Category Archives: Europe

Marién Durán – ‘Dual Presidentialization and Autocratization: Turkey at a Critical Crossroads

This is a guest post by Marién Durán. It is based on an article that was recently published in Mediterranean Quarterly (2018) 29 (3): 98-116. https://doi.org/10.1215/10474552-7003192.

The article argues that dual presidentialization has accelerated Turkey’s movement toward autocracy in several ways: a greater control over the judicial branch and over public freedoms, in general, and freedom of the press, in particular.

This idea of dual presidentialization, a new concept proposed in this article, is useful for explaining autocratization and its implications. That the system is presidential does not always imply authoritarianism or autocratization; problems arise when a presidential system is designed with no adequate checks and balances or when the country is not a democracy.
What does dual presidentilialization mean in Turkey? It means that there has been a convergence or combination of two forms of presidentialization: legal reforms, and contingent or informal factors. In the first place, the article explores the legal and constitutional reforms that created presidentialization. The second relates to the presidentialization of Turkish politics, with an analysis of both the executive and the electoral and party aspects of the process, in accordance with the analytical framework provided by Thomas Poguntke and Paul Webb (2005). The objective is to explain how the resources of power have increased through both institutional reforms and the informal aspect.

The study of Turkey’s constitutional reforms is key to understanding the importance and impact of the institutional changes increasing the ruler’s power resources. The article analyzes constitutional changes that began with the 1982 constitution of the Third Republic, including the role of the president and the prime minister, the reform of the constitution in 2007 that enabled the direct election of the president of the republic, and the reforms approved in the 2017 referendum that converted Turkey to a presidential system. Both the 1982 constitution, without any adequate check and balances, and its successor in 2007 paved the way for a system in which priority is given to granting greater powers and control to the executive branch. Finally, the reforms approved in the 2017 referendum favor a presidential system without any constraints.

These constitutional reforms in Turkey have been accompanied by a process of presidentialization in which a charismatic figure has a particular and personal style. What does the presidentialization of Turkish mean? In this case, it refers to “the process by which regimes are becoming more presidential in their actual practice without, in most cases, changing their formal structure, that is, their regime-type.” (Poguntke, Webb, 2005). We refer to Poguntke and Webb work, because in the case of Turkey, this process has accompanied Turkish politics for decades, which became more pronounced since 2002 when the AKP came into power. Consequently, independently of any legal and constitutional factors, there have been contingent and structural factors leading toward a more presidential manner of acting, contributing in the end to a change in the form of the state.

Given we have clarified what dual presidentialization is, how has Turkey’s dual presidentialization accelerated the movement towards autocracy? The article analyzes that impact in terms of three key indicators: judicial power, civil liberties in general, and press freedom.
Why these areas specifically? This is because the judiciary and the media are horizontal and vertical checks and balances respectively on executive power. Certain power resources, such as electoral victories, the control of the main institutions and agencies, and the support of the ruling party, have helped President Erdoğan control appointments to the main positions in the judiciary.

Important reforms to the judiciary began in 2010 and continued in 2013 (due to corruption cases in AKP). The philosophy of these changes was to guarantee that there were no judicial decisions that could be negative for the AKP in important trials. Consequently, since 2013 onwards the judiciary has been under considerable pressure from the executive, damaging the separation of power.

Regarding civil liberties, the media and civil society constitute vertical checks and balances that have been eroded significantly in recent years by reforms and by the government’s authoritarian style. The AKP’s majority in parliament has allowed these reforms to be carried out. They also include Erdoğan’s continued leadership and ideology, with his belief in a “pious generation” and the imposition of certain values (including declarations regarding LGBT rights, couple relations, and so forth); as well as the control of the main institutions and media.

Finally, the AKP has continually degraded the freedom of the press since 2002, both in legal and constitutional terms and in the executive aspects of presidentialization. In this latter regard such pressure has been carried out in various forms: by creating communications media outlets close to the party and by placing pressure on the communications media. Pressure on journalists is common and Reporters without Borders lists numerous violations. Some indices such as Freedom House have reduced Turkey from the status of partially free to not free.

In summary, the progressive concentration of institutional power, aided by personal factors, has led to a process of autocratization. Since Erdoğan came to power, he has been able to gather enough resources to erode and virtually destroy certain checks and balances. His absolute control over the AKP, his ideology, the consecutive electoral victories (parliamentary, local, and presidential), his charismatic leadership, the control of the main institutions and state agencies, social networks, and media control have repressed freedom and institutions. In other words, the system has been damaged in terms of the functioning of government, rights, and public liberties.

Gary Murphy – The Irish Presidential Election of October 2018

This is a guest post by Gary Murphy, Professor of Politics in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

The re-election of Michael D. Higgins as President of Ireland has been widely welcomed across the Irish political landscape. His overwhelming victory on the first count with 55.8 per cent of the first preference vote has vindicated the decision of the two main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to support him. The 822,566 first preference votes he received is by some distance the largest number of votes ever secured by a candidate in an Irish presidential election. The turnout in the election was, however, the lowest in Irish presidential history at just 43.3 per cent.

Higgins was first elected in October 2011 for a seven year term from a total of six candidates and has proven to be a very popular president. He has what one might call the common touch. He presided with great dignity over the state’s hundred anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising which heralded the beginning of the move towards Irish independence in 1921, and became the first Irish president to lead an official state visit to Britain in 2014.

For pretty much all of his pre-presidential political life Higgins was a devout exponent of left-wing causes both internationally and domestically. Many were fashionable in certain avant-garde circles but had little wider resonance. His two short spells in Cabinet between January 1993 and June 1997 as Minister for Arts, Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht were the oases around long barren spells in the political wilderness. Even when Labour was in government in the 1970s and 1980s, Higgins was against coalition. Then came the economic crash, the presidential election of 2011 and a political career that had all the signs of petering out to a footnote in Irish history was dramatically resurrected. Higgins’s victory had a type of last man standing quality about it. As his opponents were undone one by one by various foibles the avuncular Higgins was duly elected winning 39.6 per cent of the first preference vote.

In office Higgins has remained true to his beliefs and has made a number of speeches critical of what he sees as the global neoliberal project. He caused some controversy with his encomium on the death of the Cuban leader Fidel Casto in November 2016 where he praised Casto’s record on human rights but this was entirely consistent with his long held views of anti-colonialism and his opposition to American foreign policy. He has, however, been very careful not to overstep the constitutional boundaries of his office and made no specific criticisms of the Irish government’s policies during his seven year term.

Higgins showed a nimble dexterity in getting out of his original promise to only serve one term as President by solemnly declaring that while he did at one stage say that getting through one term was the length of his aspirations he decided he had to run again to build upon the very solid foundations he had laid in office. In that context he used his constitutional prerogative to nominate himself and the major political parties rowed in behind him.

Getting on to the Irish presidential ballot is a rather byzantine affair and is dominated by the political parties. While an incumbent can nominate themselves other candidates must either get the backing of twenty members of the Oireachtas which consists of 160 members of Dáil Eireann (the lower house) and 60 members of Seanad Eireann (the upper house), or four of the country’s 31 city and county councils, most of which are dominated by political parties.

Only one of Ireland’s political parties, Sinn Féin, decided to use their members of the Oireachtas to nominate a presidential candidate. When Mary Lou McDonald took over as Sinn Féin party leader in February 2018 she stated that she would like to see the party contest the election. Even though it had been clear for some time that President Higgins was more than likely going to run again, McDonald was determined that Sinn Féin would put forward their own candidate to challenge the popular incumbent. In mid-September the party duly nominated Liadh Ní Riada, one of its Members of the European Parliament to be its standard bearer in the election.

Most political observers were of the view that Sinn Féin would use the election campaign as a vehicle to accelerate its political momentum in the Republic of Ireland. The widespread perception was that while Sinn Féin could not realistically expect Ní Riada to mount a serious challenge to Higgins it expected to come a strong second and increase the 13.7 per cent of the vote its candidate Martin McGuinness secured in the 2011 contest and the 13.8 per cent of the vote it received in Ireland’s February 2016 general election.

When Eamon de Valera wrote the constitution in 1937 getting the support of four county or city councils for a presidential nomination would have been a gargantuan task given that Ireland was essentially a two party state and the councils were dominated by members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who displayed strict loyalty to their party candidate. But since 1997 when the council route was first used to nominate independent candidates councillors have become somewhat intoxicated by the one real national power they have and 2018 became the third election in a row where independent candidates managed to get on the ballot through this route.

In comparative terms the Irish presidency is essentially a weak office. Presidents have very few constitutional powers of which to avail and so limited are these powers that a president has essentially no room for independent action. Nevertheless the draw of the presidency is such that the presidential elections of 2011 and 2018 have seen numerous candidates attempt to use the council route to get their name on the ballot. In 2011 three candidates were successful by dint of this route and this rose to four in 2018. These were Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, and Seán Gallagher, who had come second to Higgins in 2011. Rather bizarrely, Casey, Duffy and Gallagher had all been part of the popular RTE television programme, Dragons Den, where the so-called dragons decided whether to invest in ideas and businesses pitched to them by putative entrepreneurs. Freeman, by contrast, was a noted campaigner for mental health initiatives and had established one of Ireland’s largest charity organisations, Pieta House.

Gallagher was a late entrant to the campaign and had received some notoriety after having sued RTE over the 2011 campaign. He had held a substantial lead until the last week of that campaign and argued that the state broadcaster’s behaviour in a television debate essentially cost him the election. This suit was not settled until December 2017. By the middle of September all four had received the required amount of nominations from the country councils and a short five week campaign of six candidates began. Four opinion polls held between 16 September 2018 and 16 October 2018 were very consistent and showed Higgins with a massive lead of close to 70 per cent, Gallagher in the low teens and the rest in single figures. The strong Sinn Féin challenge never materialised. Gallagher’s campaign was nowhere near his 2011 showing and the other independents gained no traction with the voters.

This changed dramatically in the last ten days of what had been a relatively dull campaign up to then. There has been various mutterings about supposed lavish expenses being incurred by Higgins but these gained little momentum and it appeared that none of the candidates could offer a persuasive case to unseat the incumbent. Then in a podcast interview with a national news organisation Peter Casey made somewhat incendiary comments about the travelling community wherein he criticised the decision by the Dáil to give formal recognition to Travellers as a distinct ethic group in 2017 and claimed that they were basically camping on other people’s land. He also vociferously criticised many people on social welfare claiming that Ireland had become a welfare-dependent state, with people having a sense of entitlement that had become unaffordable.

Casey was widely criticised by the other candidates and various media commentators but his comments seemed to strike a chord with various parts of the electorate and he continued with these themes in a number of media debates over the last week of the campaign. Casey had never been at more than 2 per cent in any of the polls taken during the campaign but when two exit polls were released after voting had finished on Friday 26 October he was close to 21 per cent. When the votes were counted he had received 342,727 first preferences and 23.3 per cent of the votes. The most likely explanation for the rise in the Casey vote is that it was a protest against the political establishment added with elements of prejudice against marginalised groups. The other challengers all polled in single figures with Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riadh polling a disastrous 6.38 per cent to finish fourth.

Incumbency proved to be a real advantage for Higgins. The electorate were clearly happy with their president who had represented them with distinction abroad and had caused no real controversy at home. Given the constraints of the office it was extremely difficult for the other candidates to offer a persuasive case of why they should replace him. Ultimately in a resounding manner the Irish electorate were quite happy to settle for a repeat of the last seven years of the Higgins presidency safe in the knowledge that the next seven are likely to see a continuation of a safe pair of hands as their head of state.

Estonia – Will Kersti Kaljulaid become more political?

It has been a little more than two years since Kersti Kaljulaid was elected as Estonia’s fourth president since the end of the Soviet occupation. While her election was in many ways remarkable – both parliament and the electoral college failed on five occasions to elect a successor for Toomas Hendrik Ilves, triggering a minor constitutional crisis and a reform of the electoral system – she has been considerably less visible in day-to-day politics than her predecessors. As the next parliamentary elections draw closer, it is not clear whether she will choose to pursue a similar (or even more) apolitical stance or show at least some political preferences.

President Kersti Kaljulaid speaking at the opening of the Estonian parliament, 10 September 2018 / image via president.ee © Erik Peinar

During her first year in office, Kaljulaid remained largely passive – she refrained from playing an active part in the formation of the government shortly after her election and shied away from more controversial issues. The latter also applies to her second year: Kaljulaid (successfully) continued to play the role of global ambassador for “E-stonia” (Estonia as a world leader in digital services) and – together with her Baltic colleagues – repeatedly raised the issue of the region’s national security vis-a-vis Russian aggression with Western (NATO) partners. On the other hand, she failed to follow up on some more critical remarks from her first speech at the opening of parliament in September 2017 in actions or (further) words. For instance, she stressed that ethnic Russian residents of the country were just as Estonian as the ethnic Estonian population. However, the only notable initiative in addressing this issue seems to have been a one-month relocation of her office to Narva (a city dominated by the ethnic Russian population).

During the most controversial political discussion in Estonian politics during the last year, she remained remarkedly quiet. In May 2017 (apparently authorised by a resolution dating back to the year 2000), the government launched a consultation to find the most suitable location for a large pulp mill near Tartu (the country’s second largest city). However, the plans were opposed by a great number of environmental NGOs and local resident groups. Eventually, the government decided the shelve the plans in June this year. Thereby, Kaljulaid failed to comment on the debate apart from a few of vacuous remarks.

Kaljulaid once again used her speech at the opening of parliament in September this year to express concerns over some government reforms. In particular, this concerned a potential privatisation of health insurance provision and further reduction in the welfare state. However, given last year’s track record, it is unclear whether this will result in any attempts to influence policy or to actively avert a change in the status quo. It is likewise doubtful whether Kaljulaid’s comments can be interpreted as cues to political parties with regard to the upcoming parliamentary elections in March 2019. Over the last months, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) – a national-conservative party that entered parliament for the first time in 2015 – has gained strongly in opinion polls and may emerge as the second largest party.

The Estonian president has two attempts to nominate a candidate for prime minister after elections and can thus have a decisive influence on government formation – especially as electoral results do not always allow the largest party to form a coalition (in about a quarter of governments formed since 1992, the prime minister was not from the largest party). Therefore, we should closely monitor Kaljulaid’s behaviour and statements in the run-up to the parliamentary election. She is unlikely to be as outspoken about her coalition preferences or dislike of particular candidate as her predecessor was in 2010, yet it may still help us to understand how she will work with the next government and whether she will become more active in the future.

France – Is President Macron losing the plot?

Is President Macron losing the plot? He had every reason to celebrate the first anniversary of his election as French President in May 2018. At that stage, his poll rankings were consistently better than those of his two immediate predecessors, Hollande and Sarkozy. Since then, however, things have not gone according to plan. In July 2018, the Benalla affair undermined, by association, the claim to ethical integrity and cast unwelcome light on the operation of Macron’s Elysée. After a highly mediatized summer break – peppered with minor controversies that are germane to the ‘peopleisation’ of the presidential office, such as Brigitte Macron’s ordering of a new swimming pool at the Bregançon residence – things began to disconnect in earnest. The lingering presence of the Benalla scandal competed with presidential hesitations, and ministerial resignations to disrupt the carefully-laid plans of the ‘disruptive President’ ( On Macron as a ‘disruptive president’, see Helen Drake’s blog in Political Quartely, 14th September 2018 ‘ Is France having a moment? Emmanuel Macron and the politics of disruption http://www.pqblog.org.uk/2018/09/is-france-having-moment-emmanuel-macron.html).

The Benalla scandal broke in mid-July 2018, when videos of Alexandre Benalla, one of President Macron’s key security advisors, were published by Le Monde, allegedly showing him roughing up a couple of protestors during the 1 May 2018 demonstrations in Paris. The scandal involved, inter alia, the then Interior Minister (Gérard Collomb), the Chief of the Paris Police force (Michel Delpuech), the Head of Macron’s own office (Patrick Stzroda) and some would argue Macron himself. It cast light on the malfunctioning of the security services under Macron and the willingness of his advisors to take the law into their own hands. The scandal was interpreted in the press as highly informative of Macron’s leadership style, based on the primacy of a network of personal loyalties, developed in the main during the 2017 presidential campaign, to the exclusion of professional and political influences from outside the inner circle. One immediate casualty of the Benalla scandal was the postponement of the constitutional reform initially announced for the summer of 2018.

While the Benalla scandal continues to disseminate its own form of poison (in the form of the Senate’s Committee of Inquiry, convoking leading figure to testify, including Benalla himself) Macron’s authority has been undermined by hesitations, resignations and diminishing popularity.

One of Macron’s core claims of the first year in office was to be the maitre des horloges, the timekeeper. President Macron has paid close attention to controlling the agenda and dictating the rhythm, of events. This capacity to control time has been called into question on several occasions since the end of the summer. The claim to exercise decisive, vertical leadership was challenged by the apparent hesitations over whether to go ahead with a ‘pay as you go’ system of withholding taxation at source. Planned during the Hollande presidency, this measure had been postponed for one year by Macron. After ten days or so of apparent hesitation by the President, Prime Minister Philippe confirmed in a televised interview in September that this measure would indeed be implemented. This episode might be interpreted as Macron making sure that the President is seen to be making the final decision (and of ensuring that the Finance ministry respect presidential orders), but the public effect was to cast doubt upon the firm, vertical leadership that had characterized the first year in office.

The sense of drift was aggravated by the October 2018 government re-shuffle, forced on a reluctant Macron by the resignation of Gérard Collomb, Interior minister, former mayor of Lyon and one of Macron’s earliest political sponsors. Coming on the heels of that of Nicolas Hulot, the charismatic Environment minister – who complained of losing out on most policy arbitrations – the Collomb resignation carried a body blow to Macron’s claim to control the rhythm and style of politics. In both cases, the resignations were made public via the media, at times of major inconvenience for the incumbent government. Hulot resigned shortly after President Macron had refused his resignation. Collomb began by making clear his preference to return to Lyon and compete for the townhall after the 2019 European elections, an unsustainable position that provoked public and private criticism and political controversy within the microcosm sometimes known as la Macronie. Collomb was one of the few politicians confident enough to ‘tell the truth’ in relation to Macron himself, accusing the President of ‘hubris’ in an interview published while he was still Interior minister.

Whether deliberately designed to damage Macron or not, Collomb’s resignation added to the sense of drift. The time taken to name a new government – in reality, just over ten days – was modest in relation to Belgian, Spanish, German or Italian examples, but seemed inordinately long to commentators of France’s permanent news programmes, as well as a press that has become surprisingly (excessively?) hostile to Macron. The long drawn out ministerial re-shuffle occasioned by Collomb’s resignation (on 4th October, only resolved with the announcement of the modified Philip 2 government on 16th October) ended with the predictable nomination of Macron loyalist Christophe Castaner as the new Interior Minister and minor movements elsewhere (the resignations of Francoise Nyssen as Culture Minister, for example). While those close to the Prime Minister insisted that the loyalty of Edouard Philipppe to Macron was not in question – that there was ‘not even the beginning of the cigarette paper between him and Macron’, in the celebrated expression – the time taken to create the new government might be interpreted in part as revealing a struggle for influence between the centre-Right around Philippe (pushing for the nomination of Gerard Darminin as Interior minister) and the Elysée, determined to retain as much control as possible over the process. The result was one of the longest episodes of reshuffle in the history of the Fifth Republic for an uncertain result.

At any rate, the polls continue to provide worrying reading for Macron: the Journal du Dimanche of 14th October suggested that Edouard Philippe might be emerging as a more trusted and popular politician than Macron himself. Such lèse-majesté challenges the unwritten rule that the Prime Minister must not overshadow the President in terms of popularity and might sow the seeds of presidential revenge. Finally, Macron’s personal style- whereby the injunction to ‘ tell the truth often takes the form of brutal one-liners – has blurred the cohesion of the political message. Thus, the impact of the publication of well-received health and anti-poverty plans was lessened by presidential phrases on the ‘mad amount of money’ spent on welfare and on the ‘easy’ availability of employment.

Emmanuel Macron is turning to the European level to ease his worries. The French President continues to benefit from considerable prestige in Brussels and elsewhere. His attempt to construct the forthcoming European election contest as one between progressives and conservatives is a way of attempting to Europeanize the successful recipe of the 2017 presidential elections in France. But such an enterprise is fraught with dangers, in Europe as well as in France. Experience suggests that European elections are second order elections fought on domestic issues (though they can have first order consequences). It is far from certain that electors will be willing to follow Macron in terms of advocating a ‘progressive’ Europe. Early polls suggest that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement national (RN – formerly the Front national, FN) will be a formidable rival in 2019, possibly retaining its position as the first French party. Politicizing the European elections might prove counter-productive.

Macron can rely on two solid underlying reasons for optimism. First, is there really a political alternative? The France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Melenchon is embroiled with party funding scandals, as is Marine le Pen and the RN. The Socialists have just suffered a further split, as a group of left-wing senators and deputies around Senator Marie-Noelle Lienneman and Deputy Emmanuel Maurel has broken off to form a new party. The Republicans (les Républicains) are deeply divided on the leadership of Laurent Wauquiez. The RN is staging somewhat of a recovery, but memories of Marine Le Pen’s catastrophic performance in the debate with Macron in between the two rounds remain vivid. Second, the institutions of the Fifth Republic continue to provide a powerful base upon which to ensure a form of presidential ascendancy.

Cyprus – A crisis of institutions and the need for checks and balances

Cyprus is a comparatively young democracy with just 58 years of independent life. In this period both political and state institutions have struggled to find their place and a balance between them due to the political unrest before 1974 that culminated in the Greek-junta-led coup and the Turkish invasion that followed. Since then, the Republic of Cyprus (RoC), although operating without the Turkish Cypriots, it has developed a rather resilient cluster of state and political institutions that seemed to work relatively efficiently.

However, the economic crisis and the changes affected after the 2013 bail-in revealed a number of shortcomings in their operation and the relations between them. These limitations and inefficiencies touch upon several aspects of their functioning; for example, issues of institutional culture, practices of clientelism that run through them, insufficient structures to cope with change and new challenges, relations between them, etc. All these have created several nests of tension between them. Moreover, the overall context within which politics take place in Cyprus in recent years has made it extremely difficult for institutional politics to continue performing as they did, i.e., unquestioned by the people and the media.

People are very suspicious of politicians and political institutions in particular. Levels of trust in political parties, the government, the president and the parliament to name but a few are constantly very low. Other independent institutions such as the Attorney General, the Governor of the Central Bank and the General Auditor were until recently untouched by the criticism that swept the entire political system. These institutions were seen as bedrocks against inefficient, unreliable and often corrupt politicians and government officials, something like an oasis in a desert of inefficiencies, bad practices and corruption.

However, this is changing. All the above-mentioned independent institutions are now caught in the wider crisis of legitimation. Independent institutions and more precisely the persons holding the offices, are now viewed as part of a wider political game with their own personal agendas, much like the politicians. To be fair, this perception is not unrelated to the fact that some of these independent officials clashed with other entrenched interests and institutions (e.g., part of the media, the civil service, the President of the Republic himself, etc.). This has made them a target for their practices from the media, politicians and government officials. It has also revealed that they could also have an agenda of their own since the control they exercise is sometimes seen as selective.

Despite the fact that the motives behind the attacks against independent institutions might not be entirely noble in nature they do point to an existing problem: most of these institutions operate in an environment almost free of any type of control. This state of affairs is largely due to the fact that independent institutions derive their authority directly from the constitution which does not provide for effective mechanisms of accountability and control. Once they are appointed there are no effective checks and balances to their authority.

However, there are public voices now calling for some degree of control and accountability for independent institutions. These voices became louder in recent months as Cypriot society witnessed a number of conflicts between the various institutions and on various grounds revealing the lack of checks and balances between them. This has created a sense of a generalized institutional crisis. For some analysts this institutional crisis is the outcome of the personal characteristics of the people holding the offices who vie for personal attention and a political career. However, a deeper look reveals structural inefficiencies, institutional shortcomings and a lack of a proper institutional culture of self and also mutual control. Whatever the reasons though, recent polls indicate that society has lost faith in the workings of our entire institutional detting which seems unable to respond the multifaceted challenges facing Cyprus in the aftermath of the economic crisis and the need to find a solution to the persisting Cyprus problem. The sense of a generalized crisis is also the result of a chronic impunity of those who brought the country on the verge of economic destruction.

At the same time Cyprus faces an international outcry because of its questionable practice of providing Cypriot (and therefore EU) citizenship to wealthy people from countries outside the EU. This ‘citizenship industry’ not only brings Cyprus at the knife’s edge of foreign auditing authorities and international institutions but it is also seen by many Cypriots as a way for the political and economic elite to profit whereas the majority of the people faces a harsh time in their personal lives.

All the above bring to the fore important issues of institutional and also political nature the most important of which is the need to develop an efficient system of checks and balances for all institutions and between institutions which is now lacking; this will allow them to work efficiently and restore the lost confidence of society in them.

Latvia – President will be elected by an open vote in 2019

This post is a follow up to the debate on how the Latvian president should be elected.

The next presidential election in Latvia will be held in June 2019. According to the Constitution, the President is elected by Parliament in a secret ballot by a majority of no fewer than 51 of the 100 members of Parliament.

The mode of election and the scope of the power of the President has been debated both during the first period of independence and since then, with many expressing the willingness for the direct election of the President.

Since June 2011, 11,004 people have signed the public initiative Manabalss.lv (My Voice) for a change to introduce a directly elected president.

Meanwhile, the debate about electing the president through an open vote rather than secret ballot has been going on. Since my previous post in July, 26 people (11 509 October 18 versus 11 483 July 4) have signed the public initiative to elect the State president by an open vote of no fewer than a 51-vote majority of the members of Parliament. This number was enough to initiate changes in legislation leading towards an open vote.

At the same time, on September 20 MPs supported the idea of five MPs from the Greens and Farmers Union about direct presidential elections. 70 MPs voted “FOR”, 15 “AGAINST” and two abstained. So far, several initiatives have been submitted to Parliament for a directly elected President, but the amendments have never been examined in a parliamentary commission.

On September 26, the Legal Commission of Parliament supported the amendment for the third reading on the open vote. The amendments were supported by parliament in the third (final) reading on October 4.

Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority of the 100 deputies. 91 MPs were registered for the vote, with 85 MPs voting “FOR”, 3 voting “AGAINST”, and no one abstaining.

To make the process of openly electing the President in Latvia, it is also necessary to amend the Law on the Election of the State president and the Parliament Order Roll. Amendments to the Presidential Election Law are included in today’s (October 18, 2018) agenda of the Parliament sitting.

State president Raimonds Vējonis did not use his suspensive veto power after the adoption of the amendments to the Constitution and promulgated the law on October 16, 2018.

The changes to the Constitution will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Finland – Political parties prepare for late spring elections

Late spring 2019 looks set to become a busy and important period for Finnish political parties. The elections to Eduskunta, the unicameral national legislature, are scheduled for 14 April, with the European Parliament elections following in late May. There is also still the chance that the first regional elections ever held in the country would take place on the same day as the European Parliament elections. However, for that to occur, the necessary legal reforms related to the reorganization of social and health services and the establishment of the new regional councils would have to be approved by the Eduskunta around six months prior to the election day. Hence the current prediction is that the regional elections will not take place in the spring.

The Finnish party system is very fragmented, with the largest party normally getting at most 20-25 % of the votes. The latest poll, conducted from 10 September to 2 October, puts the Social Democrats in the first place with 22,6 % of the vote. This would be the first time that SDP would be the biggest party since the 1999 elections, and hence also the first time that Finland would have a centre-left prime minister since 2003. The party chair, Antti Rinne, has obviously criticized heavily the contested project of reorganizing social and health services, not least on account of the reform providing a bigger role for the private sector in delivering such services. Rinne, who has a trade union background, has also together with the unions been strongly questioning the government’s policies aiming at improving economic growth and competitiveness. However, for the most part Rinne and the other opposition leaders have basically been content to sit back and let the government make its own mistakes.

The reorganization of social and health services has indeed caused serious turmoil also inside the cabinet. Basically the project is a deal between the Centre Party and the National Coalition, with the former getting the regional councils (the Centre Party is likely to perform strongly in regional elections given its often dominant role in the rural parts of the country) and the conservatives wanting to increase the role of the private sector. The two parties have been questioning each other’s commitment to the project, with particularly individual MPs of the National Coalition voicing strong public dissent of the reform as they doubt its economic benefits and also are concerned that the various constitutional constraints mean that the role of the private sector would in the end be much smaller than initially planned. According to the latest poll the National Coalition would finish second with 18,9 % of the vote, while the Centre Party would come third with 17,6 %. Apart from losing support on account of leading the government, supporters of the Centre may be worried that the party is heading in a too market-friendly direction under the leadership of PM Juha Sipilä.

The third governing party, the Blue Reform, is truly anxious as its support is only 1,1 %. The party was established following the split inside the populist Finns Party in summer 2017 when the Finns elected the MEP Jussi Halla-aho as its new leader. Halla-aho, who has been convicted in court for hate speech, and the entire new party leadership focuses strongly on immigration issues, and hence Halla-aho will no doubt make his best to push immigration to the campaign agenda. The latest poll shows the Finns Party getting 9,3 % of the vote, but one has to remember that in both the 2011 and 2015 elections the party performed much better than predicted by the opinion surveys. The Blue Reform seems to suffer from lack of credibility: the party was essentially put together by the more populist or moderate senior party figures that also were cabinet ministers, and hence many feel that they were just protecting their own ministerial positions. The Blue Reform has also been struggling to find its own niche and agenda between the more outspokenly nationalist the Finns Party and the conservative National Coalition.

The support of the Green League has declined fairly consistently over the past year. Excluding European Parliament elections, it won over 10 % of the vote for the first time in national elections in the municipal elections held in April 2017 when it received 12,5 % of the vote. The party’s popularity had been on the rise under the leadership of Ville Niinistö and peaked during the summer of 2017, with the Greens finishing even second in the polls with around 17-18 % of the vote. Touko Aalto, the new party leader, took office in June 2017 and even some leading party figures have publicly questioned Aalto’s image and leadership. The past year or so has been tough for Aalto, who has been in the headlines through his divorce, new relationship with a Green League party central office worker, and through partying shirtless in a Stockholm gay night club. Aalto’s leadership style has also been considerably more cautious than that of Niinistö, who was widely praised for his critique of the government. Aalto is currently on sick leave due to work stress and exhaustion, and it is not clear when he resumes his duties. The latest poll indicates the Green League getting 11,6 % of the vote, which would nonetheless be around three percent more than in the 2015 elections.

The Left Alliance has found an energetic new party chair in Li Andersson, and the party is doing well in the polls with 9,8 % of the vote, also almost three percent more than in the 2015 elections. Of the minor parties, the Christian Democrats would get 4,1 % of the vote and the Swedish People’s Party 3,7 %. Were these predictions to materialize, it would mean a moderate shift towards the left – but of course the right-leaning parties would still hold a comfortable majority of the seats in the Eduskunta. In terms of agenda, much depends on whether the reorganization of social and health services is indeed approved by the parliament before the elections. If it is, then there is more room for other issues such as immigration, education, or the European Union. But one thing seems fairly certain: political parties will invest most of their resources into the April Eduskunta elections, meaning that the European Parliament elections to be held in May will truly be ‘second-order’ for the party leaders.

Portugal – On the presidential use of veto powers

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has just entered the second half of his five-year term in office, providing us with the opportunity to review the way in which he has used his powers to define a specific role for the presidency. In this piece, my attention will be centred on the use of veto powers.

Veto powers are generally associated with the “pouvoir d’empêcher”, that is, the power to limit the action of the government or of its parliamentary support basis. As such, it is often assumed that its use reflects an opposition between the president and the government or the parliamentary majority. However, the political use of veto powers is somewhat more complex than this simple assertion[1]. In order to grasp the full extent of this power and its political implications, one ought to begin by reviewing the pertinent constitutional provisions.

The Portuguese Constitution of 1976, revised in the definition of presidential competences in 1982, determines in section 136 that presidents have the power to promulgate or veto legislation emanating from the government (decree-laws) or parliament (laws). In the case of decree-laws, the presidential veto is final, although the government may decide to reintroduce the same issue by means of a law voted in parliament. By contrast, vetoes applied to parliamentary laws can be superseded if some requirements are met: as a general rule, parliament must approve the vetoed bill by an absolute majority of MPs; in the case of “organic laws” (i.e., designed to lay the foundations for strategic decisions, such as the organic law of the National Health Service), external relations, limits to economic sectors (private, public, co-operative), or electoral matters, then a 2/3rds majority is required. Sections 278 and 279 deal with the possibility of presidents requesting the Constitutional Court for a decision on the constitutional conformity of any piece of legislation. If deemed unconstitutional (even if only in a specific section), then the president must veto such bill on these grounds. In this instance, the law is returned to parliament and it is either rectified by simple majority or ratified by a majority of 2/3rds of MPs (the president being obliged to sign it if ratified).

This constitutional framework should now be read in political terms. For instance: it is clear that minority governments tend to use decree-laws in order to circumvent the need for an absolute majority in the House, and seldom use the facility of transforming the legislative rule into a parliamentary law. By contrast, calling for the intervention of the Constitutional Court gives presidents an opportunity to request a 2/3rds majority which is not necessarily easy to obtain, and thus represent a very strong power of opposition. Finally, the constitutional framework does not prevent presidents from informally returning legislative acts without a formal veto assuming the prime minister will introduce some changes deemed necessary to obtain presidential agreement. All these instances suggest that the use of veto powers has a strong political nature, and that choices are present when a disagreement emerges between the president and the authors of the legislative act. Presidents may opt for stronger or softer ways to deal with such disagreements

In a recent and thorough study of the relations between Portuguese presidents and governments, Vasco Franco proposed a classification of the different circumstances in which veto power is exercised [2]. Franco proposes two ways to look at presidential vetoes. First, he suggests that vetoes may fall in three categories:

a) “constitutional” or “juridical” (when they are supported by a declaration of the Constitutional Court);

b) “political”, when it is (i) freely exercised by the president; (ii) not on grounds of constitutional non-conformity; (iii) based on an appreciation of the contents and/or the opportunity of the legislative initiative; and (iv) accompanied by a written message to the parliament or the government; and

c) “transitional” which takes place when a president actually vetoes legislation that is pending at the time of the election of a new parliament, or the appointment of a new government – in which case there is no judgement as to the merits but only to the opportunity of the acts. Although this could be considered as a form of “political veto”, it ought to be distinguished because presidents who use them – and there are plenty of examples[3]– do not necessarily pass a negative judgement on the essence of the legislative act, but rather a willingness not to limit the options of the newcomers.

In addition, Franco considers the meaning or sense of the veto, having as a reference the interests of the government. Presidential vetoes on acts emanating from parliament can thus be considered as

(i) “cooperative” in cases where a different majority was formed to approve the bill in opposition to the parliamentary basis of the government – a circumstance that may occur when the country has a minority government;

(ii) “neutral” when the veto “is irrelevant vis-à-vis the interest of the government”; and

(iii) “conflictual, when the president uses his power to oppose directly the interests of the government.

This sort of classification is important, as it defies the simple reading of veto powers as a manifestation of opposition between the president and the government. In political terms, the constitutional competence can have different readings

Turning now to President Marcelo’s two and a half years in office, the most significant aspect of his use of the veto power is that so far he has never asked the Constitutional Court for advice (both in advance of vetoing a law, or subsequently, as was often the case before him). Two reasons may explain this behaviour. Firstly, Marcelo is a professor of constitutional law, and therefore he feels very comfortable with his own reading of the problems involved in the appreciation of each bill. Self-confidence is thus a critical element to be born in mind. Secondly, the current government and parliamentary majority seem to have been careful in avoiding the course of action pursued by its predecessors, which turned the Constitutional Court into a central political player in the years 2011-2015.

Be that as it may, President Marcelo vetoed 10 bills in the last 30 months. In all instances, he issued  a “political veto”. By doing this, he offered the current government and political majority ample room to introduce changes that allowed them to overcome the presidential veto without the need of a 2/3rds majority. Nine of those ten bills have subsequently been approved after the introductions of changes suggested by the president without the need to negotiate with the opposition. This is a highly significant political stance which highlights the willingness of Marcelo to distance himself from the government on issues where he disagrees with the current majority and is closer to the values of the centre-right politics of the original political family that he respects (such as the bill on surrogate mothers or the framework for political parties’ financing) without attacking the government by trying to use “constitutional” vetoes. At the same time, he captures a centrality in the political process that had moved away from the presidency to the Constitutional Court in the years before his term.

Apart from the ten formal vetoes, by August 2018, Marcelo had returned 18 bills to the prime minister – but none to parliament. Those bills seem to have remained in a kind of limbo, as the government does not seem to have found ways to sidestep the objections of the president. Again, this form of behaviour is destined to lower potential tension between president and prime minister, and is in line with the fact that Marcelo has so far refrained from using the mechanism of a “constitutional” veto.

Many voices on the right of the political spectrum, including several in the party to which Marcelo still belongs and of which he was leader from 1996-1999, complain bitterly that he does not join in the condemnation of the left-wing government’s strategic options. However, Marcelo’s stance is the one that better suits the political culture that grants presidents with a “moderating power” and does not view them as party-based elements in the parliamentary game – a stance that was forged during Mário Soares and Jorge Sampaio terms with public applause. The very high rates of popularity of Marcelo indicate that this stance has been equally well received by the Portuguese, the consequence of which is the enlarged room for presidential intervention. Veto powers used with discretion may not be, after all, a symbol of political clashes but rather a means to implement some sort of co-governance.

Notes

[1]For a subtle discussion of veto powers as a symbol of political opposition, see Paulo José Canelas Rapaz, “O ‘veto politico’ do Presidente da República Portuguesa (1986-2013): uso e variáveis políticas”, in António Costa Pinto & Paulo José Canelas Rapaz (eds), Presidentes e (Semi)presidencialismo nas Democracias Modernas. Lisboa, Imprensa de Ciências Sociais,2017: 193-216

[2]Vasco Seixas Duarte Franco, Semipresidencialismo em Portugal: poderes presidenciais e interacção com o governo (1982-2016). PhD dissertation in Political Science, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa, 2018

[3]President Ramalho Eanes used this form of veto on 32 cases that were pending in 1985 when prime minister Mário Soares was replaced by Cavaco Silva; President Sampaio used this in 18 instances in 2002 when prime minister Guterres was replaced by Durão Barroso; and again 33 times when prime minister Santana Lopes was replaced by Socrates

Lithuania – President Grybauskaite in a continuous intra-institutional tug of war (Part 2)

 

The spring political season ended up on a low note for President Grybauskaite. Not only her relations with prime minister soured from the beginning of the year and continued to deteriorate into late spring, but she also became involved in an almost personal political warfare with Ramunas Karbauskis, leader of the ruling Lithuanian Framers and Green Union Party (LZVS), which presently holds the majority of seats in the parliament.

As the parliament was about to adjourn for the summer recess, Grybauskaite had “the last word” in closing the unusually tense political season. Carrying out a constitutionally mandated duty, she gave her pre-last State of the Nation address in the parliament (Grybauskaite’s second term will end next year in July, so her last annual address will be in June 2019).  There was a wide expectation among political analysts that her speech would mostly, if not exclusively, focus on the lingering political scandals and ongoing political corruption cases that turned into an open political warfare among various domestic political actors: major political parties, their leaders, coalition partners, the government, and, indirectly, even implicating the president herself. Although Grybauskaite devoted nearly half of her speech to “the party system crisis” and how the political infighting is “getting worse” as well as pointed out that the country was unable to rid itself of pervasive political corruption for the past 25 years, the president also issued a call for all “warring” parties to cooperate for the sake of Lithuania’s and its peoples’ wellbeing. [1]

Grybauskaite’s appeal for cooperation, however, will face three major challenges that are almost insurmountable given her political “baggage” and the mere ten months she has left until the end of her second, and final, term in office. Firstly, it is hard to imagine that regardless of her extended olive branch the squabbling political parties would suddenly accept Grybauskaite as a neutral mediator and conciliator. The reason for this is because president’s sympathies allegedly rest with the Fatherland Union (Conservatives)-Christian Democratic Party (TS-LKD), currently in opposition in the parliament. TS-LKD is seeking to fend off political corruption accusations voiced by Karbauskis and by his LZVS party’s members. In September, the LZVS has restarted the process of creating parliamentary commissions to investigate past political corruption cases that have already been undertaken by other government agencies. The launch of LZVS-initiated parliamentary commissions is also opposed, on constitutional grounds, by the president (to note, no parliamentary commission will be created or existing one tasked with probing into potential corruption cases in the agricultural sector, which is where Karbauskis made his financial fortune that allowed him and his party to achieve political success in the 2016 parliamentary elections).

Secondly, Grybauskaite’s track record of having tense and, at times, deeply conflictual relations with every government during her two terms—no matter whether it was led by the TS-LKD, social democrats, Labor, or the current farmers-green party coalition—does not add to the sincerity of her call or makes it credibile that she really aspires to pursue cooperation. Furthermore, her indirect hints in the 2018 national address of “a new corporate savior rising from the waters of disappointment” (allegedly referring to Karbauskis’ agricultural conglomerate and its potential “savior” role that it will propagate during three elections—municipal, presidential, and the EU parliament—that will be held in 2019); or in her description of the present LZVS-dominated parliament that “is turning into a shooting gallery for attacks against freedom and democracy, with random shots taken only to ban and penalize;” or in president’s description of the legislative branch productivity record, which “after a long period of vegetation” had suddenly overfilled its political agenda “[…] with very urgent issues, which are but trivial in the life of [Lithuanian] people,” while ignoring such major social problems as “social exclusion, emigration, Lithuania’s declining competitiveness, children’s literacy or preparations for referendum on dual citizenship.”[1] Such criticisms, although present in almost all of her previous presidential addresses, do not sound as peacemaking inclined nor do they suggest the burying of the intra-institutional war hatchet. On the contrary, the latest presidential address signaled Grybauskaite’sintentions to continue on a confrontational politics path.

Thirdly, cooperation suggested by Grybauskaite would be possible if parties were eager and willing to collaborate. However, neither Grybauskaite (as discussed above) nor Karbauskis have thus far shown any signs of willingness to resolve their political disagreements. It has to be noted that at the end of the legislative spring session Karbauskis claimed that he was fully determined to resume parliamentary investigations of political corruption cases, especially those involving TS-LKD party, as well as Grybauskaite’s “email-gate affair” as soon as the parliament resumes work in September. Furthermore, he announced that he would not set his foot into the presidential palace until a new president gets elected in 2019.[2]

It is, therefore, not surprising that when Grybauskaite tried to bring different warring parties—prime minister, the speaker of the parliament, and the leaders of two major political parties in parliament (namely, LZVS’Karbauskis and TS-LKD’G. Landsbergis)—together for an informal working dinner at the presidential palace in early September, Karbauskis refused to participate. He claimed that he had never received a formal invitation from the presidential office and even if he had, he would have declined to participate because he “did not find conversations in such a format useful.” “If the president has questions, and I also have questions, then [our] questions can be discussed in meetings with the Board of the parliament, at commissions’ meetings, and in other official formats that exist,” stated Karbauskis.[3] Grybauskaite cancelled the working dinner as it became clear that presidential efforts to smooth a tense political situation and lingering confrontations would bring no tangible results. Visibly, chances that these two political actors will be eager to cooperate appear rather slim.

Political analysts seem to agree that Karbauskis has two political strong suits over the president at this juncture in time. On the one hand, Grybauskaite has less than a year left in office and is primarily preoccupied with her political legacy and how it maybe impacted by the ongoing political squabbling, while Karbauskis certainly has a much longer political future (probably expecting that his party will be reelected in the 2020 parliamentary elections). On the other hand, building on political advantages he currently has, Karbauskis appears to have a desire to show off as to “who is who” (or “who is more important in Lithuania”) as he visibly enjoys the political limelight and a favorable political constellation. Apparently Karbauskis estimates that no matter the amount of criticism that Grybauskaite directly or indirectly voices about him, the LZVS, and his party’s political initiatives in the next ten months of her presidency and that whatever will be the intensity of such presidential criticisms that they will not have any profound political consequences either for him personally or for the LZVS.

Frustrating as it maybe for Grybauskaite however, she faces a precarious political situation at the moment. Indeed, other than public pronouncements in the media and issuance of staunch warnings for Karbauskis to not cross “certain red lines,” for the time being Grybauskaite is forced to concede. She has (informally) resigned from a peacemaker role, delegating it to the speaker of the parliament.[4] And yet, despite the futility of presidential efforts to move political parties and the parliament beyond political bickering, Grybauskaite appears to be determined to oppose Karbauskis and the LZVS’ initiatives to create new parliamentary commissions for as long as it takes. Her latest salvo came in a form of a staunch public warning to the current ruling majority as the president announced that she “would not be silenced” by Karbauskis or by anybody else.[5] It is becoming clear that political warfare and intra-institutional battles will continue into the foreseeable future, and, possibly, until Grybauskaite leaves office.

Notes:

[1] D. Grubauskaite “State of the Nation Address.” Available athttps://www.lrp.lt/en/speeches/state-of-the-nation-address/-2018/30194.

[2] “R. Karbauskis atrėžė D. Grybauskaitei: į prezidentūrą iki rinkimų kojos nekels.”Available at https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/lietuvoje/2/213639/r-karbauskis-atreze-d-grybauskaitei-i-prezidentura-iki-rinkimu-kojos-nekels.

[3] “Jų susodinti prie bendro stalo nepavyko net Grybauskaitei: nekelia kojos ne tik į Prezidentūrą” Available at https://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/ju-susodinti-prie-bendro-stalo-nepavyko-net-grybauskaitei-nekelia-kojos-ne-tik-i-prezidentura.d?id=78983123.

[4] “Prieš naująjį politinį sezoną Grybauskaitė perspėja: yra tam tikros raudonos linijos, kurių peržengti negali joks politikas.” Available at https://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/pries-naujaji-politini-sezona-grybauskaite-perspeja-yra-tam-tikros-raudonos-linijos-kuriu-perzengti-negali-joks-politikas.d?id=78950091.

[5] “Grybauskaitės kirtis valdantiesiems: manęs nutildyti nepavyks.” Available at  https://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/grybauskaites-kirtis-valdantiesiems-manes-nutildyti-nepavyks.d?id=79053675.

Moldova – Cohabitation as an inter-executive struggle with dashes of judicialization

By the end of September, the President of the Republic of Moldova was again the center of a political standoff that has been the bane of the country for quite some time. For the fourth time since October 2017, the constitutional court suspended the President (Igor Dodon from the PSRM, Party of Socialist of the Republic of Moldova) temporarily. Three of these four times were due to the refusal by the President to appoint ministers elected by parliament. This newly found instrument of temporarily getting rid of the president as a veto player has profound institutional and legal ramifications and questions the power of this directly-elected president. To address these issues, this post presents the constitutional court’s involvement as a case of “judicialization” (see e.g., Hirschl 2008) of core political questions. This form of judicialization is not necessarily comparable to judicialization under democracy, as it only emphasizes the involvement of the court in “key political issues” (Mazmanyan 2015, 200) and not a transfer of power from parliament to the court. The refusal of the President to appoint a cabinet member is, at its core, a decision of checks and balances and should not be influenced by the judiciary. In the following, I will describe the constitutional background and process of suspending the president with its most recent recurrence in September 2018 as well as the short and long-term implications arising from this power struggle.

The 1994 Moldovan constitution established a semi-presidential system, more specifically a premier-presidential system. The presidency enjoys an array of de jure power tools and also ceremonial responsibilities. Among the important instruments to discipline the fragmented parliamentary parties is the president’s right to dissolve parliament after two failed investiture attempts. Furthermore, and this is of importance here, the president appoints the cabinet after a parliamentary vote of confidence and also after a cabinet reshuffle upon the proposal of the prime minister (Art. 98) (see Fruhstorfer 2016). This provision is particularly important, as it was initially introduced as part of the 2000 constitutional amendment that formed a parliamentary system. Parts of this amendment (in particular the election of the president) were declared unconstitutional in 2016. The original 1994 constitution allowed the president much less involvement in the process by only being able to accept the oath of newly elected cabinet members. Thus, the 2000 amendment clarified and increased the power of the president, a provision that was not changed in the process of declaring parts of the 2000 amendment unconstitutional. There was no specific constitutional provision that stipulated how many times the president can refuse the appointment. Yet the January 2018 ruling of the Constitutional Court de facto amended the constitution. In their ruling on the second temporary suspension, the court specified that the president can only decline a proposal for a cabinet appointment once and must appoint a possible second candidate. Failing to do so is a violation of presidential duties (Constitutional Court 2018). Failing to fulfill these duties is then the justification for a temporary suspension. And indeed, the constitution envisions this occurrence, but the procedure of including the constitutional court is highly unusual, as it is the sole prerogative of parliament (Art. 89).

The way temporal suspension was and is used in Moldova comes close to the observation Mazmanyan (2015, 208) offers for the post-soviet area in general: “The record of judicial involvement in post-Soviet politics shows that higher courts get meaningfully activated only in situations witnessing a true political competition and uncertainty about the winner in the competition.” This form of judicialization is however a new trend in Moldova, the constitutional court was until recently the example of a non-politicized court among the countries in the post-soviet region. With the now fourth decision of temporally suspending the president – in case he does not follow suit – the court embraces a trend of incidental decision making (Mazmanyan 2015, 208) in competitive political situations. This intervention exposes the court to the danger of being exploited and manipulated by political forces and facing the challenging time when “judicial involvement in politics is more often than not a byproduct of political pressure or manipulation of constitutional law and of the constitutional judiciary” (Mazmanyan 2015, 200). It is unclear whether the often claimed “direct political instruction” of political forces (read Vlad Plahotniuc, chairman of the PDM, Democratic Party of Moldova) applies in Moldova. In any case, the decisions made by the constitutional court since March 2016 indicate a problematic politicization of the judiciary that decides on political issues and uses its rulings to overcome political competition. This was seriously criticized in the most recent report of the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI 2018).

What seems like an “inter-institutional deadlock” (Popșoi 2017) in a period of cohabitation was long rumored to be only a sham to disguise how Vlad Plahotniuc and President Igor Dodon have consolidated their power with the help of each other. Yet, the political standoff between the government and the constitutional court on one side and the president – at least superficially – on the other side, seems to be a mundane power struggle. Yet, mundane does not make it any less dangerous. The court’s involvement in this power struggle and the following judicialization of key issues of the competition inherent to a premier-presidential system are seriously damaging the political institutions and does not bode well for the future democratic development.

Literature

BTI (2018): Country Report Moldova, in: https://www.bti-project.org/fileadmin/files/BTI/Downloads/Reports/2018/pdf/BTI_2018_Moldova.pdf [last accessed October 8, 2018]

Constitutional Court (2018): Press Release. The President of Moldova may only once decline PM’s proposal of Cabinet reshuffle, in: http://constcourt.md/libview.php?l=en&idc=7&id=938&t=/Media/Noutati/The-President-of-Moldova-may-only-once-decline-PMs-proposal-of-Cabinet-reshuffle/ [last accessed October 8, 2018]

Fruhstorfer, Anna. (2016). Moldova. In Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe (pp. 359-387). Springer VS, Wiesbaden.

Hirschl, Ran. (2008). The judicialization of mega-politics and the rise of political courts. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci., 11, 93-118.

Mazmanyan, Armen. (2015). Judicialization of politics: The post-Soviet way. International Journal of Constitutional Law, 13(1), 200-218.

Popșoi, Mihai. (2017). Moldovan President Igor Dodon Suspended by the Constitutional Court. https://moldovanpolitics.com/2017/10/25/moldovan-president-igor-dodon-suspended-by-the-constitutional-court/ [last accessed January 15, 2018]