Monthly Archives: May 2014

Niger – Stalemate in the National Assembly

The National Assembly in Niger is gripped by stalemate. The National Assembly speaker Hama Amadou (from the opposition party Lumana) and the legislative majority (supporting President Mamadou Issoufou of the PNDS) have requested that the Constitutional Court step in and resolve a number of procedural issues currently blocking the election of a new legislative bureau. In the meantime, legislative business has been at a standstill for the past several weeks.

What is the issue? Hama Amadou, leader of the Lumana party and a former ally of Issoufou, was elected to the chairmanship of the National Assembly as a result of inter-party agreements in the lead-up to the second round presidential poll in March 2011. However, when Issoufou proceeded to a cabinet reshuffle in August of last year, inviting members of the opposition party MNSD to join the government, Hama claimed he had not been properly consulted and withdrew his party from the ruling coalition (see earlier posting on that development here). Hama retained his position as speaker, however. The MNSD members who accepted to join the government were meanwhile disavowed by their party.

Tensions have mounted within in the legislature over the past several months, as members of the MNSD crossed the aisle to join the PNDS and its allies, with the opposition accusing the government of buying their allegiance. In total, 12 opposition members of parliament (MPs) joined the 58 MPs from the majority to give Prime Minister Brigi Rafini a comfortable majority confidence vote (70 out of 113 seats) in November, 2013. Though more MPs have since crossed over, the majority is still short of the 2/3 legislative majority (76 seats) required by the Nigerien constitution to unseat a sitting speaker. So Hama has stayed on.

Disagreements around the renewal of the National Assembly bureau which should have been finalized in April have now brought legislative business to a halt. While the speaker is elected for the full five-year legislative term, the other members of the bureau have to be renewed every year. The dissenting MNSD MPs have aligned with the majority MPs to deny the MNSD-candidate put forward by his party sufficient votes to be elected to the 2nd vice-president slot. The MNSD dissidents claimed they were not consulted. Similarly, the Lumana-candidate for the 3rd vice-presidency failed to get elected.

Hama Amadou has set up a working group composed of five MPs from the majority, five from the opposition, and five from the “dissidents,” to see if a consensual solution could be found to the nomination of candidates for the two positions on the bureau still left vacant. However, the working group appears to have hit an impasse. Meanwhile, the majority MPs have asked the Constitutional Court to remove Hama from the speaker position for failing to respect the legislative rules of procedure and the constitution.

The situation has come to a head this week, with opposition MPs requesting that the Constitutional Court impeach President Issoufou for failing to fulfill his mandate. Among other complaints, the MPs accuse Issoufou of having orchestrated the legislative stalemate by seeking to influence the choice of opposition MPs to be represented in the National Assembly bureau.

Clearly, the ‘cohabitation’ within the National Assembly between an opposition speaker and the majority MPs is not working well. Will Issoufou decide to dissolve the legislature, as a way out of the impasse? He may fear a similar outcome to what former President Mahamane Ousmane experienced in 1995, where fresh legislative elections failed to produce the desired legislative majority and forced a period of cohabitation on him. That highly conflictual cohabitation was a direct contribution to the January 1996 military coup.

How competitive are indirect presidential elections in Europe? Part 1

In a recent article, I presented figures for the competitiveness of direct presidential elections in democracies around the world.[1] In a contribution to a new volume, I report figures for the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in Europe.[2] The editor of the volume, Professor José M. Magone, has allowed me to build on the information in a couple of Tables in the book prior to publication. I am very grateful to him.

One of the tropes about indirect presidential elections is that they are so competitive it can be difficult even to elect a president. In Moldova in 2009-2010 this was certainly the case. There was an unsuccessful attempt to elect the president in May-June 2009, precipitating a parliamentary election, followed by another unsuccessful attempt in November-December 2009. This led to a referendum in September 2010 on the introduction of the direct election of the president. This reform failed and new parliamentary elections were held in October 2010, after which an interim president served in office until a president was finally elected in 2012. In Slovakia in 1998 the failure to agree on a president after five rounds of balloting and 10 votes led, like in Moldova, to the appointment of an interim president and a referendum in 1999 on the direct election of the president. Here, though, the referendum was successful. Equally, even though a president was elected by parliament in the Czech Republic in 2008, the difficulties associated with the election were such that they also precipitated the introduction of direct presidential elections there too. So, there is something to the idea that indirect presidential elections can be so competitive that they can be problematic and even destabilising, particularly when party discipline is strong, parliament is divided, and/or a super-majority requirement is needed.

Generally, we can think of the competitiveness of indirectly electing a president both in terms of the number of ballots and the time taken to elect the president. The more ballots and the more time, the more competitive.

In relation to the former, we see from the Tables below that it has taken a considerable number of ballots to elect some presidents in certain countries. Indeed, presidential elections in Italy strongly conform to the stereotype that indirect elections can be difficult and highly competitive affairs. The 1953 French presidential election, which took 13 ballots to complete, was also instrumental in creating this stereotype at least amongst a certain generation of academics. That said, in every European country in the timeframe indicated, including Italy on two occasions, a president has been elected at least once on the first ballot. Overall, with the exception of Italy, the mean number of ballots across the set of countries currently using indirect elections is not hugely greater than the standard two-round system that is used for most direct presidential elections in Europe.

Country Year of first (last) election No. of elections Average no. of ballots Highest no. of ballots Lowest no. of ballots
Albania 2002 3 3 4 1
Estonia 1992 5 3.4 5 1
Germany 1949 15 1.9 4 1
Greece 1975 8 2.3 5 1
Hungary 1990 (info. only from 2000 inc.) 3 1.7 3 1
Italy 1948 11 9.5 23 1
Kosovo 2011 2 2 3 1
Latvia 1993 6 2.3 6 1
Moldova 2001   (all figures exclude 2009) 3 1.67 3 1

I have no systematic details for Malta

Here are figures for three countries that no longer directly elect their president.

Country Year of first (last) election No. of elections Average no. of ballots Highest no. of ballots Lowest no. of ballots
Czech Rep. 1993 (2008) 4 4.5 9 1
France 1947 (1958) 3 5 13 1
Slovakia 1993 (1998) 2 6.5 10 3

In terms of time, the process can certainly be longer than direct presidential elections. In these latter elections, there is usually a two-week gap between the first and the second ballot. However, even leaving aside the Moldova example discussed above, in the Czech Republic in 2003 it took six weeks for parliament to elect the president. In Greece in 1990 the process of electing a president began on 19 February and ended on 4 May with a parliamentary election in between caused by the failure to agree a president. In general, though, indirect presidential elections do not always go on and on. For example, in Italy, even though it took 23 ballots to elect President Leone in 1971, the whole process took 15 days, pretty much the same amount of time between the two rounds of a typical direct presidential election. I don’t have systematic information, but my sense is that the average time taken to indirectly elect a president, i.e. from the first ballot to the successful election, is probably a little shorter than the standard two week period required by a two-round direct presidential election.

In a post next week, I look at the level of competition in terms of the candidates at the presidential election.

[1] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.[1] Robert Elgie, ‘The President of Ireland in comparative perspective’, in Irish Political Studies, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 502-521, December 2012. A slightly revised version was also published in John Coakley and Kevin Rafter (eds.), The Irish Presidency: Power, Ceremony and Politics, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2013, pp. 17-39.Next week, I will look at competitiveness in terms of candidates.

[2] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.

Romania – Can an incumbent president campaign in favour of a political party?

This is a matter that Romania’s Constitutional Court was asked to clarify ahead of the European Parliament election that will take place on May 24-25. The Court’s verdict is expected on May 21, just a few days ahead of the poll.

The stakes in Romania’s European Parliament election are raised by the proximity of the next presidential election scheduled for November. President Băsescu is nearing the completion of his second term in office and is not allowed to stand for another one. As a result, the campaign is dominated by national politics. In this context, PM Ponta of the Social Democrats (PSD) has asked the Court to determine whether President Băsescu’s role in actively promoting the newly established centre-right Popular Movement Party (PMP) is legal. If the Court found his behaviour unconstitutional and the president continued to campaign for the PMP, then the ruling Social-Democrats would be ready to initiate a new suspension procedure.

The president is accused of breaching article 80 of the Constitution, which requires the head of state to act as a mediator between political actors, and article 84, according to which he cannot join a political party while in office. According to the prime minister, President Băsescu has infringed the constitution by declaring his explicit intention to vote for the PMP in the European election in numerous occasions, including a press conference organized at his official residence. Moreover, a few photos of him wearing a t-shirt with the inscription “Vote for PMP” were posted on Facebook.

The PMP is a new political party formed after President Băsescu broke with the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) in March 2013. The rift between the head of state and his former party widened considerably during 2012. The president backed up unconditionally the austerity measures introduced by Emil Boc, the former PDL leader and prime minister between 2008 and 2012. As a result, he was unhappy to see PM Boc’s government ousted by a no-confidence motion in February 2012. He was even more displeased to see Emil Boc constrained to resign as PDL leader after the party polled a record low of 14% in the 2012 local elections.

After PDL’s crushing defeat in the 2012 general election, Băsescu urged the party to elect a new leader capable of winning the 2016 general election. In the internal contest organized in March 2013 he supported Elena Udrea, a minister of tourism in the PDL government (2008-2012) and one of his loyal supporters. Following Udrea’s defeat, President Băsescu broke definitively with the PDL and vowed to create a new right-wing political movement.

The PMP registered as a political party in January 2014. It has attracted the head of state’s supporters in the PDL, such as Elena Udrea and Emil Boc, and has a 16-member parliamentary group. The new party is also closing the gap on PDL in opinion polls and is expected to obtain around 10% of the vote for the European Parliament, only 1% less than the PDL. The difference between the two parties has decreased significantly since the president has explicitly stated his support for the new political grouping in early 2014 and started to attend its public events. Thus, the strategy used for the identification of the new presidential party seems to be working.

The European Parliament election will be hard-fought in Romania as political parties see it as a last chance to measure their popularity ahead of the November race, which will be a key issue in the formation of new political alliances and the designation of presidential candidates.

The ruling PSD is expected to obtain half of Romania’s 32 seats in the European Parliament. According to recent polls, its approval rating increased to almost 41% after the National Liberals (PNL) broke the Social-Liberal Union (USL) and left the government in February. The social democrats are expected to stand their own candidate in the presidential election, which is the main reason why the liberals left the ruling coalition.

The outcome of the European elections is not so easy to predict as far as the parties on the right are concerned. Crin Antonescu, the PNL leader, vowed to resign if his party polls less than 20% of the vote. This is a likely scenario, considering that PNL’s current approval ratings do not raise above 17%.

Alongside the PDL and the PMP, the Hungarian minority party (UDMR) and the Civic Force party led by former prime minister and aspiring presidential candidate Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu are also likely to pass the 5% electoral threshold.

Political commentators believe that centre-right parties can compete with a good chance in the next presidential election only if they agree on a common presidential candidate instead of fielding their own contenders. President Băsescu, who intends to return to active party politics when his second term ends, is also a staunch supporter of the right’s reunification. His ability to influence the formation of a new political alliances and the designation of a common candidate of the right could depend on how well the PMP does in the European election. Therefore, he has good reasons to continue playing an active role in the current electoral campaign.

Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan – Presidents Rahmon and Atambaev meet to resolve border tensions

Tajik border guards block the de facto entrance to the Tajik exclave of Vorukh.

Last Thursday, the Tajik president, Emomalii Rahmon, and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Almazbek Atambayev, met in Moscow on the sidelines of the informal meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to discuss the violent incident that had taken place at the border between the two countries the day before, injuring some 30 people. As reported by RFE/RL, on 7th May the 2,500 inhabitants of two villages, Kok Tash in Kyrgyzstan and Vorukh in the Tajikistan enclave, started throwing stones at each other. The incident escalated, several people were injured, and a store in the village of Zhaka-Oruk, some 30 kilometers from Kok-Tash, was set on fire. The road that connects the two countries was closed by residents on both sides of the border, though that section of the Osh-Isfara road has been closed for most of this year due to tensions in the area.

Unlike Tajikistan, which went through a long civil war during the 1990s, and south Kyrgyzstan, where the city of Osh is symbol of ethnic tensions, this area has never been home of major disorder. However a number of incidents, which attracted national and international attention, have taken place since the beginning of 2014 because of a contested road construction project. At the very centre of the disorder is the Tajik enclave of Vorukh in southern Kyrgyzstan. Here, on 11th January, Kyrgyz and Tajik border forces fired shots and two of the former and three of the latter were injured. Later, each accused the other of starting it. Vorukh is home to around 40,000 ethnic Tajiks, and Kyrgyz residents living on either side of it used to have to drive through it to get to different parts of the Kyrgyz region of Batken. To avoid the occasional frictions this caused, the Kyrgyz authorities are building a road intended to bypass the enclave completely. In January, the reaction of each government was to put the blame fully on the other without meeting, whereas this time the two presidents met and agreed to solve the issue of demarcation and delimitation of the common border in order to avoid further incidents. They also noted that the issue should be solved at the level of the governments of the two countries.

The Tajik and Kyrgyz governments generally enjoy good relations, in stark contrast to relations that both have with Uzbekistan, which also has common borders and enclaves within the region of Batken. This means that while the two governments often act together to defuse tensions on the ground. The region still remains a very complex and potentially conflictual area.

Lithuania – Incumbent Dalia Grybauskaite wins first round of presidential elections but has to enter run-off

On 11 May 2014 Lithuania held the first round of presidential elections. After incumbent Dalie Grybauskaite had won her first term with 69% of the vote, she now also entered the race for re-election as the clear favourite out of seven candidates. Despite more than twice the amount of votes than the runner-up, she failed to repeat the first-round victory from five years and will enter a run-off against Zigmantas Balčytis on 25 May.

lithuania presidential elections

Commentators criticised the campaign as ‘boring’ and superficial as all candidates were aware that they were unlikely to win against Grybauskaite or even enter the second round. The latter was particularly true for Naglis Puteikis (independent MP), Valdemar Tomaševski (MEP, candidate of the Polish Electoral Alliance), Bronis Ropė (Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union) and Artūras Zuokas (Homeland Revival and Perspective Party). The question was rather whether MEP and former minister of finance Zigmantas Balčytis or former speaker of parliament and one-time acting president Artūras Paulauskas would enter the second round. While Grybauskaite, who runs as an independent (yet her candidacy is supported by the conservative Homeland Union), was not able to win a second term in the first round of election, her result is better than could have been expected only half a year ago. She now benefitted from the fact that parties generally did not propose their most popular candidates. Grybauskaite was also able to capitalise on the Ukraine crisis in the context of which she was able to represent herself as the defender Lithuania’s security interests against hypothetical Russian aggression.

Grybauskaite is set to win the second round of the elections and another term in office. While there is hardly anything that would be able to ruin her chances, Balčytis might still be able to reduce the distance between the two.

Detailed election results can be found on the website of the Lithuanian Electoral Commission:

President Goodluck Jonathan and Nigeria’s “war on terror”

Terrorism has risen to the top of the agenda in West Africa following the abduction of almost 300 schoolgirls in north-eastern Nigeria by Boko Haram militants. The failure of the Nigerian government to find and free the girls has shone a spotlight on the inability of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to tackle the insurgency in the north of the country. Largely as a result, his government has reversed its position on international assistance, and now appears more willing to accept help from abroad.

Although the instability in northern Nigeria received relatively little international coverage until the news of the schoolgirls’ abduction, the Boko Haram insurgency has been raging for over a decade. Founded as the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, Boko Haram (the Hausa name for the Congregation, which translates as “western education is sacrilege”) has carried out a series of attacks that are estimated to have resulted in over 10,000 deaths. This has led to tremendous political instability in the worst affected northern states such as Borno, Adamawa, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe and Kano. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker of the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank, over 10,000 people have died in violence motivated by “political, economic, or social grievances” in Borno state alone.

In 2009, clashes between Boko Haram supporters and Nigerian security forces in the capital of Borno state, Maiduguri, resulted in hundreds of deaths and the arrest of Mohammed Yusuf. According to the Nigerian government, Yusuf was subsequently killed by security forces as he attempted to escape custody. President Goodluck Jonathan was optimistic that these operations and the death of Yusuf had broken the back of Boko Haram. As the number and ferocity of the attacks tailed off, this conclusion at first seemed justified.

But Boko Haram was only lying low to regroup. While it was initially thought that the movement’s second in command, Abubakar Shekau, had died in the 2009 attacks, video footage subsequently confirmed that he was very much alive and, having married one of Mohammed Yusuf’s four wives and adopted their children, had taken over as the operational leader of Boko Haram. Under his leadership, the organization became still more ambitious and violent. In 2011, a car bomb detonated in the United Nation’s Abuja offices killed 21 and wounded 60.

Numerous attacks followed including on a bus station in Abuja on April 14 of this year. Seventy people were killed. Another car bomb in the same area a few weeks later claimed another 19 victims. The abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls aged 12 to 17 in Chibo, Borno state, was thus the latest in a long line of atrocities that the Nigerian state has been powerless to prevent.

Some commentators attribute the ferocious resurgence of Boko Haram to a “northern plot” to destabilise the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from Bayelsa, the country’s southernmost state, and ascended to the presidency upon the untimely death of Presideny Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010. The idea underpinning this conspiracy theory is that northern political leaders are helping to fund and organize Boko Haram in order to undermine Jonathan’s credibility and prospects for re-election in 2015. However, Boko Haram has targeted moderate figures within the north, and many northern leaders appear to be as afraid of the insurgency as their southern counterparts.

Other commentators locate the source of ongoing instability elsewhere, suggesting that the actions of President Goodluck Jonathan have made the situation worse rather than better. Their criticisms fall into three main categories. First, a number of close observers of Boko Haram argue that the killing of Mohammed Yusuf and numerous activists in 2009 made the insurgency more, rather than less, violent. Such critics suggest that simply fighting “fire with fire” has not been successful so far and is unlikely to be successful in the future. Peace, they suggest, can only come from a negotiated solution to the crisis.

Second, some security experts argue that the Nigerian government’s over-reliance on the military has resulted in the deployment of a counter-insurgency strategy that is doomed to failure. Military forces are very effective if you are fighting a known force in a known location and all that is required is brute force to carry the day. But the military has often proved to be a rather blunt and ineffective instrument against terrorist cells that operate in multiple locations in the context of a diffuse organizational structure. Critics suggest that preventing terrorist attacks requires good information and effective policing rather than heavy-handed military intervention, but this is precisely what Nigeria lacks.

Third, President Goodluck Jonathan is criticized for failing to accept international assistance. Throughout the insurgency the Nigerian government has been keen to depict the crisis as a “domestic issue” and to reject offers of international assistance. Even following the schoolgirl kidnappings, it took the president three weeks to publicly acknowledge what had happened and another two days to accept an offer of help from the United States. Upon hearing the news, President Obama pledged to send ‘team of our military, law enforcement and other experts’.

As soon as the principle of international assistance was accepted, though, the floodgates opened. One day later, France announced that it would be sending security service agents to help in the fight against Boko Haram. Two days after that, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a British team had arrived in Nigeria to complement the one sent by the United States. Amidst all of this activity, John Mahama, the President of Ghana, and the chairman of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), arrived in Abuja for talks with his Nigerian counterpart about possible regional responses to homegrown terrorism. This is a particularly important development, because it seems likely that the abducted girls have been taken across the border and are now in Chad or Niger.

Sadly, these responses may well prove to be too little, too late. If the schoolgirls have been taken across the border and split up between different Boko Haram leaders, or sold into slavery, it will be incredibly difficult to find them and bring them home. But President Jonathan may nonetheless be right that the tragedy will act as a ‘turning point’. By forcing the Nigerian government to face up to its own limitations, and by triggering the provision of much needed counter-insurgency assistance, one of the saddest episodes in the country’s recent history could be the moment when the tide finally turns against Boko Haram.

Algeria: New Cabinet facing growing challenges

On 5 May 2014, less than three weeks after his controversial re-election, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has reshuffled his fourth Cabinet. The newly appointed ministers are well-known figures of the so-called “old guard” – the bulk of the powerful Algerian ruling class – “Le Pouvoir” – the deep-rooted network of politicians, businessman and military figures that has dominated the country since its independence from France.

Former Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was reinstated, after he resigned expressly to become Bouteflika’s presidential campaign manager. Another pillar of his personal entourage is Amara Benyounes, who was appointed as Trade minister. The prestigious position of Energy Minister went to Youcef Yousfi, former prime minister and loyal to Bouteflika. His position is key as the government has launched a campaign to bolster national energy revenues, which are seen by Bouteflika’s supporters as the main source of national wealth.

Following a tradition of governmental reshuffles in Algeria which are aimed at preserving the status quo, the new Cabinet is likely to solidify Bouteflika’s already immense power, and it is not by chance that it occurred after a failed attempt by the prime minister to incorporate opposition figures into a coalition government.

Whilst opposition groups are very fragmented, naïve, and unlikely to significantly challenge the power of the regime, in the last months they gained visibility by first boycotting the presidential elections and then denouncing the regime of vote rigging, and more generally by refusing to cooperate with the regime. Bouteflika’s attempt to lure them into the Cabinet, regardless of its sincerity, was meant to buy legitimacy for the regime, either by co-opting opposition forces or by creating impression of openness from the side of the President.

However, what the regime is most concerned about is the crystallising alliance between opposition political forces, the civil society and the broader population, which is growing increasingly dissatisfied with the high levels of unemployment rate and poverty throughout the country. Although Bouteflika’s re-election (last 17 April 2014) was more a plebiscite than a genuinely contested election, discontent with the fourth election of the 77-year-old raìs has been particularly strong all over the country. Massive street protests in Kabylie towns of Tizi-Ouzou and Bejaia, and civil society activism, such as the Barakat! (“Enough!”) movement in Algiers, cause headache to the regime.

It is not by chance that Bouteflika emphasised the commitment of the new government to increase energy revenues for the benefit of the whole country. Minister Yousfi has already announced that he will oversee the North African OPEC nations’ efforts to bolster oil and gas production.

Despite the fact that it is very difficult to undermine Le Pouvoir in Algeria, given its pervasive political, economical and security control structure, Bouteflika knows that growing socio-economic discontent is a direct challenge to regime legitimacy.

Televised presidential debates

There is an increasing literature about the presidentialization and/or personalisation of political leaders. This thesis is often applied to prime ministers. However, it has also been applied to presidents too. For example, Thomas Poguntke and Paul Webb’s book, The Presidentialization of Politics. A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies, includes a number of chapters on countries where the president is the main political figure.

One of the common proxies for the presidentialization of prime ministerial leadership is the introduction of party leaders’ debates before general elections. The 2010 leadership debate in Britain is a good example here. The logic is that leaders’ debates resemble presidential debates in the US.

While parliamentary regimes have gradually introduced leaders’ debates, it’s also the case that they are a relatively new phenomenon in many countries with directly elected presidents. After all, while the first presidential debate in the US occurred in 1960, the second was as recent as 1976. So, if we understand presidentialization in this way, how common are presidential debates outside the US and when were they first introduced?

It is more difficult to get information on this topic than it might appear. So, this post sticks to a selection of European countries with directly elected presidents. Even here, information is difficult to come by.

Below is a list of countries and an attempt to identify when presidential debates have been held in the context of a presidential election campaign. Almost certainly, there are errors. I would be happy to hear from country experts to set the record straight.

  • Austria – 2004, 2010
  • Bulgaria – All elections since 1992
  • Croatia – 2005, 2009
  • Cyprus – I have been able to find information about debates in 1998, 2008 and 2013
  • Czech Republic – 2013
  • Finland – All since 1988
  • France – All since 1974 except 2002
  • Iceland – None
  • Ireland – 2011
  • Lithuania – All since 1993
  • Macedonia – 1999, 2009, 2014
  • Montenegro – 2008, 2013
  • Poland – 1995, 2005, 2010
  • Portugal – I have been able to find information about debates in 1976, 1986, 1991, 2006, 2011
  • Romania – All since 1996
  • Serbia – 2008, 2012
  • Slovakia – All since 1999
  • Slovenia – I have been able to find information about debates in 2007, 2012
  • Ukraine – 2004, 2010

The format of the debates varies across countries. For example, France only has a debate before the second round of the election, so with just two candidates. However, other countries have debates prior to the first round with many candidates. In some countries, certain candidates refuse to appear, even though the remaining candidates do debate. Similarly, even if countries started to hold them, in some cases they have not always been held at every election, e.g. Poland and France.

If you have further information, then please leave a comment.

Panama – Incumbent Vice-President Juan Carlos Varela Wins Presidential Election

In my last blog post, I mentioned the expansive political business cycle of incumbent President, Ricardo Martinelli, to secure victory for his party, the center-right Cambio Democrático, and its candidate, José Domingo Arias, in Sunday’s presidential election. Well, this policy has not paid off. At least not in the way Martinelli intended.

Contrary to pre-election polls, and with 93.51 per cent of all votes counted, Juan Carlos Varela of the Partido Panameñista, has won the presidency with 39.19 per cent of the popular vote. José Domingo Arias was second with 31.55 per cent, while Juan Carlos Navarro of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático, was in third place with 27.91 per cent. Between them, the other four remaining candidates did not manage to secure more the two per cent of the vote.

Juan Carlos Varela is the current Vice-President of the incumbent Martinelli, but he was not Martinelli’s chosen successor. Far from it, in fact. Varela, from one of Panama’s richest families and owner of the Varela Hermanos rum distillery, ran in the 2009 presidential race, but stepped aside to support Martinelli in exchange for the vice-presidency. In 2011 however, Martinelli and Varela fell out, when Varela refused to back Martinelli’s plans to change the constitution to allow consecutive presidential terms. Varela was stripped of his additional role as foreign minister and faced vigorous opposition from Martinelli throughout the course of the campaign.

Martinelli, constitutionally barred from running again, but with a 67 per cent approval rating, threw his weight behind his party’s candidate, Arias, a former housing minister. Indeed, Arias’ running mate was Marta Linares, Martinelli’s wife. He energetically swelled the public economy before the election and campaigned from one end of the country to the other. However, this was not enough, despite Varela trailing in polls for the majority of the campaign. In fact, no incumbent party in Panama has managed to retain the executive since the US invasion in 1989.

With economic growth of 8.5 per cent last year, this election was largely contested on valence issues such as crime, albeit with some focus on rising prices. In Panama, the canal looms over all economic policy and Varela, a free-market conservative, is unlikely to alter the economic trajectory set by Martinelli.

The new president takes office on July 1st.

Latin American Presidential Elections and Political Business Cycles

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, has just announced that social welfare payments for the poorest in Brazilian society will increase by ten per cent. These payments will be made through the hugely popular bolsa família conditional cash transfer programme, which covers nearly one-fifth of the total income distribution. This increase also surpasses the current, six per cent rate of inflation.

But why has Dilma decided to pursue this policy now? This move comes just before the presidential election in October, which have seen the popularity of Dilma slide from 43.7 per cent in February to 37 per cent in April, and increased support for her main rival, Aécio Neves, of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB). Clearly, Dilma Rousseff’s decision to increase bolsa família is not unrelated to her waning public support and the looming election in October. What is more, there is now solid empirical support for the electoral benefit to be accrued for PT incumbents from bolsa família, and conditional cash transfers in general.[1]

What is interesting is that Dilma has decided to increase social transfers as prices are rising, and in a country with a history of hyperinflation. This provides us with the perfect opportunity to reflect on the relationship between inflation, a topic I frequently raise on this blog, political business cycles and Latin American presidential elections.

In a recent book on this very topic, Stephen Kaplan,[2] building on political business cycle theory, argued that in Latin American countries with a history of hyperinflation, politicians, and those on the left in particular, are unlikely to pursue traditional business cycles.[3] The damaging distributive consequences of inflation for middle income and poorer voters, together with the business community, means the electoral cost of price instability forces politicians from inflation-scarred countries to be far more risk-averse than their counterparts in other, less economically volatile countries. Given the credibility problem of the left in Latin American with regard to macroeconomic policy, this effect becomes exaggerated under left politicians. This helps explain Lula’s fiscal reticence (and also that of Néstor Kirchner).

Is Dilma now pursuing a political business cycle? This would be unexpected, given the context of rising prices and the historical record of inflation in Brazil. Well, the short answer is no. At the same time as Dilma has increased social spending, she has also announced spending cuts in other areas, in order to combat the budget deficit and reduce inflation. Dilma’s electoral strategy is therefore targeted social transfers to a specific group, as opposed to a general political business cycle. Similar electoral strategies have been employed elsewhere in Latin America by the likes of Alberto Fujimori (also a country with a history of inflation).

To understand electoral business cycles in Latin America it is worth noting the historical context. In countries with a history of inflation, and where prices are rising, incumbents are more likely to engage in targeted spending. In contrast, in countries with no history of inflation, then we might expect incumbent Latin American presidents to swell the public economy. Compare Dilma’s strategy to the expansive policies of Ricardo Martinelli, whose party competes for the presidency in Panama on Sunday. Of course, to see if this policy has been successful, please check back here next week.

[1]See for example, Zucco, Cesar and Timothy Power. 2013. “Bolsa Família and the Shift in Lula’s Electoral Base, 2002-2006.” Latin American Research Review, 48(2), pp3-24.

[2]Kaplan, Stephen B. 2013. Globalization and Austerity Politics in Latin America. Cambridge University Press.

[3]That is, inflating the public economy just before an election to garner electoral support.