Monthly Archives: April 2014

Macedonia – Ruling party wins parliamentary election and presidential run-off

Another snap parliamentary election was held in Macedonia on 27 April, the third in a row since 2008. The outgoing coalition of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO–DPMNE) and the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) won more seats than in 2011. The ruling party’s candidate, incumbent Gjorge Ivanov, also won the presidential run-off comfortably, with more than 55% of the votes against Stevo Pendarovski, the candidate backed up by the opposition social democrats.

Ivanov’s victory was predictable, as he had received almost 52% of the votes in the first presidential round held on 13 April. However, a second presidential round had to be organized because fewer than 50% of the registered electorate turned out to vote. This time the turnout increased to 54.38, well above the 40% threshold required for the validation of the presidential run-off. However, this figure is still lower than the turnout for the parliamentary contest, which reached almost 63% of the electorate. The final results are the following:

  • Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO-DPMNE), 534,910 votes, 55.28%
  • Stevo Pendarovski (SDSM), 398,077 votes, 41.14%

The reason for calling early parliamentary elections was the dispute between the two coalition partners over the incumbent president’s candidacy for a second term in office. The DUI party’s calls for a common presidential candidate were turned down by VMRO-DPMNE, who decided to endorse the incumbent president’s bid for a second term in office. The DUI, however, did not regard President Ivanov as a legitimate candidate for the Albanian community. As a result, the junior coalition party filed a motion to dissolve the parliament and organise early elections concurrently with the presidential run-off. The motion was debated on 5 March in parliament and approved unanimously by the ruling parties and the opposition.

Although the DUI called an early general election in protest over their coalition partner’s choice of a presidential candidate, the party did not run their own candidate in the contest. Moreover, Albanian voters were advised to refrain from voting although an Albanian candidate nominated by the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) participated in the first round. An outspoken critic of the government, Stevo Pendarovski, the candidate supported by the opposition social-democrats, was also more likely to appeal to Albanian voters than the incumbent. Ultimately, the DUI did not leave the coalition with VMRO-DPMNE. Given their good results in the 2013 local elections, it looked like the political crisis over the presidential nomination had been staged in order to call for early general elections that advantaged both ruling parties.

The State Election Commission reported the following final results for the general election:

  • VMRO–DPMNE – 42.98%, 61 seats (+5)
  • Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) – 25.34%, 34 seats (-8)
  • Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) – 13.71%, 19 seats (+4)
  • Democratic Party of Albanians – 5.92%, 7 seats (-1)
  • Citizen Option for Macedonia (GROM) – 2.82%, 1 seat (New)
  • National Democratic Revival (NDP) – 1.59%, 1 seat (-1)

Unlike in 2011, the fortunes of the two coalition partners increased after the snap election. The VMRO–DPMNE party is now just one seat short of the absolute majority in the 123-seat parliament. The margin between the most successful Albanian parties also increased in favour of the incumbent DUI. Although a new centre-right party managed to enter the parliament, the early election weakened the opposition parties and especially the social democrats, who lost 8 seats. As a result, the outgoing coalition is expected to continue in office with VMRO–DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski as prime minister.

The difference in turnout between the two polls confirms the secondary importance of presidential elections compared to the parliamentary ones in Macedonia. Therefore, the president is likely to remain in the prime minister’s shadow. He may also become a factor of further ethnic tension, given the Albanian community’s boycott of the presidential election. As far as the future of Macedonia’s consociational arrangement is concerned, these elections raise an important question. Will the present institutional arrangements reign in the increasing nationalist rhetoric of the two governing parties, or will their increasing nationalism doom the present consociational balance?

Presidents in the Baltic states and their activism in foreign & defence policy

The crisis in Ukraine has led to a an increased focus of media attention on the Baltic states and their geopolitical position vis-a-vis Russia. Interestingly. the presidents of these states – Dalia Grybauskaite (Lithuania), Andris Bērziņš (Latvia) and Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia) – have recently taken the lead in demanding greater military protection and other guarantees for their countries. Hereby, their activism cannot be explained by their formal prerogatives in foreign policy and defence (which are not only limited but also vary between countries). Rather, the reason for their recent public engagement can be seen in a combination of factors specific to the political situation in each country.

Presidents Grybauskaite (Lithuania), Bērziņš (Latvia), and Ilves (Estonia) and NATO General Secretary Rasmussen during a visit to Camp Adazi in Latvia | photo via wikimedia commons

In line with international convention the constitutions of all Baltic States define presidents as the countries’ highest representatives in foreign relations and charge them with appointing and recalling diplomats. While these stipulations are comparatively vague, they generally do not give presidents much room for discretionary decision-making. Only the Lithuanian president is vested with the power to ‘decide on basic matters of foreign policy’ and conduct foreign policy together with the government, whereas in Latvia and Estonia this is left to the government. The Lithuanian and Latvian president are also formally Commander-in-Chief (the Estonian president is ‘Supreme Commander’ which recent constitutional changes have transformed into a purely ceremonial role) and constitutions stipulate a number of relatively vague ‘reserve rights’ in case of an armed attack on the country.

Of course, one also needs to take into account presidents’ general position in the polity. Hereby, the indirectly elected president of Estonia is the least powerful and has become a merely ceremonial head of state since the start of Ilves’ presidency. The president of Latvia is also elected by parliament yet possesses a few more prerogatives – particularly in legislation and government formation – than his Estonian counterpart. The Lithuanian presidency is generally the most powerful among the three Baltic states. This is not only due to its independent popular mandate but also because office-holders (particular incumbent Dalia Grybauskaite) have been able to extend their powers informally by interpreting ambiguous constitutional stipulations in their favour.

Nevertheless, these differences and similarities in formal prerogatives alone cannot quite explain why all three presidents are currently so active (at least publicly) with regards to foreign and defence policy. Rather, the explanation appears to lie in current political development in all countries.

Estonia only recently inaugurated a new government under the leadership of 34-year old Taavi Rõivas who yet has to find himself in the position of Prime Minister and despite taking over the leadership of his party still lacks political authority. President Ilves on the other hand previously served as an ambassador and Foreign Minister and has build up a reputation as an international expert on cyber-security, so that he can claim greater authority on the matter.

In Latvia, president Bērziņš was first publicly criticised for not returning quickly from his holiday to call and chair a meeting of the National Security Council after the crisis in Ukraine broke. However, since then he has also repeatedly voiced the need for greater military protection for Latvia and his approval ratings have improved. His actions therefore appear to be driven by public demand. This might appear counter-intuitive for an indirectly elected president, yet may actually improve his weight vis-a-vis the government whose new Prime Minister who – similar to Rõivas in Estonia – still lacks authority.

While formally vested with the most powers in foreign policy and defence, the main reason for Dalia Grybauskaite’s activism is the fact that she is currently running for re-election. After she already accused the Russian government of orchestrating a smear campaign against her earlier this year, her activism in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis could help her to once again win the elections without having to enter a run-off. Several representatives of government parties have also recently been criticised for defending Russia’s actions towards Ukraine. For Grybauskaite (who is in cohabitation with the government) this creates another opportunity to strengthen her position vis-a-vis the cabinet.

In sum, developments specific to every rather than constitutional powers can explain the fact that currently all Baltic presidents have chosen to play a more exposed role. Also, irrespective of how strongly they call for further military guarantees for their countries, they are also in the advantageous position that they do not have to ‘deliver’ – government and parliament are still the institutions that are eventually required and responsible for implementing any policy.

Presidentialism and Executive Stability in the Pacific Islands: Quick fix or long-term solution?

As outlined in my recent blog post on Marshall Islands, executive instability has become the salient feature of democratic politics in the Pacific region over the last two and a half decades. In particular, given the relative absence of institutionalised political parties, commentators regularly bemoan the side switching, party hopping or ‘grass hopping’ of expedient MPs who frequently topple governments in pursuit of personal advantage (usually control of ministerial portfolios). In most cases, this feature of politics is interpreted as a problem particular to the way Westminster has been transferred, with reformers often extolling the relative executive stability of Presidential systems when canvassing alternatives.

Of course, there is a great variety of presidential and semi-presidential systems in the Pacific some of which, like Nauru which uses the terminology but is basically Westminster in practice, has very high rates of executive turnover, just as conventional Westminster systems, like Samoa, can be the most stable. Nevertheless, here I consider some of the pros and cons associated with adopting the ‘purer’ forms of presidentialism, as modelled in the former United States Trust Territories of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).

Palau is the only Pacific Island nation to have a directly elected president. Kiribati also holds direct presidential elections but the candidates are first chosen by MPs from amongst their membership and once elected the president remains a member of the legislature. In FSM, the president is also elected by MPs but once sworn in their seat is declared vacant and so they govern as per a conventional separation of powers. Presidents of Palau and FSM are also free to appoint ministers from outside of parliament, which means they and their cabinets enjoy greater autonomy relative to their Westminster counterparts.

It is this relative autonomy from parliament, advocates claim, which is the main virtue of a presidential system in a Pacific context, as, despite the absence of institutionalised political parties, the executive remains immune from shifting allegiances on the floor of the house. At least, that is the theory. In practice, presidents require parliamentary approval for legislation, budgets, appointments and so forth and so leaders in Palau and FSM still find themselves routinely frustrated once in office as ‘ambition’ is made to ‘counteract ambition’. Presidents of FSM in particular can be severly hamstrung by the strength of state influence in the legislature. By way of contrast, in Samoa, where the ruling party has been in power for more than 30 years, Westminster provides the Prime Minister of the day both a stable cabinet and control of the legislative agenda. However, given that this is the Pacific exception rather than the rule, some commentators consider that it is better to trade the unstable status quo for frustration once in office.

There are several other features of presidential systems, including issues relating to national unity, accountability, and cabinet expertise, that I could canvass here[i] but the important point to note is that arguments for and against institutional design in the Pacific tend to hinge on the specific goal reformers seek to pursue. Executive instability in the Pacific is said to breed corruption as MPs give and take bribes in a bid to secure coalition numbers. Conversely, we know from experience that the longer governments stay in power the more likely they are to fall foul of corrupt practices. As such, despite the weight of arguments on both sides, it remains unclear if presidentialism offers Pacific nations a quick fix or a long-term solution to the myriad of governance challenges they face in the 21st century.

[i] For a more comprehensive survey see Henderson, J (2006) ‘Would a presidential system be better for Melanesia?’ Pacific Studies no. 1: 50-66.

Tanzania’s constitutional review in limbo

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete used his 2011 New Year’s address to announce a long-awaited constitutional review, the first since Tanzania became a one-party state in 1977. Three years on, the process is now on the brink of collapse, mired in partisan gridlock and controversy over the status of the union between mainland Tanganyika the island of Zanzibar.

Current troubles aside, the constitutional review got off to an auspicious start. Shortly after the New Year’s announcement, Parliament passed the government Constitution Review Bill, and in April 2012, Kikwete won praise for his choice of appointees to the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), the body tasked with drafting the new constitution. In June 2013, the Vice President unveiled a first draft, which was then reviewed by the constitutional councils of each district. In December, the CRC presented a second draft constitution, now subject to approval by a Constituent Assembly (CA) before being put to a popular referendum.

There is plenty to commend in the second draft constitution. It offers stronger protections for human rights, and notably women’s rights. It also incorporates a number of articles aimed at diminishing the power of Tanzania’s “imperial” president and ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). These include measures requiring parliamentary approval of presidential nominations, restricting recent party leaders from becoming House Speaker, and removing the ban on independent presidential and parliamentary candidates in general elections. These proposed changes accord with past recommendations by reform-oriented MPs, keen to transform parliament into an institution “with teeth.”

Such positive elements are lost, though, in the political storm that is now raging over the status of the union. This controversy dates back to 1964 when Tanganyika and Zanzibar, two former British colonies, joined to become the United Republic of Tanzania. The result was a two-government structure. The government of Tanganyika merged with the Union government while Zanzibar retained its own administration. The second draft constitution proposes to replace this two-tier system with a three-government structure, restoring the Tanganyikan government and replacing the Union government with a less powerful Federal administration.

Justice Warioba, chairperson of the CRC, defended the proposed three-government structure, arguing that it is in line with popular opinion and would address concerns over equal representation and resource allocation. CCM has long opposed this remedy, which would likely diminish its power. President Kikwete nevertheless responded to Warioba with a call for partisan unity. “The [CA] is the prime stage towards getting a new constitution,” he affirmed, adding, “The entire group should represent people and not particular interests.”

CCM and President Kikwete did not hold this line for long. Concern over undue party influence exploded shortly after the CA convened to adopt its Standing Orders in February 2014. Members fiercely debated whether to allow closed voting, which advocates argued is essential to the assembly’s independence. President Kikwete exacerbated these initial tensions with his inaugural speech before the CA, which he used to convey a partisan message in favour of a two-government structure.

That was in March. The situation has since deteriorated further. Opposition members have denounced the CA Chair for allowing CCM to dominate committees; mudslinging and vitriol continue to disrupt debate; and in the latest move, the opposition coalition, Ukawa, resolved to boycott the assembly pending reconciliation over the union issue.

With partisan clashes unlikely to abate, the current constitutional review process is beginning to align with a history of CCM-led, top-down reform. The opposition parties might have played their cards better, but the overriding impression is one of CCM dominance and presidential meddling. This situation casts doubt on the basic motivations behind the President’s New Year’s announcement back in 2011. Kikwete’s then newfound enthusiasm for constitutional reform came at a time when the CCM government was working hard to burnish its democratic credentials. The effort was richly rewarded with a state visit from Obama in 2013, during which he praised Tanzania for its commitment to good governance. Critical observers were quick to counter with examples of deteriorating press freedoms and human rights abuses. The criticism didn’t stick, though, and with Kikwete touting its progress before foreign dignitaries, the constitutional review was another score in the government’s favour. The review process is itself now tainted with abuse and threats, however. Partisan controversy aside, members of the disbanded CRC are reportedly being harassed by state security forces while Chairperson Warioba is under constant surveillance.

What started out as a promising reform effort has reached an impasse. The new constitution’s enactment was initially scheduled for April 16 2014, the 50 year anniversary of the Union. The jubilee date will nevertheless be imbued with a different kind of symbolism. Divided and fraught, the CA is set to adjourn on April 25 until August, leaving a question mark hanging over Tanzania’s half-century old Union.

 

New publications

Vít Hloušek, et al., Presidents above Parties? Presidents in Central and Eastern Europe, their Formal Competencies and Informal Power, International Institute of Political Science, ISBN: 978-80-210-6687-8, 2013.

Zenonas Norkus, ‘Parliamentarism Versus Semi-Presidentialism in The Baltic States: The Causes and Consequences Of Differences in The Constitutional Frameworks’, Baltic Journal of Political Science. December 2013, No 2, pp. 7-28.

Special issue of Revue internationale de politique compare, Pouvoirs présidentiels, gouvernance et milieux d’affaires dans les États post-soviétiques et africains, Vol. 20, 2013/3.

Timothy J. Colton and Henry E. Hale, ‘Putin’s Uneasy Return and Hybrid Regime Stability: The 2012 Russian Election Studies Survey’, Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 61, no. 2, March–April 2014, pp. 3–22.

Natalia Moen-Larsen, ‘Dear Mr President’. The blogosphere as arena for communication between people and power’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies 47 (2014) 27–37.

Ismail Aydıngun and Aysegul Aydıngun, ‘Nation-State Building in Kyrgyzstan and Transition to the Parliamentary System’, Parliamentary Affairs (2014) 67, 391–414.

Elizabeth A. Stein and Marisa Kellam ‘Programming Presidential Agendas: Partisan and Media Environments That Lead Presidents to Fight Crime and Corruption’, Political Communication, Volume 31, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 25-52.

Jan Kudrna, ‘The Question Of Conducting Direct Elections Of The President In The Czech Republic (A Live Issue for Already 20 Years)’, Jurisprudencija, Jurisprudence, 2011, 18(4), pp. 1295–1321.

Yujen Chou, ‘Constitutional Implication of the 2012 Elections in Taiwan’, International Journal of China Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 71-87.

Dirk Kotzé, ‘The Government of National Unity as a Transitional Power- Sharing Institution in Madagascar’, Southern African Peace and Security Studies 2 (1), 9-22.

Muhammad Rizwan, Muhammad Arshad, Muhammad Waqar, ‘Revitalization of Parliamentary Democracy in Pakistan under 18th Amendment’, IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 19, Issue 2, Ver. II (Feb. 2014), pp. 149-156.

Claire Wright, ‘Executives and emergencies: presidential decrees of exception in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru’, available at: http://dspace.uah.es/dspace/handle/10017/19987

Algeria – Resisting the Arab Spring: the re-election of Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Whilst the wind of the Arab Spring is still blowing against the “presidency-for-life trend” that has characterized the Middle East for decades[1], the Algerian regime is resisting. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 77 year-old President of Algeria, in power since 1999, was re-elected on the 18th of April for a fourth-term and with 81.5 % of the popular vote. Such a staggering voting share does not, of course, reflect real popular support, given the documented history of rigged elections in the country. Besides, in 2008 Bouteflika amended Article 74 of the Constitution allowing the Presidents to be elected for more than two terms. Obviously, he was bent on securing the perpetuation of his power. Once he successfully faced the pressure from the Arab Spring without major challenges, his re-election was certain, although this time he won with 4,579,107 fewer votes than in 2009, which represents the lowest level of support in his long political career.

There are two key reasons that help explain Bouteflika’s stability in the face of the Arab Spring and as a consequence his stay in power. First, the long and bloody Civil War between the Military and the Islamists – the “dark decade” of the 1990s [2] – which resulted in more than 100,000 casualties, had lead to widespread disillusionment among Algerians about the feasibility of regime change. Second, in a pre-emptive move to avoid massive protests, in 2011 Bouteflika took unprecedented measures to appease or discourage Algerians from raising their voice against the regime. He spent some $ 10 billion in subsidies (public housing, loans, salary increases, parks, etc.), and rewarded the brutal security apparatus upon which the “deep state”[3] depends.

Despite all the disillusionment about the 2014 election, the road to Bouteflika’s presidency-for-life-consecration was not smooth. In recent years, an urban middle-class movement, Barakat! (‘Enough’!), has emerged, and has started a media campaign, styled in the Arab Spring social networks’ fashion, against the raìs. A few weeks before the election, clashes between anti-Bouteflika rails and the Police blew up in Algiers and in other parts of the country. In addition, with an unemployment rate of 30%, there is growing discontent about the regime, especially among rural and young population who are increasingly sympathetic towards the Islamist opposition.

After Bouteflika’s election, on 22 April 2014 a coalition of 13 political parties, “Forces for Change”, contested the election results and declared that they would not accept any political activity that offends what they call “popular legitimacy”. Nonetheless, such attempts by the democratic opposition seem unlikely to truly challenge the deep-rooted strength of the Algerian “deep state”. Yet, the rising level of violence in the country poses a serious challenge to the regime. The 20 April ambush in the Eastern Mountains of Algeria, which killed 14 soldiers involved in securing the polling stations for the presidential elections, is only a first sign of this growing threat. The secular authoritarian apparatus, which has dominated Algeria since 1991, must now confront the resurgence of Islamism across the region. Indeed, if the power of the democratic forces that emerged in the wake of the Arab Spring, has been limited if not neutralized, this is certainly not the case for Islamist terror groups which also flowed from the derailment of the Arab Spring, as their current role in Syria and Libya may testify.

[1] Roger Owen, The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life, Harvard, University Press, Harvard, 2012.

[2] Following the 1991 elections cancelled by a military coup which prevented the Islamic Salvation Front to come to power.

[3] The expression “Deep State” connotes the most influential political-military elite of State power.

Benin – Democracy battered

Not all is well in Benin. The country is rapidly losing its status as an exemplary democracy in West Africa. Socio-economic turmoil, increasing corruption and mounting opposition to the president’s suspected desires for a third term have rocked an otherwise stable nascent democracy.

Recently, a nearly four-month general strike threatened the school year. Four of six unions involved lifted their participation in the strike on April 15, following partial satisfaction of their demands, but maintain their call for the departure of the prefect and the police chief of Cotonou. The two officials are seen as responsible for the violent repression of a December 27, 2013 march demanding better governance and the respect of democratic freedoms.

Since Yayi took power in 2006, the country has been hit by a series of economic scandals, including its own “Madoff” pyramid investment scheme that defrauded Beninese citizens of 150 million Euro. At the end of December 2013, the United States removed Benin from the list of countries eligible for funding from the Millennium Challenge Account, citing increasing levels of corruption.

According to Freedom House, the media has suffered since Yayi’s election, as legal and regulatory structures have been used to restrict media freedom. For example, the director of a private television station was charged with criminal defamation in September 2012 for authorizing the broadcast of comments considered defamatory toward the president. In 2008, the country’s freedom of the press status was degraded from ‘free’ to ‘partly free.’

Reelected in 2011, Boni Yayi has surrounded himself with family members and members of the Pentecostal church of which he is a fervent devotee.  Three of his children serve in the presidency, and his wife’s older brother is Minister of Development, while the Ministers of Justice, of Labor and of the Environment are members of evangelist churches. Family members are not necessarily above all suspicion, as demonstrated by the bizarre alleged attempt by the president’s niece, his family doctor and a former financial sponsor to poison Yayi, in 2012. The niece, the family doctor and the head of the presidential security guard are all in prison, while the business man and former presidential financier, Patrice Talon, has taken refuge in France.

As he approaches the end of his second term in April 2016, his opponents suspect President Yayi of wanting to change the constitution to stay on for another term. A constitutional revision introduced by the government in June 2013, though not touching the two-term presidential term limit, was seen as intended to reset the term clock, by initiating a new republic and thus allowing the president to run for office again under the new constitution. In September 2013, the law committee of the National Assembly (which includes members of Yayi’s party) declared the proposed revisions inadmissible, with reference to procedural irregularities. The bipartisan rejection of the amended constitution is an indication of Yayi’s eroding political support.

Benin has thus far remained on the democratic path since its February 1990 ‘national conference’ which transitioned the country to multi-party democracy and initiated a wave of such conferences in Francophone Africa, modeled on the French États Généraux held in 1789 on the eve of the French revolution. Hopefully, Benin will again set the example by resisting pressure for doing away with presidential term limits, at a time when countries such as Burkina Faso, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) seem to be headed down that path.

Guinea-Bissau – Presidential and Parliamentary elections

In Guinea-Bissau presidential and parliamentary elections were held on 13 April. It has been almost two years since the country last tried to hold elections.  In April 2012, a military coup disrupted the presidential election as it headed to a run-off. Several logistical problems and delays caused the elections to be repeatedly postponed, having initially been scheduled for 24 November 2013 and then 16 March 2014.

This time, no major incidents or problems or incidents were reported and observers certified the presidential and parliamentary elections as ‘peaceful, free, fair and transparent’. The turnout was nearly 90 per cent.

The president is elected by absolute majority vote through a two-round system to serve a five-year term. The 102 members of parliament are elected from 27 multi-member constituencies to serve four-year terms.

Here are the results of the presidential elections:

Candidate Party[1] Votes %
José Mário Vaz PAIGC 252,269 40.98
Nuno Nabiam Independent 154,784 25.14
Paulo Gomes Independent 60,783 9.87
Abel Incada PRS 43,293 7.03
Iaia Djaló PND 28,068 4.56
Ibraima Sori Djaló PRN 19,209 3.12
Afonso Té PRID 18,398 2.99
Hélder Vaz RGB 8,516 1.38
Domingos Quadé Independent 8,432 1.37
Aregado Mantenque PT 7,105 1.15
Luís Nancassa Independent 6,815 1.11
Jorge Malú Independent 5,946 0.97
Cirilo Oliveira PS-GB 2,036 0.33
Total 615,654 100.00

Source: CNE: http://www.cne-guinebissau.org/resultados.php

The second round of the presidential election is scheduled for 18 May. José Mário Vaz (alias “Jomav”) was finance minister from the PAIGC party until the 2012 coup. He also served as the mayor of the capital, Bissau. Nuno Nabiam is a military-backed[2] bureaucrat who had the support of the late President Kumba Iala. Nabiam broke off from the country’s second largest party, the PRS, to run as an independent candidate. Most members of the armed forces come from the Balanta ethnic group, which makes up about one third of the population. Traditionally, they vote for the PRS.

In the parliamentary election the PAIGC won 55 seats and secured an absolute majority in the 102-member unicameral National Assembly. The second largest party, PRS, won 41 seats, the PCD 2 seats, the PND 1 seat and the UM 1 seat. The PAIGC majority in parliament means the leader of that party’s parliamentary list, Domingos Simões Pereira, will become the next prime minister. Yet, according to the constitution of Guinea-Bissau, it is the president who appoints the prime minister.

Civil vs. military control

The prospect of Vaz being elected president mirrors the 2012 situation where the PAIGC was about to control the presidency and legislature. At the time, the military staged a coup against the PAIGC’s presidential candidate, Carlos Gomes Jr., and appointed a transitional president. Vaz’s political survival will largely depend on his relationship with Guinea-Bissau’s over-powerful military establishment. In the event that the military-backed candidate, Nabiam, wins the presidential elections and the government undertakes steps to reform Guinea-Bissau’s security sector, the president may decide to dismiss the prime minister. Overall, it is unlikely that the military will lose control over civilian authority.

[1] PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde); PRS (Party for Social Renewal); PND (New Democracy Party); PRN (National Reconciliation Party); PRID (Republican Party for Independence and Development); RGB (Guinea-Bissau Resistance); PT (Workers’ Party); PS-GB (Socialist Party of Guinea-Bissau).

[2] Nabiam is close to General António Indjai who is seen by many as the real leader of Guinea-Bissau.

Lebanon’s conundrum: Presidential elections in regional turmoil

The Lebanese Parliament’s Speaker, Nabil Berry, seemed to put an end to the arduous debate about the feasibility of the forthcoming presidential elections when he called for a parliamentary commission to elect the new president on 23 April. Yet it is hard to tell whether this surprising move reflects some emerging agreement about the next president or whether it simply serves as an anchor in turbulent waters. What is nevertheless certain is that next person to occupy the Ba’bda Palace will send a crucial signal about the future (in)stability of the country. Moreover, in the best tradition of Lebanese “permeability”, the next president will be the result of domestic, regional and international negotiations, which represent in and of themselves the biggest obstacle for the integrity of the presidential race. Whilst the effects of the Syrian war are increasingly felt in the overall security and policy-making of the country, the worst possible outcome would be to see multiple internal and external veto points resulting in the postponement of the elections.

As sanctioned in the Lebanese constitution, the future President must be a Christian Maronite from among political figures of the likes of Samir Geagea, Michel Aoun, Amin Gemayel, Suleiman Frangieh, Jean Obeid, Riad Salameh, Boutros Harb, Robert Ghanem, or the Army Chief, Jean Kahwaji. This makes the Maronite Patriarch Bishara Rai one of the most influential figures over the successful candidate. Rai is in discussion with the Vatican, and is likely to give his ‘blessing’ to a man who will not disappoint Damascus. The Patriarch is in fact a major source of legitimacy for Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.

So far, Samir Geagea, the Head of the Lebanese Forces, is the only one to have announced his candidacy for the presidential race. He is a strong ally of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri – the exiled leader of the 14 March bloc in Paris last month – and is not exactly what one would call a unifying figure. He spent 11 years in prison after he was found guilty of ordering four political assassinations. Parliament granted him an amnesty in 2005, after the withdrawal of Syrian military occupation. His recent criticism of Hezbollah makes it difficult for him to be a consensus candidate.

The name of General Michel Aoun, a pillar of the 8 March coalition, has also been widely discussed. He is an ally of Hezbollah, although he has criticised the latter’s role in the war in Syria. He met with Saad Hariri, something that allegedly led to the formation of the Salam Government, after 10 months of political void. His rapprochement to Hariri was meant to pave the way for his candidacy. However, Aoun is widely criticized by many of the 14 March-affiliated, specially the Christians. It is however noteworthy that none of the regional players that are heavily involved in the presidential race through the backdoor – Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria – seem to be working against Aoun’s candidacy.

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Nasrallah has called on the Parliament to elect a “made-in-Lebanon President”, which is an unusual expectation given Lebanon’s political history and is quite unlikely to happen in the next elections. Iran and Syria will surely opt for a candidate that will not prevent Hezbollah from continuing its support for the Syrian Army in the war against the rebels. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, which supports the military opposition in Syria and the Sunni-dominated bloc ’14 March’ in Lebanon, is not likely to give its approval, unless Ryad gains some concessions in return. In the meantime, Paris and Washington are also struggling to preserve the country’s fragile stability in light of the on-going Syrian conflict and the fear of radical Islamist groups spreading in the whole Levant, including in Lebanon.

However, the worst scenarios would be either the extension of Michel Suleiman’s mandate – a president who has openly taken part against the 8 March, thus forgoing his above-party commitment to the State and the political system – or the lack of an agreement on the future man in the Baabda Palace. This would mark the beginning of a new wave of violence in a country that barely succeeds in maintaining stability in face of regional turmoil.

Macedonia – First round of presidential elections

Macedonia held a presidential election on 13 April. Apart from the incumbent, Gjorge Ivanov, three other candidates from the opposition parties contested the election. The State Election Commission reports a turnout of 48.84% and the following final results:

  • Gjorge Ivanov, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), 449,068 votes, 51.67%
  • Stevo Pendarovski, Social Democratic Party (SDSM), 326,133 votes, 37.52 %
  • Ilijaz Halimi, Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), 38,966 votes, 4.48%
  • Zoran Popovski, Civil Option for Macedonia (GROM), 31,366 votes, 3.61%

Although the incumbent president won an absolute majority of the votes cast, a run-off will be organized on 27 April. According to article 81 of the 1991 constitution, a candidate needs the support of a majority of the eligible voters in order to win the contest. Therefore, a second presidential round is needed this time because fewer than 50% of the registered electorate turned out to vote. However, the participation threshold required for the validity of the second presidential round was reduced to 40% by a constitutional amendment passed in 2008.

Three factors may explain the low electoral turnout. First, election reports have indicated that the Albanian minority, which makes up about 25% of Macedonia’s population, did not turn out to vote. The boycott was recommended by the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), the junior party in the ruling coalition led by the right-wing populist VMRO-DPMNE party. DUI opposed VMRO-DPMNE party’s decision to endorse President Ivanov for a second presidential mandate and demanded that a more “consensual” candidacy, acceptable to both Albanian and Macedonian voters, be put forward. The disagreement between the two coalition partners over a common presidential candidate sparked a political crisis that resulted in the calling of an early general election. The snap parliamentary election will coincide with the presidential run-off on 27 April.

Second, according to the OSCE/ODIHR mission to Skopje, the electoral campaign lacked a proper level of political analysis and independent reporting. Due to the ruling party’s direct control over the media, the incumbent president enjoyed a significant advantage in resources and paid advertising in comparison to the opposition candidates. The heavy involvement of the VMRO-DPMNE party in the presidential campaign prevented the emergence of a real political debate.

Third, the Macedonian presidency is seen as a largely ceremonial office. However, the president is granted several important powers. For example, he has the right to request the assembly to re-examine any bill once before signing it into law (art. 70) and he can also address the parliament on issues within his competency at least once a year (art. 85).  However, President Ivanov has never used his power to challenge controversial laws and his political speeches have always echoed the positions taken by the prime minister. His role in international affairs has also been limited, although the constitution grants him significant powers in this area. For example, the head of state is the commander of the armed forces (art. 79), presides over the country’s Security Council and appoints three members of this body (art. 86). Overall, Gjorge Ivanov has been characterised as a president in the prime minister’s shadow.

Gjorge Ivanov’s profile contrasts with that of his challenger in the run-off, Stevo Pendarovski. Although a newcomer in the Social Democratic Party, the main opposition party, Pendarovski has extensive political experience, having served as a key advisor under two former presidents. An outspoken critic of the incumbent government, Pendarovski has vowed to restore the importance of the presidential office and to bring Macedonia closer to the EU and NATO.

President Ivanov looks set to win the run-off. His chances are boosted by the advantage that the VMRO-DPMNE party has in the general election as well as by the abstention of the Albanian community. Moreover, the coincidence of parliamentary and presidential elections on 27 April minimizes the risk that the election is invalidated due to low electoral turnout.