Category Archives: Semi-presidentialism

Austria – Green candidate Van der Bellen beats far-right Hofer in repeat of runoff election

On Sunday, 4 December, Austria finally held the do-over of the second round of presidential elections after the constitutional court voided the first attempt due to irregularities. Green party veteran Alexander Van der Bellen, running as an independent, had won the first run-off on 22 May with only a razor-thin margin of 31,000 votes, but was now able to claim a more decisive victory. While national and international observers may be relieved by the fact that controversial far-right candidate Norbert Hofer (FPÖ) was defeated, the election has already spelled an end to business as usual in Austrian politics and may even have greater signalling power for (presidential) elections across Europe next year.

results-of-the-austrian-presidential-election-2016-presidential-power-com

The Austrian presidential elections 2016, more precisely its runoff, will likely go down in history as an example of all the things that can go wrong when organising an election. The Constitutional Court found numerous violations of procedures in its ruling on the first runoff elections, ranging from the deliberate destruction of unaccounted ballots, early opening of postal ballots and the accidental inclusion of 14 and 15 year-olds on the electoral register. The do-over of the election – first planned for 4 October – was riddled with problems, too, and had to be postponed due to faulty glue application on envelopes for postal ballot.

The subsequently stretched out electoral campaign showed great variations and intensity and approval for the two candidates which can otherwise only rarely be observed (hardly any country around the world leaves more than one month between first round and runoff). At first, these variations and particularly the voiding of the first runoff seemed to play in favour of far-right candidate Norbert Hofer whose approval ratings put him several percent ahead of his challenger. Nevertheless, while politicians from the dominant parties SPÖ and ÖVP (whose candidates failed to enter the runoff for the first time since the end of WWII) were still reluctant to declare their support for either candidate in anticipation of a FPÖ victory and the need to form a coalition after the next general elections, the vast majority of public figures and intellectuals now supported Van der Bellen (a fact criticised by Hofer’s campaign as a conspiracy of the establishment). Yet Hofer also fell victim to his aggressive rhetoric and his failure to criticise the vicious attacks on Van der Bellen by his followers via social media.

Hofer also continued to advertise his vision of a more active president who would make more frequent use of the ample constitutional powers of the office which include dismissal of the Chancellor at will (see also Robert Elgie’s interview with Die Presse here). The prospect of a new government and/or early elections – which may still happen – may have turned voters towards Van der Bellen who promised to continue within the current political practice and limit his activism to more frequent interpellations and statements in political debates.

Increased international attention and scrutiny, particularly in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, has been another factor working in Van der Bellen’s favour. Similarly to the French presidential election in 2002, when far-right leader Jean Marie Le Pen surprisingly relegated Social Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to third place and entered the runoff against incumbent Jacques Chirac, the potential of a far-right victory and subsequent ‘slide to the right’ mobilised voters for the left-centrist Van der Bellen. Nevertheless, the stark difference between electoral results (Chirac beat Le Pen with 82:18 margin), highlights the considerably greater support for the far-right in Austria (although the French presidential contest 2017 may change the perspective on this).

The latter example naturally leads to the question of what consequences the Austrian elections have nationally and internationally. The result of the first round already led to the resignation of Werner Faymann as Chancellor and SPÖ leader. Both SPÖ and ÖVP have lost greatly in public support, whereas the FPÖ – which already governs some of the Austrian federal states – is now on track to become the strongest party in the next election. Although a continuation of the grand coalition of SPÖ and ÖVP may remain arithmetically possible, politically it will be difficult to exclude the FPÖ from government much longer – an option which will likely find the same amount of resistance among Austria’s neighbours as when it was first part of a coalition government with the ÖVP 1999-2003. The election has rung in the end of the traditional dominance of SPÖ and ÖVP and highlighted their eroding support in the electorate. The fact that Hofer still won the first round of presidential elections and received more than 35.1% of votes in the run-off, will have encouraged far-right leaders across the European continent and may – as mentioned above – have signalling effect for the French presidential elections. Looking towards elections in other European countries, the influence of the result is less clear. Hofer’s FPÖ is a long- and well-established far-right party and panders quite openly to those with questionable views of the Nazi-regime and Austrian involvement in it. In Germany, where general elections will be held in October 2017, the challenger from the far-right comes in the form of the ‘Alternative for Germany’. Although it only narrowly missed the 5% threshold in the 2013 elections and has recently won mandates in the European Parliament state legislatures, it is far from being as deeply anchored and widely accepted in society as the FPÖ.

Last, the Austrian elections highlights a potential emerging trend in (presidential) elections – the rise of establishment figures running anti-establishment campaigns. Despite being clearly part of the political establishment, Hofer (deputy speaker of the lower chamber of parliament) and Van der Bellen (former leader of the Green party and long-standing deputy) presented themselves as anti-establishment candidates. One could argue that support for Miloš Zeman (also a former party leader and Prime Minister) in the Czech Republic as well as for long-time senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries and billionaire Donald Trump in the presidential election elections are expressions of the same phenomenon. Nevertheless, the question remains whether this means that (far-right) populists can only be defeated by other (centre or left-wing) populists, or if there is another way in which established parties can counter the erosion of their support.

Presidential power and the Austrian presidential election

In April 2016, I was asked by the Austrian newspaper, Die Presse, to provide some general thoughts on presidents and presidential power in the run up to the first round of the presidential election there. The FPÖ candidate, Norbert Hofer, was expected to do well and I was asked about how the role of the president might change if he won. The article in Die Presse summarised my thoughts and is available in German here. With the re-run run-off election due to be held on 4 December and with the FPÖ likely to win, here is the full transcript of the comments I returned. They seem as relevant now as before except that the traditional situation in Austria is perhaps even more likely to change if Hofer is elected than was envisaged in April. Given the context of the election, if he wins he may wish to flex his presidential powers. Moreover, the presidency itself is also perhaps more likely to be the subject of controversy.

  • Which of the powers of a president have the greatest political significance in your view?

Presidential powers are always dependent upon context, particularly the party political context. For example, the power to dissolve parliament seems like a really important constitutional power. However, if the president’s party is poorly placed to do well at the election or if an election has been held only recently and another election is not going to change the situation, then the power to dissolve the legislature becomes almost a dead power. In effect, the president cannot use it. The same goes for the power to call a referendum. Presidents tend to call referendums when they know they are going to win them. If they are worried that they will lose, then they rarely risk calling one in the first place. So, the power in effect disappears.

Two important powers are the power to appoint and dismiss the PM. The power to appoint the PM seems very important. However, as before, often presidents have little choice. The election may have returned a party or coalition with a legislative majority. The party or coalition is likely to have its own Chancellor candidate. So, the president can often do little more than choose the PM that the parties have already agreed on. Only if there is a very fragmented party system, or if the government collapses and there is no clear alternative PM can the president exercise a personal influence. Clearly, this circumstance can arise, but it usually rare. By contrast, the power to dismiss the PM can be important. This situation can allow the president to take the initiative, especially if the PM is unpopular. The risk is that it brings the president into conflict with the parties in the legislature. Indeed, this power is one that is not recommended for young democracies.

  • Do you agree with the view that the actual power of a president depends on whether he controls (or is able to neutralize) parliament? Is it true that in a semi-presidential regime, a weak parliament is the precondition for a strong president?

Again, the exercise of power is a mix of constitutional powers and political context. France is the classic example here. In 1958 the constitutional powers of parliament were greatly reduced and by the mid-1960s the president was established as the main political leader of the country. So it looks as if a weak parliament was a necessary condition for a strong president. However, in France presidents have tended to be backed by a presidential majority in parliament. This majority has been loyal. The majority has not wanted to use any of parliament’s remaining powers to block the president. Even when the majority has been opposed to the president during periods of cohabitation, power has simply shifted to the prime minister. Parliament has not become any stronger. So, yes, the constitution matters. Parliaments can have more or less powers in that regard. However, the relationship between presidents and parties is equally if not more important. In practice, a weak parliament is often the result of a particular party political context, just as much as if not more so than the constitutional situation itself. Of course, the flip side can occur too. If the party political context is confused, then parliament can become strong, usually viz. the PM and government, though, rather than the president. That said, if parliament uses it power to vote down a government, then the president can be called upon to make a choice about a new government.

  • If you assess the constitutional powers of the Austrian president, could he – given different political circumstances – become as strong an institutional figure as the French president? What would be necessary for this to happen?

Austria is a very unusual case. Iceland is perhaps the only other country like it in terms of the presidency. In both countries, the powers of the president are strong relative to most other semi-presidential countries. For example, the Austria president probably has more constitutional powers than the the French president. The Austrian president can dismiss the PM and government, whereas the French president, according to the constitution at least, cannot. In practice, though, the situations in the two countries are reversed. In Austria, the president is a pure figurehead and has almost always simply executed the decisions that the government and parties have wanted. True, some presidents have been more willing to criticize the government than others, but none has used their powers independently. By contrast, the French president is seen as the leader of the presidential majority in parliament. This means that the president has usually been able to appoint a loyal prime minister who will carry out the president’s wishes with the backing of the majority. As the leader of the majority, the president has also had the de facto power to change the PM even though this is not in the constitution, whereas the Austrian president has not exercised that power, even though it is in the constitution.

For the situation in Austria to change, the political context must change. Up to now, parties have not chosen candidates who are likely to see the presidency as an active institution. This can be seen in the age and profile of previous presidents and presidential candidates. They have tended to be elderly figures, who have often had an important party career in the past but who are no longer senior party decision-making figures. Alternatively, they have been largely independent figures who have been adopted by political parties. In neither case have they had the party political authority to act independently. In this context, it is not surprising that they have been figurehead presidents. Moreover, there is also the historical factor in Austria. This has weighed against the desire for an active presidency. However, the political context can always change. If the president were to come from outside the governing parties, then this could change the situation. The new president might feel that s/he has a mandate to act. Also, if there was now a mood for a more active presidency to address the country’s difficult issues, then a new president might feel justified in using his/her powers.

Let’s go back to the Icelandic case. Here, it was very common to hear that the president’s powers were lost. The president was a pure figurehead. Nothing would change that. Powers would never be used. However, during the financial crash the president vetoed government bills on two occasions, leading to two referendums. Suddenly, the powers that some people had assumed had been lost came back. In fact, they had never gone away. It was just that the political context had changed and now the president was in a position to use them. The context in Austria may change too.

  • Is there any institutional aspect or authority that makes the Austrian president extraordinary in comparison with other European presidents (e.g. the right to freely choose the prime minister?

Other countries have this power. For example, the French president has the power to nominate the PM freely. It is worth noting that in contrast to some countries the Austrian president does not have long list of clearly defined executive powers. If the new president wanted to be more active and if the president was from a party that was not in government, there may be the potential for the constitutional powers of the president and government to be disputed. In this event, the courts might be called upon the interpret the constitution. This has happened previously in countries like Romania and Poland. So, the presidency could become a source of constitutional debate. Again, though, this would require a change of political context.

  • Do you think that directly elected presidents are (ceteris paribus) more powerful/influential than indirectly elected presidents, or are other factors (such as the configuration of the party system or the authority of the office-holders) of greater significance?

Direct election is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a strong president. It is true that directly elected presidents tend to be more powerful than indirectly elected ones. For example, the directly elected French and Romanian presidents are more active than the indirectly elected German or Latvian presidents. That said, there are some very weak directly elected presidents. Austria is one case. Ireland and Slovenia are others. There are also times when indirectly elected presidents have been influential in countries like Italy. So, direct election is not a guarantee of power. Moreover, if we look at Slovakia and the Czech Republic, both of which changed their constitution and shifted from an indirectly elected president to a directly elected president, we see that the role of the president scarcely changed pre- and post-direct election. In other words, direct election has not made much difference to the exercise of presidential power in either country.

Again, what matters in the mix of the constitutional situation and the political context. The combination of a directly elected president, an important set of constitutional powers, and a political context where the exercise of those powers is seen as both legitimate and desirable can lead to a very influential president. In practice, that combination of factors has been relatively rare in post-war Europe. France is the obvious case where they have combined on occasions. In most cases, though, even when there has been a directly elected president, then either the president has not enjoyed very many powers, or, more usually, the party political context has not been particularly conducive to the exercise of those powers at least in the long-term.

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.

Moldova – Presidential election Round 2 between Igor Dodon and Maia Sandu

The Republic of Moldova is a small country, penned in between Romania and Ukraine. It holds the sad title of being the poorest nation in Europe. And sure, one reason to engage more thoroughly with Moldova is the unquestionable wine culture; yet even more important is its geopolitical position in between two influential poles (the European Union and Russia) and its fascinating constitutional development since its independence in 1991. The constitutional choices made throughout the last 25 years cover variations of executive-legislative relations rarely found in the post-soviet area: in an earlier blog post I described it as a ping pong game (see Fruhstorfer 2016). At the moment the game is back to a semi-presidential system with a directly elected president. In this post, I try to offer a brief overview of the campaign and an analysis of the second round of the presidential election in Moldova.

One of the important slogans of the presidential campaign was in this or similar style “Viitorul Moldovei este alături de o Rusie puternică“ (Moldova’s future is with a strong Russia). This slogan illustrates the choice that was proposed to the people of Moldova. The two frontrunners after the first round of the election were generally described as the embodiment of this choice. Igor Dodon of the Party of Socialists (PSRM) plays the pro-Russian role and promised – among other things – to call for a referendum to withdraw from the European Union trade agreement. Maia Sandu played the clear role of an outspoken supporter of Moldova’s integration into the European Union.

But next to these candidates, who faced each other also in the second round, there are several other important actors that in one-way or another are of interest for the understanding of these elections. I would like to mention them briefly: First, Renato Usatii, who was no candidate in this presidential election. This is mainly related to the constitutional court decision to abolish the 2000 constitutional amendment and re-establish the direct election of the president. In this decision the court excluded some provisions. Most importantly it did not return to the age limit for running as president as stipulated by the 1994 constitution. This means the court showed great judicial activism and thus presumably excluded Usatii from running for president. In his place, Dumitru Ciubasenco (a journalist and self-proclaimed opponent of Plahotniuc’s oligarchic regime) ran as candidate for Our Party (he received only 6% of votes during the first round).

Another candidate, Andrei Năstase, withdrew his candidacy shortly before the election in support of Maia Sandu. Some argue that he was forced to do so by external pressure (i.e. the United States of America), but Năstase claimed he wanted to help in building a strong anti-Dodon coalition led by Sandu. The presidential bid of Marian Lupu, the chairman of the Democratic Party (Tass 2016) took a similar road, he also withdrew in support of the pro-EU candidate Sandu.

After the first round of the presidential election, during which only 49% of eligible citizens cast their votes (Rusnac 2016), none of the candidates received the necessary absolute majority. 48.3 % votes for Dodon and 38.4 % for Sandu (Rusnac 2016). These two candidates were then also the choice that represented itself to the people of Moldova: voting for Igor Dodon from the Party of Socialists (PSRM), an outspoken Putin fan, who campaigned for closer ties with Russia (BBC 2016) or voting for the pro-EU candidate Maia Sandu. Dodon won with 52.28% of votes (47.82 voted for Sandu). The voter turnout for the second round (53.54%, see BBC 2016) increased, which I initially assumed would lead to a better chance for Sandu to win the election. So why did Igor Dodon win?

There are several reasons and we have to analyze each of them very carefully in further research: Yet for this post I will suggest that the following aspects played an important role.
First, the campaign for the second round was – although brief – dirty, revengeful and consisted merely in the smearing of candidates. But Dodon also managed to paint a slightly different picture of his ties with Russia than during the first round. This obviously was intended to gain the support of more moderate voters. It is also astounding that an anonymous ambassador for a EU member state revealed, “Dodon had privately told diplomats his party would not jettison the EU accord“ (CBC News 2016).

But still, Dodon (Minister of Economy during the ruling of the communist party 2006-2009) was running a smear-campaign. He attacked Sandu, her integrity and her past as member of the ruling elite (she was Minister of Education 2012-2015). He even tried to associate her with the devastating billion-dollar heist that left the country’s monetary system in peril (as far as the evidence suggest this allegation is unsubstantiated and she even demanded a more thorough investigation, see Brett et al. 2015).

Furthermore Dodon was supported by traditional media, had a much stronger ground game and was even supported by the Moldovan Orthodox Church (RFE/RL 2016). The support of the church is a particularly interesting element in this election as it points to an increasing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on Moldova (a phenomenon which can be observed in a variety of post-soviet countries). It is also worth noting that parts of the church leadership also engaged in the smear campaign against Sandu.

Similarly, the media support for Dodon might seem surprising as one of central figures in Moldovan politics and owner of a large media group is Vlad Plahotniuc, vice chair of the pro-EU Democratic Party (PDM). His role is mysterious. Some argue that he did not declare his support for Sandu publicly (see RFE/RL 2016), although some reports suggest otherwise (Popsoi 2016). Either way if Sandu had his support it was not necessarily helpful for her campaign; some labeled the support “toxic“ (Popsoi 2016). What is even more unexpected is that traditional media largely owned by him seem to have been more inclined to support Dodon. Some reports even claim that Dodon used Plahotniuc’s private jet during this campaign, but I cannot confirm this information with reliable sources.

As in many semi-presidential systems, also the Republic of Moldova now faces a period of cohabitation. It is unclear how confrontational this one will be. Prime Minister Pavel Filip from the Democratic Party (PDM) suggested a pragmatic working relationship. Thus, it remains to be seen if the future actually holds a Filip-Plahotniuc-Dodon cooperation or if we will observe a further perpetuation of the conflict between the government in favor of EU integration and a head of state in favor of close ties with Russia.

Literature

BBC (2016): Pro-Moscow figure Igor Dodon claims Moldova presidency. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37970155. November 14 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Brett, Daniel; Knott, Ellie; Popsoi, Mihai (2015): The ‘billion dollar protests’ in Moldova are threatening the survival of the country’s political elite, in http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/09/21/the-billion-dollar-protests-in-moldova-are-threatening-the-survival-of-the-countrys-political-elite/, September 21 [accessed November 15, 2016]
CBC News (2016): Moldova elects a new president, who is seen as friendly to Putin, in http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/moldova-presidential-election-dodon-sandu-1.3849499, November 14 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Fruhstorfer, Anna (2016): Back to the future: The abolition of the parliamentary system in Moldova, in http://presidential-power.com/?p=4588
Popsoi, Mihai (2016): Russia Scores Symbolic Victory in Moldova’s Presidential Election, in:  https://moldovanpolitics.com/2016/11/14/russia-scores-symbolic-victory-in-moldovas-presidential-election/, November 14 [accessed November 15, 2016]
RFE/RL (2016): Moldova Presidential Election Headed For Runoff, http://www.rferl.org/a/moldova-presidential-election-close-contentious/28082659.html. October 31 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Rusnac, Cornelia. 2016. “Moldovan Presidential Election Goes to Runoff“, ABC News, In. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/moldovan-presidential-election-runoff-43185557 [accessed October 31, 2016]
TASS (2016): Moldova’s opposition candidate drops out of presidential race, in http://tass.com/world/908914. October 26 [accessed November 15, 2016]

Sources

Constitution of the Republic of Moldova. Available at https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Moldova_2006?lang=en. (accessed July 13, 2015)
Constitutional Amendment. 2000. Law No. 1115-XIV of July 5, 2000. Monitorul Oficial al R. Moldova, No. 88–90 July 28, 2000. Chișinău, July 28.
Constitutional Court of Moldova. 2016. Curtea Constituţională a restabilit dreptul cetăţenilor de a-şi alege Preşedintele. March 4. http://www.constcourt.md/libview.php?l=ro&idc=7&id=759&t=/Prezentare-generala/Serviciul-de-presa/Noutati/Curtea-Constitutionala-a-restabilit-dreptul-cetatenilor-de-a-si-alege-Presedintele. (Accessed March 6, 2016)

Presidential elections in Moldova

In this post, I examine the first round of presidential elections in Moldova. The election was held on October 30 – for the first time in 20 years as direct election. After the surprising ruling of the Moldovan Constitutional Court in March 2016 the country returned to a semi-presidential system by abolishing the constitutional amendment of 2000. Hence, the direct election of the Moldovan President is nothing completely new. And it is probably also not surprising that the cleavages and the areas of tension remained the same as during the last direct presidential election of Petru Lucinschi in November 1996. In the following, I will first briefly describe the important constitutional amendments and decisions concerning the direct election of the president. This is followed by an overview of the campaign preceding the election, and the results. The two frontrunner during the campaing – Igor Dodon of the Party of Socialists (PSRM)  and Maia Sandu of the Action and Solidarity Party – will also face each other in the runoff election on November 13 (this also means to stay tuned; this post will have a follow-up after the second round of the elections in two weeks).

Until recently Moldova was one of the few parliamentary systems with a not directly elected president in the post-soviet space. A constitutional amendment to the 1994 constitution abolished the direct election of the president and significantly reduced the presidential power (see Fruhstorfer 2016). This 2000 amendment was however not uncontroversial and was rather the culmination of an enduring conflict between President Lucinschi and several prime ministers. The amendment was intended to solve this conflict and to put the president in a clearer position and strengthen the power of the prime minister and the parliamentary majority. Yet this did not have the intended effect and resulted in further constitutional conflicts. In particular the constitutional provision that a president needs a three-fifth majority in parliament to be elected, led to several deadlocks over the years. This specific majority was also the reason why the constitutional court declared the 2000 amendment unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016). According to Art. 141 on the amendment of the constitution, amendment laws can be “submitted to Parliament on condition that the Constitutional Court issues the appropriate recommendation supported by at least 4 judges”. But the constitutional amendment procedure did not correctly follow these rules. In particular the text of the amendment initiative changed between first and second reading in parliament. The initial draft included the more reasonable 51 votes (out of 101) majority (Digi 24 2016) to become elected president of Moldova.

Thus, for 20 years the president was not directly elected and political actors struggled with the increased majority provision. But the issues that triggered the 2000 amendment are not solved by a return to the constitutional provisions of the 1994 constitution. I wrote in an earlier Blog post on the constitutional court decision that “the 1994 constitution failed to establish a clear separation of competences, especially favoring presidential dominance.” (Fruhstorfer 2016a) And although 20 years have passed, a lot of the struggles that tormented the country in the 90ies are still on the table and became important issues in the 2016 presidential campaign.

This campaign was – as in a variety of other countries in the region – dominated by two topics: first, the orientation towards the European Union or a return to Russian influence and second, the fight against corruption. Whereas the first issue is one of the dominant features, it is also generally pretty vague. Yet, the two frontrunners after the first round of the election have issued rather clear ideas what their plans on this issue are. Igor Dodon of the Party of Socialists (PSRM) who is consistently labeled as pro-Russia promised to call for a referendum to withdraw from the European Union trade agreement. Instead he plans to work closer with the Eurasian Customs Union. Maia Sandu on the other side is an outspoken supporter of increasing ties with the European Union. Her platform Action and Solidarity, now labeled Action and Solidarity Party, promises instead „to build a European Republic of Moldova“ (Program 2016). Concerning the second issue, corruption, also both candidates promise to fight it once and for all. This is mostly with reference to the many political scandals – most severely the 1 billion USD theft and the arrest and involvement of a number of political actors, among them former Prime Minister Vlat Filat. Already in her manifest, Sandu and the Action and Solidarity Party declare: „Minciuna a devenit o normă“ (Lying has become a norm) (Manifest 2016). And they promise to fight corruption with a new sincerity. This is seconded by Dodon, who declares himself outside the corrupt elite. But newspaper reports outside of Moldova paint a different picture about the actual wealth and involvement of Dodon in different enterprises and possible schemes over the last years.

These issues dominated the campaign throughout the summer. In particular the orientation towards the European Union or Russia shows how divided the country is (both in terms of regions that opt for different ties but also youth against elderly). Despite the intensity of the campaign, the turnout of election is rather low. According to Associated Press, only 49% of eligible citizens cast their votes (Rusnac 2016). This number is particularly low among young people and seems to hurt Sandu more than Dodon. Dodon received 48.3 %, hence did not get the absolute majority. Sandu received 38.4 % of votes (Rusnac 2016).  Based on these results it will largely depend on the voter turnout on November 13, 2016 who will become the next president and in which direction the Republic of Moldova is going to head.

References:
Digi 24 (2016). Surpriză totală în R. Moldova: Președintele va fi ales direct de popor, decide Curtea Constituțională, March 4. http://www.digi24.ro/Stiri/Digi24/Extern/Europa/Surpriza+totala+in+R+Moldova+Presedintele+va+fi+ales+direct+de+p. (accessed March 7, 2016)
Fruhstorfer, Anna. 2016a. Back to the future: The abolition of the parliamentary system in Moldova, In. http://presidential-power.com/?p=4588
Fruhstorfer, Anna and Michael, Hein. 2016. From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems? Comparing Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, in (ibid). Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe.
Fruhstorfer, Anna. 2016. “Constitutional Politics in Moldova.” In Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Anna Fruhstorfer and Michael Hein. Springer VS.
Quinlan, Paul D. 2002. “Moldova under Lucinschi.” Demokratizatsiya 10(1): 83–103.
Rusnac, Cornelia. 2016. “Moldovan Presidential Election Goes to Runoff“, ABC News, In. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/moldovan-presidential-election-runoff-43185557 [accessed October 31, 2016]

Sources:
Constitution of the Republic of Moldova. Available at https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Moldova_2006?lang=en. (accessed July 13, 2015)
Constitutional Amendment. 2000. Law No. 1115-XIV of July 5, 2000. Monitorul Oficial al R. Moldova, No. 88–90 July 28, 2000. Chișinău, July 28.
Constitutional Court of Moldova. 2016. Curtea Constituţională a restabilit dreptul cetăţenilor de a-şi alege Preşedintele. March 4. http://www.constcourt.md/libview.php?l=ro&idc=7&id=759&t=/Prezentare-generala/Serviciul-de-presa/Noutati/Curtea-Constitutionala-a-restabilit-dreptul-cetatenilor-de-a-si-alege-Presedintele. (Accessed March 6, 2016)
Manifest.2016. In, https://unpaspentru.md/manifest/#. [accessed October 30, 2016]
Program. 2016. The program of the political party „Action and Solidarity Party“, In. https://unpaspentru.md/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PROGRAM_PAS_EN.pdf. [accessed October 30, 2016]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

Aleks Szczerbiak – Has Polish President Andrzej Duda’s first year been a success?

This is a guest post by Aleks Szczerbiak, Professor of Politics and Contemporary European Studies at the University of Sussex. An earlier version appeared on his blog.

Aleks Szczerbiak

In the year since he was sworn in as President Andrzej Duda has become Poland’s most popular politician and appears increasingly confident in his international role. But he still has to build up his authority within the ruling party if he is to become a significant independent player on the political scene.

Forced to take sides

Last May, in one of the biggest electoral upsets in post-communist Polish politics Andrzej Duda – the candidate of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, the then main opposition grouping – defeated incumbent President and odds-on favourite Bronisław Komorowski, backed by the ruling centrist Civic Platform (PO), by 51.6% to 48.5%. His success paved the way for Law and Justice’s stunning victory in the October parliamentary election when it was the first political grouping in post-1989 Poland to secure an outright majority, and Mr Duda’s campaign manager, party deputy leader Beata Szydło, became prime minister.

Although careful not to support Law and Justice overtly, Mr Duda used the various political and constitutional instruments at his disposal to promote the party’s programme of so-called ‘good change’ (dobra zmiana) in the run-up to the October poll. For example, in his first major initiative as President he proposed holding a referendum on the same day as the election on one of Law and Justice’s key campaign pledges: reversing the outgoing government’s extremely unpopular pension reforms, that raised the retirement age to 67 from 60 for women and 65 for men (although the referendum proposal was voted down by the Civic Platform-dominated Senate).

Almost immediately after Law and Justice took office, Mr Duda was forced to take sides in an extremely controversial and polarising political dispute over the membership of the constitutional tribunal, a powerful body that rules on the constitutionality of Polish laws. The new government annulled the appointment of five judges elected by the previous parliament to the 15-member body. Earlier these judges were unable to assume their posts because Mr Duda did not accept their oaths of office. However, the tribunal itself ruled that while the appointment of the two judges replacing those whose terms of office expired in December was unconstitutional the other three were nominated legally. Government supporters, in turn, argued that the tribunal did not have the right to make judgements about the constitutionality of parliamentary appointments, and Mr Duda swore in five judges nominated by the new parliament instead

The move met with widespread criticism from most of the opposition and legal establishment, who accused the government and President of violating judicial independence and undermining the fundamentals of democracy and the rule of law. As a consequence, thousands of Poles participated in demonstrations organised by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), an anti-Law and Justice civic movement. The government’s supporters, however, placed the blame for the crisis squarely on the outgoing administration, which they argued tried to appoint five judges illegally just before the election to pack the tribunal with Law and Justice opponents. More broadly they defended these actions as necessary to restore pluralism and balance to the tribunal, which they said had been expropriated by supporters of the previous governing party, and claimed that opposition was being orchestrated by well-entrenched, and often deeply corrupt, post-communist elites.

Mr Duda paid a high political price for his unswerving support for the government on this issue. Apart from having to expend much time and political capital explaining his actions, by bringing the presidency into the epicentre of party conflict the crisis made it increasingly difficult for Mr Duda to build bridges with milieu not necessarily naturally sympathetic to Law and Justice, one of his greatest achievements during the presidential election campaign. In fact, the problem was as much the way in which the decisions were taken as their substance: four of the Law and Justice-nominated judges were sworn-in at a ceremony held literally in the middle of the night before the tribunal was due to rule on the constitutionality of the earlier appointments. Opinion surveys conducted by the CBOS polling agency found a 20% increase (to 40%) in negative evaluations of the President between November and December, while the number who did not trust Mr Duda rose from 19% to 30%.

Struggling to carve out an independent profile

More broadly, Mr Duda has struggled to carve out an independent profile for himself in his first year as President. The presidency has a particular position in the Polish political system. It is not simply a ceremonial role and, in addition to a strong electoral mandate, retains some important constitutional powers such as: the right to initiate legislation, refer bills to the constitutional tribunal, and, perhaps most significantly, a suspensive veto that requires a three-fifths parliamentary majority to over-turn. However, Mr Duda has quickly signed all of the Law and Justice government’s bills into law. Indeed, a December 2015 survey by the IBRiS agency found that by a majority of respondents (54% to 35%) felt that he did not take his decisions independently of Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczyński who, although he does not hold any formal state positions, exercises a powerful behind-the-scenes influence in determining the government’s programmatic and strategic priorities.

Moreover, the President’s competencies are much less significant than those of, say, his French counterpart and real executive power lies with the prime minister. So it is difficult for him to carve out a distinctive role in the domestic political sphere, especially when a presidential term coincides with that of a government led by his political grouping. As soon as the Law and Justice government was elected, therefore, Mr Duda’s promises went on the back-burner and attention shifted to the new administration’s legislative programme. For example, the government’s priority during its first months in office was introducing its costly but generous (and extremely popular) ‘500 plus’ child subsidy programme, which Mr Duda supported but in most citizens’ minds was associated primarily with the Szydło administration. Mr Duda’s two flagship campaign pledges, lowering the retirement age and increasing tax allowances, languished in parliament for several months and, although the government has promised to bring forward legislation in the autumn, it is still not clear when they will be implemented. Moreover, when it appeared to threaten the stability of the financial sector, the President was forced to row back from his key election pledge to help the country’s half-a-million foreign currency (mainly Swiss franc) mortgage holders (who had lost out as a result of the depreciation of the Polish currency in recent years) by forcing banks to convert their loans to złoties.

It is naïve to expect Mr Duda to distance himself from policies which are almost identical to the ones on which he was also elected. Everything suggests that he shares Mr Kaczyński’s political philosophy and perspectives on most issues and personally supports most if not all of the government’s decisions. At the same time, refusing to sign one of the government’s flagship bills would be incomprehensible to Mr Duda’s political base, and while it might draw some short-term praise from Law and Justice opponents they would quickly revert to criticising him again. Mr Duda is also a relatively young politician and may have future ambitions to take over the Law and Justice leadership when Mr Kaczyński eventually stands down, so it is not in his long-term interests either to alienate the party’s core supporters.

Prioritising defence and foreign policy

However, Mr Duda is aware that in order to secure the 50% of the votes that he needs for re-election he also has to appeal to more centrist voters beyond the Law and Justice hard core. Consequently, he has been trying to steadily carve out a more independent political role for himself. The first clear indication of this came in April during the sixth anniversary of the Smoleńsk tragedy, a plane crash in which the then Law and Justice-backed President Lech Kaczyński, Jarosław’s twin brother, and 95 others were killed while on their way to commemorate the 1940 Soviet massacre of Polish officers in the Katyń forest in western Russia. The air disaster is still an open wound for Law and Justice, and Mr Kaczyński and some party leaders have not only accused the former Civic Platform-led government of negligence in planning the flight and mishandling its aftermath but also appeared to countenance assassination as a possible cause of the crash. In his speech at the commemorations, Mr Duda made a symbolic appeal for national unity and mutual forgiveness, prompting Mr Kaczyński to respond that forgiveness was needed but only after those guilty of causing the tragedy were brought to justice.

At the same time, Mr Duda has marked out foreign affairs and defence policy as his main field of activity and appears increasingly confident in this role. Although foreign policy lies within the government’s domain, the Polish Constitution gives the President an informal oversight and co-ordinating role. He can also exercise a powerful informal influence through his foreign visits and high profile speeches on international issues. During last year’s elections Law and Justice made the sharpening of policy towards Russia a crucial test of its effectiveness in ensuring national security, and called for the July NATO summit in Warsaw to strengthen Poland’s defence infrastructure by securing a greater (and preferably permanent) Alliance military presence in the country. Mr Duda visited a large number of NATO member capitals to mobilise political support for Poland’s demands and, in the event, the summit agreed to strengthen the Alliance’s Eastern flank and confirmed the deployment of a 1,000-strong international battalion on a rotational basis on Polish territory.

The summit’s success no doubt contributed to Mr Duda’s steadily increasing popularity, together with the fact that as President he has demonstrated a more open style and greater ability to connect with ordinary Poles than the stereotypical Law and Justice politician. In spite of opposition attempts to portray him as a ‘partisan President’, July CBOS polls found that Mr Duda enjoyed a 56% approval rating (32% disapproval) and remained Poland’s most popular politician with 62% saying that they trusted him (24% did not). However, although he remains unswervingly loyal to the Law and Justice leader, Mr Duda’s attempts to develop a more independent profile also appear to have led to a cooling of relations with Mr Kaczyński, who some commentators argue has been distancing himself from the head of state. For example, the Law and Justice leader appeared to snub Mr Duda when he failed to include the President among those he listed as responsible for the NATO summit’s success; although he quickly corrected himself saying that this was a mistake. Nonetheless, Mr Kaczyński appears to treat not just Mr Duda but the whole government as the implementers rather than creators of policy and leaves little doubt that the party’s most important decision making centre remains the leader’s office.

Popular but lacking a clear role

One year is too soon for a proper evaluation of Mr Duda. For sure, it has been difficult for him to realise his concept of an ‘open’ presidency at a time when the political scene is so deeply polarised around bitter conflicts such as the constitutional tribunal crisis. However, although the crisis damaged Mr Duda’s ability to develop links with certain milieu, the opposition’s attempts to dub him a ‘partisan President’ do not appear to have harmed his approval ratings to any significant extent. Indeed, he remains one of Law and Justice’s greatest political assets with a significantly broader base of support than the party or any of its other leaders. Mr Duda’s main problem is that he has not yet found a clear role for himself and needs to build up his authority within the ruling party if he is to become a significant independent player on the Polish political scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

Can authoritarian regimes be semi-presidential?

This is a post by Robert Elgie and Sophia Moestrup based on their recent edited book, Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia

There is now a large body of work on the effect of institutional variation in democracies. This work includes the standard debate as to whether regime types have a good or bad effect on democracy as a whole. For example, is presidentialism perilous for democracy (Linz 1990; Cheibub 2010)? However, it also includes debates relating to a much broader set of outcomes, including the effect of regime types on public policy within consolidated democracies (Weaver and Rockman 1993). For instance, is presidentialism associated with the supply of more public goods than parliamentarism (Shugart 1999)? At the same time, there is also now an almost equally large body of work on non-democracies. Some of this work aims to identify different types of non-democracies. For example, we might wish to distinguish between on the one hand authoritarian regimes where political competition is outlawed and on the other competitive authoritarian regimes where competition takes place but where it is managed in a way such that it does not threaten the survival of the regime (Levitsky and Way 2010). Why is that some non-democracies remain purely authoritarian, whereas others have competitive elements to them?

A feature of this work on non-democracies is that it rarely, if ever, investigates the effect of constitutional regime types. This point applies to presidentialism, parliamentarism and semi-presidentialism. The difference between the work on democracies and non-democracies in this regard seems to be based on a simple assumption: whereas institutions can have a profound effect on outcomes in democracies, they do not matter at all in non-democracies. The ultimate logic of this argument is that it makes no sense to label non-democracies according to the institutional forms that can be found in democracies. To put it another way, countries that are not democratic cannot be semi-presidential.

This line of argument is flawed. The distinction between presidential, semi-presidential and parliamentary democracies is the result of a taxonomic exercise. My recent article in Democratization outlines the scholarship in this regard. Such taxonomic classifications are derived from a reading of country constitutions. Almost all countries, including non-democracies, have a constitution. Certainly, some of these constitutions are unusual. For example, during Muammar Gaddafi’s autocratic rule in Libya the country was formally run according to the highly idiosyncratic Green Book. Most, though, take a form that is recognizable in terms of the presidential, parliamentary, semi-presidential taxonomy. This means that almost all non-democracies can be classed as constitutionally presidential, parliamentary or semi-presidential. Indeed, if they are constitutionally semi-presidential, then they can be further classed as either president-parliamentary or premier-presidential. Thus, in this sense non-democracies can be taxonomically semi-presidential.

In fact, the argument, or at least the implicit assumption, that non-democracies cannot be semi-presidential is usually based on the same flawed logic that was present in much of the literature on semi-presidentialism in the 1990s and 2000s, but that, hopefully, we have now moved beyond. If we were to understand semi-presidentialism as the situation where a country has a president with quite considerable powers, but where there is also a prime minister with some political authority too, then, in practice, the set of semi-presidential countries in non-democratic regimes would indeed be empty. Typically, authoritarian and competitive authoritarian regimes are governed by a single, powerful political leader, often holding the office of president. It is misleading to think of semi-presidentialism in this way. At root, the concept is taxonomic. There is no democracy criterion in the definition of constitutional regime types. In other words, the process of taxonomic classification does not have to be confined to democratic countries, not least because there is a bigger and even more contested debate as to what constitutes a democracy in the first place. Given the process of categorizing constitutional regime types is a taxonomic exercise and given that exercise does not include a democracy criterion, then it is perfectly reasonable, when the constitutional criteria apply, to classify certain authoritarian regimes as semi-presidential.

Even if it is conceded that non-democracies can be constitutionally semi-presidential, perhaps the argument then reverts back to the position that institutions simply do not matter in non-democracies and, therefore, are not worth studying. This may be true, but this is an empirical question that is at least worthy of investigation. At the heart of the study of constitutional regime types is the idea that variation in the organization of the executive and executive-legislative relations has consequential effects. While it could be the case that in unequivocally authoritarian regimes loyalty to the leader is so absolute that institutional arrangements are merely a façade, it is at least plausible to suggest that in certain competitive authoritarian regimes institutional variation may make at least some difference (Gandhi 2008). For example, if the ruling party is factionalized and the president’s support base is weakening, perhaps the threat of a breakaway group having enough support to lodge a no-confidence motion may be more than just idle talk. In other words, even when democracy is not the only game in town there may be times when institutional arrangements can matter. If so, then it is worthwhile studying them.

Overall, we can dismiss the idea that non-democracies cannot be semi-presidential and we can at least entertain the idea that in some non-democracies under certain conditions institutional arrangements may generate particular resources and/or constraints that may help to shape political outcomes.

References

Cheibub, José Antonio (2010), Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gandhi, Jennifer (2008), Political Institutions under Dictatorship, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Levitsky, Steven and Lucan Way (2010), Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shugart, Matthew (1999), ‘Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and the Provision of Collective Goods in Less-Developed Countries’, Constitutional Political Economy, 10: 53–88.

Weaver, R. Kent, and Bert A. Rockman (1993), ‘Assessing the effects of institutions’, in R. Kent Weaver and Bert A. Rockman (eds.), Do Institutions Matter? Government Capabilities in the United States and Abroad, Washington DC, The Brookings Institutions, pp. 1-41.

Austria – Complaint against narrow runoff result might lead to partial do-over of election

After Alexander Van der Bellen won the runoff with a razor-thin margin, calls for a recount and even accusations of electoral fraud from Norbert Hofer’s (FPÖ) supporters were expected. The FPÖ has now lodged a formal complaint with the Austrian Constitutional Court which could trigger a partial rerun of the second round of presidential elections. It is clear that there were some irregularities in the counting of votes and bodies on various levels failed to follow correct protocol. Unfortunately, Austria’s Ministry of Interior and the respective state electoral bodies have also not done the best job in preventing the emergence of further doubts. Given that the FPÖ has yet to make public its list of suspected violations – which is said to exceed the number of previously publicised cases – it is difficult to establish what the outcome of their complaint will be. In any case, the FPÖ has already succeeded in gnawing off some of the new president’s legitimacy before he has even taken office.

The known cases of electoral violations mainly concern the counting of postal votes, idiosyncratic decisions or errors by local officials, and turnout exceeding 100%. Some of the state-level agencies started counting postal votes (which were eventually decisive for the election) too early and some others at least opened the post vote envelopes already on Sunday instead of Monday morning. Although this was against protocol, there is not indication that there was any manipulation or interference with the ballots. In another case in the town of Helfenberg, there were three ballot papers too many in the box after the end of the day even though all voters had been registered twice before casting their vote. Eventually, the local electoral commission decided to take out three invalid votes to make numbers match – while certainly unusual, this seems like a fair decision in relation to its effect on the outcome. The problem here is that the mayor ripped up the three supernumerary ballot papers – a clear violation of federal law. There was also one case where a women was unable to cast her vote due to an error on the electoral register (where she was listed as a postal voter).

More troubling is the report of the municipality Miesenbach in Lower Austria where apparently a handful of 14 and 15 year-olds where allowed to vote – the general voting age is 16. Overall, fifteen teenagers below the voting age were listed as eligible to vote of which five eventually cast a ballot. The reason seems to be that the local electoral commission mixed up the electoral register for the presidential election with the so-called ‘Wählerevidenz’, a constantly updated list based on the local resident registration database. 380 valid ballots were cast in Miesenback, 258 for Hofer and 122 for Van der Bellen, so that it didn’t have a significant impact. Nevertheless, this is a blunder that cannot be easily justified.

For a while the official election website showed 146.9% turnout in Waidhofen/Ybbs

For a while the official election website showed 146.9% turnout in Waidhofen/Ybbs

Last but not least, an embarrassing error fuelled accusations of electoral fraud on the day after the election. The official election website on the pages of the Ministry of Interior showed an impossibly high turnout of 146.9% for the district Waidhofen in the city of Ybbs. A screenshot was widely shared across social media, particularly by supporters of Norbert Hofer. The Ministry later traced the error back to the state electoral commission. While the local district had submitted correct data, the state commission made an error during data entry and transmitted the incorrect data to the Ministry. Human error happens in every election but raises questions over the suitability of the IT systems used by Austrian authorities, e.g. why is there not automated checking of improbable values in the systems? In some other districts, turnout even exceeded 200% as a great number of people made use of proxy voters. In addition, the number of distributed ballot papers was slightly lower than votes received in a few more electoral districts. Nevertheless, while this may seem suspicious to international observers, this is simply due to the postal vote system in place in Austria (as well as in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany). Postal voters receive their ballot paper by post and can either send it back by mail or go to any relevant polling station to cast their vote. The latter happens particularly often when people are on holiday and still want to cast their vote in person (in Germany this is limited to SMD districts).

These known cases alone should not be sufficient to trigger a partial re-run of the presidential runoff in the affected districts. However, the FPÖ claims that violations were recorded in 94 of 117 postal voting districts. Given that it was the postal votes that turned the result around and Van der Bellen eventually won with only 31,000 votes (0.6%) difference, such a claim – if it proves true – would definitely require a do-over of some sort. The Federal Returning Officer, Robert Stein, has however expressed doubts that the whole second round would be repeated. In any case, the FPÖ might have found a way to once again mobilise the anti-establishment vote that Norbert Hofer received. From the point of view of a rational observer, a ‘conspiracy’ against the FPÖ by the state (including public TV stations – one of the FPÖ’s recurrent targets during the election campaign) may be out of the question. Nevertheless, it is likely to resonate with the FPÖ’s core electorate which sees the stigmatisation of the far-right party and categorical exclusion from the federal government as an injustice and plot orchestrated by SPÖ and ÖVP. Even if the complaint is entirely unsuccessful, it casts a shadow over Van der Bellen’s election and will give additional ammunition to the FPÖ in the run-up to and after the next parliamentary elections.