Category Archives: Europe

Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe

This post summarises the new book by Philipp Köker ‘Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). The book is the inaugural volume in the new series Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics (edited by Robert Elgie and Gianluca Passarelli) and is based on Philipp’s PhD thesis which won the ECPR Jean Blondel PhD Prize 2016.

Presidential powers feature prominently in academic debates. Paradoxically, until now only few scholars have tried to analyse and explain how presidential actually use them. This book tries to fill this gap in the academic literature, but is also rooted in a real-life encounter with presidential activism. As an undergraduate intern in the Polish Sejm I witnessed first-hand the negotiations between President Lech Kaczyński and Gregorz Napieralski, newly elected leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), on blocking an override of the president’s veto of the media law in July 2008.The aim of this book is map and analyse such patterns in the activism of presidents and explain when and why presidents become active and use their powers. Thereby, it focuses on 9 Central and East European democracies (i.e. those that joined the EU in 2004/2007) during the period 1990-2010. Given that their political systems were created during the same, comparatively short period of time, share a common trajectory of development and were confronted with the same challenges, they are particularly suited for analysis. With regards to presidential powers, I concentrate on two of the most prominent presidential powers:

  1. the power to veto legislation and return it to parliament
  2. the appointment and censure of governments and cabinet ministers

The central argument is that presidential activism can best be explained by the institutional structure – including the mode of election – and the political environment, particularly the relative strength and level of consensus between president, parliament and government. Thereby, I argue that popular presidential elections matter fundamentally for presidential activism – directly elected presidents are agents of the public rather than parliament and lack the constraints and potential for punishment faced by their indirectly presidents elected counterparts (which challenges Tavits 2008). Furthermore, presidents should be more active when they find themselves in cohabitation with the government, when parliamentary fragmentation is high, and when the government does not hold a majority in the legislature.

To test these and additional hypotheses, my book uses a nested analysis research design (Lieberman 2005) that combines the statistical analysis of an original cross-section time series data set on the use of presidential vetoes with carefully selected case studies based on numerous elite and expert interviews in four most-different countries. The analysis of presidential activism in government formation and censure is thereby deliberately left for the qualitative analysis as there is no adequate quantitative data yet.

Patterns of Presidential Veto Use in Central and Eastern EuropeMy regression models generally confirms the majority of my hypotheses. In line with the table above, my model results clearly show that presidents used their veto power significantly more often than indirectly elected presidents. Furthermore, presidents were more active during neutral relations with the government and cohabitation and the effects of the governmental and presidential seat shares, too, showed the expected effects. Echoing findings from the study of presidential veto use in the United States, president also vetoed more frequently the more bills were passed by parliament. Based on the predictions of the statistical models, I then select 12 president-cabinet pairings in four countries (Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) for further in-depth analysis. Thereby, I make sure to select both strong/weak and directly/indirectly elected presidents and one pairing per office holder to control for institutional variations and individual presidents.

Presidential Activism in Practice

The in-depth analysis of presidential veto use also confirms my hypotheses and provides strong evidence that the hypothesised mechanisms actually insist. In particular, the mode of presidential election emerged as one of, if not the most important factor in explaining presidential activism. The popular mandate gained through direct elections gave presidents significantly more freedom in their actions but also required them to be more active to ensure their re-election – this was not only confirmed through my interviews with high-ranking presidential advisors but also evidenced by a number of presidents’ public statements. Indirectly elected presidents on the other hand acknowledged their dependence on parliament and therefore used their powers less often as not to interfere in the work of their principal. The relationship between president and government as well as the government’s strength in parliament were equally shown to be key determinants in presidents’ decisions to use their powers. Yet the qualitative also demonstrated that the size of presidents’ support base in parliament only becomes relevant when their party participates in government or when high thresholds are needed to override a veto. In addition, the qualitative analysis suggested an additional explanatory factor for presidential activism not included in my theoretical and statistical models – divisions within and between government parties provided additional opportunities for activism and could explain vetoes under otherwise unfavourable conditions.

My analysis of presidential activism in the appointment and censure of governments then takes a more exploratory approach and covers the entire period of observation (rather than just specific president-cabinet pairings). The results show some support for existing hypotheses in the literature but also call for re-thinking the use of non-partisan cabinet ministers as a proxy for presidential involvement. In particularly, non-partisans were not only often appointed without presidential involvement, but presidents were also more actively involved in placing co-partisans in the cabinet.

Studying Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe and Beyond

Presidents still belong to the group of less-studied political actors. Yet even though countries differ greatly in how much power is vested in the presidency, presidents always possess at least some power and even the least powerful presidents play an important functional and procedural role in their political systems apart from ceremonial duties. Thus, studying presidential politics has a very strong practical relevance for any republican political system.

My book shows that theoretical approaches developed for presidents in other contexts (i.e. mostly the United States) ‘travelled’ almost effortlessly to Central and Eastern Europe. Several mechanisms of effect could be observed irrespective of institutional structure, highlighting the enormous potential of ‘comparative presidential studies’ beyond national contexts. Thus, I hope that my book is – together with the work of this blog and the recently formed ECPR Standing Group on Presidential Politics – will help to further develop this sub-discipline of political science to the extent that it becomes en par with long-established scholarship on the presidency of the United States.

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References & Notes:
Lieberman, E. S. (2005). Nested Analysis as a Mixed-method Strategy for Comparative Research. American Political Science Review, 99(3), 435–452.
Tavits, M. (2008). Presidents with Prime Ministers: Do Direct Elections Matter?. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Find out more details about the book and the new series Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics  on the Palgrave website.

Jean-Louis Thiébault – The president and his party: Emmanuel Macron and La République en Marche (LRM)

This is a guest post by Jean-Louis Thiébault, emeritus professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Lille, France.

The analysis of the relationship between the president and his party is an essential factor in understanding presidential or semi-presidential systems. The presidential party provides the cadres, activists and supporters who support the presidential candidate of this party in the conquest and the practice of power. During the presidential campaign, it is transformed into a real political machine in the service of a man who is the candidate of the party. The party is transformed into a presidential party if its candidate is elected. It provides the bulk of the ministers nominated by the elected president to form the government, especially if it receives an absolute majority of parliamentary seats. It votes the texts which constitute the essential elements of the presidential program.

But there are two types of presidential parties. Many of them are traditional parties, long present on the political scene. But fewer of them are newly created, especially by a candidate who does not belong to any party and who wishes to have a political machine capable of supporting him in his conquest of power and in the implementation of its policy. This second type of presidential party resembles one of the different types of “personal parties”, analyzed by Mauro Calise from the example of Italy (1). They are subject to complete control by a presidential candidate on the party he has created himself.

The French presidential election of 2017 showed that three of the main candidates, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and, to a lesser extent, Marine Le Pen, were at the head of a movement that was not a traditional party , but rather a personal party (respectively La République en Marche, La France Insoumise and the Front National). Our analysis takes into account only la République en Marche, which has become a presidential party following the success of Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 presidential election. Pierre Rosanvallon has clearly shown the difference between a traditional party and this new type of party. According to him, a traditional party expresses a social world, territories, a culture. It is a grouping of people who share a certain social or ideological identity. On this basis, its members express opinions that become programs, and choose leaders. The movement acts in reverse: it is a leader who chooses a base. The traditional party relies on the implementation of the classical conception of representative democracy. It is a machine that organizes the representation of a group, while the movement organizes the membership of a leader (2).

The victory of Emmanuel Macron accomplished the trend towards the personalization of the political life that began over a half a century ago. This personalization has long been perceived as a perversion of democracy, particularly in France. In the republican vision, good democracy is impersonal and power must be collegial. In France, ideas, doctrines and programs continued to be a determining criterion. The victory of Emmanuel Macron updates for France an old phenomenon in the United States: the decisive weight of the personality of the candidates in electoral choices. The 1960s saw the advent of a time when the personality of politicians counted infinitely more for voters than the ideas they defended or professed. The election of Emmanuel Macron marks the moment when France joined the ranks of extremely personalized countries.

Pierre Rosanvallon considers that there is a growing phenomenon of personalization and mediatization, but he focuses on another factor. Quoting Thomas Poguntke and Paul D. Webb (The Presidentialization of Politics. A comparative study of modern democracies. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2005) , he insists that the rise of executive power has profoundly changed the relationship to personalization. The 5th Republic is part of this general trend of the presidentialization of democracies, whether or not there is a presidential election. Presidentialization is a new development in Western democracies. Rosanvallon therefore considers that there is a growing personalization phenomenon, but that it corresponds everywhere to an increase in the power of the executive (4).

The notion of a personal party seems preferable to that of movement. But we must go further. Indeed, the victory of Emmanuel Macron led to the transformation of his party La République en Marche into a presidential party. The party is already seeking to institutionalize itself in order to be sustainable. It seeks to acquire status and structures. It seeks an articulation with the parliamentary group (5).

But this type of presidential party is indeed marked not only by the weight of institutions, but also by the personalization and mediatization of political life. The influence of Emmanuel Macron on the party is therefore very strong, not only in the electoral period before the parliamentary elections, but also during the formation of the government. It will certainly continue during the period of implementation of the policies made by the president.

But the main problem in a semi-presidential or presidential regime is the autonomy of the presidential party. The analysis of the relations between Emmanuel Macron and his party leads to the observation that the president closely controls the approach of the party.

The presidential party is often second relative to the president. La République en marche (LRM) party did not intervene in the nomination process, as Emmanuel Macron self-proclaimed himself a candidate in the presidential election. The candidates of the party in the legislative elections were chosen by a commission of investiture, under the close supervision of the president. Yet the party became the first party of France at the legislative elections. Macron benefited from a honeymoon election due to his victory in the presidential election. He thus benefited from the pre-eminence of the presidential election, from the lag of legislative elections in relation to the presidential election, and from the rules of the voting system in force, the first-past-the-post system.

1.) La République en Marche (LRM) party was created by Emmanuel Macron. The party is little more than one-year old. However, since June 11, 2017, it is the biggest party in France. In the run up to the legislative elections, the party already changed its name to become La Republique en Marche (LRM). The creation of this party stemmed from the desire to overcome traditional parties. Emmanuel Macron did not want to make a party in the image of those which  had structured the political landscape for a long time. Members of La République en Marche were registered by simple inscription of their personal data on internet. This new type of digital membership has made it possible to garner a spectacular number of members in a very short time. La République en Marche boasts more than 360,000 members. The main lines of the statutes were set by a national convention on 8 july 2017 before being submitted to a vote of the members before the end of July 2017. They provide for free membership, a collegial leadership, three-year non-renewable terms, and an organization based on autonomous local committees. The collegial leadership was chosen to avoid an over-personalization of the party, because the real leader of this new presidential party is Emmanuel Macron. But if membership remains free, only the members of LRM with a certain seniority will be able to vote during the consultations of the party (6). Party leaders want to benefit from the windfall of public party funding to transform the party, where the bulk of the budget would be spent on training activists and leading the debate and not just running costs. For example, they want to set up a system for tracing, recruiting and training new talent. It does not want to be satisfied with a kind of internal self-selection like the traditional parties (7).

2.) The party did not intervene in a nomination process because Emmanuel Macron self-proclaimed himself a candidate for the presidential election. In the recent presidential elections, the traditional parties (RPR-UMP and PS) existed before their candidates. In 2017, Emmanuel Macron created his own political party. He announced his candidacy for the presidential election on November 16, 2016. For several months prior to the announcement, Emmanuel Macron had been preparing for the presidential election of spring 2017, including on April 6, 2016 the creation of his party, the so-called En Marche! Emmanuel Macron placed himself at the center of the political spectrum and wanted to win voters in his name. With his party claiming to be “neither left nor right”, Emmanuel Macron said that he was outside traditional political parties, at a time when many voters were wary of these parties.

3.) The candidates of the party in the legislative elections were chosen by a commission under the supervision of the president. Emmanuel Macron set a new milestone in the construction of his party by launching a process to nominate candidates for the parliamentary elections at a press conference on January 19, 2017. A “call for nominations” process was launched. A national commission, composed of nine members of En Marche !, who committed themselves to not being candidates, was set up. The objective was clear: those who want to join the party must decide without delay. Emmanuel Macron said he was ready to welcome the candidatures of parliamentarians of “all republican formations”, socialists, radicals, ecologists, centrists and republicans. On the other hand, he rejected in advance any “agreement of apparatus”, with “any party whatsoever” (8).

4.) The presidential party benefited from a honeymoon election provided by the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the presidential election. Emmanuel Macron fully understood the logic of the political regime of the 5th Republic established in 1958 and completed in 1962 when the election of the president by universal suffrage was instituted by referendum. In the “republican monarchy” that is France, everything proceeds from the double effect of the presidential logic and a parliamentary majority (9). The presidential party benefited from the popularity of the president. To win in the constituencies, Emmanuel Macron bet on his image, his youth, but also on a skillfully staged authority. He relied on a presidential style that stood out from the communication of his two predecessors. The president’s party therefore benefited greatly from the electoral situation resulting from the presidential election. No opposition parties were able to form a coherent bloc against it. The LRM candidates won by default, because in most constituencies there was no active coordination against them. With different opponents in different constituencies, belonging to different political parties, there was no reason not to expect a big LRM majority (10).

Emmanuel Macron succeeded in occupying the central space and accommodating the heirs of centrism, but also appealed to “left-wing and right-wing” voters. The economic liberalism of Emmanuel Macron could attract right-wing voters, while his cultural liberalism was likely to attract left-wing voters (11).

5.) The presidential party enjoyed the pre-eminence of the presidential election. The presidential party benefited from the pre-eminence of the presidential election over the legislative elections. The victory of La République en Marche (LRM) was the result of the organization of honeymoon legislative elections. French voters did not deceive themselves and gave the president the means of presiding and the government those of governing. The legislative election campaign was not block against block, project against project, but was organised around the dynamic instituted by Emmanuel Macron. None of the three existing opposition parties was regarded by the public as a credible alternative. More than a vote of adhesion, voters made a vote of consistency (12).

Whenever legislative elections take place in the wake of the presidential election, the elected presidents (François Mitterrand in 1981, Jacques Chirac in 2002, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 and François Hollande in 2012) their party gained an absolute majority. The only counter-example was 1988 when the PS was forced to rely on the PC or the centrists. Since 2002, and the reversal of the electoral calendar, legislative elections confirm the presidential election. The need to give a majority to the president has never been so strongly felt. It is a real novelty: a political party that was not established managed to win the legislative elections (13).

6.) The presidential party benefited from the majority-plurality system, established in 1958 for legislative elections. LRM benefited from the amplifying effect of this electoral system in legislative elections. While LRM candidates won 32 per cent of the votes cast in the first round, the presidential party secured 308 seats in the National Assembly, at the end of the second round.

The objective of the two-round majority system is to secure a stable parliamentary majority and to provide the president with the means to implement his policy. The 2017 legislative elections have once again fulfilled this objective. The majority is amplified this year by the central position of LRM on the political chessboard.

7.) The presidential party did not intervene in the choice of the prime minister and the members of the government. The choice of the prime minister and the ministers is a choice of the president. The nomination of Edouard Philippe (LR) for the post of prime minister showed the desire to invent a « right-wing and left-wing » dual executive. Edouard Philippe’s appointment is an unprecedented move since, unlike all his predecessors, the new head of government is neither a close political relative, nor a faithful supporter, nor even an ally of the same party as the president. By appealing to the mayor of Le Havre, who claims to be from the right when he comes from the left, Emmanuel Macron invented a completely new executive dyarchy. The formation of the first and second government confirmed his determination to shake up the rules of the political game. With the exception of the first government of Michel Debré under the 5th Republic, it is unprecedented to see men and women from opposing political parties assembled in the same government. The departure of four prominent ministers (Richard Ferrand, Francois Bayrou, Marielle de Sarnez and Syvie Goulart), under a judicial procedure, led Emmanuel Macron to choose ministers who were mostly unknown to public opinion. They are technocrats without large political support or they were young members coming from La République en Marche (LRM), totally faithful. The promise to give prominence to civil society figures was met: half of the members of the first government and seventeen in the second. But the president and the prime minister had to agree on one key point: the number of ministries reserved to right-wing ministers. The prime minister’s political relatives set their conditions for participating in government (14).

8.) The presidential party intervenes little in the organization of the parliamentary majority. The president intends to organize the parliamentary majority. LRM has a large majority in the National Assembly, with 308/577 elected deputies. Candidates were elected because of the presidential label. But it was difficult for Macron not to meet the demands of his centrist MODEM allies (42 elected MPs) and about 20 members of the Republican (LR) party, who announced their willingness to form an independent group with the eighteen deputies of The Union of Independent Democrats (IDU). This new parliamentary group is expected to approach some 50 members.

The president actively participates in the selection of key positions, even if the formal decision does not belong to him: the presidency of the National Assembly, the presidencies of the parliamentary committees, and especially the presidency of the LRM group. Emmanuel Macron keeps an attentive, if not active, eye on the choice of the holder of the post of president of the National Assembly, who is the fourth personage of the state in order of protocol. He pleaded for the installation of a woman as president of the National Assembly. But he made the choice of experience by supporting the candidacy of François de Rugy. His knowledge of the institution (he was vice-president of the National Assembly during the last parliamentary term) made him appear to be the only candidate likely to organize the parliamentary work without being overwhelmed by the leaders of the opposition. In the aftermath of the second round of legislative elections, Emmanuel Macron asked Richard Ferrand to leave his post as Minister of Territorial Cohesion to take up the presidency of the LRM group in the National Assembly. By sending Richard Ferrand to the Assembly, Emmanuel Macron appointed one of his political relatives and the first of the faithful. The election was held on June 24, 2017, at a meeting of all LRM members. Richard Ferrand was the only candidate and he was elected unanimously, with two abstentions.

9.) The presidential party does not intervene in the choice of the holders of the administrative posts of the administration. During the first two months of his five-year term, Emmanuel Macron intends to change or, on the contrary, to confirm “all the executive positions in the public service ». Unprecedented in the history of the Fifth Republic, the approach evokes the “spoil system” in force in the United States. These are the “250 posts, filled in the council of ministers”. Emmanuel Macron intends to give full value to the traditional system of revocation “ad nutum” of the so-called “government’s discretionary” jobs, relying on the loyalty of the senior officials in the ministries who draft laws, implementing decrees and interpretative circulars (15).

Conclusion

The new party, la République en Marche, created by Emmanuel Macron, is not only a personal party, but it became a presidential party following the presidential victory of its founder. It is currently in a process of being institutionalized. This is the result of the impact of the institutions of the 5th Republic. They lead to the president’s hold on his party. But the personality of Emmanuel Macron, his style of government, and his ideas are also essential factors to be taken into account in order to understand the president’s close control over the party.

Notes

(1) Mauro Calise, Il partito personale : I due corpi del leader. Bari : Editori Laterza, nuova edizione 2010 ; Mauro Calise, “The personal party: An analytical framework” , Italian Political Science Review, Vol. 45, no. 3, 2015, 301-315.

(2) Pierre Rosanvallon (interview with Saïd Mahrane), « La nouvelle géographie politique », Le Point, 18 mai 2017 ; see also Michel Offerlé, « Les partis meurent longtemps », Le Monde, 31 mai 2017 ; Enrico Letta, « La victoire des mouvements sur les partis », Le Monde, 10 mai 2017).

(3) Thomas Poguntke and Paul D. Webb, The presidentialization of politics. A comparative study of modern democracies. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2005.

(4) Pierre Rosanvallon (interview with Gérard Courtois), « Droite-gauche. Histoire d’un clivage », Le Monde, 17 juin 2017 ; Pierre Rosanvallon (interview with Béatrice Bouniol), « La refondation démocratique est la clé du quinquennat », La Croix, 9 mai 2017.

(5) Marc Lazar, « La République en Marche aura-t-elle un destin à l’italienne ? », Le Figaro, 26 juin 2017.

(6) Cédric Pietralunga, « Macron s’attelle à la structuration de son parti », Le Monde, 9-10 juillet 2017 ; Christine Ollivier, « Edouard Philippe fait la leçon aux Marcheurs », Journal du Dimanche, 9 juillet 2017.

(7) François-Xavier Bourmaud, « Comment le mouvement entame sa mue pour incarner le premier parti de France », Le Figaro, 13 juin 2017).

(8) Patrick Roger, « Emmanuel Macron lance un appel à candidatures pour les législatives » Le Monde, 19 janvier 2017.

(9) Françoise Fressoz, “Macron et la logique de la Ve République”, Le Monde, 13 juin 2017.

(10) Matthew S. Shugart, “France 2017: Round 4 (Honeymoon elections and presidentialization matter !)”, Fruits and Votes blog, june 18, 2017; Matthew S. Shugart, “France 2017: Honeymoon election time !)”, Fruits and Votes blog, june 11, 2017.

(11) Pascal Perrineau, « Aux sources idéologiques et politiques du macronisme », Le Figaro, 14 juin 2017.

(12) Guillaume Tabard, ” Les raisons d’un vote probable de confirmation “, Le Figaro, 10-11 juin 2017.

(13) Nicolas Rousselier, (interview with Pierre Steinmetz et Maël Thierry), « Une majorité presque encombrante pour le vainqueur », L’Obs, 15 juin 2017 ; Nicolas Rousselier (interview with Patrick Roger), « Le présidentialisme se retrouve plus gagnant que jamais », Le Monde, 4-5-6 juin 2017 ; Nicolas Rousselier (interview with Emmanuel Berretta), « Macron peut-il ubériser la Ve République ? », Le Point, 11 mai 2017.

(14) Bastien Bonnefous, Matthieu Goar et Solenn de Royer, « Onze secondes pour fracturer la droite », Le Monde, 17 mai 2017 ;

(15) Bertrand Bissuel, « Le président veut ‘mettre sous tension’ les hauts cadres de l’Etat », Le Monde, 17 mai 2015

References

Emmanuel Macron’s books and articles.

Emmanuel Macron, Révolution. Paris : XO, novembre 2016, 270p.

Macron par Macron. Paris : Editions de l’Aube, collection Le 1 en livre, mars 2017, 152p.

Emmanuel Macron, « Le devoir de rester fidèles », préface à l’ouvrage de Jean-Paul Huchon, C’était Rocard. Paris : Editions de l’Archipel, 2017.

« Macron, un philosophe en politique », Le 1, 6 juillet 2015.

Emmanuel Macron, « Les labyrinthes du politique », Le Monde, 27 mai 2017.

Emmanuel Macron, « Le monde et l’Europe ont besoin de la France », Le Monde, 27 mai 2017 (Text of the investiture speech at the Elysee Palace).

Emmanuel Macron, « Tous les ans, je reviendrai devant vous pour vous rendre compte », Le Monde, 5 juillet 2017 (Text of the speech before the Congress meeting in Versailles).

Emmanuel Macron, (interview with Nicolas Domenach, Bruno-Roger Petit, Maurice Szafran et Pierre-Henri de Menthon), « Macron ne croit pas au ‘président normal, cela déstabilise les Français’ », « Face au système politique, ‘ma volonté de trangression est forte’ », « Gare à la ‘République qui devient une machine à créer du communautarisme’ », Challenge, 16 octobre 2016.

Emmanuel Macron (interview with Etienne Lefebvre, Nicolas Barré, Dominique Seux, Grégoire Poussielgue, Renaud Honoré), «Mon projet économique », Les Echos, 23 avril 2017.

Emmanuel Macron (interview with Bastien Bonnefous, Nicolas Chapuis, Cédric Pietralunga et Solenn de Royer), «Je ne prétends pas être un président normal », Le Monde, 3 avril 2017.

Emmanuel Macron, (interview with Arthur Berdah, François-Xavier Bourmaud, Marcelo Westfreid, Alexis Brézet), « Je veux réconcilier les Français », Le Figaro, 28 avril 2017.

Books and articles on Emmanuel Macron

François Bazin, Rien ne s’est passé comme prévu. Les cinq années qui ont fait Macron. Paris : Robert Laffont, 2017, 489p.

François-Xavier Bourmaud, Emmanuel Macron. Les coulisses d’une victoire. Paris : L’Archipel, 2017, 288p

Marc Endeweld, L’ambigu Monsieur Macron. Paris : Flammarion, 2017, 336p.

Anne Fulda, Emmanuel Macron. Un jeune homme si parfait. Paris : Plon, 2017, 288p.

Nicolas Prissette, Emmanuel Macron. Le président inattendu. Paris : First, 2017, 240p.

Soazig Quéméner et Alexandre Duyck, L’irrésistible ascension d’Emmanuel Macron. Paris : Flammarion, 2017, 304p

Raphaëlle Bacqué et Ariane Chemin, « Macron, le nouvel âge du pouvoir », Le Monde, 9 mai 2017

Bruno Cautres, « Ce qui fait Macron », Le Monde, 8 avril 2017

Charlotte Chaffanjon, « La fabrique d’un chef », Le Point, 11 mai 2017.

Elie Cohen, Gérard Grunberg, « L’avènement d’Emmanuel Macron : crise de système ou accident industriel ? »Telos.eu, 19 juin 2017

Gérard Courtois, « Emmanuel Macron, une philosophie du pouvoir », Le Monde, 27 mai 2017.

Jean Garrigues, « Le vainqueur du 7 mai restaure le mythe de l’homme providentiel », Le Monde, 14-15 mai 2017.

Arthur Goldhammer, « Macron’s part wins a parliamentary majority », Foreign Affairs, june 18, 2017.

Jacques Julliard, « Le macronisme, un néo-gaullisme ? », Le Figaro, 6 juin 2017 .

Bruno Palier (interview with Frédéric Joignot), « A la scandinave ? Pas vraiment », Le Monde, 8 avril 2017.

Pascal Perrineau, « Aux sources idéologiques et politiques du macronisme », Le Figaro, 14 juin 2017.

Serge Raffy, « La prise de l’Elysée », L’Obs, 11 mai 2017.

Philippe Raynaud (interview with Eugénie Bastié), « Le chef de l’Etat a compris les erreurs de ses prédécesseurs », Le Figaro, 19 mai 2017.

Nicolas Truong, « Petite philosophie du macronisme », Le Monde, 16 mai 2017

 

Czech Republic – Parties and candidates gear up for the 2018 presidential race

The second direct presidential elections in the Czech Republic are still about seven months away, yet already an illustrious field of candidates has assembled to oust the controversial incumbent Miloš Zeman. While the recent government crisis has delayed the nomination plans of some parties, the upcoming parliamentary elections in October 2017 could speed up the process and either secure or endanger Zeman’s re-election.

‘Zeman Again 2018’ – Poster of President Zeman’s re-election campaign | Source: zemanznovu.cz

Since coming to office as the first directly elected Czech president in early 2013, Miloš Zeman has been far from uncontroversial. Starting with the appointment of the Rusnok government (which had no majority in parliament), he subsequently interfered in the formation of the current government of Bohuslav Sobotka (and continued to quarrel with the prime minister), was criticised for his uncritical attitude towards the Russian annexation of Crimea and various gaffes, rose to international prominence due to his xenophobic and islamophobic statements in the wake of the refugee crisis and is now known to many as the ‘European Donald Trump’ (whether this is a correct assessment or not is another question). As Zeman’s approval ratings have also fluctuated heavily since coming to office, this would appear as a great opportunity for a credible challenger to oust him from Prague Castle. However, given many national and international unknowns, the equation is not that simple.

To date, 12 individuals – including Zeman – have announced their plans to run for president, or at least their willingness pending support of parties. Only three candidates have gained the formal endorsement of parties represented in parliament so far, although this is necessary to stand for election. Similarly to the last election in 2013 and direct presidential election in neighbouring Slovakia (which introduced direct elections in 1999), there is a large number of intellectuals and writers – some of which derive their presidential credentials from their affiliation to the resistance against the former communist regime – and other independents. Some of these will surely fail to collect the required 50,000 signatures in support for their candidacy, yet their candidacy holds (if approved) at least the power to force the front-runners into a runoff. Czech voters have a penchant for unusual candidates – in 2013, composer and painter Vladimír Franz whose face is entirely covered by a tattoos, received a notable 6.84% of the vote.

At the moment, there are only two candidates that would appear to present a credible challenge to Zeman’s re-election: Jiří Drahoš, Chairman of the Czech Academy of Science who is not affiliated with any party but supported by the liberal-conservative TOP09, and Michal Horáček, an entrepreneur and writer who could receive backing from the Christian and Democratic Union (KDU-ČSL). In recent polls, both candidates achieve support similar to Zeman. Furthermore, contrary to other, independent candidates in the race they appear to promise a relatively well-formulated and comprehensive vision in their campaign. While both display a moderate level of euro-scepticism and could thus present themselves as a more centrist alternative to Zeman, Drahoš’s overall more socio-liberal views set him visible apart from Horáček, who like Zeman is opposing refugee quotas and has voiced his opposition to the building of mosques in the country.

Nevertheless, the governing Social Democrats (ČSSD) as well as the ANO 2011 party of recently dismissed Minister of Finance Andrej Babiš have yet to present their candidate. Interestingly, both parties have promised to hold primaries to select their presidential candidate and ballots are also going to include the option of supporting president Zeman. ANO 2011 leader Babiš has long had a positive relationship with the president while Prime Minister Sobotka (ČSSD) has more often than not struggled to come to an agreement with him Zeman (who once led the ČSSD himself). A decision is supposed to be taken before the parliamentary election, but was recently delayed due to the recent government crisis. If both parties are re-elected, they could attempt to enforce a more cooperative attitude of the president in exchange for their re-election support.

ANO and ČSSD are currently predicted to win ca. 40-45% of the vote and might once again form the government, although in reversed roles with Babiš as prime minister. As this would promise a more consensual style of government-president relations, even voters skeptical of Zeman may be tempted to vote for him over an opposition candidate. From the perspective of a political scientist, an unlikely alternative option would however be most interesting: Should another coalition of parties win the elections and form the government, these parties would have strong incentives to back a joint candidate and argue that only the election of their candidate would ensure a stable government without presidential interference, i.e. they could try to get a president into power on their parliamentary coattails.

Selena Grimaldi – The Leadership Capital of Italian Presidents: The Politics of Constraint and Moral Suasion

This is a guest post by Selena Grimaldi, University of Padova. In this post she summarises her chapter ‘The Leadership Capital of Italian Presidents: The Politics of Constraint and Moral Suasion’ in the new volume ‘The Leadership Capital Index: A New Perspective on Political Leadership‘ (edited by Mark Bennister, Ben Worthy, and Paul ‘t Hart, Oxford University Press 2017).

Measuring leadership has primarily been a US-American concern, since its archetypical form of presidentialist government concentrates all executive functions in a single person, and also merges the duties of the Head of Government and of the Head of State in a single office. Indeed, the first attempt at ranking the leadership of presidents was made in 1948 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, surveying 55 scholars on several aspects of leadership of 29 US presidents.

Despite objections against the methodology of measurement, over recent decades it has been adopted in a number of Westminster democracies such as Canada[1], New Zeland[2], Australia[3]  and the UK[4]. Recently, measuring leaders’ capabilities has become a concern also in consensual democracies as the importance of prime ministers has grown even in these contexts – so much so that scholars talk of the ‘presidentialization’ of parliamentary democracies.[5] Irrespective of whether the presidentialization hypothesis can be considered confirmed[6], there is no doubt that since the 1990s Italian prime ministers have acquired a central role within the cabinet.[7] However, the political science literature has so far failed to address sufficiently the fact that the prime minister is not the only political actor who gained power as a result of the presidentialization process. In fact, there is another actor who benefitted from it: the president of the Republic, who is the only real monocratic figure of the Italian political system.[8]

So far, there has not been any attempt to rank presidents or prime ministers in Italy. This is most likely because both the head of state and the head of government are linked to the legacy of weak political actors preceding them.[9] Indeed, during the so-called First Republic (1948-1993), presidents were considered as notaries who exercised passive oversight[10]  and prime ministers were definitely first among equals.[11]

In the chapter summarized in this blog post I measured the leadership of Italian presidents rather than that of prime ministers because, to my knowledge, there is as of yet no ranking of any king for presidents of parliamentary republics. Moreover, I think it is useful to focus on these political figures which have too often been ignored by scholars, especially when their role has had a visible impact on the evolution of certain parliamentary democracies.

The Leadership Capital Index (LCI) was first conceptualised and applied to prime ministers (or directly elected presidents). However, it could be potentially also be adapted and applied to other kind of political leaders as it is based both on agency and personal appeal. For example, in the Italian case, presidential powers are not only institutional but take the least visible form of so-called moral suasion, i.e. where presidents influence, pressure, and persuade others based on their “neutrality” and personal appeal.

From a methodological point of view, the real challenge was to adapt the indicators used by Bennister et al.[12] to the Italian context and to ‘institutionally’ constrained leaders. In particular, building on the three main dimensions (skills, relations and reputation) of the leadership capital index, I employed 12 indicators that produced a synthetic score ranging from from 11 to 54 points. Since the LCI requires a lot of soft measurements, another meaningful step was to develop a questionnaire regarding Italian presidents which was then proposed to a panel of scholars with a good knowledge of contemporary Italian politics.

The analysis shows that the leadership capital of the three presidents of the Second Republic included in the study varies from medium (Scalfaro) to high capital scores (Ciampi and Napolitano). The LCI allows us to drill into these assessments and see the individual strengths and weaknesses of each office holder within the confines of the office. Scalfaro’s strength in maintaining his capital stemmed predominantly from his political skills, Ciampi’s from his relations, and Napolitano’s through a combination of reputation and political skills. For example, Scalfaro’s longevity in politics allowed him to successfully face down attacks by PM Berlusconi and right-wing parties, but his capital was weakened by his lack of neutrality. Ciampi, buttressed by the bipartisan agreement that secured his election, used these founding relations to influence foreign policy and domestically pursue a popular re-discovery of the Italian founding myth. However, as a political outsider, he was unfamiliar with the complexity of the Italian party system. Napolitano defended presidential prerogatives, at times challenging the government and inviting parliament to follow particular points of view. However, from 2011 onwards, public trust began to decrease as he became more interventionist and more deeply enmeshed in domestic crises.

All three presidents blended old and new powers to build leadership capital. The three office holders all brought high levels of capital to the position that they had built up during their previous, often very extensive, political careers. The traditional characteristics of neutrality, peer support (from the Electoral College), and long political experience all provide capital, building skills, relations, and reputation. On top of this, the three successive presidents discovered and built new sources of power by cultivating popular support, using communication strategies and offering a coherent and powerful political vision. Within this general formal institutional strengthening, each president then acquired capital from slightly different areas: whether through their skills, relations, or reputation. It was this synthesis of old and new elements, institution and agency, that has made presidents more effective in the political arena and active in policy-making, especially in foreign policy and government formation.

However, the LCI does not solve all of the problems involved in assessing leadership, as it is necessarily a context-based concept. The added value of the LCI approach is that it allows the traceability of power over time, revealing how each president has built on others’ strengths but all have encountered similar limits: while Italian presidents can spend their capital in focused areas, too overt attempts to act politically can erode their capital by damaging their perceived neutrality and moral probity. The steady, increasingly upward trend of the Italian presidents’ leadership capital points not only to the importance of these institutional leaders within the Italian context during the Second Republic, but to their gradual learning of what their authority can and cannot be used for. The ongoing political crisis, and the relative loss of legitimacy in almost all other political bodies, has empowered Italian presidents, demonstrating how the environment can be key to understanding trajectory as well as to building and losing capital.

[1] Granatstein, J. L., & Hillmer, N. (1999). Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada’s Leaders. HarperCollins Publishers.

[2] Sheppard, S. (1998). Ranking New Zealand’s prime ministers. Political Science, 50(1), 72-89.

[3] Strangio, P. (2013). Evaluating prime-ministerial performance: The Australian experience. In: Strangio, P., Hart, P. T., & Walter, J. (Eds.). Understanding prime-ministerial performance: Comparative perspectives. OUP Oxford. 264-290.

[4] Theakston, K. and Gill, M. (2006). Rating 20th-century British Prime Ministers. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 8(2): 193-213.

[5] Thomas, P., & Webb, P. (2005). The Presidentialization of Politics. A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[6] Karvonen, L. (2010). The Personalization of Politics: A Study of Parliamentary Democracies. London: ECPR Press.

[7] Calise M. (2010). Il partito personale. I due corpi del leader Bari: Laterza.; Musella, F. (2012). Il premier diviso. Italia tra presidenzialismo e parlamentarismo. Milano: Egea.; Cotta, M. and Marangoni, F. (2015). Il Governo. Bologna: Il Mulino.

[8] Amoretti, F., & Giannone, D. (2011). La presidenzializzazione contesa. XXV Convegno SISP, Palermo, Settembre, 8-10.

[9] Elgie, R. (1995). Political Leadership in Liberal Democracies. London: Macmillan Press.

[10] Pasquino, G. (2003). The government, the opposition, and the president of Republic under Berlusconi. Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 8(4): 485-499.

[11] Sartori, G. (1994). Comparative Constitutional Engineering. An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes. New York: New York University Press.

[12] Bennister, M., t’ Hart, P. and Worthy, B. (2015). Assessing the authority of political office-holders: The Leadership Capital Index. West European Politics, 3(38): 417-440.

Jessica Fortin-Rittberger – Strong Presidents for Weak Post-communist States

This is a guest post by Jessica Fortin-Rittberger, Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Salzburg. It is based on a chapter entitled  “Strong Presidents for Weak States. How Weak State Capacity fosters Vertically Concentrated Executives” in Philipp Harfst, Ina Kubbe, Thomas Poguntke (eds.) Parties, Governments and Elites: The Comparative Study of Democracy, Springer series in comparative politics.

The link between institutions and democratic survival is at the heart of a vibrant scholarly exchange, debating the virtues and perils of parliamentary and presidential systems. Presidentialism in Latin America, but also in former Soviet republics, correlates strongly with authoritarianism. But what if this correlation is an artefact? What if it is rooted in a constellation of conditions that predate the choice of institutions? In other words, are presidential institutions shallow causes of democratic consolidation? In a newly published paper, I argue that the conditions under which different types of executives are chosen following regime transitions are indeed a key to the puzzle. I propose an explanation that suggests that the intrinsic features of presidential systems are less relevant than the conditions that facilitate the installation of vertically-concentrated executive power.

I focus on a specific form of context: infrastructural state capacity understood as “the institutional capacity of a central state, despotic or not, to penetrate its territories and logistically implement decisions” (Mann 1993: 59). Many of the new states that were born after the 18th century, and especially after World War II, were not consolidated and suffered from limited infrastructural capacity. Interestingly, many of these new states also emerged with vertically-concentrated presidential arrangements: I do not think this is a coincidence. In situations where infrastructural state capacity is most deficient, the vertical concentration of executive power in the hands of a few players becomes more likely.

To look into this relationship, I examined 26 post-communist countries over the period between 1989 and 2009. This set of countries is an ideal testing ground to probe this relationship, since the environment of state capacity is temporally prior to the selection of institutions. Most new constitutions were established in a time period ranging from a few months (Hungary) to up to five years (Ukraine) after the collapse of communism. To capture the level of power concentration in the hands of the executive, I employed two indicators. Table 1 presents the scores of both indicators in the year of the first post-communist constitution. The first encapsulates the formal level of power concentration from Frye, Hellman and Tucker’s Data Base on Political Institutions in the Post-Communist World (2000). In this measurement, powers of popularly elected presidents are scored from (1) to (21), where (1) represents the weakest presidents in terms of constitutional provisions, and (21) the presidents endowed with the most prerogatives. The second indicator taps into informal practices. I used the item called “constraints on chief executive” from the Polity IV dataset (Marshall and Jaggers, 2012). This measures the operational (de facto) independence of the chief executive in relations to other players. The categories range from (1) where the chief executive has unlimited authority, through (7) where the chief executive is at parity or subordination to other institutional players (legislative assembly, prime minister, constitutional court). Harnessing both formal and informal aspects of executive power allows me to grasp the phenomenon of power concentration in an encompassing fashion.

The analyses provide unambiguous support for my core argument that state capacity is crucial to establish executive dominance over other institutional players. State capacity at the onset of independence (or transition) helps to explain the level of executive power concentration in the newly designed constitutions. This means that in environments with weak infrastructural state capacity it is easier for politicians aiming to secure state power or to access to the state’s power resources to push for the adoption of strong, vertical forms of executive power. Once in place, these power structures have proven quite durable, although some countries have recently enacted reforms to curb executive power, at least on paper. This also helps explain why the record of presidentialism has been so dire in the region; it is not the institution of a president per se that is harmful to democracy, rather the extent to which power is concentrated.

Even though I find these strong relationships in my research, there are some important caveats. Many of these institutional setups are static over time, hence my models face difficulties to explain recent occurrences of executive power concentration that were accompanied with democratic backsliding. Turkey is a case in point, where we can observe the demise of a democracy in a brazen power grab at the hands of a leader seeking to establish a presidential vertical. Yet, the state was not weak at that point. Hungary is another example, with the authoritarian tendencies of its government, and Prime Minister, to curtail political rights and freedoms, as well as dilute institutional checks and balances. Hungary is particularly problematic for my argument, since it should have been a least likely candidate for such a reversal.

A strong state is therefore no guarantee against executives engaging in power grabs; a weak state simply makes it easier.

Works cited:

Frye, T., Hellmann, J. S. & Tucker, J. 2000. Data Base on Political Institutions in the Post-Communist World, unpublished, Columbia University.

Mann, M. 1993. The Sources of Social Power, Vol. 2: The Rise of Classes and Nation States, 1760-1914, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Marshall, M. G. & Jaggers, K. 2012. Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2012. The Polity IV dataset

Russia – The Anti-Tweeter: President Vladimir Putin and the Art of the Interview

Earlier this month, while President Donald Trump was busy avoiding queries from the American press, his Russian counterpart appeared on television in two sets of four-hour interviews. In the first, broadcast live on June 15, Vladimir Putin continued his annual tradition of responding to questions and concerns raised by journalists, members of a studio audience, and several dozen fortunate–and presumably carefully-selected–viewers, this year from Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. Several days later, the leading Russian television network began airing uncut the four-part series of interviews that Putin granted to the American film director, Oliver Stone, interviews conducted from early 2015 to February 2017.

What does this media blitz tell us about Russian–and by extension American–presidential leadership? First, the system of presidential communication in Russia is at once ancient and modern. The cavernous, specially-designed studio for the live call-in show, Direct Line with Vladimir Putin, boasted all the accoutrements of cutting-edge television. Surrounding a central stage with the president and two news anchors were multiple platforms with earnest-looking and identically-dressed young people who worked at computers in front of a massive, interactive map of Russia. In the digital version of the gigantomania inherited from the Soviet era, reporters roaming the studio spoke breathlessly about the millions of phone calls, texts, emails, and video messages pouring in from around the country.

Yet amid all the advanced technology, the specter of supplicants appealing to a single, powerful leader to resolve their personal medical, housing, or education issues was a throwback to an earlier age, when monarchs received plaintive subjects seeking redress. The exercise was not the sort associated with modern democratic states, where well-developed administrative, political, legal, and market institutions exist to provide remedies. Because of the level of inefficiency and corruption in the Russian state, many citizens have felt the need to turn directly to the president to take their problems “under his personal control” [pod lichnym kontrolem]. By doing so on the Direct Line program, Vladimir Putin was able to exhibit empathy and understanding that almost certainly played well in Pskov.

Even more than earlier versions, this year’s Direct Line with Vladimir Putin exposed viewers to pointed criticisms of the president and the Russian political system, apparently as a means of illustrating that Vladimir Putin, who is preparing to contest his fourth presidential election next year, does not live in a bubble. Between the largely benign questions from the anchors, the studio audience, and ordinary citizens, the directors flashed attention-grabbing text messages on the screen, which ranged from the humorous, “Why is this summer so cold?,” to the awkward, “Will there be a new first lady?,” to the politically charged, “All Russia thinks you’ve overstayed your time on the throne.”

Although this last text may have been the harshest critique of the president, there were many other messages that cast Vladimir Putin and his government in an unfavorable light. “Do you realize your own mistakes, and who will correct them?”; “Why are all the issues resolved only after your personal involvement?”; and “Stop throwing money at the army and the arms race.” Given the preference of younger Russians for texts over emails and phone calls, the critical content of many texts may have reflected both the demographic source of the comments as well as a desire by the presidential communications staff to appeal to a youth audience, who would no doubt have found it difficult to stay focused on many of the ponderous, wonkishly-detailed responses provided by the Russian president during the lengthy live broadcast. However we describe Putin’s Russia, the odd combination of adulation and criticism that characterized the Direct Line with Vladimir Putin confirms that the Russian political system differs dramatically from hard authoritarian regimes like Turkmenistan.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two issues that received little attention in Putin’s talkathon were corruption and the political opposition, topics that are closely related in contemporary Russia. The first brief mention of corruption came in a text almost two and a half hours into the program, and shortly thereafter, Putin responded to a young questioner in the studio audience who suggested that corruption had prevented his family from receiving the housing to which it was entitled. The Russian president dealt with the question quickly and almost dismissively, wishing, no doubt, to deflect attention from a subject on which the most prominent leader of the political opposition, Alexei Naval’nyi, had built his reputation.

When asked directly at the end of the program about the political opposition, Putin’s body stiffened and his tone became testier. “I’m willing to meet with anyone who is focused on improving the life of Russians instead of using current difficulties for their own PR,” Putin said. But anyone who “only uses problems to make a name for themselves rather than offering solutions…has no right to speak to those in power.” In effect, the Russian president was dividing the opposition into those willing to cooperate with the regime on its terms and those intent on dismantling the autocratic order that has been under construction since Putin’s accession to power in 2000.

Both the Direct Line with Vladimir Putin and the Putin Interviews of Oliver Stone highlight the stark differences in leadership styles of the Russian and American presidents. For his part, Putin favors lengthy responses that allow him to show off his impressively detailed knowledge of everything from public policy and demography to Russian culture. At one point in Direct Line, Putin recited a poem by Lermontov. The current American president, on the other hand, prefers to interact with the nation through tweets of no more than 140 characters. To be sure, facility with facts and figures comes more easily to a man like Putin, who has spent two-thirds of his life in government service, but one suspects that Putin’s technocratic approach to presidential communication would hold little attraction for Donald Trump even if Trump had spent several years in the presidency.

Where President Trump has been intent on emphasizing his wealth as an indicator of his leadership abilities, Vladimir Putin rejected out of hand suggestions from Oliver Stone that he had amassed a personal fortune. To do otherwise, of course, would have been to admit that he had used the office of the presidency for self-enrichment. When Stone asked President Putin about his children, he was quick to note with pride that his children were not involved in politics or business–two spheres even more tightly entwined in Russia than in the United States. Instead, they were active, in his telling, in education and science, which he was pleased to admit kept them out of public view and, it goes without saying, away from the dangerous intersection of politics and business in Russia. The contrast with the Trump family–and indeed with presidential families in many of the authoritarian regimes on Russia’s borders–could not have been more pronounced.

Oliver Stone’s questions to Putin about Russia’s alleged interference in the American presidential election prompted vigorous denials. Confidently claiming to occupy the moral high ground on this and all other matters, Putin baldly and improbably asserted that “unlike many of our partners [a reference to the US and other Western nations], we never interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries.” In trying to account for the accusations of hacking, he offered up almost playfully an explanation advanced by Donald Trump during the election campaign: it could have easily been someone sitting in bed. Here and elsewhere in the Putin Interviews, the Russian president turned detailed knowledge of the inner workings of American democracy to his advantage.

In a rare moment of real or feigned outrage during the taping with Stone, the Russian president turned the tables on the issue of electoral interference by accusing the United States of enlisting its diplomats as well as friendly NGOs to disrupt elections in the region. Accompanying these accusations were video clips that sought to bolster the Russian case, one of several moments in the film where Stone and his production team revealed their willingness to tilt the scales in Russia’s favor. Even more tellingly, Stone avoided confronting Putin with questions about the most sensitive subjects in recent Russian political history, such as the apartment bombings in late 1999 that created a groundswell of popular support for Russian involvement in the Second Chechen War and Putin’s own rise to the presidency.

It is easy, of course, to accuse Oliver Stone of being a “useful idiot,” the term used in the Soviet era for Westerners who were taken in by the narratives advanced by Moscow. But for all its limitations, the Putin Interviews offers important insights into the mode of thought and communication of a Russian president who has helped to remake his country–and who is already the longest-serving leader of Russia since Stalin. Moreover, the documentary takes the viewer into rarely-seen corners of President Putin’s homes and offices, including the Russian equivalent of the White House Situation Room.

In the end, what is most revealing in Stone’s documentary is Putin’s sense of infallibility, derived from viewing the world through a narrow Russian lens. The resulting “mirror imaging” leads him to adopt a sober, even pessimistic, view of the chances for improvements in US-Russian relations. Although admitting that he preferred Trump over Clinton, he confessed to Stone that little is likely to change under the new administration. Raising the specter of the influence of the Deep State, a concept touted by some frustrated Trump supporters in the United States, President Putin claimed that officials carried over from the Obama Administration had placed roadblocks in the way of the new American president. In Putin’s words, “the power of the bureaucratic apparatus in the US is great,” and so Trump will be stymied by it, just as Obama was during his presidency on issues like closing the base at Guantanamo.

Putin still found reason to hope, however. Echoing the comments of Stalin in 1935, he noted, when asked about the difficulties of getting the foreign ministries and intelligence services of the United States and Russia to work together, that it was merely a “question of [finding the right] personnel” [kadrovoi vopros]. In Russian internal politics, of course, the central “personnel question” is looming ever larger. At the end of the Putin Interviews, Oliver Stone asked the Russian president whether he would run again next year. Putin responded: “I won’t answer the question about 2018. There should be some mystery and intrigue.”

France – Honeymoon legislative election returns a huge majority for President Macron. Of course it does!

On Sunday 11th June, the first round of the French legislative election was held. On Sunday 18th the second round took place. Given the results of the previous week, Sunday’s election provided few surprises. There were some notable individual results: Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front national (FN), was elected, even if her party did badly overall; Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the left party, La France Insoumise (LFI), was also returned and his party won enough seats to constitute a group in parliament, giving him speaking time; the former Socialist (PS) prime minister, Manuel Valls, was also returned, though only by a whisker and as a non-aligned candidate, indeed the Socialists had actively campaigned against him; Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who is a high-profile figure from the right-wing Les Républicains (LR) and who had been the victim of an attack in the street while campaigning during the week, an attack that left her unconscious for a while, was defeated. However, the main event was the huge majority won by President Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party. Winning just 28.2% of the votes cast in the first round seven days before, the party ended up with about 300 seats in the 577-seat legislature after the second round. With the support of its MoDem ally, which won about 4.2% of the vote at the first round, President Macron now has the support of over 350 deputies in the legislature. This nice figure from Laurent de Boissieu’s blog neatly captures the many different components of the new French Assembly, but also indicates the huge majority for LREM and MoDem.

How did this happen? After all, before the first round of the presidential campaign, between the two rounds, and immediately after Macron’s victory, there were fears or claims that his party would not win a legislative majority and that he would not be able to govern, dragging France back to the bad old days of the Fourth Republic. Worse still, there were those who thought that he would face a period of cohabitation.

This was not the worry of a few isolated individuals. After the first round of the legislative election, L’Express put up a nice montage of politicians who argued that cohabitation was inevitable. But it wasn’t just politicians. At a certain point, Twitter got in a total fuss about the likelihood of cohabitation, though that’s what Twitter does.

But not everyone was so worried. Matthew Shugart said that the idea there would be a period of cohabitation was “nonsense“. And modesty almost, but not quite, forbids me from noting that we adopted a similar argument here.

What we have witnessed is instructive from a political science point of view. There is a well developed literature on how the legislative party system is shaped by direct presidential elections. (Anyone wanting a copy of the article with the literature review should just e-mail me). To simplify only a little, this work shows that when legislative elections follow shortly after the direct election of a powerful president, they typically return a presidential majority. This is exactly what we saw in France in 2017. For sure, the general argument is probabilistic, not deterministic. But the association is strong. The probability is high. So, the academic work hasn’t just generated something amounting to a reasonable guess that a certain outcome would occur. It suggested that there was a very good chance that Macron would get at least a working majority. In the end, he won the support of a huge majority, bigger than most academics had expected. The literature, though, was basically right. Why?

Well, the academics who have investigated this topic have made their argument on the basis of a statistical relationship, but they have also identified certain causal mechanisms to explain why we should expect honeymoon legislative elections to return a presidential majority. These mechanisms are all very general. They don’t always easily apply to specific countries. That’s all we can expect in large-n studies. However, and at the risk of committing an egregious ecological fallacy, the France 2017 case illustrates how these causal mechanisms can play out under local-level conditions.

We know that presidential elections are often the catalyst for party system realignments. This has been true in France before, but the evidence that this was going to be a realigning election was present even before the presidential election had finished. The election was catastrophic for the PS. It was hopelessly split and faced a strong challenge to its left. Going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a weakened state did not bode well for the PS. The presidential election also generated splits within LR. There were those, like the former prime minister, Alain Juppé, who were willing to work with LREM in a future Assembly, whereas there were others who were not. Going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a divided state did not bode well for LR. The FN was also in trouble. Le Pen did well to get through to the second ballot of the presidential election, but she did not perform as well as expected. The party’s support had been slipping even prior to her disastrous presidential debate with Macron. In the end, she was decisively beaten at the second round. After the election, there were reports that Le Pen was exhausted; the party was demoralised; there were also splits within the FN, even though it had done historically well. So, going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a state did not bode well for the FN either. In other words, presidential elections upend party systems. We saw how this general idea played out specifically in France in 2017.

A similar point applies to abstention rates. We know that abstention rates are higher in honeymoon legislative elections relative to the presidential election. We also know that it is typically the voters of the parties that lost the presidential election who stay at home. So, even when the presidential election does not generate a party system realignment of the sort that we saw in France in 2017, we should still expect the new president’s party to be the biggest beneficiary of the higher abstention rate at the legislative election. Again, this is exactly what happened in France. But it’s what we would expect to have happened.

There was a further element too. Macron’s victory at the presidential victory was bigger than expected. Thus, he had momentum. Once in office, he also had some excellent photo opportunities, meeting European and world leaders, even upstaging Donald Trump in the handshake stakes. There were one or two relatively minor concerns with his government, but by and large he kept his presidential promises in terms of government formation. In other words, presidential elections give the victor the potential to act, well, presidentially. This presidential lustre can rub off on to the president’s party at the legislative election. This is exactly what happened. In other words, like other presidents in a similar context, Macron benefited at the legislative elections from being the newly-elected president.

Of course, there are always local, idiosyncratic conditions. The electoral system clearly exaggerated the gains for LREM. But LREM was particularly well placed to benefit from the system. As a centrist party, it could win the support of right-wing voters who wanted to keep out left-wing candidates in LREM/left second-round duels; it could win the support of left-wing voters who wanted to keep out LR candidates in LREM/LR duels; it could also win the support of pretty much everyone in LREM/FN duels. So, strategically, it was better placed than some parties in equivalent situations. This particularity helped to inflate its majority. Also, Macron was not a long-time incumbent who had just been re-elected. He was a new figure and for some he did generate an enthusiasm for a new form of politics. In France 2017, all these local conditions worked in favour of his party at the legislative election. In other cases, they might not be present, helping to ensure that the relationship between presidential elections and legislative elections is not deterministic.

We are encouraged to talk confidently about our work (that’s Twitter again!), even when we do not always have grounds to be as confident as all that. More than that, we only have to look at opinion polling to see that even in an area where there has been a huge amount of research, where the sample is very large, and where there is competition in the academic market, we can still get things wrong. So, we should be modest about what we claim and certainly what we predict. However, we were on strong grounds to claim that cohabitation was very unlikely in France in 2017. We have an idea about the general processes. The  local conditions were ripe. In short, politicians and Twitter didn’t need to get in such a fuss.

Ramadan (Dani) Ilazi – Kosovo’s snap parliamentary elections shake up the political landscape

This is a guest post by Ramadan (Dani) Ilazi, PhD candidate at Dublin City University

On June 11, Kosovo held early-parliamentary elections, the third since the country declared its independence in 2008. The snap elections were triggered by a vote on a motion of no-confidence in early May against the government of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, who is also the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). The motion was presented by three opposition parties, Nisma (Initiative), AAK (Alliance for Future of Kosovo) and VV-Vetëvendosje (Self-determination) and was supported by the governing coalition partner, PDK (Democratic Party of Kosovo). The failure to pass the Agreement on Border Demarcation with Montenegro, which is also a key condition for visa liberalization for citizens of Kosovo for the EU Schengen zone, is widely attributed as the main cause for the fall of the government. The break-up of the PDK/LDK coalition and support for the motion was justified by Prime Minister Mustafa’s inability to progress on key issues in the European integration process. PM Mustafa and the LDK blasted the PDK’s move as a political manoeuvre designed to create early elections.

Going into the elections, two major coalitions were formed: the first was between the LDK, the AKR (Alliance for New Kosovo) and the newly established political party ALTERNATIVA. The second was between PDK, AAK and Nisma. There were three major candidates for Prime Minister and the elections were largely focused on their CVs and programs: the candidate from the PDK coalition was Mr. Ramush Haradinaj, the candidate from the LDK coalition was Mr. Avdullah Hoti (out-going Minister of Finance), and the candidate from Vetëvendosje was Mr. Albin Kurti. Mr. Haradinaj and Mr. Hoti belong to the centre-right political parties while Mr. Kurti’s was the only candidate from the left party.

Kosovo uses a proportional system. The whole country serves as a one electoral district and there is a 5% threshold. Kosovo also applies an open-list policy, meaning that citizens vote for a party or a coalition of parties and also get to vote for five candidates from the party or coalition list. Kosovo’s Parliament has 120 seats, of which 20 seats are guaranteed for minority communities, while the remainder are distributed according to the percentage of votes the political party or the coalition has won in the elections. According to article 84 of the Constitution of Kosovo, the President of the Republic announces elections for the Parliament of Kosovo and convenes its first meeting. In the election of the government, according to article 95 of the Constitution, the President of the Republic proposes to the Parliament a “candidate for Prime Minister, in consultation with the political party or coalition that has won the majority in the Assembly necessary to establish the Government […] If the proposed composition of the Government does not receive the necessary majority of votes, the President of the Republic of Kosovo appoints another candidate with the same procedure within ten (10) days”

The organization of elections received praise from local and international monitors as free and fair and without any significant incident. Preliminary results from the Kosovo Central Election Commission (CEC) show that the voter turnout was over 40%, and the support for parties/coalitions was as follows: 34% voted for the PDK coalition (around 39 seats); 27% for Vetëvendosje (around 31 seats); and 26% for the LDK (around 30 seats).

These results showed that forming a government will be a challenge. The PDK has the right to try to form the government first. VV and LDK have, until now, fiercely opposed any idea of a coalition with PDK. The PDK-coalition could potentially form a coalition with the 20 members of the minority communities, but what complicates matters is that the Serbian President Vucic has openly spoke against Mr. Haradinaj becoming a Prime Minister, which means the Serbian members of the Kosovo Parliament would most likely refuse to enter into coalition with PDK-coalition provided that Mr. Haradinaj is the candidate for PM. Another potential scenario is that the second party gets a try at forming the government, which would be VV.

Context: winner takes it all  

To better understand the potential that the situation holds for institutional crisis or political stalemate, the 2014 election context is useful. On 7 May 2014 the Kosovo Parliament decided to dissolve itself and the next day the President of Kosovo decreed the early elections in June. The results showed PDK was the winner of the elections, with 30% of the votes, LDK was ranked second with 25%. A day after the election results were announced, other parties from Kosovo political landscape created a post-election coalition, called VLAN, which represented about 55% of the votes and claimed the right to form the government. VLAN refused to discuss any cooperation with PDK.

This situation created a political stalemate that lasted for six months during which time no new government could be formed. It took two decisions from the Constitutional Court of Kosovo to end the gridlock and the one dealing with the competencies of the President is of particular relevance in the context of this article and the blog. According to this decision (Case No. K0103/14) the President “proposes to the Assembly the candidate for Prime Minister nominated by the political party or coalition that has the highest number of seats in the Assembly” and “The President of the Republic does not have the discretion to refuse the appointment of the proposed candidate for Prime Minister”. However “In the event that the proposed candidate for Prime Minister does not receive the necessary votes, the President of the Republic, at his/her discretion […]  appoints another candidate for Prime Minister after consultation with the parties or coalitions […].” This decision gives the President a potentially key role to play in government formation and this role may be important in the formation of the next government.

The Constitutional Court subsequently ruled that the winning party or coalition has the exclusive rights to propose the candidate for the Speaker of Parliament. Following the 2014 elections, these decisions made the implementation of the VLAN coalition impossible and the LDK went on to form a coalition with the PDK, amid high tensions and fierce opposition, including from within the LDK members of Parliament, some of whom refused to vote for their own leader as Prime Minister.

What next?

The incoming government faces some very unpopular decisions, including the ratification of the agreement for the border demarcation with Montenegro (AAK, VV and Nisma strongly opposed this agreement), the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities, which comes from the Brussels dialogue for normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia (VV strongly opposes this), and the beginning of the work and potential arrests from the Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office which can produce a situation that will be very difficult to manage for the next government and could could create instability. More importantly, Kosovo citizens are losing patience and are increasingly becoming frustrated with the lack of results especially when it comes to the European integration process as they remain the only citizens in the Balkans without visa liberalization with the EU Schengen zone. With this in mind the next government needs solid support in the Parliament and credibility and legitimacy in the public’s eyes.

In terms of procedure, political parties are awaiting the certification of results by the Central Election Commission (CEC) and the publication of the list of the next members of Parliament. Following this, the President will convene the first meeting of the Parliament and from that moment on a time timetable for government formation begins. Another election cannot be ruled out.

In conclusion

The election created a political earthquake that will change the political landscape for some time to come. The main change was the increase in support for the Vetëvendosje party, which rose from 13.59% of votes in 2014 elections to 27%. Vetëvendosje is a controversial political party, promoting the unification of Kosovo with Albania and using teargas in the Parliament as a method of protest. But, support for VV, especially from young voters, is a demand for a change and a sign of protest against the political establishment. So, unlike the onion of DW’s Adelheid Feilcke, that relies heavily on Kosovo stereotypes and argues that that nationalism won in the snap election, I believe that the results generally, as well as the votes for individuals candidates, show the potential of Kosovo’s democracy. So the winner, if we need to name one, is civil society.

Of mechanics and engineering: institutional continuities and partisan realignment in Macron’s France

How time flies! Since the last blog entry, Emmanuel Macron has been elected President and the pro-Juppé former mayor of Le Havre, Edouard Philippe, named Prime Minister at the head of a broad-based government comprising heavyweights from the PS ( Jean- Yves Le Drian, Gérard Collomb), middleweights from LR (Gerard Darmintin and Bruno le Maire) and various members of ‘civil society’ with impeccable professional credentials, but who must be considered as lightweights in terms of their former political experience. On May 7, there was a mild controversy over whether Macron had been well-elected or not. His victory had been announced in advance (no opinion poll gave him less than 58% on the run-off), but it was more comfortable than initially imagined (in the proportion of two-thirds/one-third). The metropolises and sizeable cities overwhelmingly voted for Macron; 85% in Lyon, 83% in Marseilles, almost 90% in Paris, 78% in Lille (against just over 50% for the department of the Nord as a whole). The small towns and countryside voted for Marine Le Pen – in places, at least. The geographical fracture widely commented on the first round was repeated, though only 2 departments in mainland France gave Marine Le Pen a majority. Still, with over 10 million electors, Marine obtained the best score ever for the FN – and more than doubled the total number of votes by comparison to her father in 2002. Emmanuel Macron polled over 20,000,000, well ahead of Sarkozy in 2007 and Hollande in 2012. Only around 40% of Macron electors declared in post-election surveys that their vote was motivated by explicit support for the new President, and optimism for the programme or the candidate rather than a rejection of the Le Pen alternative. The record abstention rate (51.3%) on the first round of the parliamentary elections on June 11th confirmed the sense of unease.

The main argument in this blog entry moves on from attempts to define the meaning of Macron to consider one of the paradoxes thrown up by the 2017 contest. One of the core themes in post-electoral analyses has highlighted the crisis of party politics, with the governing parties of the Fifth Republics – Gaullist and Socialists – relegated to the second division, or at least not winning through to the second round. At the same time as the old world of left-right partisan politics has appeared to be crumbling at the edges, two key mechanisms of presidential power have reaffirmed their pertinence: the confirmation election and the presidential party.

The parliamentary elections are chiefly interesting in that they provide mechanisms of institutional continuity in the midst of great political uncertainty and change. The first of these mechanisms is the confirming election (election de confirmation). Since the 2000 constitutional reform and the inversion of the electoral calendar, there has been a powerful institutional incentive to provide the victorious President with the ‘means to govern’, by way of a large parliamentary majority. Of course, the presidential call for the ‘means of to govern’ precedes 2002; most notably, in 1981, when victorious Socialist President Mitterrand called on the people to ‘give me the means to govern’ and implement the 110 propositions, his presidential programme. But the relationship has become more mechanical since the 2000 reform changed the order of the electoral contests to ensure that the ‘decisive’ presidential election came before the ‘confirmatory’ parliamentary contest. Certainly, the figures have produced rather different variations of the presidential bonus since 2002, but on each occasion, a party with a plurality of votes on the first round achieved an absolute majority of seats after the second: the UMP in support of President Chirac in 2002, the UMP for Sarkozy in 2007 and the PS for Hollande in 2012. The first round of the 2017 parliamentary election spectacularly confirmed the trend: with 32.5% of first round votes, LREM is well on its way to obtaining the overall parliamentary majority called for by President Macron (estimates range from 390 to 430 seats after the second round). The flip side is that this Herculean majority, elected to support a Jupiterean President, was based on a record low turnout (48.7) for a parliament election. The confirming election is implicitly based on a lesser popular mandate (hence legitimacy) than the decisive presidential contest, though this distinction is nowhere formally recognised.

The second mechanic is the return of the presidential party, or the majority elected primarily to support an incumbent President. True, the presidential party is a contested concept, most notably on the left of French politics, where many Socialists never really bought into Mitterrand’s instrumental marriage of the incentive structure of the presidential institutions and the revival of party fortunes. And certainly, no presidential party was ever the same. De Gaulle’s UNR had facets of a personal rally to a leader vested with a particular historic legitimacy, but it collapsed once the General had gone. Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s attempts to build the Independent Republicans/Republican Party into the cornerstone of his Union for French Democracy (UDF) never really succeeded. In an earlier version of the irreconcilable forces on the French centre and right, the UDF managed to balance the Gaullist RPR for a while, but failed to provide the bedrock of parliamentary and political support required to underpin the Barre government (1976-81). Giscard d’Estaing’s failure to build a cohesive presidential majority undermined the cohesion of the 1974-81 mandate. And contrast the record of Mitterrand’s two terms. The election of a PS majority to back the President one of the core features of the 1981 elections. Though it was never easy with the Socialists, and though divisions within the party were also apparent in 1981-83 (especially over the aftermath of the u-turn of 1983), the political resource represented by an overall majority ensured that Mitterrand got his way – even in terms of a highly contested reform of the electoral system for the 1986 parliamentary election. Contrast this situation with that post-1988: victoriously re-elected President, Mitterrand failed fully to capitalize in the ensuing parliamentary elections. The period of minority Socialist government under Rocard relied heavily on the use of article 49, 3 to undertake a governmental programme and, quite simply – survive and govern without a real majority. The UMP (2002-2012) reverted to form: the party of the ‘right and the centre’ was largely ignored by the successive Presidents (Chirac, Sarkozy) who saw its main function as being to organize the President’s supporters in parliament.

Macron’s coronation is not complete without the presidential majority that he has called for – and that he looks supremely well placed to deliver after the second round of voting on June 18th. The confirmatory election will thus have contributed to the election of a presidential majority under the colours of LREM, to support President Macron. The third dimension takes the form of an unwritten rule, rather than a proper mechanism; the size of the presidential majority might shape the behavior of the pro-presidential majorities when elected. Recent evidence from the Hollande period illustrated the dangers of lacking a genuine majority; from the outset, the frondeurs made the President’s life a misery and undermined the effectiveness of his governments. One would not wish such a fate for Emmanuel Macron. On the other hand, a large majority, returning deputies will no parliamentary experience, will produce its own form of tension. The danger for Macron might lie in the return of an overwhelming majority. The newly elected President will be well advised to keep the MODEM on board and prolong the coalition with the Macron-compatible elements of the PS and LR whatever the final outcome on June 18th 2017.

Cyprus – Presidency, Parliament and Law Activism

The Zurich-London agreements that established the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) in 1960 and the Constitution of the RoC contain provisions for the establishment of a presidential regime with a Greek Cypriot president elected by Greek Cypriots and a Turkish Cypriot vice-president elected by Turkish Cypriots. The executive power was vested in the Greek Cypriot president and the Turkish Cypriot vice-president, both enjoying veto power in three particular policy areas: external relations, security, and defense. Veto was designed to create a balance between the two communities and to ensure that no community would enforce its position on the other. However, as early as in 1961 the balance was brought into question and led to repeated constitutional blockages. Each party used its right of veto to block the propositions of the other party.

Following numerous deadlocks and after increased intercommunal tension, in 1964 the Turkish Cypriots left their posts in the governing and state institutions. In order to keep the newborn Republic running, the House of Representatives – consisting only of Greek Cypriot members – enacted legislation (the law of necessity) that allowed the state and the government to continue their operation. In this way the President assumed all the powers of the vice president and has had very few checks on his authority ever since.

Beyond the full right to veto legislation on a range of issues, the Greek Cypriot president of the RoC has the right to return a bill back to the House for reconsideration and/or the right to refer legislation to the Supreme Constitutional Court. Given the peculiar political conditions of the RoC with the political problem still unresolved, all presidents have been very cautious in using the right of veto. In actual fact, veto power was never exercised by any president. This was mainly due to political reasons, in order to fence off criticism that they utilised powers designed and intended for other purposes and so that they could not be accused of abusing the powers vested in a bicommunal state.

Presidents have confined themselves to the other two tools provided by the Constitution, most often on occasions when the legislature interferes with executive responsibilities and when it inflicts added cost on the state budget. It is worth noting that the Supreme Court usually vindicates the President’s view of referred bills. Both of these tools have also been used with cautious, not least because the parliament rarely questioned the executive’s authority.

In view of recent developments in the Cypriot political system whereby the House of Representatives and the political parties have utilised certain powers that they have never used in the past, openly challenging the president’s authority could have significant consequences on the ability of the government to pass legislation. In response, the Presidents have also used their arsenal of powers and have resorted to the two tools provided by the Constitution.

In the last few months the President of RoC, N. Anastasiades, has returned to the House of Representatives or referred to the Supreme Court a number of legislative bills. For example, in May 2016 a total of 16 bills on a variety of issues that were passed by the House just a few days before its self-dissolution before the parliamentary elections were either referred to the Supreme Court or returned to the House; an indication of how politics is increasingly mediated by law activism.

Most recently, a bill regarding the commemoration of union with Greece (enosis) was also referred to the Supreme Court. This particular bill was earlier voted by the opposition parties except the left-wing AKEL (the governing right –wing DISY abstained) and provoked the immediate and intense reaction of the Turkish Cypriot leader leading to a two-month pause in the negotiations for the solution of the Cyprus problem. Reactions were also intense in the RoC by AKEL and various pro-solution activists. In trying to find a solution, the governing DISY proposed legislation that gave the Education minister the power to decide which historical or other events would be commemorated in public schools. The bill was voted by the AKEL MPs and was thus passed.

However, the president referred the bill to the Supreme Court. The government said that he did so on the advice of the attorney-general who said that it probably clashed with the provision on the separation of powers in the constitution. AKEL said the president’s decision to refer the law to the Supreme Court raised reasonable questions: for example, why did he not consult with his own party before the latter submitted the bill, pointing to a highly politicized decision in view of the forthcoming presidential elections in February 2018.

The decision to refer this particular bill to the Supreme Court highlights three important points which necessitate further analysis. First, issues of history continue to inform today’s political situation and thus affect the course of the negotiations re the Cyprus problem among others. Second, blocking the passage of governing bills by parliament could have long-term effects and ultimately change the balance of power between the executive and the legislature. Third, there is a current trend in Cypriot politics to increasingly involve the courts and the Attorney General in political decision-making processes, which begs questions about the nature and scope of politics.