Category Archives: Asia

South Korea – Local and by-elections are a strong endorsement of President Moon

Local and by-elections were held on June 13, 2018. 12 parliamentary seats were up for grabs, in addition to 17 mayoral and provincial governor positions, and 4,016 local administrative, legislative and educational posts. Exit polls show that the ruling Democratic Party (DP) has swept the elections: it has taken 11 of the 12 by-elections and 14 of the 17 local seats. The largest opposition party, the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) has been handed a significant set-back: it is expected to take only one of the by-election seats, and two of the local election races.

This year’s electoral contest is closely-watched as a harbinger of President Moon’s ability to extend the momentum of change that brought him into office more than a year ago and convert his high presidential popularity into electoral success for his party, the  DP. It is also seen as a signal the opposition conservative LKP’s ability to weather the significant political setbacks from the impeachment and subsequent conviction of former President Park Geun-hye on corruption and abuse of power charges on April 6, 2018, and the indictment of former President Lee Myung-bak on April 10, 2018, for 16 counts of embezzlement, corruption, and abuse of power. These results are a strong endorsement of President Moon, who has had a tough time pushing his agenda against the large legislative opposition led by the LKP.

President Moon promised a “major shift” in policies when he took office, and he has delivered on, arguably, the most spotlighted and highly-profiled issue of international interest for the year: the President brought North Korea and the United States together at the negotiations table in Singapore on June 12, 2018. The effort towards and accomplishment of bringing the two mercurial heads of government to discuss peace has seen President Moon’s approval ratings remain at unprecedented levels – exceeding high 70s – in the second year in office. Some of this success has brushed off on the ruling DP: it is enjoying approvals exceeding 50 percent amid falling approvals for the other parties in the legislature. These numbers bode well for the DP going into the elections, and the results have supported expectations.

Relations in the Korean peninsula will likely remain in the news for some time to come, and may continue to generate approvals for the President and the DP. This will be useful, given that the President’s other initiatives have not been as stellar. In particular, President Moon’s effort to realize constitutional revisions died in the legislature, while his push for a income-led growth in the country has been resisted by corporations, and small- and medium enterprises.

Talks of constitutional revision have been ongoing since the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution in South Korea; despite the frequency, constitutional revisions did not progress beyond discussions. The clamour for constitutional revision likely hit a peak with former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, and polls in September 2017 report that 78.4 percent agreed that the referendum on constitutional revisions should be held in conjunction with the June 2018 elections.

President Moon pushed the legislature on the issue but was stymied by the LDP in the legislature. Indeed, when the legislature failed to develop revisions, President Moon submitted a constitutional revision bill to the legislature on March 26, 2018. The revisions, developed by a constitutional committee, included decentralization of government and a two-term limited presidency. However, opposition parties boycotted the bill: only 114 legislators were present for the session, far short of the 192 needed to pass, thus effectively killing the bill. Given popular demand for constitutional revisions, the election results may be a signal for how voters view the resistance by the opposition parties.

Another important initiative that the President has pushed is the wage-led economic growth model. Following on this, in July 2017, the Minimum Wage Commission announced a 16 percent wage rise to 7,530 won ($6.60) per hour from 2018, with the possibility of increasing it to 10,000 won per hour by 2020. To ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises are able to meet the new wage increases, as well as to fund the new wage increases and job creation policies, the President called for new taxes. Despite these efforts, youth unemployment remains high; meanwhile, under pressure by businesses and corporations, the National Assembly and the cabinet have adopted revisions to the minimum wage bill so that calculation of minimum wage includes bonuses and benefits, including health benefits. While employers have welcomed the revisions, labor groups argue that these inclusions will effectively offset the new minimum wage policies and have called on the President to veto the bill.

The by-election and local election results are a clear endorsement for President Moon. Much can happen in the two years leading to the next general elections, but the public support, new electoral wins, and the LDP’s losses may pave the way for legislative support of the President’s policies.

Rui Graça Feijó – Timor-Leste after the parliamentary elections: Cohabitation in sight

This is a guest post by Rui Graça Feijó of the Institute for Contemporary History, New University of Lisboa

In March 2017, breaking with the established conventions following the first three elections in independent Timor-Leste (2002, 2007, 2012), voters returned a president, Francisco Guterres (known as Lú-Olo), who was affiliated with a political party – Fretilin. Guterres was chairman of the party, which is an honorary position rather than an executive one, reserved for the secretary-general. Although President Guterres claimed in his inauguration speech that he would serve as “the president of all the Timorese”, like his predecessors, he did not relinquish his position in his party.

In the July 2017 legislative elections, the president’s party, which had campaigned for the continuation of a broad coalition which included all parliamentary parties to date, topped the poll by a mere 1,000 votes over the country’s historic leader Xanana Gusmão’s CNRT party. Surprisingly, the parties that had created the outgoing “Government of National Inclusion” could not agree to continue it and Lú-Olo appointed the first minority government, composed of Fretilin and Partido Democrático / Democratic Party (PD), who had the support of only 30 of the House 65 seats. The VII Constitutional Government failed to secure its investiture in the National Parliament, and after several months of political confrontation (see my post of January 30), fresh elections were called for 12 May 2018. During this period, Lú-Olo sided openly with his party – first, trying to set up a minority government of which there was no previous experience in Timor-Leste; then, keeping it in power as a caretaker government (i.e., not fully invested) for a long period; and finally, denying the opposition that had formed a majority coalition a chance to form a government, and dissolving the parliament. These were high stakes, and the political status of the president became dependent on the voters’ decisions.

On May 12, voters turned out in very high numbers (officially over 80% voted). Fretilin gained votes, going from 29.7 to 34.2 per cent, but could not improve on its 23 seats. Its ally, PD, suffered a loss from 9.8 to 8 per cent, and reduced its representation from 7 to 5 MPs. The combined vote of the member parties of the Aliança de Mudança para o Progresso / Alliance for a Developmental Change (AMP) increased 46.5 to 49.6 percent, losing one seat but retaining an overall majority of 34. The remaining three seats were won by another coalition of smaller parties, which polled 5.5 per cent. The fact that the number of parties/coalitions on the ballot paper in 2018 fell from 22 to just 8 allowed a group of 4 smaller parties running together to reach the 4% threshold for election. The percentage of votes gained by parties that failed to secure a seat fell from 14.1 to just 6.7 per cent. This had an impact in the overall distribution of seats, and account for why an increase in the vote did not translate into a comparable gain of seats both for Fretilin and AMP.

The campaign was conducted with high passion. Few incidents were registered, though, and international observers returned the verdict of a “free and fair” election. However, a few days after results were officially proclaimed, Fretilin filed a protest with the Court of Appeals, claiming to have proof of “electoral crimes”. This protest may delay the inauguration of the new parliament, and is testimony to the high level of political confrontation that is currently marking the situation in Dili.

Xanana Gusmão, who was president from 2002 to 2007, prime minister from 2007 to 2015, and minister in the “Government of National Inclusion” (2015-2017) is scheduled to return as prime minister of the VIII Constitutional Government. At the time of writing, it is not clear whether this government will be based solely on the three parties that constitute the AMP (Xanana’s CNRT; the previous president Taur Matan Ruak’s Partido da Libertação do Povo / People’s Liberation Party (PLP), and KHUNTO), or whether it will be willing to enlarge its support base in parliament. Fretilin assumed it had lost and would become an opposition party. PD is “considering its position”, but is not certain of being offered a position in government. The same holds for the coalition that secured three seats. In any case, Fretlin with its 23 seats is capable of denying any government the two-thirds majority required to eventually overturn any presidential vetoes (namely on the budget and on basic legislation on education, health and social security, as well as all the items contemplated in section 95 of the constitution).

President Lú-Olo addressed this issue on the occasion of the first anniversary of his election (and the sixteenth of the proclamation on independence), recalling that he had sworn to be faithful to the constitution and exercise the full range of powers invested in him. Moreover, he declared that an overall majority may result in the formation of a new government, but that he would not grant the government a “a blank cheque”. Rather, the government would have to comply with “national interests” of which the president is supposed to be the guarantor and interpreter. In a way, Lú-Olo was responding to Xanana and Taur Matan Ruak who said that “the president must act as the leader of the nation and not as the chairman of Fretilin”. Lú-Olo may be willing to explore the full scope of presidential powers on a scale never witnessed before, while respecting the letter of the constitution.

Xanana is known to favour a generational turnover, and for a long time he was the main force behind the idea of a “Government of National Inclusion”. It is uncertain how he will face his new task as prime minister, whether as one that will engage him for the duration of the legislature, or as a sort of interim solution before the re-composition of political forces has the chance to settle down in a more permanent form. In fact, one of the major features of these elections was the return to the forefront of historical leaders (the Gerasaun Tuan, the old generation) such as Mari Alkatiri and José Ramos-Horta (who campaigned for Fretilin) and Xanana or Taur Matan Ruak (although the letter is perhaps a bridge to the Gerasaun Foun, the younger generation of people who became adults under the Indonesian occupation). Personalities are still powerful political forces, and parties tend to play a secondary role. This makes the political situation less transparent, as the mood among those historical leaders tends to float significantly.

Unless a new, unexpected development takes place, the stage is set for the first formal cohabitation between a president who is member of a political party and is willing to use the full breadth of his constitutional powers, and a prime minister who heads a government in which the president’s party is not present – moreover, a government which considers the president’s party to be the leader of the opposition. The scars of the president’s attitude during the period following the previous elections, when he sided openly with his party and made no openings to the majority opposition are still visible. Lú-Olo played a high-risk game, and electors did not support his view that Fretilin should return to lead the government. Developments after the votes were counted suggest that cohabitation will entail some degree of friction between the president and the new government. The fact that Taur Matan Ruak while serving as president vetoed a budget in 2015, and has kept a critical view of the orientation followed by the “Government of National Inclusion” in which Fretilin discharged critical functions, raises questions as to the platform that will sustain the new government. It is likely to produce a budget that Fretilin will oppose. A major test of the cohabitation between president and government may not be too far away, as the political crisis of last year prevented the approval of the budget for 2018 and this is now a top priority in the country.

For all those who follow the debate on semi-presidentialism and its varieties, and who are interested in the study of presidential power, Timor-Leste is likely to be a crucial case in the coming years.

Political Trust in East and Southeast Asia

This post is based on a recent publication, “How political trust matters in emergent democracies: evidence from East and Southeast Asia,” available at the Journal of Public Policy

How does political trust matter in emergent democracies? Studies suggest that political trust may potentially buffer against public pressures for performance. For emergent democracies that are under pressure to perform on the competing fronts of policy and political performance, the promise of political trust providing policy or political leeway is useful to help with prioritization of the tasks of nation-building.[1] In particular, studies show governments in emergent democracies to be under considerable pressure to deliver on policy performance to broaden support for political survival; meanwhile, the nascent institutions in these democracies need further development to regularize facilities and capacities that will deliver political goods and inspire stalwart “democrats” to uphold democratic processes in the face of poor policy performance.

Unfortunately, limited empirical evidence exists for whether political trust provides such a leeway, and even fewer studies examine the possibility in emergent democracies. This neglect reflects that much of the literature has built around mature democracies, where the trade-off for policy performance versus political performance is unlikely to upend long-standing democratic practices and institutions.

This paper addresses that critical question: it considers if political trust provides political or policy leeway or both in emergent democracies, through assessments of how political trust displaces economic performance in explaining incumbent-approval or system-support. We use economic performance to take into account findings from economic voting studies that consistently show economic achievements to be integral to support for the government or the political system; consequently, if results show that political trust displaces economic performance in explaining public support for the government or the democratizing system, then they are strongly indicative of how political trust directed at incumbent-approval or system-support may provide leeway against public demands for economic performance. If political trust does not provide the political or policy leeway as suggested, then the government and the political system remain hostage to policy performance; if, however, political trust displaces policy-performance, it follows that voters may remain committed to the incumbent or political system or both despite poor policy performance.

The data are drawn from Asian Barometer Survey for the East and Southeast Asia countries of South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, i.e., three presidential, one semi-presidential, and one (previously) parliamentary systems. The countries for East and Southeast Asia are interesting for examination: they vary in terms of democratic age and economic levels and, importantly, were countries with high economic achievements. More so than other countries, then, the public in the East and Southeast Asian countries may be inclined towards economic performance over political ones; consequently, if the results indicate that political trust displaces the economic performance in these countries to explain support, the results are likely to be highly generalizable.

Three results from successive waves of survey from the Asian Barometer are informative. First, they show that where political trust is statistically significant in explaining democratic support, economic performance is not relevant. That is, the results show where political trust is directed at system-support, it displaces economic performance to buffer political systems from the pressures of economic performance. Second, for incumbent-approval, both political trust and economic performance are relevant explanators; thus, political trust does not displace economic performance to explain incumbent-approval. Third, in conjunction, the results clarify that an economic focus in the respective countries may keep a government in office but political trust undergirds the political system. This emphasizes the priority of building political trust to deepen peace and stability in the region.

These results are particularly relevant for expanding study and understanding of the political trust literature to issues of democratic progression and consolidation that are unique to emergent democracies. By these results, recent events in the emergent democracies of East and Southeast Asia – where governments have prioritized growth over institution-building – are cause for concern. In particular, the results show that the pursuing growth in place of institution-building undermines long-term political peace and social stability. Thus, even for governments with primary interests in office-tenure, the results highlight an overlooked consideration: the long-term benefits of institution-building that helps build political trust in the emergent democracies.

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[1] These arguments of the effects of political trust align with Easton (1975)’s framing of specific and diffuse support. See Easton, D. 1975. “A Re-assessment of the Concept of Political Support.” British Journal of Political Science no. 5 (4):435-457. doi: 10.1017/S0007123400008309.

Indonesia – Democratic Retrograde Ahead of Elections, 2019?

With local elections ahead in July, 2018, and general and the presidential elections slated for April 17, 2019, in Indonesia, a useful question to consider is: how are political conditions in the world’s third largest democracy? Among the reasons for raising the question is President “Jokowi” Widodo’s recent allusions to Indonesia’s assumption of the political leadership mantle for the ASEAN and Southeast Asia countries, if not the larger international community. If the country is to exemplify political progress and development, how well are political conditions operating in the country, particularly ahead of the essential democratic process of open and fair elections? The short answer is: not great. Political progress in Indonesia has suffered a number of set-backs in recent years, most notably with the passing of President Jokowi’s Perppu on mass organizations, the passing of the amendment to the Law on Representative Assemblies, popularly referred to as the MD3 Law, the proposed revisions to the criminal code, and the approval of the 20 percent threshold for the Presidential Election Law, all of which compromise political openness. Add to this list President Jokowi’s endorsement of tough measures against drug trafficking and use – including shooting drug dealers – that puts the country in step with President Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines, and any hand-wringing over Indonesia’s political conditions may be understandable.

President Jokowi’s Perppu 2/2017 on mass organizations was issued on July 12, 2017, to ban groups that did not support Indonesia’s ideology of Pancasila. The Perppu, presidential decree, or regulation in lieu of law in Indonesia, was approved by the House with 314 of 445 votes on October 24, 2017, and seven of the nine parties in the House. While the law has been used to disband extremist hard-line Islamist groups, such as the Hizbut Tahrir, critics point out that it may be used to deny due process to organizations.

Also troubling is the amendment to the Law on Representative Assemblies, popularly referred to as the MD3, that was passed by the House on February 21, 2018. The MD3 allows the legislative body’s ethics council (MKD) to press charges against those critical of the House and its members, including “disrespect” of the House. Article 245 of the law also states that an investigation concerning a member of the House must receive permission from the president and be reviewed by MKD. Critics point out that these regulations will largely restrict the roles of agencies such as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and silence all criticisms. President Jokowi has announced that he will not sign the law; still, the law goes into effect automatically without his endorsement 30 days after the bill passes the House.

In addition, the House has made revisions of the criminal code one of the national legislative priorities in 2018. The criminal code is based on a penal code under Dutch colonisation in 1918, which was retained following Indonesia’s independence. While change is likely useful given that timing, a significant problem with the revisions lies with the retention of many of the old regulations, so that there is not much improvement. Further, the draft contains problematic provisions, including criminal codes that would take corruption investigation out of the KPK, criminalization of same-sex relations, extramarital sex and adultery, and codes that affect the civil liberties and rights of marginalized and vulnerable groups, and the poor. The draft also contains legislation that makes insulting the president a crime punishable by up to five years in jail. The draft is at the final stages in the House, and is expected to pass before the year ends to avoid running into the election year in 2019.

Minority parties and independents may not wield much impact to counter these political conditions: the House passed the 2017 Elections Law to maintain the presidential nomination threshold, where only parties or coalitions with at least 20 percent of the seats in the legislature or 25 percent of the popular vote based on the outcome of the 2014 legislative elections are able to nominate presidential candidates. The Law was challenged constitutionally, but the Constitutional Court rejected the challenge on January 11, 2018. With the threshold in place, small parties and independents are likely reduced to supporting roles to the larger, broad-based political parties.

These recent laws in Indonesia portend a democratic retrograde in the world’s third largest democracy. President Jokowi’s political rise was founded on his “man-of-the-people” persona that engaged voters across spectrums. Eyes are on how this man-of-the-people will structure the political road to the 2019 elections and beyond.

Indonesia – What lies ahead for Presidential Elections 2019?

On 23 February, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) officially nominated President Joko Widodo, popularly known as President Jokowi, as its presidential candidate for the 2019 elections. The 2019 elections will be the first where both legislative and presidential elections are held on the same day since direct elections for the presidency was instituted in 2004. The latest reform follows a Constitutional Court ruling in January 2014, from a challenge to the Presidential Election Law, Law No. 42/2008, that governed the nomination and election of presidential candidates. The Presidential Election Law had stipulated that elections for legislative and presidential elections be held at least three months apart, so that only parties or coalitions that received 25 percent of the national vote or 20 percent of the parliamentary seats are able to field presidential candidates. The Court ruled that this sequential timing was unconstitutional; however, it left the legislature to decide on whether the thresholds for nomination should remain. On July 20, 2017, some 534 of the 560 lawmakers – an estimated 95.4 percent – attended a plenary session to pass the bill to maintain the thresholds. The attendance is testimonial to the significance of the bill: plenary sessions usually see less than half of the representatives of the House present. By the new law, only parties or coalitions with at least 20 percent of the seats in the legislature or 25 percent of the popular vote based on the outcome of the 2014 legislative elections are able to nominate presidential candidates. What lies ahead for the coming 2019 Presidential elections?

The threshold will certainly limit the number of candidates running for elections. So far, only President Jokowi’s candidacy has been formally announced. The President’s candidacy is supported by the National Democratic Party as well as Golkar, if not the other parties of the ruling Awesome Indonesia coalition that include the Hanura Party, the PAN (National Mandate Party), and the PPP (United Development Party). This is a big change from the 2014 elections, when the PDI-P’s surprise failure to garner the support needed to meet the threshold gave it a late start in the political jockeying among parties. Prabowo Subianto of the Gerindra party, the other presidential candidate in the 2014 elections, looks set to run as a candidate again, supported by Gerindra and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and particularly following the recent win by Anies Baswedan – the candidate supported by the Gerindra party-supported– in the Jakarta gubernatorial elections. There is talk of Anies Baswedan running for elections himself, replicating President Jokowi’s strategy back in 2014, although he will clearly need the backing of a number of parties in order to cross that threshold.

An issue that will undoubtedly surface in the presidential elections is religious divisions. Religious-based parties have kept a firm hold on the electorate: indeed, in the 2014 elections, Islamic parties reported better-than-expected results that contradicted expectations of significant setbacks to religion-based parties. Even the PKS (Prosperous Justice Party), which had been caught in a sex-and-corruption scandal, lost only about 1 percent of popular support from the previous election.[1] Religion was also used successfully as a strategy to divide the popular vote in the Jakarta elections: Governor Anies had sought the support of Islamist groups, including militant groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), known for hard-line stances and attacks against minorities, during the campaign. The former and highly popular governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who was running as the incumbent, had his election-bid upended when he was charged, and subsequently convicted, of blasphemy against the Qu’ran. Meanwhile, religiously motivated attacks have been on the rise in Indonesia, prompting the legislature to pass the President’s Perppu to ban organizations that did not support Indonesia’s ideology of Pancasila. That law has been used to disband extremist hard-line Islamist groups, such as the Hizbut Tahrir; however, critics are concerned that the law gives the government the right to disband organizations without due process of law.

As the world’s third largest democracy, and a country with the largest Muslim population in the world, many will undoubtedly be intently watching the local elections in 2018, and general elections in 2019, to see how Indonesia fares amid stalling democratization and even reversals in East and Southeast Asia.

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[1] Yap, O. Fiona. 2014. “Indonesia – Preliminary Results of the April 2014 Legislative Elections.” https://presidential-power.com/?p=1054 April 11, 2014 <accessed 5 March 2018>

Dan Slater – Victory vs. Reciprocity: Presidential Power-sharing and Party Cartelization in Indonesia

This is a guest post by Dan Slater, University of Michigan. It is based on his article in Journal of East Asian Studies

Democracy and opposition are supposed to go hand in hand. Opposition did not emerge as automatically as expected after Indonesia democratized in 1998, however, because presidents shared power much more widely than expected. The result has been what I call party cartelization, Indonesian-style. As I argue in my new article in the Journal of East Asian Studies, this differs significantly from canonical cases of party cartelization in Europe. Yet it exhibits the same troubling outcome for democratic accountability: the stunted development of a clearly identifiable party opposition.

Since the advent of direct presidential elections in 2004, Indonesian democratic competition has unsurprisingly assumed somewhat more of a government-vs.-opposition cast. But this shift has arisen more from contingent failures of elite bargaining than from any decisive change in the power-sharing game. So long as Indonesia’s presidents consider it strategically advantageous to share power with any party that declares its support, opposition will remain difficult to identify and vulnerable to being extinguished entirely in the world’s largest emerging democracy.

I reached these conclusions by asking three interrelated theoretical questions. First, how does opposition emerge as a political process in newly democratic settings? Second, how do democratically elected presidents share power and build ruling coalitions? And third, how might new political rules reshape those power-sharing practices?

Presidential power-sharing is a strategic political game. It is shaped, accordingly, by political institutions. Of particular importance are the rules governing selection of the chief executive; in Indonesia’s case, always a president. If a president is elected by parliament, as in Indonesia from 1999-2004, he or she is an agent of parliament. He can be expected to share power, roughly proportionally, with the parties resident there that selected him. If the people elect the president, he is an agent of the people, and should face less imperative to share power with parties in parliament that not only played no role in putting him there, but in many cases directly opposed his candidacy.

Yet in both instances, the same implicit assumption underpins our expectations. We assume that a president will share power with whichever parties helped put him in power, and not with those who played no role or even tried to prevent his election. This is what I call Victory: a power-sharing game predicated upon the unwritten rule that presidents will share power only with parties that supported him during his election campaign. To the extent that Victory is the power-sharing game, identifiable party opposition arises automatically. Someone must lose, so someone must go into opposition.

But what if Victory is not the game presidents play? Either in the presence or absence of direct presidential elections, a president might offer to share power with any and all parties that promise to support the presidency, even if they earlier opposed the presidential candidate. Instead of Victory, I call this power-sharing game Reciprocity. If a president prefers or is pressured to play Reciprocity, the emergence of identifiable party opposition becomes contingent rather than automatic. So long as post-electoral Reciprocity bargains can be struck with all parties, all parties can join the executive. Identifiable party opposition may thus vanish, as it did in Indonesia from 1999-2004, even in a perfectly functional and democratic electoral system. Someone must lose the election, but no one has to lose power.

This allows us to recast Indonesia’s struggle to generate an identifiable opposition in straightforward theoretical language. Party cartelization, Indonesian-style rests upon the power-sharing game of Reciprocity. Direct presidential elections will only disrupt or dismantle the cartelized party system if presidents build coalitions comprised of parties that supported him as well as nonparty allies of his own choosing, through the game of Victory.

Yet there are two critical wrinkles to consider. The first is that presidents not only make strategic choices about whom to share power with, but about how much power each partner will receive. Power-sharing games involve distributional conflict among coalition partners, not just between government insiders and outsiders. This means that presidents can strategically provide bonuses to existing supporters through a super-proportional share of cabinet seats, while relegating previous opponents to a sub-proportional share.

Hence when examining cabinet data, we must be attentive not only to whether presidents are sharing power with parties that opposed them during the election (i.e. playing a Reciprocity game), but also to deviations from the principle that cabinet seats should be distributed proportionally to coalition partners. This should indicate whether presidents have always strategically offered bonuses to electoral backers and imposed punishments on electoral opponents, and whether they are doing so more often since direct presidential elections were introduced. The more willing Indonesian presidents are to sideline erstwhile opponents, the more they shift from a Reciprocity game toward a Victory game, and the better the prospects become for identifiable opposition to emerge and strengthen in Indonesia.

The second caveat is perhaps even more important. It is that presidential coalitions are not necessarily faithful reflections of a president’s strategic preferences. Although presidents can choose to play a Victory game by fiat, Reciprocity is a resolutely two-sided game. In other words, Victory games only require a directly elected president to exclude electoral opponents from power as a unilateral strategy. Reciprocity demands that they engage those former opponents in a more complicated, multilateral bargaining process.

Whether a president seeking to play Reciprocity can actually find willing coalition partners at a price the president is ready to pay depends not on executive decree, but on hard political bargaining. Hence even when we see a coalitional outcome that seems to reflect a Victory game, we must examine whether the absence of Reciprocity arose from a president’s strategic decision to play Victory, or from his contingent failure to “seal the deal” with active negotiating partners in an ongoing Reciprocity game.

The implications of this seemingly minor distinction are quite major. If direct presidential elections have emboldened Indonesia’s presidents since 2004 to start pursuing Victory rather than playing Reciprocity, then the strategic underpinning of party cartelization is seriously weakening. This would mean that recent moves toward more identifiable opposition, as detailed in my JEAS article, are unlikely to be reversed. But if directly elected presidents are still playing Reciprocity, and simply failing to strike bargains, then the game of power-sharing remains unchanged, even as the final outcome has shifted. This implies that a return to the full party cartelization of the 1999-2004 period remains a meaningful specter, even more than a decade after direct presidential elections were introduced and the party cartel was first disrupted.

As my article’s data and narrative show, presidential power-sharing in Indonesia has gradually drifted, but not definitively shifted, from a Reciprocity game toward a Victory game. In raw quantitative terms, the figure below unmistakably shows that parties have increasingly positioned themselves outside of government since 2004. Yet the numbers obscure much of what my qualitative assessment reveals. The lingering importance of Reciprocity can still be seen in vigorous efforts by both President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-14) and President Joko Widodo (or Jokowi, 2014-present) to forge alliances across the full range of Indonesian parties.

In my earlier collaborative research, I call this promiscuous power-sharing: “an especially flexible coalition-building practice in which parties express or reveal a willingness to share executive power with any and all other significant parties after an election takes place, even across a country’s most important political cleavages” (Slater and Simmons, 2013). From this perspective, promiscuous bargaining has continued almost unabated since 2004, but it has not always been consummated in power-sharing bargains. In sum, promiscuous power-sharing primarily arose from 1999-2004 because parliamentary parties had the power to demand it; it has persisted since 2004, even while evolving and abating, because even directly elected presidents have had a strategic interest in maintaining it.

Continued attempts at promiscuous power-sharing strongly suggest that Reciprocity remains the dominant game. Party cartelization has abated in Indonesia, but not vanished. And it could still easily come back in its most extreme form. Even if it does not, the public willingness of all parties to consider power-sharing alliances with all other parties means that Indonesia’s voters can never be confident that a vote for one party means a vote against any other. Under conditions of promiscuous power-sharing, objectionable and unpopular parties and individuals can only be removed from office by elites, not by the voters. Indonesia shows that direct presidential elections make party cartelization harder, but far from impossible.

In conclusion, the most intriguing implication of Indonesia’s experience with democratic power-sharing may be this: Presidents may sometimes see broad coalitions as a source instead of a drain on their power and resources. Oversized coalitions are typically seen as being more expensive to maintain. But this may not be how presidents see things at all, at least under certain conditions. Oversized coalitions may be better conceived as ways for presidents to spread the same amount of resources across more claimants, thus ensuring that no single partner can become too strong as a rival. If nothing else, the persistence and evolution of party cartelization, Indonesian-style suggests that power-sharing should not be seen as occasions for presidents simply to give. Political scientists should look more carefully to see what presidents may sometimes be taking away.

Rui Graça Feijó – Timor-Leste: The president dissolves the Assembly

This is a guest post by Rui Graça Feijó of the Institute for Contemporary History, New University of Lisboa

Over the last year or so, Timor-Leste has been confronted with a significant number of political novelties, the positive effects of which are reflected in the last Freedom House index “Freedom in the World” where the country has finally moved into the club of “Free Countries”. If the move has long been expected, the reasons evoked –  the success of the 2017 round of elections – are far less so.

Major changes started roughly a year ago when the two largest forces in the country – the historical Fretilin and the charismatic leader Xanana’s CNRT – joined forces in the first round of the presidential elections to support the candidacy of the chairman of Fretilin. In the previous three elections, the two forces had opposed each other, and twice (2007, 2012) they had faced each other (if only by proxy in terms of “independent” candidates supported by CNRT) in the electoral run-off. In 2017, however, the fact that the two parties supported a “Government of National Inclusion” formed in early 2015 and expected to last well into the next legislature, created a different situation. Francisco Guterres Lu Olo easily won the presidency in the March election. He was the first President to be affiliated to a political party.

Legislative elections were held in late July, and the parties supporting the outgoing government (except for the small Frenti-Mudança) did well, winning close to 70% of the vote. Fretilin was the winner by a mere 1,000 votes. Two new parties – one formed by the outgoing president, Taur Matan Ruak (TMR), before leaving office (PLP), and KHUNTO, whose roots are in the new generation and has close links to important martial arts groups – both of which opposed the strategic options of the government, obtained 10.6 and 6.4. percent respectively. It would seem that the conditions were ripe for the continuation of the Government of National Inclusion.

However, one of the critical conditions for the creation of such a government – that the old guard, the Gerasaun Tuan of those who had lived the critical period of 1974-76, would gave way to the Gerasaun Foun of those who came of age under Indonesian occupation – was soon questioned when Fretilin’s secretary general and actual leader, Mari bin Amude Alkatiri, claimed the right to be appointed prime minister. Both CNRT and PLP declared they would rather sit in the opposition, and spoke vaguely of providing confidence and supply to Fretilin’s executive.

Fretilin announced it would seek a broad coalition, but faced great difficulties when it came to talking to Xanana and TMR. With two major players now feeling free to act against the government, President Lu Olo felt compelled to intervene and promoted a meeting in the presidential palace with himself, Xanana, TMR and Alkatiri. But he was not able to convince Xanana or TMR to accept Alkatiri’s terms, nor was Alkatiri willing to change his mind on the conditions under which he would form a coalition with CNRT and/or PLP.

Fretilin negotiated then with two smaller parties: PD (a member of the last three executives) and the newcomer KHUNTO. While negotiations were happening, the three of them joined forces to elect the Speaker of the House, a member of Fretilin. But further agreement could not be found with KHUNTO, and it abandoned negotiations. As a result of this brief period of collaboration with KHUNTO, Fretilin – which had polled just under 30% of the vote – managed to control the three leading figures of the state – PR, PM and Speaker of the House. This is in sharp contrast with the recent history of institutional equilibrium and power-sharing in which “independent” presidents had a major role.

Lu Olo invited Alkatiri to form a government. When he came back with his government proposal, it was based on an agreement with PD alone, which together were supported by 30 out of 65 seats in the House. Thus, it was a minority executive. At that time, the three other parties had not yet formed an alternative alliance, which offered some room for a positive expectation regarding the minority government. The president could nevertheless have asked Alkatiri to find a sounder basis for his government by including members of the opposition parties (PLP expelled two of its militants who accepted jobs in the government) as well as respected independent figures like former PR and PM José Ramos-Horta (JRH). However, the leader of Fretilin insisted on moving ahead with the minority government, admitting that either the opposition would not block the way in the House, or that some opposition MPs would defy their party’s stance and abstain. So, on 15 September, Lu Olo agreed to put all his political (and not merely institutional) weight behind a government that was sworn in that day.

The Constitution offers presidents room for the choice of the prime minister (as JRH did in 2007 and TMR in 2015), but it stipulates that the government must undergo a parliamentary investiture vote. The government must present its program before the House within 30 days of being sworn in (Art. 108.2), and during that period it is merely caretaker cabinet not being entitled to take major political decisions. There is no mandatory vote on the program, but both the opposition and the government may take action: the former proposing the rejection of the program, the latter proposing a vote of confidence (Art. 109). In Dili, in October 2017, the opposition – now formally comprising CNRT, PLP and KHUNTO which had formed a Aliança para uma Maioria Parlamentar /Aliance for a Parliamentary Majority – AMP) – moved to reject the government’s program and it won 35 to 30 votes. For the first time in Timorese history, the government lost a vote in the House. However, the Constitution offers new governments a second change of submitting a revised program before it implies its dismissal (Art. 112 d.).

So far, all was within the constitutional boundaries. Henceforth, the process would derail and move into wild institutional territory. Although the Constitution does not explicitly refer to any deadline for the second presentation of the government’s program, it is assumed that it cannot take longer than the original period of thirty days. Alkatiri, however, suggested he would need ”until the end of the year” (i.e., two-and-a-half months) to resubmit its program. More than that, he assumed the government was fully invested (which was a false premise) and capable of full powers. In this vein, he submitted a revision of the state budget – something that clearly goes beyond the powers of a caretaker government. In the end, the AMP parties used their majority to block such move. This governmental attitude was to be seen in other initiatives. For instance, in late January, the vice-minister for Education (Lurdes Bessa) decided to alter the legislation on a sensitive issue – the use of native languages in school – arguing that “this may be our last bill but until the last day of this government we are working hard”. This position is not supported because it has not been supported by a parliamentary investiture vote.

Once a month had elapsed since the rejection of the first program, and without any signs that a second version would be presented on time, AMP tabled a motion of no-confidence, which, if approved by an absolute majority of MPs, would bring the government down at once (Art. 112 f.). President Lu Olo could also consider that the government was in breach of its constitutional duties and dismissed it in order to “secure the regular functioning of institutions” which was patently the case.

The most unexpected event was still to take place: the Speaker of the House refused to set a date for the plenary session to discuss and vote on the no-confidence motion, which in the overwhelming majority of parliaments takes precedence over other matters. Before such a situation, the opposition tabled a motion to revoke the Speaker’s mandate, in accordance with the House’s regulation (approved a few years ago with the active support of the current Speaker). The Speaker referred the issue to the Courts, where he lost in the first instance, but then made an appeal (still pending).

In order to try and ease the growing tension which was being fuelled by radical rhetoric from both camps and by the clear deviation of National Parliament from its powers, the Speaker took two initiatives: in late December he wrote to the PM asking for the new government program to be submitted “within the next thirty days”; and he set a date – with the approval of the government – to discuss and vote the rejection motion for 31 January 2018, that is, two full months after it had been presented, suggesting that a rejection motion should be voted at the government’s discretion and not as a priority matter.

This sequence of events constitutes an attempt to reduce the role of Parliament in the equilibrium of powers inscribed in the constitution, and it reveals that institutions are not functioning according to the law. As such, it offered ample grounds for the President to intervene, force the dismissal of government, and consider other alternatives: he could have invited the outgoing PM to try to reach another, broader agreement; he could have appointed an independent formateur to try to build a majority coalition including Fretilin; or he could have offered AMP a chance to form a government. He chose otherwise not to interfere, as his power to dissolve the parliament was curtailed until January 22, 2018, that is, exactly six months after the last parliamentary election. And early elections rather than a solution within the incumbent parliament was Fretlin’s preferred choice for resolving the political crisis in Dili.

On January 23, Lu Olo called all the parliamentary parties as it is his duty before dissolving the House; next day he summoned the first meeting of the Council of State, an advisory organ whose opinion he is bound to seek, even if the Council has no binding powers (Art. 86 f.). And on 26th January he announced on TV that for the first time the parliament was dissolved and fresh elections would be called (though a date has not been set).

The Chairman of the National Electoral Commission has stated that he is preparing the “machinery” for early elections (implying, among others, an update of the voting register), and suggested that more than the constitutionally necessary sixty days would be preferable to guarantee a modicum of quality in the electoral process. So, for the first time Timor-Leste will experience early elections somewhere between late March and May 2018 – and a new, fully installed government is likely to see the light of day around a year after the last parliamentary elections. As the country has not passed a state budget for 2018, it must live with a copy of the 2017 one – and this may generate several problems, not least in the amount of money spent on the electoral process. It will take the goodwill of the opposition to vote in favour of various budgetary measures necessary to finance the electoral process.

It is unclear whether the current government parties will form a pre-electoral coalition or not, or whether AMP will run alone. However, a new entity has been formed: 9 smaller parties who failed to pass the 4% threshold, but who together polled about 10% created the Forum Democrático Nacional/ National Democratic Forum – FDN). If they run as a pre-electoral coalition they may contribute to the rise in the number of parliamentary parties (in theory, by running together they might get one seat each) – and they have been severe critics of Fretilin and the way the process has evolved. If they run as FDN, life is likely to be more difficult for Fretilin.

President Lu Olo chose not interfere when Mari Alkatiri failed to secure majority support in parliament (but then again, minority governments are legitimate). Later, when the process of the government investiture in parliament went completely off the track stipulated by the Constitution of Timor-Leste., he was deaf to cries that instability was threatening social peace, and that the economic rate of growth was slowing down significantly on account of instability and uncertainty of the political process. His silence and inaction was only broken when his party was about to suffer a number of humiliating defeats in the House (rejection of government, recall of the Speaker).

Lu Olo’s recent (in)actions were clearly in tune with the options of his own party  (favouring early elections) and in this way he broke with the traditional position of presidents in the Timorese system, who are not supposed to interfere in the party political arena. The future of his presidency hinges, thus, on the results of the legislative elections. Should Fretilin win, or at least be in a position to lead the future government, he will have a peaceful presidency, and his behaviour in the last months will be vindicated; should, however, the fate of Fretilin be different, he will have to face a period of true cohabitation with a group of parties and personalities whose rhetoric against the way he has behaved is quite aggressive – and he may feel the loneliness of the Presidential Palace.

Let’s just hope that elections will be free, fair, and peaceful.

New publications

Robert Elgie, Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Robert Elgie, ‘The election of Emmanuel Macron and the new French party system: a return to the éternel marais?’, Modern & Contemporary France, pp. 1-15, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09639489.2017.1408062.

Tapio Raunio and Thomas Sedelius, ‘Shifting Power-Centres of Semi-Presidentialism: Exploring Executive Coordination in Lithuania’, Government and Opposition, pp. 1-24, 2017 doi:10.1017/gov.2017.31.

António Costa Pinto and Paulo José Canelas Rapaz (eds.), Presidentes e (Semi)Presidencialismo nas Democracias Contemporâneas, Lisbon, ICS, 2017.

Rui Graça Feijó, ‘Perilous semi-presidentialism? On the democratic performance of Timor-Leste government system’, Contemporary Politics, Online first, available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/Ah3Y2e6RJFCwnbA4BRze/full

Special issue on Perilous Presidentialism in Southeast Asia; Guest Editors: Mark Thompson and Marco Bünte. Contemporary Politics, Papers available Online first at: http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showAxaArticles?journalCode=ccpo20.

Jung-Hsiang Tsai, ‘The Triangular Relationship between the President, Prime Minister, and Parliament in Semi-presidentialism: Analyzing Taiwan and Poland’, Soochow Journal of Political Science, Vol. 35, Iss. 2, (2017): 1-71.

Nicholas Allen, ‘Great Expectations: The Job at the Top and the People who do it’, The Political Quarterly. doi:10.1111/1467-923X.12447.

Farida Jalalzai, ‘Women Heads of State and Government’, in Amy C. Alexander, Catherine Bolzendahl and Farida Jalalzai (eds.), Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Across the Globe, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Aidan Smith, Gender, Heteronormativity, and the American Presidency’, London: Routledge, 2018.

Special issue on Protest and Legitimacy: Emerging Dilemmas in Putin’s Third Term, Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, Volume 25, Number 3, Summer 2017.

Marcelo Camerlo and Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo (eds.), Government Formation and Minister Turnover in Presidential Cabinets: Comparative Analysis in the Americas, Routledge, 2018.

Michael Gallagher, ‘The Oireachtas: President and Parliament’, Politics in the Republic of Ireland, 6th Edition, Routledge, 2018.

João Carvalho, ‘Mainstream Party Strategies Towards Extreme Right Parties: The French 2007 and 2012 Presidential Elections’, Government and Opposition, pp. 1-22, 2017, doi:10.1017/gov.2017.25

Sidney M. Milkis and John Warren York, ‘Barack Obama, Organizing for Action, and Executive-Centered Partisanship’, Studies in American Political Development, 31(1), 1-23. doi:10.1017/S0898588X17000037.

Pål Kolstø and Helge Blakkisrud, ‘Regime Development and Patron–Client Relations: The 2016 Transnistrian Presidential Elections and the “Russia Factor”’, Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, Volume 25, Number 4, Fall 2017, pp. 503-528.

Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part III: Progress and Possibility in South Korea

Talks of constitutional reforms are sweeping across the presidential and semi-presidential systems in East Asia: the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. Constitutions capture the principles – some say, the most sacred principles – around which institutions, legislation, rules, and processes of a country are built.[1] Constitutional reforms, then, are generally significant and painstaking undertakings, often requiring supermajorities in the legislature or the electorate or both to ratify. And, this may be rightfully so: if they are to amend or revise principles that underpin the political, economic, and social structures of a country, the process should not be based on changeable and changing attitudes. Given the significance, the concomitant grip of constitutional reforms across several of the East Asian with a president as head or co-head of government is interesting, if not curious. What level of public support is there for these reforms? And, how likely are these reforms to pass?

In previous instalments, I discussed the level of public support in the Philippines and Taiwan for constitutional reform.[2] In this article, I examine the level of public support for reforms in South Korea. Article 130 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, enacted in the 1987 Constitution, which is sometimes referred to as the 1987 constitutional amendments, stipulates that constitutional revisions require two-thirds support of the total members of the National Assembly; once approved, the revisions must be submitted to the Korean electorate for approval in a referendum within 30 days. Constitutional revisions are passed if approved by a majority of more than 50 percent of eligible voters.

Calls for Constitutional revisions have ebbed and flowed in the country since the 1987 Constitution was adopted. This partly reflects the dissatisfaction among the leading political candidates and parties at the outcome of a single term, five-year non-reelectable presidential system with legislators elected every four years: although the Constitution was passed by an overwhelming 93.3 percent of the turnout, the constitutional committee constituted in 1986 to recommend changes ended in deadlock and the discussion was suspended before resuming again in July 1987 to create a document within an accelerated time frame. The frequent revival of the possibility of constitutional revisions also reflects dissatisfaction with the effect of the term-limited president and unmatched terms on executive-legislature relations and policymaking in the medium- and long-term.

Former President Park Geun-hye’s tenure illustrates these policy effects and executive-legislature tensions in practice. For instance, prior to the 2016 general elections, the executive-leader – in the tradition of presidentialized parties in South Korea – refused to cede the nomination process to the party in order to maintain her personal agenda rather than shift focus away to the party’s agenda.[3] It may be probably surprising to learn that she – together with the other presidential candidates – made a multiparty pledge during the 2012 campaign to reform the nomination process. She also stonewalled her party on the issue of constitutional reforms, which she had also pledged to change on the campaign trail, citing the need to tackle urgent or pressing tasks such as economic recovery for the country over longer-term considerations such as constitutional reforms. These tensions and conflicts between the executive and her party in the legislature that were often resolved in favour of the executive served to undermine party-development and institutionalization.

President Park’s impeachment has flung open the door for constitutional changes: immediately following the Constitutional Court’s ruling in support of her  impeachment, three parties in the legislature tried to bring constitutional reforms for the presidential election in May. The tight timeline doomed that discussion, but current President Moon Jae-in has maintained a commitment to actualize reforms: the President has set a timeline for constitutional reforms to be brought up for referendum by the next local elections in June 2018. The good news is that public surveys and polls of the legislature report high support for constitutional revisions: almost 69 percent of the public and 94 percent of the legislature are in favour of changes. Less clear is what reforms will be adopted. Nevertheless, given the commitment of the president, support from the legislature, and public support, there is reason to believe that constitutional changes will be adopted in Korea before the next presidential election.

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[1] Strauss, David. 2010. The Living Constitution. New York: Oxford University Press

[2] Yap, O. Fiona. 2017. “Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part I: Progress and Possibility in the Philippines.”  “Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part 2: Progress and Possibility in Taiwan.

[3] Elgie, Robert. 2011. “Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Semi-Presidentialism: Bringing Parties Back In.” Government and Opposition vol 46 no 2: 392-408; D. J. Samuels and M. S. Shugart. 2010. Presidents, Parties, Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.