Monthly Archives: November 2013

New Publications

Dae Soon Kim. The Transition to Democracy in Hungary: Arpad Göncz and the post-Communist Hungarian presidency, Routledge, 2013.

Marcus André Melo, Carlos Pereira, Making Brazil Work: Checking the President in a Multiparty System, Palgrave, 2013.

David Orentlicher, Two Presidents Are Better Than One: The Case for a Bipartisan Executive Branch, NYU Press, 2013.

Lavinia Stan, ‘Romanian Politics in 2012: Intra-Cabinet Coexistence and Political Instability’, in South-East European Journal of Political Science, vol. 1, no. 3, 2013, available at: http://bit.ly/1aEa4Gw.

Nic Cheeseman, ‘Coalitional presidentialism in Africa: A first look at Benin, Kenya, and Malawi’, available at: http://bit.ly/16EZpbb.

José Antonio Cheibub, Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg, ‘Beyond Presidentialism and Parliamentarism’, British Journal of Political Science, FirstView Article pp 1-30.

Jai Kwan Jung and Christopher J. Deering, ‘Constitutional choices: Uncertainty and institutional design in democratising nations’, International Political Science Review, 2013, doi:10.1177/0192512113503929.

Gabriel L. Negretto, Making Constitutions: Presidents, Parties, and Institutional Choice in Latin America, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Philip Abbott, Bad Presidents: Failure in the White House, Palgrave, 2013. Jim Twombly, The Progression of the American Presidency: Individuals, empire, and change, Palgrave, 2013.

Nepal – Constituent Assembly elections

On 19 November Nepal held elections for a Constituent Assembly. The Assembly is tasked with drawing up a new Constitution, but will also act as the legislature during the constituent period.

This is Nepal’s second Constituent Assembly. The first was elected in 2008. However, this assembly failed to agree a constitution by the time it was dissolved in May 2012. In the first Assembly the largest party was Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). There were two other main groups, the centre-right Nepal Congress party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist−Leninist). These two parties combined had around the same level of support as the Maoists and, together, the three parties held about two-thirds of the seats in the Assembly, the rest being split among a large number of smaller groups. There were deep divisions between the three main parties. These divisions and the fragmentation of the legislature generally meant that a new Constitution proved impossible to agree. One of the main points of contention was whether there should be a presidential, semi-presidential or parliamentary constitution. The parties seemed to have agreed on semi-presidentialism, but there was still an unresolved debate about the powers of the president, the PM and the legislature.

The results of the new Constituent Assembly have not been finalised. However, the preliminary results show a major shift of power. The Maoists have done very badly, winning only 26 of the 240 first-past-the-post constituency seats. In 2008, they won 120 of these seats. Instead, the Nepal Congress party has emerged as the largest party, winning 105 seats, while the Marxist−Leninists have won 91 seats. According to the Himalayan Times, the Congress party is leading in the PR vote too with 1,835,048 votes so far, followed by the Marxist−Leninists with 1,724,931 votes, and the Maoists with 1,072,486 votes. The relative strengths of the parties are unlikely to vary, giving Congress and the Marxist−Leninists about 400 of the 600 seats in the new Assembly with fewer than 100 for the Maoists compared with 229 in the last Assembly.

The Maoists have cried foul with claims of irregularities and vote-rigging. Their leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) had indicated that they would boycott the Assembly. However, there are some signs that they might have shifted their position.

Generally, the constitution-making process should be easier this time. Last time, the main sticking point was the issue of federalism, which was one of the Maoists main demands. However, for all parties the devil was in the detail and this is unlikely to change. So, we should not expect a final constitution for a few years yet.

Poland – President appoints new ministers following cabinet re-shuffle

After Prime Minister Tusk’s official announcement of a large-scale government reshuffle last week, most of the new members will be appointed by president Bronisław Komorowski today (others will be appointed on 3 December). The changes only relate to ministries headed by Tusk’s own ‘Civic Platform’ (PO), not to the ‘Polish Peasants’ Party’ (PSL) with whom he has been in a coalition since November 2007. The president, who is also a PO member, did not voice any concerns, although he formally possesses some influence on the dismissal and appointment of cabinet members. The changes – which are meant to get the increasingly unpopular government second wind – are as follows:

Ministry of Finance
Mateusz Szczurek (39, male, formerly head analyst at ING Poland) replaces Jacek Rostowski (62, male; finance minister since November 2007, deputy prime minister since February 2013)

Ministry of Regional Development & Ministry of Infrastructure
Both ministries are combined under the leadership of Elżbieta Bieńkowska (49, female) who was until now regional development minister. The last Minister of Infrastructure, Sławomir Nowak (39, male, minister of infrastructure since November 2011) resigned on 15 November this year. Bieńkowska was also made one of the deputy prime ministers.

Ministry of Administration and digitisation
Rafał Trzaskowski (41, male, currently Member of the European Parliament) replaces Michał Boni (59, male, non-partisan, administration minister since November 2011).

Ministry of Science and Higher Education
Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (63, female, currently Member of the European Parliament) replaces Barbara Kudrycka (63, female, science and education minister since November 2007).

Ministry of National Education
Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska (49, female, PO member since June 2011, previously member of ‘Law and Justice’ [currently in opposition] and founder of its splinter party ‘Poland First’) replaces Krystyna Szumilas (63, female, minister of education since November 2011).

Ministry of the Environment
Maciej Grabowski (54, male, under-secretary of state in the Ministry of Finance since 2008) replaces Marcin Korolec (44, male, minister of the environment since November 2011).

Ministry of Sport and Tourism
Andrzej Biernat (53, male) replaces Joanna Mucha (43, female, sports & tourism minister since November 2011).

For a full list of cabinet members, see the website of the Prime Minister’s Chancellery.

Honduras – Disputed Presidential Election Result

It is no surprise that an election, which involved the left-leaning wife, Xiomara Castro, of a former president, Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup in 2009 by pro-military conservative factions, and a candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández, from the conservative, right-leaning oligarchic party, the Partido Nacional, which oversaw the removal of Zelaya, would result in acrimony between both sides.

As of the fourth count, with over 50 per cent of all votes counted, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Honduras, the winner of the election appears to be Juan Orlando Hernández, with 34.19 per cent of the vote, well ahead of Xiomara Castro, with 28.83 per cent. In third place is Mauricio Villeda, the candidate of the Partido Liberal, Zelaya’s former party, with 20.76 per cent of the vote.

However, Xiomara Castro’s newly formed party, the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Libre) after initially claiming victory, now appears to be contesting the result, amidst allegations of electoral fraud. Zelaya, the leader of Libre, has called on party supporters to ‘defend the election in the streets.’ International observers have stated the election was free and fair.

This election has a number of important implications for Honduras. Firstly, the victory of Hernández, the candidate with strong links to the pro-military right, who has promised to do anything to rid Honduras of violence, indicates that voters in this highly unequal and indigent society are still primarily concerned with crime. This is in line with a general trend across the region where valence issues such as crime have become more important to Latin American voters than economic redistribution.[1] In the Honduran case, this is not that surprising given the country is plagued by gang violence and has the highest homicide rate in the world, with a rate of 91.6 deaths per 100,000.

Secondly, it undermines the potential political comeback of Manual Zelaya. Removed from office in 2009 by a highly conservative legislature allied with the military, as a consequence of an increasingly populist turn, his wife’s election would have signaled a groundswell of support for the return of Zelaya.  Castro, running on a populist, left-leaning platform, promised to alter the current constitution. Given that the Honduran constitution prohibits Presidents from serving a second term, it was generally believed that one of the first constitutional reforms explored under Castro would have been the abolition of term limits to enable Zelaya run in the next election.

Thirdly, this election has significant ramifications for the Honduran party system. Honduras’ party system has traditionally been extraordinarily stable, dominated by two oligarchic parties, who established top-down vertical linkages with the electorate, largely rooted in clientelism.[2] However on Sunday, Honduras also elected all 128 seats for the country’s unicameral legislature. Although results are far from final, it seems likely that the newly formed Libre party will gain roughly a third of all seats. For the first time since the return to democracy in Honduras, a left-leaning party now sits in a far more plural house.

Ironically however, this means that the task facing Hernández as the new president, will be all the more difficult given this increased number of effective parties.


[1] For example, see Holland, Alisha. 2013. “Right on Crime?  Conservative Party Politics and Mano Dura Policies in El Salvador,” Latin American Research Review 48(1): 44-68.

[2] E.g., Roberts, Kenneth. 2002. “Party-Society Linkages and Democratic Representation in Latin America.” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 27 (53); pp. 9-34.

 

Lithuania – Smear campaign against the president or pre-election tactics?

Since Lithuania took over the six-month rotating European Union presidency on 1 July, the country and particularly president Dalia Grybauskaitė’s efforts to convince her Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovch to sign an EU association agreement at the Eastern Neighbourhood Summit in Vilnius this week have frequently featured in the European press. While the president’s mission proved to be unsuccessful due to Russian blackmail on Ukraine, Russia also exerted pressure on Lithuania (e.g. by banning the import of Lithuanian dairy products) to derail the negotiations. More recently, the leak of a secret report alleging that Russia would start a smear campaign against the president has dominated the headlines. Nevertheless, commentators have questioned the fact basis of the report and it appears that president Grybauskaitė (who is seeking re-election next year) is actually benefiting from the issue.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė | photo via wikimedia commons

In late October, the Baltic News Service (BNS) reported that according to a confidential report of the Lithuanian secret service Russia was trying to obtain or falsify compromising information about president Grybauskaitė. The secret service subsequently confirmed the existence of the report and the president stated that she had been made aware of the alleged plans. Yet while the chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Defense Committee, Arturas Paulauskas, declared that reports about the possibility of covert Russian attacks were ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ and were received by government members and committee chairmen on a regular basis, the Lithuanian prosecution started a criminal investigation about the source of the leak and obtained a court order to force the BNS journalists to disclose their sources. The move was naturally criticised by journalists who subsequently received support from the main parliamentary parties and cabinet members.

Although a provocation from Russia does not seem unlikely given its record during Lithuania’s EU Council presidency, commentators have questioned whether the leaked report (which has not been made publicly available by BNS) was based on actual facts or mere speculation (the fact that the presidential office only received a hard copy of the report several days after the leak was reported suggests the latter). In any case, Grybauskaitė generally appears to be benefitting from the issue. An opinion poll released shortly after the leak of the secret service report showed that Grybauskaitė is clearly heading for re-election. While still far away from the 69% she won in the first and only round of the 2009 elections, 41.6% of respondents indicated their intention to vote for her while her strongest contenders only polled between 12 and 14%. After speculations about her past as a Communist hardliner and her pro-Soviet stance during Lithuania’s break-away from the Soviet Union in 1990/91 had characterised the last presidential campaign[1], she has managed to successfully established herself as a leading conservative politician (albeit non-partisan) and defender of Lithuanian independence. Furthermore, similar to the neighbouring Baltic Republics Latvia and Estonia, the relationship with Russia is high on the public and political agenda and anti-Russian rhetoric still has the potential to mobilise a significant part of the electorate. Irrespective of the actual content of the leaked report and its current effect on the president’s approval ratings, it is thus likely to become a key issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.


[1]  Krupavicius, Algis. 2010. ‘Lithuania’. European Journal of Political Research 49: 1058–1075, doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6765.2010.01962.x

New data set of Facebook posts

This blog is now seven weeks old. Thank you for visiting the page and for coming back!

As you may know, in addition to this blog we also run a Facebook Page where we post links to breaking news items. These Facebook posts go automatically to our Twitter account (@prespow). Do please visit and ‘like’ our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter.

Since we began on 4 October, we have posted nearly 350 news items on our Facebook Page, or around 50 per week. We have also retweeted additional news stories from our Twitter account.

Increasingly, researchers are using social media to collect data for research projects. For example, Thomas Sedelius and Olga Mashtaler recently used posts on The Semi-presidential One blog as one of their sources for identifying presidential/prime ministerial conflict in Central and Eastern Europe (‘Two decades of semi-presidentialism: issues of intra-executive conflict in Central and Eastern Europe 1991–2011’, East European Politics, DOI:10.1080/21599165.2012.748662).

In this spirit, we are making openly available the data set of our Facebook posts. The data set includes the title of the post, the date of the post, and the link to the original news story.

The data are fully searchable. So, for example, they can be searched for references to presidents in particular countries, or for references to the exercise of a particular type of presidential power. In addition, the links allow researchers to go back to the source of the Facebook post to verify the story or to research the item further.

The data set is available on request as a .csv document. This means that it can be opened in Excel, Numbers or an equivalent programme. If you wish to receive a copy of the data, then please just e-mail Robert Elgie (robert.elgie@dcu.ie).

In return, we ask two things. First, if you are on Facebook and have not already ‘liked’ our Page, then please do so. Second, and more importantly, if you use the data set in any publications or papers, then please acknowledge it in the following way: Robert Elgie, Lydia Beuman, Cristina Bucur, David Doyle, Philipp Köker, Sophia Moestrup, Paola Rivetti, and Fiona Yap, 2013-, Presidential Power Project, http://presidential-power.com.

If you have any reflections on the data or the blog generally, then please feel free to leave a comment or contact Robert Elgie directly (robert.elgie@dcu.ie).

Thank you again for visiting.

Angola – When the president governs alone

President José Eduardo dos Santos, one of the world’s longest serving leaders, has been in power since 1979. Under his leadership, the president and his party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), have successfully consolidated power. In 2010 the MPLA used its two-thirds parliamentary majority to approve a new constitution, which further concentrated power in the hands of the president.

On 21 January 2010, Angola’s parliament passed the constitution with 186 votes in the 220-seat parliament. The main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), boycotted the final vote, accusing the government of trying to destroy democracy. The new constitution was drafted by a group of parliamentarians, following advice by experts and a public consultation period, but UNITA claimed the process was flawed because the vast majority of the drafters were from the MPLA. The MPLA had won a large majority in the 2008 parliamentary elections. The final text, currently in force, was promulgated by president Dos Santos on 5 February 2010.

The 2010 constitution replaced the 1992 constitution, which defined Angola as multiparty democracy based on a semi-presidential (president-parliamentary) system. The 2010 constitution abolishes the direct election of the president and the post of prime minister. Instead the person that heads the list of the party that gains the most votes in the parliamentary proportional representation election automatically becomes president. The president is empowered to appoint a vice-president to assist with governance. Although parliament can call for the president to be removed from office such a motion must be referred to the Supreme Court, whose members – along with all other courts – are appointed by the president.

With the 2010 constitution and the de facto attempt to circumvent parliament’s ability to check and audit the executive, the president has consolidated his grip on Angola’s politics. In the 2012 parliamentary elections the MPLA won 71 per cent of the vote (down from 82 per cent in 2008) and 175 seats in the 220-seat national assembly. On 26 September 2012 President Dos Santos was formally installed as head of state.

The Angolan parliament as a law-making body is practically dormant. According to the 2013 Freedom House report, 90 per cent of all legislation originates in the executive branch. Since January 2013 the president has issued 112 presidential decrees. Moreover, the parliament’s other function, namely to control the executive branch has been further curtailed. In October this year, the Constitutional Court ruled that Law 13/12 of 2 May 2013, which allows parliament to scrutinize the executive is unconstitutional. According to the Court’s ruling, the constitution does not grant the National Assembly the power to raise questions and inquire into the acts of government, nor does it have the right to call upon the ministers, ask them questions or hold hearings.

Despite the MPLA’s electoral success, tensions are rising in Angola. Inspired by the Arab Spring, a series of non-violent youth protests have called for the president to step down. Strengthened by youth protests, war veterans have protested against the long overdue payment of pensions. Opposition parties, which were initially cautious in voicing their support for the demands of the protesters, now openly call on the president to resign.

In the heightened political atmosphere, the succession of the president, long a taboo issue, has started to be openly discussed. The president favours Manuel Vicente, former CEO of state oil company Sonangol. Following his 2012 election victory, the president appointed Vicente to vice-presidency. Yet, a handover to Vicente is unlikely to appease protesters or the opposition, and will exacerbate rifts within the MPLA.

Guinea – Supreme Court upholds results of September legislative elections

On Friday, November 15, final results were at last issued by the Supreme Court of Guinea for the September 28th legislative polls. The Court declared itself ‘incompetent’ in addressing the electoral complaints filed by both opposition and ruling majority parties and referred them to lower courts for settlement. The opposition issued a declaration expressing regret and surprise over the Court’s decision, as this same Court cancelled results in five voting districts for the 2010 presidential polls. The opposition has raised the possibility of appealing the ruling to ‘supranational jurisdictions’ such as the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the preliminary results published by the independent election commission (CENI) stand. Accordingly, President Alpha Condé’s RPG controls a relative majority while the UFDG of opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo becomes the second largest party in the 114-seat National Assembly.  The distribution of seats in the newly elected legislature is as follows:

–          RPG       53

–          UFDG    37

–          UFR        10

–          UPG       2

–          PEDN     2

–          Remaining parties (GPT, GRUP, GUD, NGR, PGRP, PNR, PTS, RDIG, UGDD and UPR) 1 seat each

The RPG has formed a coalition with a number of smaller parties (GRUP, GUD, PNR, PTS, UGDD, UPR), thereby securing 59 seats – enough to control an absolute majority in the legislature. This number could increase if the RPG succeeds in wooing smaller parties currently aligned with the opposition, for example through promises of cabinet posts.

The opposition is currently considering its options. Some neighborhoods of Conakry have seen clashes between opposition activists and police as opposition leaders have reconvened to determine their strategy following the Court’s ruling. A joint decision by the opposition parties is expected next week.

To boycott or not to boycott? With 50+ seats and its major leaders elected (Cellou Dalein Diallo, Jean Marie Doré, Kassory Fofana, Lansana Kouyaté, Bah Souleymane, Aboubacar Sylla, Jean Marc Telliano, and Sidya Touré among others) the opposition is well positioned to play an active role in the legislature. This presupposes that the logic of ‘winner-take-all’ does not prevail in the allocation of leadership positions in the National Assembly. If all major political groupings are willing and able to take part in the organization and the daily functioning of the Assembly, through adequate representation in leadership meetings and committee work, the legislature could become a forum for political dialogue and allow the development of democratic practice.

The long waiting period between the elections and the final results and the close outcome of the polls is likely to have prepared the ground for an acceptance of the final outcome. Active participation in the legislature would allow the opposition to press for electoral reform and the implementation of remaining elements of the July 3, 2013 agreement facilitated by UNSG Special Representative Said Djinnit that paved the way for the peaceful holding of the legislative polls. The opposition’s winning strategy may well be to accept the results of a flawed process (read the preliminary statement from the EU election observation mission here) in the hopes of improving conditions for the 2015 presidential race.

Chile – Presidential Election to be Decided in Run-off

On Sunday, Chile held concurrent presidential and legislative elections, producing one of the least surprising results in recent Latin American electoral history.[1] Michelle Bachelet of the Partido Socialista (PS) and Nueva Mayoría alliance, received 46.7 of the vote, just short of the 50 per cent threshold needed for outright victory and so will compete in a run-off election on December 14th with the second place candidate, Evelyn Matthei, of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI), who received 25.01 per cent.

This election signals important changes ahead in Chilean politics. Firstly, the election, occurring against the backdrop of the 40th anniversary of the military coup in Chile, which ousted Salvador Allende and installed the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, was widely considered to be the most ideologically polarized in the country since the return to democracy.

It also highlights the disorientation of the right in Chile. From the outset of the campaign, the right was in disarray and fell foul to in fighting over their choice of presidential candidate. Evelyn Matthei, a former labour minister under the current right incumbent, Sebastián Piñera, was only the third choice candidate for the right-wing alliance, Alianza por Chile. Alianza has also suffered in the legislative elections held on Sunday, winning only 48 of the 120 seats in the lower house and 7 in the senate.

However, this does not mean it will all be plain sailing for Michelle Bachelet if (and when) she wins the run-off election in December. During the campaign, Bachelet promised to change the constitution, raise corporate tax rates, and oversee significant education reform. While the Nueva Mayoría alliance won 68 seats in the lower house and 12 in the Senate (giving them 21 of 38 senate seats), this still falls far short of the 60 per cent needed to change the electoral system, or the 67 per cent supermajority needed to change the constitution. The two-third requirement for constitutional change is a legacy of the Pinochet era dictatorship, together with Chile’s rather unique binomial electoral system, which ensures that it is virtually impossible to ever win such a majority in the house.

Nonetheless, this majority should be sufficient for tax reform, and if Bachelet can meet the demands of at least one of the four newly elected independent candidates linked to the highly mobilized and militant student movement, it should also be enough for the 57 per cent majority needed to reform the education system.

This election also recorded a total turnout of 6,691,840, by far the lowest turnout in a presidential election since the return to democracy in Chile. This is particularly interesting given that this was the first Chilean election to be held without compulsory participation and penalties for not voting.

It is widely expected that Bachelet will win the run-off election on December 14th.


[1] All 120 lower house seats were up for election, and 20 of 38 senate seats.

The Philippines – Rehabilitating presidential confidence following a crisis

The mounting criticisms of President “Noynoy” Aquino’s handling of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan underscore the impact of natural disaster management on assessments of governmental performance, particularly presidential performance. Public administration and policy studies offer a wealth of lessons to governments on what to do or not do in these instances of crisis-management, and this essay will not tread the grounds so well-articulated by these experts.[1]

Instead, this essay deals with an issue integral to performance following a crisis: how does the President rehabilitate public confidence following this fallout? It is often difficult to isolate the effects of public disapproval of specific incidents: for instance, how much did Katrina affect public approval of President G. W. Bush, given the other “missteps” that followed in the heels of Katrina?[2] Nevertheless, precipitous declines in public disapproval reduce legislative support for a president’s initiatives.[3] What may the President do to rehabilitate public confidence, particularly in a democratizing country where slowed or stalled reforms are hazardous to political, social, and economic developments?

Adapting from studies of credible apologies,[4] two processes are integral to this effort: (a) review and assessment by committees comprising non-government citizens; (b) reparations to the affected. The review and assessment makes clear that the President and his administration have a commitment towards transparency, accountability, and capacity-building, and the composition of these committees by non-government personnel is directly relevant to the government’s credibility. Reparations underscore the President’s vested, empathetic response that acknowledges the impact and devastation on lives and livelihood; this ability to relate often distinguishes good leaders from the rest.

The massive humanitarian aid to this disaster emphasizes the national and international efforts that have rallied to help with the tremendous tasks of recovery and rebuilding. In the face of such work, rebuilding of public confidence may be relegated as a natural offshoot of work to be accomplished or scuttled to the sidelines for at a later date. Hopefully, it is clear that purposeful rebuilding of the country and public confidence concurrently is more effective for short- and long-term stability and success.