privert has not been able to form a new government. He has also been unable to convince the legislators allied with the party of Martelly to vote for the chosen prime minister, Fritz Jean. The leaders of these legislators have voiced concerns about the fact that the nomination of Fritz Jean means giving absolute control to the former opposition to Martelly. In this sense, more than one month after the departure of Martelly, the political situation is still not clear in Haiti.

What should we expect from now?

The departure of Martelly on February 7 has left a clear political winner: the opposition parties that took to the streets to contest his political decisions and the elections. Since then, many of the members of these parties have official entry to the palace and the president. Street protests have mostly been silent. All actors are trying to manoeuvre the situation so as not to lose ground and have enough leverage to influence the political process when the elections are held. In this sense the actual political situation in Haiti is tense but calm with actors expecting a clash over the political process.

The forces that derailed Martelly’s plan to hand over the presidency to Jovenel Moise have so far had the upper hand. An interim president was sworn in, a new electoral council (CEP), mostly containing former critics of the previous CEP, will take over the electoral process; a commission for evaluating the electoral process will be formed. We can be almost certain that the candidate of the PHTK, the party of the former president, will find it very difficult to win the upcoming elections.

But in this context many important questions remain unanswered. First it is not clear how the groups allied with Martelly will react when it becomes clear that they will lose power to influence the course of the political events in Haiti. Are they going to use the streets as their opponents did during the government of Martelly? Are they going to use the paramilitary forces that threatened to defend Martelly in his final days in office? Will each legislator try to save his own situation indivually? History shows that the structural weakness of political parties plays against any group strategy in Haiti. Influential politicians agree to particular deals to advance their own situation to the detriment of other members of their groups.

The second series of questions concerns the behaviour of the members of the opposition? Are they going to maintain their alliance in order to confront the challenges posed by the Martelly camp? So far the parties that formed the former opposition have been unified in the face of the challenges they had to overcome in order to win the battle against Martelly. Here too history has shown that unity is not a path always favoured by Haitian politicians.

Finally, as we enter the second month of the presidency of Jocelerme Privert still awaiting the formation of the new electoral council, it is almost certain that 120 days will not suffice to organize the elections. In this sense, it is probable that the parliament will need to prolong the mandate of the interim president and its government. What kind of guarantee  will Privet give in order to secure the continuity of the presidency?

It will be necesarry to watch very closely the behaviour of the actors in the coming days to have clear answers to these interrogations. But what is clear is that the short-term political future of Haiti hinges upon their response. The way they interpret their interest will dictate the degree of political instability that lies ahead.

Armenia – From semi-presidentialism to parliamentarism?

A constitutional referendum is expected to take place in Armenia by the end of the year. In the event of a positive popular vote, the current semi-presidential political system will be transformed into a parliamentary one. At this stage, the reform is strongly favoured by the ruling party, the Republican Party (HHK) while the opposition is divided.

The transformation into a parliamentary system would dramatically change a key feature of the Armenian political system: the preponderance of the presidential office. The first post-independence constitution (also called by its critics “super-presidential”), in vigour since 1995, gave extensive power to the president over all the three branches of government. The second constitution, approved by referendum in 2005, introduced some limits to the power of the president and, conversely, enhanced the prerogatives of the parliament. However, given that for the past 16 years the same party (HHK) has dominated both the executive and legislative branches, no practical change has been observable[1]. The outcome of the referendum (a mandatory step to reform the constitution and expected to take place by the end of the year) may completely shift the distribution of power.

Departing from the past, the constitutional reform would make the presidential office largely ceremonial. More specifically, instead of being the head of the executive, the successor to Mr Sarkisian, would not be directly elected anymore but would be nominated by an electoral college, and would in effect be a super partes figure with limited leeway for autonomous action. In fact, he would have practically no room for intervention in legislative matters. By contrast, the prime minister, who at the current stage has limited personal power, would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy[2]. The President would still formally perform some relevant state activities, such as changing the composition of the government, appointing or recalling diplomats and approving (or suspending) international treaties. However, all those actions should be initiated by proposal of the prime minister[3].

The recent publication of a constitutional draft is the result of almost two years of work. On 4 September 2013 President Sarkisian set up a Commission on Constitutional Reforms. In November of the same year Mr Gagik Harutyunyan[4], the coordinator of the aforementioned Commission and President of the Constitutional Court of Armenia, asked the Venice Commission, which is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, for some assistance in the drafting of a new constitution. The demand was accepted and a group of rapporteurs was constituted. After various rounds of meetings and opinions, in July 2015 a partial first draft was submitted to the Venice Commission. The advisory body praised the effort but also highlighted some points of concern. One of them, pertinent to the parliamentary elections, was the mandatory second round of voting (between the first two parties) in the event that a clear parliamentarian majority failed to emerge. In the draft of July 2015 this point was disciplined by article 89, which provided detailed disposals on the conduct of the second electoral round as well as, for example, the obligation to present the candidate prime ministers. This point, also as result of numerous consultations with opposition parties, has been modified. In fact, in the new version of the text, a run-off vote “may be held” instead of “shall be held”. Additionally, all the details have been removed and transferred to the electoral code.

The run-off issue raised a concern not only in the Venice commission but also in most opposition parties (with the sole exception of ARF). In fact, the opposition feared such a provision would give a disproportionate advantage to the current ruling party such that, if the change had been included, it would have almost certainly recorded a clear-cut victory for the ruling party[5]. For this reason, until the beginning of the summer, the reform lacked broad political support. After the government declared its intention to exclude the aforementioned run-off vote from the constitutional draft, Prosperous Armenia (the second party in the parliament) agreed to back the proposal. Other parties, namely the Armenian National Congress (ANC) and Heritage party, continue to refuse to support the process. The reason for this inflexible attitude is that, even though in principle they may favour a parliamentary system, they fear that President Sarkisian could take advantage from the reform and extend his power beyond the end of his presidential mandate in 2017.

Under the current disposal, the president cannot run for a third term. Consequently Mr Sarkisian, who is already serving his second mandate, should step down after next election. Designating a successor is no guarantee on that he or she would be willing to accept Mr Sarkisian’s influence after the election. In fact, the current president enjoys limited popularity in the country and could be easily marginalized by any heir apparent[6]. Given that, critical voices argue that adopting a parliamentarian system may enable Mr Sarkisian to retain political power beyond the end of his term. As member of the National assembly, he could prolong his duration in power either as prime minister (though it is an option that he openly excluded), or as head of the ruling party. In brief is suspected that, instead of promoting the long-term stabilization of Armenia, the main goal of the reform is to ensure the permanence in power of the current political elite[7]. This vision is also shared by former president Kocharian (1998-2008), who bluntly declared that: “Any modification of the constitution for the sake of politicians’ current interests is a sign of the country’s degradation.” and by the former ministry of foreign affairs Oskanian (1998-2008).  Mr Oskanian also considers that the current government does not enjoy enough political legitimacy to promote such a dramatic change.

Civil society, even though during the summer it was mainly mobilized around the “Electric Yerevan issue”, has shown some interest in the topic. In the past months, the civic initiative “You won’t pass it” has been voicing its concern and trying to fundraise both domestically and abroad in order to rent conference halls and print leaflets. In September 2015 the initiative “NO” appeared. Looking at the population at large, a recent survey shows limited knowledge of the domestic political system. In fact, most respondents believed the country to be a presidential republic rather than a semi-presidential one[8].  Mr Armenak Minasyants[9], a Visiting Scholar in Public Administration at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, comments that the public debate around the issue has not focused on the legal aspects or content of the proposed reform but more notably on the implication for the distribution of power in the short run. The lingering question in almost all the talks is whether the president will step down or not after the term. Given the on-going mainstream narrative, the forthcoming referendum is likely to be perceived as a sort of popular confidence vote on Mr Sarkisian.

[1] Mikayel Zolyan, Parliamentary Democracy or One-Party State: What is behind Armenia’s Constitutional Reform, Staff Analysis, Regional Studies Center (RSC), Vol.4 No.3, September 2015, http://regional-studies.org/images/pr/2015/september/11/RSC_Staff_Analysis_Constitutional_Reform_Zolyan.pdf .

[2] Kathleen C. Weinberger, Armenia’s Constitutional Reforms: Forward Movement or Momentous Fallacy?, Staff Analysis, Regional Studies Center (RSC), Vol.4 No.4, September 2015, http://regional-studies.org/images/pr/2015/september/11/RSC_Staff_Analysis_Constitutional_Reform_Weinberger.pdf .

[3] Draft Constitution (July 2015), articles 131 and 132, http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-REF(2015)023-e .

[4] A well-recognized legal scholar and practitioner, he contributed to the drafting of all the Armenian constitutions, including the 2003 version that was rejected by referendum and not adopted. Mr Harutyunyan, convinced that the Constitution of 2005 did not fully match the Armenian political context, is believed to have played a strong role in the initiation of the Commission on Constitutional Reforms (Armenak Minasyants, phone interview, 13 September 2015).

[5] Zolyan 2015

[6] Zolyan 2015

[7] Weinberger 2015

[8] Ibidem

[9] Phone interview, 13 September 2015.

Jean Blondel – The presidential idea

This is a guest post by Professor Jean Blondel, Professor Emeritus, EUI, Florence

blondel

In the course of the last few years, I became increasingly concerned with the apparent contradiction between the rapid development of regimes in which the role of the president is dominant and the impression that these regimes were at least very often giving way, at any rate temporarily, to what is conventionally regarded as ‘usurpation’. The ‘presidential republics’ which had emerged in the newly independent Spanish American countries in the first decade of the nineteenth century could be regarded as providing evidence for the view which was put forward by Linz and Valenzuala in 1994 in their two volume study, namely that, on the whole, ‘presidential democracy’ was a ‘failure’. The case of France’s ‘Second Republic’ of 1848-51 was also an example of such a ‘failure’ as the model was the America: thus only the successful duration of the US Constitution of 1787-9 made it impossible to adopt such a view as a ‘universal’ proposition. As a matter of fact, the fate of subsequent ‘presidential experiments’ in Europe in the interwar period seemed to confirm the validity of ‘pessimistic’ views, Finland having been the only European exception among them.

Yet this state of affairs did not prevent the multiplication of ‘presidential republics’ in Africa from the late 1950s to the 1970s and beyond; there was more reluctance in Asia and indeed in Europe as well, except for the fact that Gaullist France, alone in Western Europe, adopted presidentialism in 1958-62. Indeed, in the 1990s, a further boost for the model of the ‘presidential republic’ resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union, as Yeltsin adopted the ‘model’ for the new Russia he created, a move which was closely followed by ten of the other eleven ex ’Soviet’ republics which did not join the European Union in 2004. A majority of the countries of the world had come to be presidential as a result (see Table 1 below)!

Table 1

World regimes in 2013 (countries of 100,000 inhabitants or more only)

Region Total Pres Parl. Rep Monarchies Usurp Communist Decentralised Unclassified
West/W. Europe 23 2 9 11 1
E. Europe in EU 11 2 9
E. Europe not in EU 7 3 3 1
Asia 39 11 10 13 1 3 1
Pacific 7 2 3 1 1
Africa 53 45 2 3 3
Amer. (not West) 30 21 1 7 1
Ex Soviet Union 11 11
Total 181 95 36 37 2 4 3 4

Details are given in the volume about the regimes adopted by individual countries in the various parts of the globe.

Even if many of the countries concerned (except in Europe) were affected by ‘coups’, the fact that the ‘presidential idea’ had spread so widely in the twentieth century in particular suggested that, on the basis of what had been truly an institutional ‘invention’ in the United States in 1789, a new ‘constitutional’ formula was being adopted in a context in which ‘new’ countries emerging from colonialism, with difficulty, admittedly, but with also some successes, particularly over time, as Latin American experience seemed to be showing especially from the 1990s and indeed even in some ‘new’ African countries as well, while there might otherwise have been a universal spread of ‘usurpation’ in the ‘new’ ex-colonised countries which were appearing on the scene.

My new book on the ‘Presidential Republic’ is thus an attempt at mapping out the difficult historical development of the ‘presidential republic’ since it was invented in the United States. The ‘presidential republic’ in its various forms is indeed, it seems to me, a genuine success, once we take into account the fact that decolonisation produced a large number of countries in which the legitimacy of the nation was, to say the least, very limited: what may be the case is that presidents in charge of the executive and in office for a number of years, as the United States constitution stipulated for the first time in the history of mankind, might be gradually the key instrument as a result of which usurpation may no longer periodically prevail.

Jean Blondel is a political scientist in the field of comparative politics. He became Professor of Political Science at the EUI in 1985 and was an External Professor from 1994 to 2000. Prof. Blondel set up the Department of Government at the University of Essex in 1964 and co-founded the European Consortium of Political Research. He was the winner of the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science 2004. He has been awarded honoris causa doctorates from the University of Salford, the University of Essex, the University of Louvain-la-Neuve, the University of Turku, the University of Macerata (2007) and the University of Siena (2008).

Kyrgyzstan – Talks of constitutional reforms and the next Presidential election

images

On December 1, the Kyrgyz President, Almazbek Atambayev, declared that he was not willing to change the constitution in order to be eligible to be re-elected for another 6-year term. In sight of the next presidential election, scheduled for March 2017, and considering recent calls for amendments to the constitution, Atambayev’s declaration is very relevant as it could set the context for the next presidential race while reinforcing Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary institutions. Indeed, it might further mark the difference between Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian republics, where presidents have shown no reluctance to deploy constitutional reforms to remain in power.

Atambayev became president of Kyrgyzstan in 2011 after the constitution was amended in 2010. Currently, the constitution allows presidents to exert power for a single term. They cannot be re-elected subsequently after that term is over. Besides making it clear that he will not infringe this constitutional limitation, Atambayev also recalled how difficult it was to be the president of a country that ‘has already suffered from two revolutions’ and where ‘control over the current situation after the revolution is just a ball-breaker, especially if you really work, not steal’.

In recent months, proposing for constitutional reform have been on the rise. Despite this, the current constitution does not allow for any change until 2020, with the goal of stabilizing the political situation in the country while protecting the current constitutional architecture from change and instability. This is the reason why the proposal advanced by the leader of the Ar-Namys party, Feliks Kulov, to change Kyrgyzstan’s name through a referendum set of heated discussion in the country and abroad. Indeed, according to many analysts and to Atyr Abdrahmatova, leader of the civil society organization Civic Union for Reforms and Results, the suggestion was simply a pretext for testing how the Kyrgyz public would react to the idea of amending the constitution through yet another referendum. If the reaction was positive, then political forces could have added additional questions to the agenda of the referendum, such as transforming the distribution of power between national institutions. Another MP, Karganbek Samakov, who recently left the governmental Ata Meken faction, proposed a draft law that would have repealed the ban on the constitutional reform. He declared that ‘the constitution is a living and moving body and it needs to be changed when necessary. Especially now, some of its rules are often violated, are not always enforced and are contradictory in their content.’ Samakov enjoys the support of some of his colleagues, who noticed that the new Parliament, which will be elected in 2015, might be positive towards reforming the basic law.

These initiatives are seen as not coincidental and potentially prepare the ground for the next possible modification of the country’s constitution, which would open new scenarios for the country. Furthermore, local experts suspect that the president is maneuvering to remain in office beyond his current term. According to political scientist Uran Botobekov, the President might be preparing to run for re-election in 2017. That said, Atambayev clearly stated that he has no intention to change the country’s constitution in his favour as his predecessors did and will not become an authoritarian leader.

Csaba Nikolenyi – Indirectly Elected Presidents: The Importance of the Rules of the Game

This is a guest post by Csaba Nikolenyi of the Department of Political Science, Concordia University

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 19.55.34

In my newly released book on Institutional Design and Party Government in Post-Communist Europe (Oxford University Press), I devote a chapter to the assessment of the relationship between the rules of indirect presidential elections and divided government. In democracies, where the chief executive is elected directly by the voters, the notion of divided government refers to split partisan control of the executive and legislative branches. In democracies with indirectly elected presidents, however, the notion of divided government is much less explored. In my study, I do not approach the question of presidential choice and divided government from the perspective of the head of state; instead, my interest is in understanding how particular institutional conditions help, or not, the governing majority of parties to acquire control over the presidency where the constitution provides for an indirectly elected head of states.

Among the ten post-communist EU member states, there are four that had indirect presidential elections as of 2010: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, and Latvia. Since then, the number has dropped to three as a result of the Czech Republic having adopted a constitutional amendment that made the presidency a directly elected office in 2012. I find that in all four cases the rules of the game, specifically the congruence of the presidential election process with the selection of the prime minister, has systematically affected whether the incumbent government coalition of parties will capture the presidency or not. In Hungary and Latvia the rules of winning both the legislature and the executive favor the majority coalition in government. As a result, we tend to see few instances of divided partisan control over the two branches. In contrast, the presidential election rules in the Czech Republic, until 2012, and in Estonia, make it very difficult for the governing coalition to do so: in the former case the selection of the president required bicameral assent, and, in the latter case the winning candidate needs a qualified 2/3 majority in the unicameral Riigikogu. As a result, divided government has been a more frequent outcome in these latter cases.

Do these differences matter? After all, conventional wisdom has it that indirectly elected heads of state tend to have more of a symbolic role than effective political power. I suggest the contrary. Margit Tavits has convincingly shown that presidential power is not always and directly a function of the way in which the chief executive is chosen. At times, an indirectly elected head of state can wield more power over parliament, and political life in general, than a directly elected one depending on factors such as the prevailing balance of powers among parties, personal assets, and, very importantly the formal powers of the office. In the context of East Central Europe, for example, Vaclav Klaus, former (indirectly elected) president of the Czech Republic, was well known for his ability to wield power far beyond what many other directly elected presidents in the region could. In short, it does matter who wins an indirectly contested presidency and, therefore, the rules of the game are very important.

The process of finding the next head of state can be in and of itself an important factor that either supports the institutionalization of the democratic system or paralyzes it. Slovakia abolished the indirectly elected presidency after multiple rounds of balloting in 1998 failed to produce a winning candidate leaving the office vacant for six months and creating considerable political and constitutional turmoil. Similarly, the election of Vaclav Klaus in 2003 was the end product of a prolonged sequence of three rounds of ballots that left the Czech Republic paralyzed for two months. In addition to producing divided government, Klaus’ eventual victory also led to continued acrimony within the ranks of the governing coalition. In fact, it was during the 2003 presidential election process that serious calls in favor of moving to a direct presidential election, as Slovakia had done a few years prior, surfaced. The case of Latvia shows that even a simple majority requirement, that should favor the candidate of the governing coalition, may not be sufficient to generate a straightforward presidential election if the party system is too fragmented: in 1999 it took six rounds of balloting in the Saeima to find the winning candidate, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

All of this leads to a specific recommendation that institutional designers may take to heart. Juan Linz famously argued that presidentialism, i.e. having a powerful directly elected head of state, is perilous for a new democracy for several reasons including the divisive zero-sum nature of the presidential election. I argue that an indirectly elected presidency may be just as divisive and perilous for a new democracy unless the rules of the game are planned carefully. If the constitution calls for an indirectly elected presidency it is best to have such rules in place that will keep the number of rounds, and the possibility of a protracted or failed balloting, to a minimum. Having a presidential election rule in place that requires the winning candidate to have a special qualified majority tends to exacerbate political divisions in two ways: i) they tend to lead to divided government and conflict between the legislative majority and the head of state; ii) and they increase the likelihood of protracted or failed votes. The current political crisis in Lebanon, where the legislature has failed to elect a new president after thirteen rounds of voting at the time of writing, is a stark reminder of the negative political consequences of such rules in a different part of the world. Simple majority rules allowing for limited rounds to elect the head of state may reinforce the political power of the governing majority by reducing the likelihood of divided government. As such, they lead to greater concentration of power than qualified majority election rules do. Nonetheless, they lead to smoother, more efficient and more predictable outcomes that reduce the strain on the institutional structures of a new democracy.

Csaba Nikolenyi received his PhD from the University of British Columbia in 2000 and was hired by Concordia University the same year. His research focuses on the comparative study of political parties, electoral systems and legislatures in post-communist democracies as well as on the political systems of Israel and India. He was former English Co-Editor of the Canadian Journal of Political Science (2006-11). He served as Code Administrator in the Faculty of Arts and Science between 2009 and 2011 and as Chair of the Department of Political Science between 2011 and 2014. Currently, he is the Director of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies. Dr. Nikolenyi has published extensively in comparative politics journals and has authored two books: Minority Government in India (Routledge 210) and Institutional Design and Party Government in Post-Communist Democracies (Oxford University Press, 2014). He was a Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2007-8) and the Centre for European Studies at the Australian National University (2012).

Afghanistan – Ex-presidential rivals strike power-sharing deal. Ghani new president

Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai

After months of mutual accusations and threats of major political turmoil and mobilisation, the two rival presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, reached an agreement to solve the national crisis and form a government of national unity. In a televised ceremony on Sunday, they signed a power-sharing agreement that makes of Ghani the new President of Afghanistan and Abdullah the Chief Executive Officer of the government, a new office for Afghanistan similar to a Prime Minister. Abdullah might also nominate someone else to occupy the office. Ghani is expected to be sworn in as the new President of the country on Sept. 29. This agreement and the formation of a government of national unity have been greeted by the international community as welcome news, since the atmosphere of bitter conflict and political uncertainty was damaging the already fragile security of the country.

From a technical point of view, the agreement changes quite significantly the structure of government of Afghanistan. The highly-centralised presidential system will now have to face a number of challenges to integrate the new role, the CEO, in its functions considering that it will share a number of prerogatives with the president, such as for instance control over key institutions including the Army.  The agreement gives substantial powers to the newly created position, defining it as having the functions of an executive prime minister. According to the agreement, a new institution is created, the council of ministers, which will work in parallel with the President’s cabinet. The council of ministers will be headed by the CEO and will include two deputies and all cabinet ministers. The council will implement the executive decisions of the government. As for the President’s cabinet, it will be headed by the President and will include all ministers. The CEO will be responsible for managing the cabinet’s implementation of government policies, and will report on progress to the president directly and in the cabinet. Another clause calls for parity in the selection of personnel between the president and the CEO at the level of head of key security and economic institutions.

Although relief is understandable, there are a number of unclear points that cast a certain shadow on the optimism. First of all, the Taliban have already expressed their opposition to the pact and rejected the national unity government pact as a ploy orchestrated by the US administration. This means that national security is still in danger and that this government will not be a government of national unity. Secondly, it is not clear how the power-sharing agreement will work, and how the role and notion of a CEO will be received by the population and local elites. Given the rather conflictual relationship between Abdullah and Ghani, it is not certain that the national unity government, with two powerful offices within it, will be actually able to work or whether will be torn apart by internal conflicts. Thirdly, the technical implementation of the agreement might take a long time, as the CEO is a new institution that needs to be integrated in the Constitution. Under current provisions, the agreement calls on the Loya Jirga to amend the Constitution to create the position of an executive prime minister within two years.

The new president and the new government are expected to rule Afghanistan during very sensitive times, as the withdrawal of US troops is to be completed by December 2014.

Vanuatu – Choosing a president

On 2 September the search for a new President of Vanuatu officially commenced when the five-year term of the incumbent, HE Iolu Johnson Abbil, came to an end. The country now waits on the deliberations of an Electoral College comprising of all 52 members of parliament and the presidents of Vanuatu’s six provincial governments to find out whom the next president will be. Early indications are that a politician attached to the main governing party and from Malampa Province could be the front-runner to be the next Head of State. The usual process is that the Electoral Office declares the position vacant and invites applications, with political parties nominating candidates. In 2009, 11 of the 13 people who applied for the position were subsequently approved by the Electoral Office to stand as candidates. Abbil eventually won the support of the Electoral College after two days of voting.

In line with the conventions of its Westminster-inspired parliamentary system, Vanuatu’s president has historically served a ceremonial non-executive function similar to that of a Governor-General. Vanuatu is a cultural and linguistically heterogeneous country but Anglophone-Francophone cleavages have played an important role in post-colonial politics – Britain and France shared administrative responsibility for the New Hebrides colony under a ‘condominium’ arrangement until independence in 1980.[i] The early dominance of the Vanua’aku Pati in post-independent politics meant that it wasn’t until 1994 that a Francophone candidate, Jean Marie Leye, was elected president. This transfer of power and authority from English-speaking to French-speaking leaders has led some commentators[ii] to argue that despite having limited involvement in the day to day operation of government, the office has the potential to facilitate an ‘integrative nation-building processes in which marginalized minority elements are brought into high status decision-making positions’.

On the other hand, what makes the outcome of the ballot somewhat uncertain is that since 1991 Vanuatu has seen successive coalition governments who are regularly subject to votes-of-no-confidence. The current government, for example, was installed in May of this year after successfully bringing down the previous coalition in a no-confidence vote. In such circumstances, while the position itself is largely ceremonial, any such appointment is subject to intense political manoeuvring in a context where the allocation of power and patronage is finely balanced. Indeed, some commentators have argued that disagreement over how to divide the spoils of office have underpinned the collapse of successive coalitions governments since 1998.[iii] So, while in theory the government has the majority, in practice wheeling and dealing is required, especially as the expanded Electoral College alters the numbers.

One prominent example is the 2004 presidential ballot when friction between government and opposition, and within both camps, led to the election of a compromise candidate who it later turned out was under a suspended sentence for fraud (they were forced to resign weeks later).[iv] In this instance, dissatisfaction with the way the prime minister handled the matter led to the disillusionment of parliament and fresh elections. Indeed, while a ceremonial role has been the norm, the presidency of Vanuatu has been known to attract controversy. Most prominently, the inaugural president, Ati George Sokomanu, was dismissed by the Electoral College in 1989 after his decision to dissolve parliament, call elections and appoint an interim government, led by his nephew, was deemed unconstitutional (he was initially arrested and convicted of seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government, among other things, but the charges were later dropped on appeal).[v] So, while the position is largely ceremonial, and the institutional procedure for electing a new president relatively straightforward, the politics of presidential appointments in Vanuatu can be more complex and uncertain.

[i] Van Trease, H. 2005. “The Operation of the Single Non-Transferable Vote System in Vanuatu.” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. 43(3): 296-332.

[ii] Levine, S., and N. Roberts. 2005. “The Constitutional Structures and Electoral Systems of Pacific Island States”. Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. 43(3): 276-295.

[iii] Van Trease, H. 2005. “The Operation of the Single Non-Transferable Vote System in Vanuatu.” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. 43(3): 296-332.

[iv] Van Trease, H. 2005. “The Operation of the Single Non-Transferable Vote System in Vanuatu.” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. 43(3): 296-332.

[v] Van Trease, H. 1995. “Years of Turmoil: 1987-91” In H. Van Trease (ed.) Melanesian Politics: Stael Blong Vanuatu. Christchurch and Suva: Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies and the Institute for Pacific Studies, p. 73-118.

Iran – Intraelite conflicts keep Rouhani’s government in check

RouhaniAngry

The moderate president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has again come under attack from conservative political groups, in stark contrast to the beginning of his mandate more than one year ago. Conflicting positions over nuclear negotiations with the West, over the Internet-freedom and, more recently, the impeachment of Reza Faraji-Dana, Rouhani’s reformist Minister of Science, Research and Technology, seem to signal that Rouhani’s conservative rivals are gaining momentum.

Within the institutional system of the Islamic Republic, the President is a crucial office, but it is the Supreme Leader, namely Ali Khamenei, who enjoys massive power and extensive control over the policy-making process and pivotal institutions, such as the judiciary system, the media, security forces and, notably, the Sepah-e Pasdaran or Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) (all potential proxies to deploy in the Leader vs President opposition). Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic indeed, successive oppositions between these two offices have brought about numerous institutional crisis and stalemates, which experts have operationalised into the notions of ‘suspended equilibrium’ and ‘dual sovereignty.’

Currently, the Supreme Leader can not only count on his constitutional extensive power, but also on the conservative-led majority in the Parliament, which is very vocal in its opposition to Rouhani’s policies inspired by diplomatic and cultural easiness.

In June and July, after conflicts between Rouhani and the IRGC Commander Major General Ali Jafari, the conservative factions attacked Rouhani’s government-led diplomatic efforts in the context of the nuclear negotiations, with the purpose of condemning Rouhani’s rapprochement with the West, which they consider as dangerous for the revolutionary nature of the Islamic Republic. ‘Negotiations on behalf of the system of the Islamic Republic must follow the path of Islamic ideals,’ declared Karimi-Ghadoosi, an hardline MP, while accusing the incumbent Minister of Foreign Affairs, Javad Zarif, of ‘selling out Iranian interests.’ Fears of ‘cultural invasion’ on the part of the West, should conflicts with the US and the EU be resolved, seem to be the most pressing concern for conservatives, in particular after the boosting of regional turmoil during the summer which have secured Iran’s safety in the region. According to Payam Mohseni indeed, conservatives in Iran are ‘very confident about their rising power and regional standing, and there was no sense of urgency or need to compromise and resolve the nuclear standoff.  They believed to have gained much from the regional turmoil in Syria and recently in Iraq with the rise of ISIS.  Most elites also discussed the sanctions as an opportunity and divine gift for economic development and self-sufficiency – a threat that could be handled and overcome. The main difference between moderates and hardliners was that the latter were more skeptical of the utility of nuclear negotiations and the benefit of cooperating with the United States on regional matters.’

In addition to the nuclear program, conflicts between the moderates and the conservatives have also emerged over cultural freedom. A well-known case is the one of the Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, who declared that Iranian authorities should introduce measures that would prevent access to the ‘negative, un-Islamic features’ of high-speed Internet and 3G services, whose licenses have just been awarded to three mobile broadband companies, in order to prevent the spread of corruption. Rouhani responded by urging clerics not to oppose the Internet and not to ‘cut off’ Iran from the rest of the world. Noting that the internet is vital to the younger generation, he said: ‘If we do not move towards the new generation of mobile today and resist it, we will have to do it tomorrow. If not, the day after tomorrow.’ This is just the last chapter of an older struggle between the conservative establishment and the government over Internet freedom.

Along with conflicts over Internet freedom and nuclear negotiations, the President is also facing the conservative-led Parliament’s attacks over his government. After conflicts over cabinet appointments, on August 20th the Parliament successfully impeached the Minister of Science, Research and Technology Faraji-Dana. With this move, the most conservative elements in Parliament have had a significant political impact. Faraji-Dana was particularly popular among academics thanks to his efforts for de-securitising and revitalising Iran’s universities, in accord with Rouhani’s stance on academic freedom. Moreover, Faraji-Dana brought back to universities the so-called ‘starred’ students and professors, namely those who were expelled because of their political views expressed during and after the highly-contested 2009 presidential election. The Minister’s impeachment was criticised by relevant political personalities backing Rouhani’s administration. The factional conflict is however ongoing as the first vice-president declared that the government’s investigation over the handling of student scholarships will continue despite the Minister’s impeachment, in a bid of unveiling the politically motivated management of grants in favour of conservative students and to the detriment of reformist ones during Ahmadinejad’s mandates.

Despite the relevance of the ongoing struggle between the moderate administration and the conservative establishment, this is ‘politics as usual’ in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Indeed, neither impeachments of moderate ministers nor attacks on moderate presidents are breaking-news in the country. Not only is the conflict between moderate reformists and conservative not a novelty, but also the fact those factional groups are proxies of the President and the Supreme Leader does not constitute any surprise. Indeed the contraposition between Khamenei and Rouhani mirrors previous President vs Leader contrappositions, and therefore is in continuity with the political and historical trajectory since 1979.