Category Archives: Asia

Former resistance leader becomes Timor-Leste’s first partisan president

The presidential election seems to have delivered a decisive victory for FRETILIN’s Francisco ‘Lu Olo’ Guterres. With some two-thirds of votes counted, the former independence fighter has received just under 60 per cent of the vote. For the first time since 2002 Timor-Leste will have a president formally affiliated to a political party.

It is the third time presidential elections have taken place in Timor-Leste, but the first time that a presidential candidate has managed to win a majority of the votes cast in the first round. Guterres owes much of his electoral success to the support of former President and PM Xanana Gusmão (CNRT) and FRETILIN. Together, the two parties control 55 out of 65 seats in parliament. In February 2015 cooperation between the CNRT and FRETILIN resulted in the formation of a government of national unity in which all political parties were represented, including opposition parties. The fact that Guterres managed to win an outright majority in the first round shows the broad popular support these parties have in Timor-Leste.

President Taur Matan Ruak did not seek re-election but supported Guterres’ closest rival António da Conceição of the Democratic Party (PD) who received 30 per cent of the vote. Last year, President Ruak created his own People’s Liberation Party (PLP), which will participate in upcoming parliamentary elections. Recently, President Ruak has announced his desire to become the next PM.

To some extent, the presidential election was ‘business as usual’ in Timor-Leste: the candidate who has Gusmão’s support won the elections. What is new is that the president-elect is formally affiliated to a political party. So far, presidents have run on an independent ticket. Whereas under Timor-Leste’s semi-presidential system the head of state has limited executive power, in practice Timorese presidents have tended to take on the role of the opposition. During their presidency, Ramos-Horta and Ruak have frequently publicly expressed their concern with the rapid growth of the state budget, the increasing number of cases of corruption in which government officials were involved, and ‘unsustainable’ capital-intensive government investments. Both presidents lost Gusmão’s support and have only served one term.

It is unlikely Guterres will play a similarly active supervisory role during his five-year term in office. The president-elect is the official leader of the ruling party FRETILIN, which together with the CNRT will easily win the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Guterres will assume the presidency on 20 May. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for early July.

Presidential Profile – Park Geun-hye: The Imperial President?

On March 10, 2017, the Constitutional Court of Korea unanimously upheld the National Assembly’s impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. Park, the first female president elected in the country, has become the first president to be ousted out of office by impeachment since democratization in 1987. The former President is now a named suspect in a criminal investigation of bribery and abuse of power. The fall from grace for Park is particularly poignant: until the Choi scandal, Park seemed to buck the trend of failing performance approvals that had afflicted her predecessors. In particular, presidents in Korea since democratization have generally entered office with high approvals but would suffer low approvals by mid-term onwards, so that they are typically characterized as “limping” out of office by the end of their respective terms. In contrast, notwithstanding recurring influence-peddling scandals among her key aides and criticisms of her unconsultative style, until the general elections in April 2016, Park was consistently able to revive falling approvals to parlay support for her into election wins for her party. Consequently, more than other presidents since 1987, Park, as “Queen of Elections,” encapsulated the “imperial president” in South Korea, i.e., the executive who successfully overrides the checks and balances by the other branches of government.[i] How that imperialism worked in practice, particularly for a single, five-year term-limited executive office, makes for interesting study.

Early life in Politics

Most are aware that Park is the eldest daughter of former strongman president Park Chung-hee, whom many Koreans credit as instrumental for putting the Korean economy on the global map. The consecutive assassinations of both parents in the 1970s left Park and her siblings socially and politically isolated for almost two decades. That changed in 1998, when Park successfully contested a legislative by-election for the Daegu seat. In 2004, Park became chair of the Grand National Party (GNP, the forerunner of the current Liberty Korea Party and its predecessor, the Saenuri Party); in that role, she eked out a 121-seat win for the scandal-hit, publicly-assailed GNP. That success cemented Park’s position as a key player in the GNP; still, she would not win the party’s nomination until 2012. That year, running on a platform of economic democracy that also championed candidate-nomination reforms to combat political corruption and transparency for accountability, Park beat out the liberal Minjoo Party’s candidate, Moon Jae-in, for the presidential office.

Presidential Years

The imperial presidency was in evidence in Park’s first year in office: her government filed a motion to dissolve the minority party, the Unified Progressive Party, with the Constitutional Court (granted in 2014) for ties with North Korea. Meanwhile, the government resisted, and then reportedly pressured, independent investigators on the role of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in the 2012 elections. When the main opposition Minjoo Party’s boycott of parliamentary proceedings for 101 consecutive days over the NIS role led to a legislative impasse, the Park government moved to temper the National Assembly Advancement law that required a three-fifth majority to bring bills from standing committees to the plenary, and pressed ahead with senior official appointments over the objections of the opposition. On February 9, 2015, an appeals court convicted the former NIS chief for meddling in the 2012 elections

Park’s second year in office witnessed the Sewol tragedy that saw more than 300 dead or missing, mostly high school students on an organized trip to the resort island of Jeju. As President, Park’s failure to take responsibility and apologize for her government’s inadequate responses – she delivered the first official apology 13 days after the incident – was topped by her resistance to a full, independent investigation of the incident.[ii] The regular rallies and protests in Seoul and outside the Blue House over the Sewol disaster are the groundswell of the anti-Park rallies in 2016.

Park’s third and fourth years were marked by battles to shield her aides from the political fallout of the “door-knob” scandals over access to the president, and clashes within her party and with the opposition over candidate nominations and reform of that process. In these, Park wielded her presidential powers comfortably: she vetoed a parliamentary bill on the National Assembly Act that would allow legislators to demand changes to executive legislation in 2015, and contemplated another veto in 2016 to the revised Act that would allow parliamentary committees to call for public hearings on bills. Her government also pushed through with the state text-books policy, which many critics argued whitewashed pro-Japanese activities during the colonial era as well as the country’s experience with military dictatorship. And, her negotiated agreement with Japan over the comfort women issue drew ire for its lack of consultation and rash conclusion. Through these endeavours, Park consistently stared down efforts by the legislature or within her party to wrestle the agenda away from her office, threatening to leave the party when key party members, such as former party chair Kim Moo-sung or former floor leader Yoo Seung-min, sought to take the party in a different direction.[iii]

The Fall of the Imperial President

But Park overshot herself on the candidate nomination for the 2016 general elections: her resistance on open party primaries, and then subsequent interference in the nomination process, led to the lost of the party as majority in the legislature. The outcome is particularly damning because, at the beginning of 2016, the ruling party looked set to coast to a 180-seat majority win for the ruling party that would allow it to push its agenda and eliminate need for compromise. But, the open party bickering over candidate-nominations, with senior party members rebuffed in favour of pro-Park candidates, led several to leave the party and run as independents. In the April general elections, the ruling party managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory: it not only lost its majority in the legislature but also became the second largest party, after the opposition Minjoo Party. The scope of the imperial president is probably most telling in the aftermath of the election drubbing: while Park pledged to “humbly accept” the people’s will, she rejected a coalition with other parties, or even a reshuffle of the government.

In the end, the imperial president was brought down by the consistent, weekly rallies that began in October 2016 and surged to a high of 2 million. These are some of the largest protests to hit the country in 30 years, even larger than the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1987. With the rise of popular authoritarianism across the globe, this may well be the most newsworthy aspect of the imperial president.

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Notes

[i] Arthur Schlesinger, 1973. The Imperial President. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin

[ii] O. Fiona Yap. 2015. “South Korea in 2014: A Tragedy Reveals the Country’s Weaknesses.” Asian Survey

[iii] O. Fiona Yap. 2016. “South Korea in 2015: Battling to Set the Stage for Elections.” Asian Survey

South Korea – Collective-Action and President Park’s Impeachment: Did Corruption Galvanize Protestors?

President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment on December 9, 2016, when the South Korean legislature voted 234 to 56 (with two abstentions and seven invalid votes) to impeach the president – following consecutive weekends of large-scale protests against her – seemed nothing short of stunning. Here is an executive who has consistently weathered criticisms of her unconsultative style and recurring influence-peddling scandals to remain the Queen of Elections and assert her priorities over the opposition and even at the expense of her ruling Saenuri Party.[i] In fact, President Park was instrumental in the candidate-nomination debacle that led to departures of high-profile senior party-members and accounted in part for the Saenuri Party’s resounding defeat in the 2016 general elections. That the President managed to keep the now-minority party in government following the drubbing is instructive. Indeed, even following the President’s impeachment, Park loyalists retained leadership control of the ruling Saenuri Party (renamed since as the Liberty Korea Party); as a result, non-Park legislators and members left the party – some would say, again – to form the conservative Bareun Party. Given President Park’s apparent staying power, how did impeachment happen?

Public activism is the mainstay that underpins the resolve to bring about the President’s impeachment. The weekly protests that began in October and, at various times, exceeded two million, likely played a key role in bringing together the fractured opposition in the legislature to pull off the impeachment. It should be noted that the Park government had faced public protests previously, the most consistent being the Sewol protests to demand an independent investigative counsel for clear resolution of the tragedy in April 2014. What is different this time around is the size of the public protests: these are some of the largest protests to hit the country in 30 years, even larger than the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1987.

That large public protests are part of the knockout punch on a regime is not surprising: Tucker (2007) noted that electoral fraud led citizens to overcome collective action problems and form the Colored Revolutions protests that revolutionized politics in Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, and Kyrgyzstan.[ii] What other issues galvanize public protests? My own work on anti-corruption efforts show that government corruption may have such a galvanizing effect: in particular, experiment results show that Korean citizens are willing to join others to demand government accountability for corruption, even when they suffer no losses through the corrupt actions, if  expect others to pursue that course of action.[iii]

President Park’s fall from grace, then, may lie less in her susceptibility to the influences of her confidante, Choi Soo-sil, and more with her alleged role in aiding bribery and corruption from Korean conglomerates to said confidante. The President and her lawyers have been stalling and stonewalling the special investigation counsel as well as the Constitutional Court, in an effort to delay the Court’s decision. Still, the Constitutional Court has made clear that it will decide by March 10, lending to speculations that the collective protests have had an impact even on the mostly-conservative court. With the rise of popular authoritarianism across the globe, it may well be useful to uncover other issues that galvanize citizens and lead to demands for government accountability.

 

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[i] O. Fiona Yap, 2016. “South Korea in 2015: Battling to Set the Stage for Elections.” Asian Survey vol 56 no 1: 78-86

[ii] Joshua Tucker. 2007. “Enough! Electoral Fraud, Collective Action Problems, and Post-Communist Colored Revolutions.” Perspectives on Politics vol 5 no 3: 535-551

[iii] O. Fiona Yap. 2016. “How do South Koreans Respond to Government Corruption? Evidence from Experiments.” Korea Observer vol 47 no 2: 363-386

 

 

 

Rui Graça Feijó – Timor-Leste upcoming presidential elections: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

Rui Graça Feijó is Lecturer at CES/UCoimbra and IHC/UNLisboa

Timor-Leste will hold its fourth presidential elections on March 20. In spite of the lack of opinion polls, it is possible to suggest that they will reveal a new political landscape, the extent of whose novelty is still to be decided. To start with, these elections will confirm the Timorese “rule” that no incumbent succeeds in obtaining a second term in office

The field of candidates is composed of 8 individuals who submitted at least 5,000 endorsements with a regional distribution of at least 100 in each of the country’s 213 districts. This is the same number as in 2007, and 5 less than in 2012. Underneath the “normality” of this picture, a major change is occurring: there is a very strong candidate alongside seven others with little or no chance of actually fighting for anything more than a modest result, at best an honourable second. The presidential elections will thus fulfil two purposes: one is the official task of choosing a president; the other is to help contenders ascertain their hold on popular vote and their chances in the legislative elections scheduled for June, allowing for tactical decisions. On top of that, internal party struggles, a show of personal vanity, and access to the generous public support to candidates (at least US$ 10,000 per candidate regardless of their electoral score) will play a minor part in the circus.

FRETILIN proposed Lu Olo, its chairman (not its leader, the secretary-general Mari Alkatiri), as it had done in 2007 and 2012. Both times Lu Olo came first on the initial round only to see all other candidates rally against him in the decisive one. He has now received the formal backing of the largest parliamentary party, CNRT, and most of all, of the charismatic leader of the young nation, Xanana Gusmão. He is “Snow White” surrounded by seven dwarfs.

The main rival seems to be António Conceição. He is a member of Partido Democrático, a party that suffered a heavy blow with the death of its historical leader Fernando Lasama de Araújo (2015), followed by internal strife. The party as such ceased to be part of the governmental coalition, although his ministers were allowed to remain in functions as “independent”. António Conceição is one of those, and his bid at the presidency is partly a test for a presumed bid for the party leadership. He may have the backing of a new party, Partido da Libertação do Povo, inspired by the outgoing president Taur Matan Ruak, who declined to seek re-election and is widely believed to be preparing a bid for the premiership (if the presidential elections allow for such presumption).

Former minister José Luis Guterres, whose party Frenti-Mudança is the smaller one in the governmental coalition, has also declared his intention to run.

Two non-parliamentary parties have also fielded candidates. Partido Trabalhista supports its leader, Angela Freitas, and Partido Socialista Timorense backs António Maher Lopes. Although PST has no MP, its leader, Avelino Coelho, holds an important position in government.

A former deputy commissioner in the Anti-Corruption Commission, José Neves, is among those who seek the popular vote without party support – a circumstance that in the past has been critical in winning the second ballot, as candidates in these circumstances were able to build coalitions of all the defeated runners against the “danger” of a partisan candidate. Two others fall in this category: Amorim Vieira, of whom very little is known apart from the fact that he lived in Scotland where he joined SNP; and Luis Tilman, a virtually unknown individual who also presents himself as “independent”.

A few things emerge from this picture. Against what is expectable in two-round elections in fragmented party systems (Timor has 4 parliamentary parties, about 30 legal ones, and the 2012 elections had 21 parties or coalitions running), which induce the presentation of candidates on an identity affirmation basis in view of a negotiation for the second ballot (as was the case in Timor in 2007 and 2012), this time the two largest parties negotiated a common candidate before the first round, significantly increasing the likelihood that he will be elected on March 20.

It thus highly probable that Timor-Leste will have for the first time a president who is a member of a political party. The experience of three non-partisan presidents comes to an end not because the rules of the game have been changed, but rather because the political scenario has moved considerably. Back in 2015, a government of “national inclusion” replaced the one led by Xanana with the backing of all parties in the House, even if FRETILIN, who offered one of its members for the premiership, still claims to be “in the opposition”.  The move has been called by a senior minister “a transformation of belligerent democracy into consensus democracy”. Although the outgoing president is supposed to have facilitated this development, he soon turned sides and became a bitter and very outspoken critic of Rui Maria de Araújo’s executive and the political entente that sustains it.

Now the two major partners of the entente agreed to go together to the presidential elections, signalling that they wish to continue the current government formula after this year’s cycle of elections (even if the place of smaller parties in the coalition is not secure, and a question mark hangs above the score that the new opposition PLP may obtain). More than this, they assume that the role of the president has somehow changed from being the guarantor of impartiality discharging a “neutral” function as “president of all Timorese” to be a player in the partisan game, throwing his political and institutional support behind the government coalition.

A question emerges when one considers that CNRT is the largest party in the House, and that it has relinquished the right to appoint the prime minister (who is a member of FRETILIN acting in an “individual capacity”) and now forfeits the chance of securing the presidency, offering it to its rival/partner. Will it maintain this low-key attitude after the parliamentary elections if it remains the largest party?

The CNRT/FRETILIN entente suggests that Timorese politics lives in a double stage: the official one with state officers discharging their functions, and the one behind the curtains where de facto Xanana (who is simply a minister) and Mari Alkatiri (who holds a leading position in a regional development entity) tend retain the reins of actual power. In this light, public efforts to promote the “gerasaun foun” (younger generation) in lieu of the “gerasaun tuan” (the old guard that was already present back in 1975) by offering the premiership and other jobs to those who are relatively younger needs to be carefully hold in check.

In Dili, I was told that Timorese presidents tend to suffer the “syndrome of the wrong palace”. This expression is meant to convey the idea that they become frustrated with the (allegedly limited) powers bestowed upon them by the constitution, and consider that the legitimacy conferred on them by a two round election that guarantees an absolute majority is sort of “kidnapped”. They are prisoners in their palace. They believe they have the right to determine strategic orientations and cannot find the actual means to implement them. So they look at the premiership in the palace next door. Xanana stepped down from the presidency and launched a party and a successful bid to head government; Taur Matan Ruak is trying to follow suit – but his chances are not deemed so high. If Lu Olo manages to get elected, the sort of relations he is likely to establish with the prime-minister are totally different, as he is compromised with “one majority, one government, one president” – only the president is not likely to be the one who leads. Will this resolve the syndrome issue? Interesting times lay ahead.

Presidential profile – APJ Abdul Kalam, former president of India

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, commonly known as APJ Abdul Kalam, was sworn in as India’s 11th president on July 25, 2002. A space expert and science administrator by profession, he became the third Muslim (in a predominantly Hindu country) and the first scientist to assume the presidency. He was also the first, and so far, the only person to have stepped into the office without a background in politics.

Presidents in India are indirectly elected by a complex arithmetic of proportional voting. Members of both houses of parliament and all state legislatures are eligible to vote in such elections. Any person aged 35 or more, and eligible to be a member of the lower house of parliament may stand as a candidate. Elections, though, are mostly contested along party lines, and the composition of the electorate and the method of voting mean that the outcomes are often known well in advance.

The center-right Bharatiya Janata Party (“Indian Peoples Party) (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance, then in power in New Delhi, along with some regional parties nominated Kalam’s candidature on June 10, 2002. A week later, on June 18, 2002, the Congress Party, the principal opposition at the center, also announced its decision to back him. His nomination came months after a state in Western India was rocked by riots along religious lines. Commentators speculated if a Muslim had been nominated to reset India’s (tolerant) image, nationally and beyond.

Kalam, expectedly, won his election by a massive margin, and was sworn in on July 25, 2002. He would remain in office for 5 years.

The Indian presidency, it is often said, is modeled after the British monarchy. At an obvious level, the comparison is misleading. Britain is a monarchy, India is a republic. The president, the head of state, is elected. Indeed, the Indian president is the only nationally, albeit indirectly, elected office under the Constitution. He or she has claim to a degree of constitutional and electoral legitimacy monarchies don’t.

Nonetheless, the Indo-British comparison remains the standard template both in academic and judicial thinking.

Perhaps the most important power of the president is to appoint a prime minister. Ordinarily, this is an easy task. Imported British conventions dictate that the leader of the party with a majority in the lower house of parliament must be invited to form the government. But there are exceptions, and Kalam faced a peculiar challenge two years into his term.

In May 2004, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance won an upset election victory against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The Congress party elected its leader, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, to be the leader of the parliamentary party.

Immediately, protests broke out. Demonstrations and counter demonstrations happened. To many it was a matter of national pride. Adapting from the US Constitution, only naturally born Indian citizens should be prime ministers, they argued. The Indian Constitution, of course, imposes no such limitation.

Kalam had a decision to make. As he weighed his options, some speculated about his reservations in appointing Sonia Gandhi as the prime minister. Ultimately, he didn’t need to decide. Gandhi, enlightened by her “inner voice”, refused the party’s nomination, and instead suggested economist Manmohan Singh as the prime minister. (Singh would hold the prime ministerial reigns for two full terms.) In his account of the presidency, Kalam, for his part, denied claims about his reservations about Sonia Gandhi. He would have appointed the leader of the majority party, whoever that be, he wrote.

President is the head of state, and all decisions are taken in his name. Judicial opinions and academic commentary, once again, interpret the powers of the presidency through a British lens. A president exercises formal powers, it is said; the real powers vest with the council of ministers headed by the prime minister. The latter decides, the president delivers. His discretion is limited, so goes the conventional view.

Presidents may have limited discretion, but they also have endless time in which to decide those matters. And President Kalam demonstrated the enormity of the passive powers of his office. He did so while dealing with mercy petitions of convicts on death row. Ordinarily, mercy petitions are decided by the council of ministers, and passed on to the president for approval.

Kalam, strongly opposed to the death penalty, simply sat on the petitions. He did nothing about them. Of the 21 petitions forwarded to him during his term in office, he sat on all but one.

Occasionally, his inaction attracted controversy, but Kalam remained steadfast. An unequal application of the death penalty (almost all death row convicts were impoverished citizens), he said, was a violation of the Constitution.

Occasionally, his action attracted controversy, too. In India, the central government may dismiss state governments under certain circumstances, impose president’s rule, or dissolve the legislature and initiate new elections. The decision to dismiss a state government is taken by the council of minister but must be approved by the president. In 2005, Kalam signed off on a controversial dismissal by the UPA government, something, he later regretted. He should have studied the matter further, he said, instead of hurrying it. (The dismissal was challenged in the supreme court, and eventually overturned.)

Kalam’s most challenging moment arrived in 2006 after both houses of parliament enacted a self-serving piece of legislation. It retroactively removed disqualifications many members of parliament suffered by holding “offices of profit” – something the Constitution bars. Kalam agonized over the Bill at his desk. He found it unprincipled and hasty. He formally returned the Bill to the two houses asking them to reconsider – the first and only time a president in India has done so. The houses didn’t reconsider; they simply reenacted it. Once again, it landed before Kalam. Unwilling to precipitate a constitutional crisis, he eventually gave his assent. In his autobiography, he called this the “toughest” decision of his presidency.

As he neared the end of his term, questions arose about re-nominating him to the presidency. An organic groundswell of support appeared both in print and electronic media. Newspapers carried large numbers of op-eds and letters to editors expressing support for Kalam. Online petitions swelled with support. For a man who never stood for direct elections, Kalam was a home run; he would have swept away any opposition in a direct contest.

The NDA, his original proposer, extended its support. The Sonia Gandhi-led Congress Party, though, refused. We may never know why.

Fali Nariman, India’s preeminent jurist voiced what millions of Indians felt when he wrote of Kalam’s departure: “We will miss him — that unconventional figure who became India’s First Citizen in July 2002. Never pompous, not even ‘presidential’, he walked into the Palace at Raisina Hill with few worldly goods — he now leaves with even fewer … We could have asked him to stay: but we didn’t … Of him it can be said, as Winston Churchill once said about his departed king: ‘He nothing common did, or mean, upon that memorable scene.’ Memorable scenes are rarely re-enacted, but they are always remembered.” (Fail Nariman, “We’ll miss you, Dr Kalam”, Indian Express, July 23, 2007)

From his first days in office, Kalam was massively popular. Old and young, across political lines, identified with him, and endearingly referred to him as the “people’s president”. His simplicity, his infectious, if inchoate, optimism was his strength. India’s only bachelor president, and in his 70s, he was widely popular with students, and often interacted with them.

A lifelong teacher, poet, and the author of many books, Kalam maintained associations with several universities in India and elsewhere after his presidency. Perhaps fittingly, he died (of a heart attack) while lecturing to a group of students at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong. He lived in the classroom and died there, too.

At least the for the foreseeable future, APJ Abdul Kalam will remain India’s most endearing apolitical politician.

South Korea – The 2017 Presidential Candidates … so far…

 

Presidential elections in South Korea are scheduled for December 2017, but the National Assembly’s impeachment of President Park Geun-hye on Dec 9, 2016, with 234 to 56 votes (with two abstentions and seven invalid), potentially brings the election forward if the Constitutional Court supports the impeachment. The Court has 180 days to decide, and six justices must support the impeachment or it fails. If the Court supports impeachment, then presidential elections must be held within 60 days. Not surprisingly, presidential aspirants are lining up to declare their candidacies in preparation for a shortened primary and election campaign. Perhaps curiously, the prevailing favorites have largely refrained from formal announcements and have only hinted at running.

The contenders who have announced so far are:

  • Gyeonggi Gov Nam Kyung-pil, Barun Party, which is the splinter from the Saenuri party comprising the non-Park faction. Nam was a five-term who has criticized the Park government for its authoritarian-leanings. The governor is also one of the first party heavyweights to quit the Saenuri party in November, 2016, and join the opposition to demand President Park’s impeachment.
  • Yoo Seong-min, Barun Party, is the former Saenuri floor-leader of the non-Park faction who lost that position following a clash with President Park and subsequently also lost the party’s nomination at general elections.[i] Yoo was folded back into the party after he won his seat as an independent. He is one of the 12 members of the crisis management council that included former chair of the Saenuri Party, Representative Kim Moo-sung, to bring party members into supporting President Park’s impeachment.
  • Rhee In-je, a senior Saenuri party leader who was a member of the Supreme Council, and who has declared his candidacy three other times since 1997.
  • South Chungcheong Gov. Ahn Hee-jung, Minjoo Party, who at 52 represents one of the new generation of leaders from the liberal camp seeking higher political office to run the country.
  • Seongnam city Mayor Lee Jae-myung, Minjoo Party, a progressive who has revived the city’s economy and put in place an extensive welfare program in the city. Lee was among the few politicians who took part in the large protest rallies in Seoul against President Park beginning in October.
  • Sim Sang-jeung, leader of the Justice Party, a minority party with six seats in the legislature.
  • Representative Ahn Cheol-soo, 2012 presidential contender, co-founder of the People’s party and former chair. In 2014, Ahn co-founded the NPAD with the Minjoo Party, but then split from the alliance in spectacular fashion in December 2015 to form the People’s Party. Ahn dropped out of the presidential race in favour of Moon Jae-in in 2012 so as not to split the vote for the liberal camp; given the many charged conflicts between the two in the last few years, it will be interesting to see if Ahn – who is polling at fourth place in public opinion surveys – will wrestle for the liberal mantle till the end.

The current two front-runners have not been as forward in their candidacies, to avoid a potential backlash if they are seen as excessive politically ambitious. Still, both have signalled interests in the presidential race:

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[i] O. Fiona Yap, 2015. “South Korea in 2015: Battling to Set the Stage for Elections.” Asian Survey, Vol. 56 No. 1, January/February 2016; (pp. 78-86) DOI: 10.1525/as.2016.56.1.78

South Korea – Impeachment of the President: Critical Citizens and Political Will

On December 9, 2016, the South Korean legislature voted 234 to 56 (with two abstentions and seven invalid votes) to impeach the sitting president, Park Geun-hye. Two-thirds of the legislature – or 200 votes – is required for impeachment to succeed. The opposition and independents added to only 172 votes, so that at least 28 members of the Saenuri Party would have to cross the aisle in order for impeachment to pass. As late as December 2, 2016, it was unclear that there would be enough votes for impeachment: President Park’s offer to resign on November 29 threw a wrench in discussions between the three opposition parties, and within the Saenuri party. Yet, in a week, bolstered by the large and growing protests against the President Park, the opposition pulled together to pass the impeachment vote, the second successful impeachment of a sitting president since Korea’s democratization in 1987. The successful vote, then, offers a useful study of the opposition in the legislature, and the role of the opposition in the electorate in delivering the necessary political will.

The opposition in the legislature comprises three political parties – the main opposition Minjoo Party with 123 seats, the People’s Party with 38 seats, and the Justice Party with 6 seats – and independents; it also includes the non-Park members of the Saenuri Party. The Minjoo Party and the People’s Party had fractured from the former opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD); among the independents, some are disgruntled members of the NPAD while some are the disenfranchised members of the Saenuri Party who left following the candidate-nomination fights for general elections in April, 2016. Among the opposition, then, political hostility reigned high, so that the camaraderie that led to the fragile agreement between the three opposition parties cracked easily, such as when Minjoo Chair Choo Mi-ae attempted to broker a deal for the president’s resignation.

In the Saenuri Party, the non-Park faction had suffered a series of crippling setbacks in standoffs with the President that were generally resolved in favour of the President since 2015.[i] Indeed, even following the surprising electoral trouncing that led the ruling party to lose its majority in the legislature, the non-Park members were stymied in their efforts to build – or revive – a viable alternative to the pro-Park faction. Still, in this political crisis, non-Park members rallied to constitute 12 members of the crisis management council – it includes former chair of the Saenuri Party, Representative Kim Moo-sung, and former floor leader, Representative Yoo Seung-min – to bring party members into supporting impeachment. But, the strength of the President Park’s advocates in the party must be noted: even with the President’s impeachment, the new floor leaders of the Saenuri Party are from the pro-Park faction.

But for the united and expanding opposition in the electorate, the tenuous union of the opposition in the legislature may have crumbled in the face of further compromises from the executive. Critical citizens – citizens who question government authority or adopt unconventional participation, including protests, to influence government policies – have consistently battled to keep their concerns on the political agenda in South Korea.[2] This is no mean feat, given the discord among the opposition in the legislature, and notwithstanding concessions and compromises from the executive. Their steadfastness – hitting a record two million in weekly protests since October – buttressed the resolve of the opposition parties in the legislature, and likely convinced wavering members of the Saenuri Party to support the non-Park vote for impeachment.

Indeed, many predict that this opposition in the electorate will be critical in swaying the mostly-conservative Constitutional Court, which will have the final say in the impeachment process. Six Constitutional Court justices must support impeachment before the President is removed from office; the quorum for binding vote is seven. The Court has 180 days to decide on the impeachment; however, two of the nine justices are scheduled to retire in March 2017, which increases the odds that six of the remaining seven will vote to support impeachment. Still, the opinions of the justices will be made public; this, together with the strong public will against the President, may deliver the impeachment.

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[i] O. Fiona Yap, 2016. “South Korea in 2015: Battling to Set the Stage for Elections.” Asian Survey vol 56 no 1: 78-86

[2] See Norris, P. (2002). Democratic Phoenix. Political Activism Worldwide. New Social Movements, Protest Politics and the Internet: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Kim, S. (2010). Public trust in government in Japan and South Korea: Does the rise of critical citizens matter? Public administration review, 70(5), 801-810; Sander, T. H., & Putnam, R. D. (2010). Still bowling alone?: The post-9/11 split. Journal of Democracy, 21(1), 9-16.

 

 

South Korea – President Park in the battle of her career: Lessons for Legislative and Electoral Oppositions around the World

On November 13, 2016, a series of protests culminated into a million-strong demonstration in central Seoul to demand President Park Geun-hye’s resignation. It is the largest protest to hit the country in 30 years, even larger than the pro-democracy demonstrations that ushered the liberalization of the autocratic political system in 1987. And, it was not limited to the capital: smaller-scale protests were held in cities across the country. The immediate trigger to this is the influence of Park’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, on the President’s personal and state decisions that ranged from outfits to presidential appointments. This is not new: the President – widely considered unconsultative even within her own ruling Saenuri party – has faced criticisms and political challenges resulting from the control and influence of the coterie of friends and advisors who limit access to her since she took office in 2012.[i] What is new is the magnitude and determination of the protests: until now, the fractured opposition – in the legislature and in the electorate – has failed to pose a viable challenge to the government. Clearly, the tide has turned, so that the President – who as Queen of Elections has consistently weathered these influence- and corruption-scandals – is facing considerable odds to hang on to her position. It pays to examine how the opposition in the legislature has failed in the past and how the electorate has stepped up to lead this battle to crest.

The opposition in the legislature suffered – and continues to suffer – from a volatility that has challenged its institutionalization. The current legislature has two main opposition parties, the Minjoo Party with a plurality of 123 seats, and the People’s Party with 38 seats. Both parties constituted the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) in April 2014; their split on December 13, 2015, was surprising but not unexpected: it underscored the feuds – frequently open – within the alliance, as well as between factions in the Minjoo Party. Still, the alliance split seemed to foreshadow further splits within the Minjoo Party and looked set to hand the electoral advantage to the ruling Saenuri Party. Fortunately for the opposition, and likely unfortunately for the Saenuri Party, the ruling party’s supermajority prospects – in the face of the opposition split – crumbled. In particular, party discord between the pro-Park and the non-Park factions led to candidate-nomination fights and party departures of senior Saenuri party members to run as independents in the elections. In this context of these conditions, the general elections for April 2016, led to the following outcomes: opposition Minjoo Party with the plurality of 123 seats, Saenuri Party with 122 seats, People’s Party with 38 seats, Justice Party with 6, and 11 independents.

Yet the electoral outcomes speak less to the parties than to the electorate. Electoral turnout was close to 60% in April, a low figure that, nevertheless, exceeded previous elections. Importantly, young voters featured prominently in the 2016 polls: 79.5 percent in their 30s, 72.9 percent of those in their 40s and 53.7 percent in their 50s voted for the opposition. Among those over 60, 59.3 percent cast ballots for the ruling party, compared to 35.2 percent for an opposition party.

In democracies, political parties represent an important development where they displace personalistic politics or candidate-centered politics to perform as recurring sources for aggregating voters’ interests into cogent political agendas based on programmatic contestation that undergirds executive-legislative relations. However, party roles are a-changing and not just in the emergent democracies. In the case of South Korea, the current political climate has foisted responsibilities onto the electorate, where a lack of a viable opposition to take aim and provide an electable alternative to the government means that the civil society pressures must persist.[ii]

Korean society has responded to the call: from the large and regular rallies in the aftermath of the Sewol tragedy to maintain public awareness, to the smaller drives against the tax reform debacle of 2015, civil society has pressed the government for accountability at considerable expense. It is this level of public activity and commitment that underpins hopes that substantive changes are in store for the country.

Indeed, but for this public activity, the on-again-off-again liaisons between the different factions within the main opposition party, the Minjoo Party, as well as across opposition parties, may not have materialized: as had occurred often in the past, the divided opposition turned on itself as the newly-minted leader of the Minjoo Party arranged to meet with President Park over the scandal. The leader, Representative Choo Mi-ae, narrowly averted further fallout by cancelling the meeing. Still, the objections to the meeting underline how easily the opposition in the legislature fractures, particularly in the face of President Park’s concessions. And, President Park has expanded efforts to mollify the opposition: she has reversed her previous opposition to constitutional revisions – a key demand of non-Park supporters in her party, as well as among the oppositionand nominated key aides to the late liberal presidents Roh Moh-hyun and Kim Dae-Jung as Prime Minister and chief-of-staff.

Notwithstanding these legislative-executive ebbs and flows, public activity has remained the mainstay that underpins the current resolve to force the President to be accountable. The public activism is fueled from different wellsprings. Still, the opposition parties in the legislature are taking cues off this public resolve to present a rare concerted front. Oppositions across nations may do well to take note. And, take heart.

  1. [i] O. Fiona Yap, 2015, “ South Korea in 2014: A Tragedy Reveals the Country’s Weaknesses
  2. [ii] O. Fiona Yap, 2016, “South Korea in 2015: Battling to Set the Stage for Elections”

Taiwan – Softly, Softly, The President Navigates DPP and Cross-Strait Relations

Presidents who are not ceremonial executives generally come under scrutiny following the first 100-day honeymoon after inauguration, when the policy horizon is no longer paved with unencumbered goodwill from the electorate, legislator, or international community. President Tsai Ing-wen is no exception. Indeed, as the executive with majority party support of the erstwhile opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the legislature, the first woman elected to the presidency in Taiwan is likely to be closely watched to see if she is able to implement her policy agenda. That such success evaded the former president elected from the DPP, President Chen Shui-bian, whose agenda was stonewalled by the Pan-Blue majority in the legislature, likely compounds interest and attention on President Tsai. Yet, having a legislative-majority support comes with challenges: in particular, China is keeping close watch on if, when, or how the executive and legislature in Taiwan may adopt policies that veer away from the “one China” 1992 consensus. There is, then, much to appreciate in President Tsai’s ability to maintain her steadfastness that balances the demands of some of the core constituencies of the DPP on the one hand, and the demands and pressures of China on the other.

The DPP, like most parties, comprises factions, and a core bloc in the party favours independence. President Tsai’s previous run as presidential candidate for the DPP in 2012 drew on this core, and she lost out to former President Ma Jing-yeou in that race. The second time around in the 2016 elections, President Tsai was careful to apply the lessons learned: she has been steadfast in maintaining a cautiously-worded stance regarding relations with China that acknowledges the importance of the 1992 meeting that gave rise to the “one China” consensus but without explicitly recognising the one China principle.

The moderates in her party support the delicate stance: in the July 2016 party congress, a motion was made to remove the objective of Taiwan independence contained in Article 1 of the party’s charter. The new resolution, if passed, will change Article 1 to read: “. . . it is the party’s objective to establish cross-strait status quo. . .” However, at the same congress, the pro-independence faction also moved to change the country’s official title from the Republic of China to Taiwan, with the reminder that the DPP has legislative majority and control of the executive to effect changes. The second motion was also sent up to the DPP Central Executive Committee for review.

Possibilities such as the second motion are concerning to China, and China’s response has been to tighten the diplomatic screws while calling out President Tsai’s failure to acknowledge the 1992 consensus. There are concerns that China may tighten the economic screws, which will hurt Taiwan’s sluggish economy. As an indication, tourists from China have fallen by 30 percent since President Tsai’s inauguration, and that has made an impact on the tourist industry in Taiwan, as protestors highlight.

It is clear that this is no easy path to trudge: Taiwan’s unique standing in the international community is bound in its relations with China, so that cross-strait relations reverberate onto domestic agenda and the government’s policy-effectiveness. China has been very clear on what it needs to see from President Tsai, in order to maintain ongoing political peace and economic stability. Meanwhile, the electorate is beating the drums for a quick economic turnround, but is also resistant to painful reforms that are likely to be part of the turnaround. How well the President’s softly, softly approach, to the factions in her party, to the electorate, and to China, will clearly be tested thoroughly.

India – Of the People, for the People, by the President: The Constitutional Status of the National Capital Territory of Delhi

States and Union Territories of India

India is made up of two types of mega-administrative units: “States” and “Union Territories”. The States are fully functional politico-administrative units. They are endowed with constitutionally entrenched legislative and executive powers. They function through an executive that is responsible to a popularly-elected legislature. Governors formally head these States. Real executive powers, though, vests with the ministerial councils headed by the Chief Ministers. India, it is often said, is a federation – or something akin to it: These States make it so. There are 29 such States in India now, Telangana being the latest one, created in 2014.

Then there are the Union Territories, currently, 7 in all. These units don’t have elected legislatures or a “responsible” executive. They are ruled by the President of India. Article 239 of the Constitution empowers the President to do so: “…. every Union territory shall be administered by the President acting, to such extent as he thinks fit, through an administrator to be appointed by him with such designation as he may specify.” Article 240 clarifies that the President may make regulations for the “peace, progress and good government of the Union Territories”. If India only had Union Territories, it would unquestionably be a unitary, as opposed to a federal, system.

This neat division between States and Union Territories took some doing. The original Constitution, compelled by colonial realities, drew a complex internal map of India: 4 different types of administrative units were recognized with distinct powers and functions. A simplified map was unveiled in 1956. India was reorganized mostly along linguistic lines, and the current system of States and Union Territories was introduced. At that point in time, India had 14 States and 6 Union Territories.

The National Capital Territory of Delhi: A Mixed Category

The division, though, isn’t neat. Not all Union Territories are the same: Some are more than others. Introduced in 1962, Article 239A authorized Parliament to create legislatures or ministerial councils or both for Union Territories with such powers and functions as it deems fit. Doing so would make a Union Territory more like a State. Parliament exercised its power once: 1987. The former French colony of Pondicherry (now Puducherry) in Southern India was given a legislature and a ministerial council, and it functions through these organs.

A more important change was introduced in 1992. It had to do with Delhi. Article 239AA was inserted into the Constitution amending the status of the Union Territory of Delhi. It would now be called the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD), and would have a Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers to “aid and advise” the Lieutenant Governor (LG), the formal head. NCTD was different from Pondicherry. The State-like organs in Pondicherry were created by an Act of Parliament; a constitutional amendment inserting Article 239AA achieved the same for NCTD. Consequently, Delhi has a constitutionally provided for legislative assembly and a Chief Minister-led council.

The Council of Ministers rule their respective States. The President, or his appointed administer, rule the Union Territories. What, then, is Delhi? Who rules it?

In February 2015, a political start-up, Aam Aadmi Party (the Common Man Party), took Delhi by electoral storm. It won 67 of the 70 seats in the Legislative Assembly, and roared into office. With more than 95 percent of the seats won, it created an electoral record of sorts in India. AAP’s victory came as a rude shock to the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) which currently holds power at the center (the federal government) in New Delhi.

Skirmishes soon broke out. Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, went about his business. He had the people’s mandate, he said, to implement his manifesto promises. The BJP objected. Soon the central government, through the President, began intervening in the functioning of the NCTD Government. It is a Union Territory, the central government claimed, and, therefore, the President retains overall say and supervision.

In the States, except when specifically provided, governors exercise executive power on the “aid and advise” of ministers; they do not exercise discretion. If NCT is more like a State, then, clearly, the Assembly and the Council of Ministers will govern like they do in other States. But if Delhi, despite its trappings, is no more than a Union Territory, naturally, the President will rule. Which is it? In February 2016, the matter wound up before the Delhi High Court

Characterizing Delhi: The People v. The President

In August 2016, the High Court, in Government of National Capital Territory, Delhi v Union of India (2016) concluded that the NCTD is a Union Territory. Despite the Assembly, Council of Ministers and the people’s mandate that underpins these offices, the President, or his appointed administrator, is the ultimate ruler.

Both States and the NCTD have elected assemblies and responsible governments. In addition, States have Governors while the NCTD has a Lieutenant Governor. But these gubernatorial offices aren’t constitutionally analogous, the High Court held. Governors have limited discretion, and they are specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The LG, however, has much wider discretion: Under Article 239AA (4), his discretion extends to matters on which he must act “by or under any law” in addition to the Constitution. If the ministers and the LG disagree on any matter, the LG shall refer it to the President whose decision has shall be final and binding. And in the interim, the LG has the authority to act contrary to the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers if it is necessary for him to take immediate action. As a result of this verdict, all ministerial decisions must be communicated to the LG, and he is at liberty to accept or reject such decisions.

In arriving at this conclusion, the High Court dug up both precedents and a range of secondary sources including the Balakrishnan Committee Report and parliamentary debates to which responsible government in NCTD owes its origins. The concerns outlined in these secondary sources were many, and not unreasonable. New Delhi is the capital of India; it houses the offices of the national government, the upper echelons of the armed forces, and the Supreme Court. This is in addition to embassies, diplomats and other international bodies that participate in the national life of India in New Delhi. Full statehood would make it impossible for the Central Government to exercise control over the territory in which it is housed, thereby making it harder to govern. Retaining control over the territory is the reasonable thing to do, the secondary sources argued. The High Court agreed.

But the bigger question remains: If all ministerial decisions in NCTD must ultimately meet with presidential concurrence, why have an elaborate government and Assembly? What point does it serve? Either these organs and offices matter, or they don’t. Imposing the President as the constitutional overlord, it is clear, relegates the NCTD to Union Territories that do not have these elaborate trappings. If the Delhi High Court is correct in its reading of Article 239AA, the provision – the offices it creates and the confers it ostensibly confers – is entirely redundant. The people, their mandate, don’t matter; only the President does.