Monthly Archives: June 2014

Senegal – Local elections: a test for President Macky Sall

Senegal’s 5.3 million voters went to the polls on Sunday, June 29th, to elect their representatives at the local and departmental levels, in a vote largely seen as a confidence vote in the government of President Macky Sall. Overall, the elections were peaceful without major organizational issues, despite a record number of party lists. Voters were presented with a choice among 2,700 party lists or independents, up from 1,600 in the last local elections held in 2009, for 602 local offices. Initial results from the polls that closed at 18h00, Dakar time on Sunday are already trickling in, and complete results are expected by the end of the week. The Senegalese Radio Television Station RTS is streaming results by polling station as they become available:

The high number of party lists in competition for Sunday’s poll is a result of the fragmentation of the alliance Bennoo Bokk Yaakaar (BBY) that brought President Sall to power in March 2012. In a number of cities even the president’s own party, the Alliance for the Republic (APR), presented competing lists. The APR is a relatively newly created party, in existence only since 2008. It is accused by its coalition partners of having an exaggerate appetite for power. In 2009, the APR only won control of a few local governments, a situation it was clearly intent on changing.

Dakar was a key battleground for these elections. The mayorship of the capital of Senegal is generally seen as a natural launching pad for a bid for the presidency. Facing off were the incumbent mayor Khalifa Sall of the Socialist Party (PS) – a member of the BBY alliance – and current Prime Minister Aminata Touré (APR), among others. They both stood for election in Grand Yoff, one of the 19 communes that form the district of Dakar. Following decentralization reform in 2013, mayors are now indirectly elected by the councilors of the communes that make up the district, a process that increases the challenges of securing reelection for the incumbent.

According to preliminary results, it would appear that Khalifa Sall won the vote in Grand Yoff. In the lead-up to the polls, Sall created a new coalition, Taxawu Ndakaru, with the participation of civil society and even opposition parties, in an effort at securing reelection. With the 2013 decentralization reform, the mayor of Dakar has lost some control over the resources of the individual communes that form the capital district, but the position remains highly coveted given the visibility it provides and the size of the electorate in Dakar.

Other hotly contested cities include St. Louis and Fatick. In St. Louis, Mansour Faye, a brother-in-law of President Sall, seeks to wrestle the mayorship from incumbent Cheick Bambia Dièye – although Dièye (like Khalifa Sall) is a member of the BBY alliance that supported Macky Sall in the presidential run-off in 2012.

Who’s in charge when the president is gone? Acting presidents in European republics

The premature termination of a presidential term – be it by impeachment, resignation or death of the incumbent – is generally a rare phenomenon so that the respective regulations belong the constitutional provisions that are applied least often in political practice. Nevertheless, in recent years a number of European republics had to activate these stipulations, often for the first time. This post compares the regulations on acting presidents in European republics and discusses the consequences for the separation of powers and potential for conflict.

Acting German Federal President, Speaker of the Federal Council and Minister-President of Bavaria Horst Seehofer in 2012 | © German Presidential Office

The resignations of German Federal Presidents Horst Köhler in 2010 and Christian Wulff in 2012 presented the first instances in which speakers of the Bundesrat had to take over presidential duties. Similarly, the tragic death of Polish President Lech Kaczyński in 2010 was the first event in post-1989 Poland that required the Sejm Marshal (speaker of the lower house) to temporarily fulfil the role of president. In Romania, the two impeachment attempts against president Traian Basescu in 2007 and 2012 also meant that the speaker of the Senate acted as president while the population was consulted in referenda. On the other hand, when Slovak president Schuster needed to receive specialist treatment in an Austrian hospital in 2000, the speaker of parliament and Prime Minister fulfilled his duties in tandem.

The above examples show that European republics show a great variation in who becomes acting president. In fact, Bulgaria and Switzerland are the only European republics with a functioning vice-presidency (although due to the collegial nature of the Swiss executive its position/relevance differs significantly) [1] and In the remaining countries it is not always obvious who takes over presidential duties in the case of presidential impeachment, resignation or death. The default option is to temporarily devolve the function to a representative of parliament (in all but Bulgaria, Finland and Switzerland representatives of parliament are involved), yet even here differences exist that have consequences for the division of power.

In France, Germany, Italy and Romania the speaker of the second chamber of parliament. As – except for Italy – the government is not responsible to the second chamber this arrangement guarantees a mutual independence of acting president and other institutions. Even though Austria and Poland also have bicameral system, presidential duties here are performed by the speakers of the first chamber and thus by politicians that are more prominent in everyday politics and usually belong to the governing party. In Austria this is partly mitigated by the fact that the speaker and the two deputy speakers perform this role together, yet in Poland the stipulation proved to be controversial – not only because the generally more political role of the Polish Sejm Marshal but also because of the fact that acting president Komorowski was the government’s candidate in the presidential elections. In the Czech Republic, likewise a bicameral system, presidential duties are also fulfilled by the speaker of the first chamber, yet in cooperation with the Prime Minister.

Map_of_EU_presidents away2_

Countries with unicameral systems cannot generally choose a more independent political candidate, yet as the examples of Iceland and Ireland show it is still possible to create less political alternative by pairing them (among others) with the Chairman of the Supreme Court in multi-member committees that jointly fulfil the position of acting president. Estonia shows another way of ensuring independence of the speaker of parliament as acting president in a unicameral system. The constitution foresees that speaker of parliament temporarily gives up their function to act as president and a new speaker is elected for that period to maintain a clear separation of powers.[2] Last, only Finland and Malta place the role of acting president in the hands of the Prime Minister which is even more exceptional when considering the great differences between the two political systems.

The comparison above has shown that variations in who becomes acting president do not vary according to the mode of presidential election or presidential powers and their origin often predate the current political system. An example for this are the regulations in the Czech Republic and Slovakia which both based their regulations on constitutional drafts that still were still designed for the countries’ functioning within a federal Czechoslovakia. Once the break-up was agreed and quick adoption of new constitutions was needed, the presidency was merely added and the actors that previously represented the republic at federation level became the designated acting presidents (Slovakia only introduced a co-role for the speaker of parliament in 1998 as it turned out that the constitution did not transfer enough power to the Prime Minister as acting president to maintain a functioning state after parliament failed to elect a new president).

The question of who is in charge when the president is gone might appear relatively insignificant at first glance given the rarity of early terminations of presidential terms or long-term absence of presidents during their term. Nevertheless, the different stipulations strongly affect the degree to which the presidency can or is likely to still fulfil its function as check-and-balance on other institutions while it is vacant. While this becomes more relevant the longer there is a vacancy in the presidential office, it still changes the balance of power within a political system already in the short term and therefore merits attention. For instance, during the one month that Slovak president Rudolf Schuster spent in hospital in Austria in 2000, Prime Minister Dzurinda and National Council speaker used their position as acting presidents to veto three bills to which Schuster had previously declared his opposition. Only shortly afterwards, the government majority passed the bills again and thus made sure that Schuster could no longer veto the bills or request a review before the constitutional court.

[1] The Cypriot constitution also institutes a vice-presidency which is reserved for a Turkish Cypriot while the post of president is to be held by a Greek Cypriot. Initially a Turkish Cypriot vice-president served alongside a Greek Cypriot president, yet the vice-presidency has been vacant for about 50-40 years. The start date of the vacancy is difficult to establish – while Turkish Cypriots have not participated in government or parliament since the 1963 crisis, the title of vice-president appears to have been used by Turkish Cypriot leaders until the coup d’état in 1974.
[2] Estonian members of government are also required to give up their place in parliament upon appointment and another MP enters parliament in their place for the time of their appointment.

Federated States of Micronesia – What does it take to become President?

We generally accept that it takes a combination of talent and social capital, hard work and endeavour, and some help from the goddess Fortuna, to become a President. The Pacific Islands region is no different. In this post I explore the profile of Presidents in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and focus on common characteristics – family background, education and career[i] – in their pre-political trajectories, to build a picture of what it takes to reach the top job.

There have been seven presidents of FSM since the late 1970s. They serve for four-year terms but only the first President, Tosiwo Nakayama, completed the maximum of two terms. President Bailey Olter won a second term but could not complete it due to ill health and the current President, Emanuel Mori, is serving his second term.

Ron Crocombe argues that politicians in the Pacific have tended to be the sons and daughters of either traditional leaders or those who held positions with the colonial administration (and often a combination of both).[ii] While this may be a general trend, what makes FSM different is that the President is elected by the 14 Members of Congress from among their number and so, in the absence of political parties, the division of seats between the 4 states – 6 members are elected from Chuuk State, 4 from Phonpei State, and 2 each from Yap State and Kosrae State – heavily influences who ends up in the top job as a candidate must secure a combination of state votes to get elected. Members of smaller states have become President (Presidents John Haglelgam and Joseph Urusemal from Yap and President Jacob Nena from Kosrae) but linkages between states matter. For example, it is commonly recalled that the 2nd President, John Haglelgam of Yap state, received support from Chuuk State on the strength of his wife being Chuukese.

Across the Pacific politicians tend to have atypical education backgrounds in the sense that they posses much higher qualifications than the average voter. Education infers status and respect, and voters also want politicians who understand how government works. Many received scholarships to undertake further studies and several key educational institutions feature repeatedly in the background of FSM Presidents, including Xavier High School and the University of Hawaii.

A background in public administration is the most common pre-political background in the Pacific and FSM is no different with most Presidents having spent some time employed by either the colonial administration – the United States Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands – or a combination of post-colonial institutions in the FSM. Presidents Nena (Kosrae) and Leo Falcam (Phonpei) were state governors before entering the national congress. Graduating from the position of vice-president is also not uncommon, with Presidents Olter, Nena and Falcam having served in both positions. By convention, key posts (President, Vice-President, Speaker etc.) are divided between the 4 states each term.

Combined, this brief profile paints a picture of pre-political pathways dominated by elites with an above average education and extensive political and administrative experience. However, in this sense they are not vastly different to most Members of Congress who share similar attributes. Increasingly, it costs large sums of money to get elected to Congress in the first place. From there, hard work and natural talent also plays its part, as does the guiding hand of Fortuna.

[i] For more in depth biographies see:

[ii] Crocombe, R. (2008). The South Pacific. Suva, Fiji: IPS Publications.

Presidents and Prime Ministers in Semi-presidential Ukraine

Ukraine held presidential elections exactly one month ago on 25 May 2014. Avoiding the need for a runoff, Petro Poroshenko won the presidency outright with 54.7% of the vote. The next day, the President-elect announced that Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk would retain his position, stating that he did not see any grounds for dismissing Yatsenyuk from his post and that he hoped for effective cooperation with the head of government.

Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Photo: UNIAN)

Arseniy Yatsenyuk was elected Prime Minister on 27 February in the middle of the political crisis in Ukraine, winning the support of 371 of the 450 members of parliament. Despite his young age (40), he already boasts an impressive track-record. He served as economy and foreign minister as well as parliamentary speaker during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko (2005-2010). He was also offered the position of Prime Minister by the former president Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, but he declined it. Throughout the anti-government protests that began in November 2013, Yatsenyuk was a constant fixture on Maidan, the central square in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where the largest demonstrations took place.

There is no requirement in the Ukrainian constitution that the Prime Minister be dismissed upon the inauguration of a new president. However, all former presidents of Ukraine, in one way or another, have replaced the Prime Ministers when they took office. Given Ukraine’s recent history, the relationship between the president and prime minister is a crucial one and it may either break or make the presidency.

For instance, former allies and leaders of the Orange revolution, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, spent the majority of their mandates in a political gridlock. In 2008, President Yushenko even accused his then Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of treason and ended up testifying against his former ally during her trial for abuse of power in 2011. Many have argued that Tymoshenko’s presidential ambition was one of the main reasons for the animosity between the two (she later ran in both the 2010 and 2014 presidential elections). Their long-term conflict is frequently blamed for derailing Yushchenko’s presidency and bringing the country to the brink of economic collapse.

Currently, Ukraine operates under the premier-presidential constitution, similar to the one that was in place during most of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko’s tenures. Ukraine has always been uneasy about its executive-legislative relations and spent the last decade playing a tug-of-war with the powers of the president and the parliament. The Ukrainian constitution has been changed three times since its adoption in 1996 (in 2004, 2010, and 2014), going back and forth on how powerful the president will be vis-à-vis the parliament.

The current president is only two and a half weeks into his term. Thus, it is hard to evaluate his relationship with the prime minister. So far, however, both seem to agree on a number of important issues. Both are strong advocates of Ukraine’s membership in the European Union. Both men are also strong supporters of decentralization of Ukraine and delegating more powers to the regions. In fact, in a televised address just last week the President proposed constitutional amendments to this effect as a part of his peace plan. Yatsenyuk did not himself run for presidency in the last election, although his party backed Yulia Tymoshenko. For his part, Poroshenko seems to have no intention of altering the balance of power between the president and the prime minister. During the plenary session of Parliament last week, he stated that he was committed to the premier-presidential system and that the current constitution gave him enough powers to fulfill his pre-electoral promises to the Ukrainian people.

President Poroshenko has no party of his own. He is backed by Kyiv Major Vitali Klitschko, whose party holds less than 10% of seats in parliament. Constitutionally, his role is limited to representing the country in international affairs, administering foreign policy and overseeing national security and defense.[1] The President is in a difficult position. His relationship with the Prime Minister, whose party, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), is currently the largest block in parliament with 85 seats, may prove crucial in order to push through the anti-corruption, economic and decentralization reforms that Ukraine desperately needs.

[1] See Constitution of Ukraine, 21 February 2014, art. 106.

Portugal – Institutional conflict may trigger snap elections

Tensions are mounting between the ruling centre-right coalition and the Constitutional Court after the latter recently rejected three measures proposed by the government in the 2014 national budget. Opposition parties have called on President Cavaco Silva to dissolve parliament and call for an early general election because of the government’s recurrent breaches of the constitution and alleged attempts to influence the court’s decisions.

Over the last few years, the Constitutional Court has reviewed the legality of various austerity measures agreed with the “Troika” – European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – in return for the €78 billion loan package granted to Portugal in May 2011. Indeed, over the past three years the Court has struck down nine such measures.[1] The Court’s latest rejection of three fiscal measures[2] has forced the government to search for alternative measures to ensure the state’s deficit falls to 4 per cent of the GDP this year and 2.5 per cent next year, as required by the Troika. On 12 June Finance Minister Maria Luís Albuquerque announced that the government would forgo the final instalment of €2.6 billion due under the international bailout programme because the Court’s decision prevented the government from complying with the conditions set out in the programme. Portugal officially exited the international bailout programme on 17 May 2014.

The Court’s latest rejection of the austerity measures has intensified the already strained relationship between the government and the Constitutional Court. On 5 June, during the closing of a conference rather ironically titled “Democracy and new Representations”, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), fanned the flames by saying that the Court needed “better judges” who should be subject to “greater scrutiny”. The Prime Minister also called for the Court for issue a “political clarification” regarding its decision. So far, the court has refused to do so on the grounds that “it does not need to tell the government how to govern”.

The Constitutional Court comprises thirteen judges. Ten judges are appointed by parliament – five by the ruling coalition, and five by the main opposition party – the Socialist Party (PS). The other three judges are co-opted from other courts according to a selection made by those judges already elected.

The government’s negative attitude towards the Court has enraged Portugal’s main opposition party, the Socialist Party (PS), which has called for the President’s to intervene to maintain “their regular functioning.” Smaller opposition parties such as the Left Bloc (BE) and the Portuguese Communist party (PCP) have called for early elections.

Meanwhile, the PS has itself become embroiled in a fierce leadership battle. Following its poor performance in the May European Parliament (EP) elections, the mayor of Lisbon, António Costa, has (once again) announced his readiness to run for the PS leadership, thereby challenging the incumbent party leader António José Seguro. While the PS won the most votes (31.47%) in the EP elections, the results were worse than expected. After three years of austerity, the PS just received 123,435 more votes than the ruling coalition (PSD/CDS-PP), which came second with 27.71% of the votes. The PS is to hold a leadership election on 28 September.

Amidst institutional tensions, opposition parties have been urging President Cavaco Silva to intervene to resolve the “political crisis”. So far, the President, affiliated to the ruling PSD party, has remained silent. Ironically, snap elections might work in favour of the ruling coalition. According to the latest polls, electoral support for the PS has further declined since the EP elections.

[1]The Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional two provisions of the 2012 budget law and four of nine austerity measures introduced in the 2013 national budget law. On 30 May 2014, the Court rejected another three measures proposed by the government in the 2014 national budget.

[2]The three measures included cuts to public sector wages, pensions and health allowances.

Taiwan – Party-nomination, Local Elections, and the Presidency

With a highly unpopular President at the helm of the country, the prospects for the opposition pan-Green camp led by the opposition DPP party to recapture the presidency with a concurrent a legislative majority – the latter has proven elusive so far for the pan-Green camp – appear probable. The KMT captured the Presidency and a significant majority in the legislature in 2008, raising concerns that the formidable largesse of the party may pave the way to a one-party dominant system. Fortunately for the country’s political development, those concerns proved unfounded: there has been a steady move back to viable competitive elections, although the KMT managed to retain the presidency and the legislative majority in the 2012 elections. But the progressive erosion of popular support for the KMT and President Ma has not ebbed, as evident in the low points of 2014 captured by the 24-day student-led occupation of the legislature and campaigns initiated to recall legislative members supportive of President Ma’s agenda.

Under these conditions, it is probably not surprising that many see – or hope to see – the 2014 November local elections as the bellwether for the 2016 national elections. In this context, the DPP and pan-Green camp has sought to identify and field viable candidates for the local elections to capture a victory-sprint towards the presidential and national races. In a recent development, physician Ko Wen-je bettered DPP-candidate Pasuya Yao in the second stage of the pan-Green primary process for the Taipei city mayoral race and will likely be supported by the DPP for the election.

Interesting or competitive or controversial cases tend to draw attention, and a highly-watched race such as the Taipei mayoral elections is no exception. Unfortunately, problems are particularly evident under scrutiny, and the usual suspects of strategic voting or weak-party identification pepper the two-stage nomination process in the pan-Green camp. As a result, it may be useful to point out a larger picture of transparency or accountability in the party nomination process.

Since the late 1990s, the DPP has implemented a two-stage primary process that pitches DPP-aspirants who win in telephone polls in the first-stage against independent pan-Green candidates in the second-stage. While that process has been criticized – most recently, former Vice-President Annette Lu withdrew from the primary, citing failure of DPP “integrity” and raising the prospects that she may run as an independent for the mayoral race of Taipei City – it has, at a minimum, brought greater transparency to the nomination process in the pan-Green camp.

Transparency is important: party-candidate nominations have come under significant criticism in several East and Southeast Asian emergent democracies, including South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with many viewing the process as the root of corruption in politics. Given the tepid party-identification in these emergent democracies, party-institutionalization needs to balance candidate-centered campaigns that bring popular support – but which are liable to become personality-oriented rather than party-oriented – with party-building efforts that focus on broadening the party-base. Having a clean nomination process is an important step in this process, and should be emphasized as one of these party-building efforts.

Ghana – President Mahama courts controversy with latest cabinet reshuffle

President Mahama of Ghana announced a series of ministerial appointments over a period of weeks from late May into June. Most of the new nominations and reassignments focused on deputy ministers, although regional ministers were also affected as were a few key sector ministers, such as the Ministers of Health, Defence, and Lands and Natural Resources, among others.

Echoing the government’s own statements, supportive commentators affirm, “It is obvious these changes are meant to accelerate development and give the administration momentum,” adding that, “People must understand that President Mahama, as he himself puts it, ‘is the coach of the team’ and has the prerogative to determine which player comes in when and where.”

This positive assessment stands at odds with the more widespread criticism brought on by the President’s announcements. Observers question whether this latest reshuffle, the third of its kind this year, will ensure a more capable cabinet. As argued by the editor of the Informer newspaper, “Governance is not about experimenting where you try ministers to see where they can perform while others are already hard at work. […] When one is asked to head a particular ministry, it takes time to learn the rudiments of that place, but whenever the new ministers gain the experience to kick-start a project, then the President changes them again.”

Mahama’s decisions are also being challenged by supporters of his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), who decry the alleged imbalance in the representation of different regions within Cabinet. NDC cadres have condemned protests held by party faithful in the Upper West and East regions. Dissatisfaction is also spreading in the Volta region, popularly referred to as the NDC’s “World Bank” due to its high levels of electoral support for the party. Criticism in the Volta has prompted speculation about the NDC’s prospects in the 2016 elections, which is expected to be a close contest between the NDC and Ghana’s main opposition party, the National Patriotic Party (NPP).

In a particularly unusual development, Mahama’s latest reshuffle has led to criticism from both the government and opposition side in Parliament. The controversy arose when two front benchers disagreed over who should stand in as Minister of Roads and Highways to answer questions on the floor of parliament. This episode prompted NPP legislators to decry the government’s confused “game of musical chairs.” The Minority leader followed with a statement criticizing the Executive’s failure to present a list of appointees to Parliament, arguing, “This House must critically look at bringing new appointees and reshuffled ministers to the appropriate committee of Parliament for questioning.” The Speaker of Parliament backed the statement of the Minority Leader, averring that all ministers, whether freshly appointed or re-assigned to a new post, should be referred to Parliament for endorsement.

This criticism of the Executive’s unilateral action and the calls for a more robust vetting process go against the grain in Ghana, where despite democratic advances in other areas, the Parliament remains relatively weak by regional standards. Ghana’s highly competitive two-party system has led to a pattern of entrenched partisan politics in the legislature with ruling party MPs generally opting to support the Executive rather than join in bi-partisan efforts to ensure more parliamentary independence.

It is unclear as yet what the result of this latest wave of criticism directed at the Mahama administration will be. Political tensions in Ghana are running high, notably due to fears over government spending and the rapid accumulation of debt. Frustration over the reshuffle is in part a reflection of these broader concerns. Still, this dissatisfaction may lead to some substantive change if Parliament continues to push, as suggested by the Speaker, to more fully assume its constitutional oversight powers.

José Cheibub – The Constitutional Foundations of Democratic Consolidation (part 2)

This is the second of two guest posts by José Cheibub, Boeschenstein Professor of Political Economy and Public Policy in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


If it is true that there is a correlation between presidentialism and the recent failures of democratic consolidation (something that has not been established yet, as far as I know), and if it is true that these episodes of failure rarely if at all involve a military coup, we need to formulate new explanatory hypotheses. What is it about presidentialism that may lead to the entrenchment of incumbents in power? Conversely, which characteristics of parliamentary institutions might prevent such entrenchment?

One thing is sure, namely, that the Linzian approach to these questions will not take us far. The reason is that this approach is focused on the problem of legislative support for the executive, that is, on how parliamentarism virtually assures that such support is present, and (multiparty) presidentialism virtually assures that it will be lacking. However, some of the contemporary cases suggest the opposite: democracy may be “saved” by the fact that the government does not have strong support in the legislature and it may be threatened in situations when the executive enjoys sufficient backing of the legislature to shut off the opposition.

Take a few recent examples. In Slovakia, Vladimír Mečiar was hampered in his authoritarian ambitions by repeated defections from his coalition, which eventually resulted in a vote of no-confidence in 1994 and the failure to form governments in 1998. This happened in spite of Mečiar’s control of a plurality of legislative seats. In Hungary, on the other hand, the overwhelming legislative support for Prime Minister Victor Orbán allowed him and his party to introduce changes that are widely seen as non-democratic. Similarly, as Sebastian Saiegh shows using an example of the fall of Bolivian president Sánchez Lozada in 2003,[i] the danger for democratic consolidation posed by an unconstitutional transfer of power should be attributed to situations which are in their nature opposite to deadlocks. As Saiegh suggests, in some circumstances the government may actually govern too much. Consequently, what threatens democracy is not so much that there is a deadlock between a constitutionally irremovable president and legislature but the fact that the two are aligned and can change the status quo in a direction that may suit their interests but not those of democracy. Deadlocks and minority governments may be precisely what save democracy from being suffocated by aspiring autocrats. If this conclusion reminds the reader of Madison and his view about separation of powers, it is not a mere coincidence.

Thus, the correlation between presidential institutions and (failure of) democratic consolidation in the contemporary world, if it exists at all, should not be considered intuitive and explainable in terms of hypotheses generated from a framework that sees the lack of legislative support for presidents as the crux of the problem. That framework was generated with a specific set of historical examples in mind, and it became popular in the context of the debt crisis in Latin America and the concerns about the ability of governments in the region to implement structural policies that were at the time considered necessary. While implementation of these policies required the preference alignment of the executive and the legislature, all countries operated under a constitution that provided no such guarantee. By contrast with presidentialism, assembly confidence was seeing as the institutional mechanism that assured support of legislative majority to the executive and parliamentarism as the form of government that would prevent the failure of the new democracies in Latin America and Eastern Europe. We know where this story went: few democracies, parliamentary or presidential, failed in the way that was then expected. Perhaps this is the fact that requires explanation.

What kind of constitution is best suited to help consolidate democracy? Unfortunately, in my view, some scholars believe that there is a clear answer to this question and are not shy to advocate their views. For instance, in an opinion piece published in July 2013, Bruce Ackerman, a professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, stated that the failure of the military rulers who had just taken power in Egypt to replace presidentialism with “a European-style parliamentary system,” “virtually guarantees a repetition of the tragic events of the past year.”[ii] Furthermore, as he argues counterfactually, the adoption of a parliamentary constitution after Mubarak’s departure “could well have avoided the current upheaval and bloodshed in the first place.” The reason, according to him, is that “the presidency is a winner-take-all office,” which may be suitable for a country such as the United States, “where well-organized parties contend for the prize,” but “is a recipe for tyranny in places like Egypt, where Islamists have powerful organizational advantages in delivering the vote.” Although Ackerman stands out in the forcefulness and clarity with which he defends a constitutional overhaul in countries that adopt presidentialism, he certainly does not hold this opinion alone. Yet, we may ask: is this view warranted?

This kind of advice is based on generic and one-sided arguments, which are supported by scant historical and statistical evidence: isolated regime crises (Chile in 1973 is favorite, with Egypt beginning to trail behind) and references to the correlation between presidentialism and regime breakdown, as if correlation was evidence of causation. (But we know better than this!). Moreover, parliamentarism and presidentialism are very broad constitutional frameworks: as recent research has demonstrated, they can be configured in an infinite number of ways; they interact with other, small and large, institutional features of the political system; and, of course, they interact with non-institutional factors, unique to the country where they are being adopted. This last point is particularly relevant for Egypt. It is possible that Ackeman is right and a parliamentary constitution may do the trick in Egypt and allow for the peaceful processing of conflicts between Islamists and secularists. On the other hand, we have good reasons to believe that, given the nature of its military, the main problem in Egypt at this point is far from being institutional; perhaps given the presence of such an actor, any kind of constitutional arrangement would have failed. Thus, to reduce parliamentarism and presidentialism to one essential feature, to look at specific situations from the lens provided by this essential feature, and offer constitutional advice on the basis of this exercise requires courage, the courage of fools who believe that they have successfully found the solution to the problem that has eluded everyone else.

I thus end with a note which suggests more humbleness than confidence in our ability to provide positive advice of the sort given by Ackerman. The vast majority of studies have failed to establish convincingly that there exists a causal relationship between the form of government and democracy. Consequently, unless in some specific case there is a broad consensus across the political spectrum about the need for change, it is not certain that the benefit of adopting a new type of constitution will outweigh the costs of implementing it.

[i], Sebastian Saiegh, Ruling by Statute: How Uncertainty and Vote Buying Shape Lawmaking (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

[ii] Bruce Ackerman, “To Save Egypt, Drop the Presidency,” New York Times, July 10, 2013.

A longer version of this post first appeared in the APSA Comparative Democratization newsletter, vol. 12, no. 2, May 2014

José Cheibub – The Constitutional Foundations of Democratic Consolidation (part 1)

This is a guest post by José Cheibub, Boeschenstein Professor of Political Economy and Public Policy in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


In this post, I discuss the role of political institutions in democratic consolidation. Regarding the forms of democratic government, I like to think that there are essentially two: those with a separation of powers and those that require assembly confidence. The first are typical presidential democracies, systems with constitutions that prescribe a fixed term in office for both a popularly and independently elected president and a congress. The second are the parliamentary and semi-presidential democracies, in which the government must be at least tolerated by a parliamentary majority in order to exist.

I will therefore focus on the effect of political institutions, whether parliamentary or presidential, on democratic consolidation. I start by briefly reviewing the earlier debate on the relationship between democratic form of government and consolidation. I then discuss what I see as two challenges we face today to advance the study of democratic consolidation: its proper definition and conceptualization, an to understand how the phenomena of democratic breakdown and consolidation changed since we first started to think about them. I conclude with a few remarks on the kind of advice political scientists can give regarding the best constitutional form for the consolidation of democracy.

The impact of separation of powers or assembly confidence on democratic consolidation is no longer at the center of the democratization research agenda. Probably everyone is familiar with the argument, first developed by Juan Linz, according to which presidential institutions are likely to lead to crises that may ultimately cause the breakdown of democracies.[i] Although Linz offered more than one reason for the observed negative correlation between presidentialism and democracy, most important, in my view, was his argument about incentives for coalition formation. This argument was also the most fully developed in subsequent studies. His reasoning was as follows: presidential institutions fail to generate incentives for cooperation among individual politicians, among parties and between the legislative and executive powers. Because presidentialism provides no incentives for inter-branch cooperation, presidential democracies are characterized by frequent minority governments as well as conflict and deadlocks between the government and the legislature. Because presidential regimes lack a constitutional principle that can be invoked to resolve conflicts between the executive and the legislature, such as the vote of no confidence in parliamentary democracies, minority presidents and deadlock provide incentives for actors to search for extra-constitutional means of resolving differences. As a consequence, presidential democracies become more prone to instability and eventual death.

Thus, according to Linz, presidential institutions are simply not conducive to governments capable of handling the explosive issues that are central to the new democracies in the developing world. These issues make governing difficult under any circumstances. Governing becomes almost impossible when the institutional setup is likely to generate governments with weak legislative support as well as parties and politicians whose dominant strategy is to act independently from one another. Given the lack of constitutional solutions to the crises that are almost inevitable in these countries, political actors have no choice but to appeal to those with the means to resolve their differences, even if at the price of democracy itself.

Here is not the place for rehashing the debate around these ideas. Let me simply say that Juan Linz’s view of the negative impact of presidentialism on democratization was critically examined along two main lines. The first focused on the fact that parliamentary democracies were not altogether immune to the institutional crises that were supposed to characterize presidential ones. The second sought to show that the sequence of events that would lead to the breakdown of presidential democracies did not materialize with the frequency implied by the argument. Consequently, if the relationship between presidentialism and democratic breakdown is causal, the mechanism might not be the one postulated by Linz.

Of course, the discussion around the “perils of presidentialism” did not represent the last word in the debate about the impact of forms of government on democratic consolidation. This question still generates considerable interest, as it should. The correlation between presidential institutions and democratic breakdown is still a reality and hence the intuitive arguments that have been made connecting the two still resonate. But to move forward it may be helpful to address some unresolved issues while recognizing how the political reality has changed since Linz’s theory was formulated. Even though not a long time has passed since that moment, it is fair to say that the features of many of the cases we are confronted with today are quite different from the ones confronted by Linz.

The original argument about the detrimental effects of presidentialism for democratic consolidation must be understood in the context of the virtual disappearance of democracy from Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. Between 1960 and 1975, almost every Latin American country experienced a democratic breakdown. Most of these democracies collapsed in the hands of the military, who inaugurated what O’Donnell called a new type of dictatorship – the bureaucratic-authoritarian regime. As a matter of fact, during the Cold War, the vast majority of democracies collapsed as the result of a military coup, in a pattern that, at least superficially, corroborated Linz’s view of a conflict between a fixed-term executive who did not have the support of a majority in congress.

Democratic breakdown happens nowadays in a very different way. Institutionalized militaries cannot be counted on to intervene into politics and take the reins of government from the hands of civilian politicians. If democracies fail to consolidate today, authoritarian regimes that replace them are more likely to be led by civilians, often the elected incumbent who, by a process of overt and covert manipulation, progressively removes the conditions necessary for competitive elections to occur in the future. To use the terminology employed by Adam Przeworski and his co-authors,[ii] transitions to authoritarianism after the Cold War are more likely to be “from above” and occur at the hands of the incumbent. They are likely to violate two of the three conditions which the above mentioned authors identified as necessary for a democracy to exist: “ex ante uncertainty,” namely, the requirement that electoral outcomes are not pre-determined, and “repeatability,” that is, the requirement that democratic incumbents hold competitive elections such as the ones that brought them into office.[iii]

Thus, if it is true that there is a correlation between presidentialism and the recent failures of democratic consolidation (something that has not been established yet, as far as I know), and if it is true that these episodes of failure rarely if at all involve a military coup, we need to formulate new explanatory hypotheses. What is it about presidentialism that may lead to the entrenchment of incumbents in power? Conversely, which characteristics of parliamentary institutions might prevent such entrenchment?

To be continued.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow

[i] Juan J. Linz, “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does It Make a Difference?” in Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela, eds., The Failure of Presidential Democracy: The Case of Latin America, edited by (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

[ii] Adam Przeworski, Michael E. Alvarez, José Antonio Cheibub, and Fernando Limongi, Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

[iii] The one that is not violated is “ex post certainty,” namely the assurance that whoever wins the election will take office. Note that the “alternation” rule introduced by Przeworski et al. to operationalize the three conditions of democracy speaks directly to the problems related to the measurement of incumbent-caused subversions of democracy.

A longer version of this post first appeared in the APSA Comparative Democratization newsletter, vol. 12, no. 2, May 2014

Slovakia – Perils of semi-presidentialism?! Independent Andrej Kiska inaugurated as new president

On 15 June 2014 independent Andrej Kiska was inaugurated as Slovakia’s new president, succeding Ivan Gašparovič who had served as president since 2004. Kiska is the country’s first truly non-partisan president and while his lack of any partisan affiliation was one of the main reason for his electoral victory against Prime Minister Robert Fico, it will also be his greatest obstacle to exerting political influence.


Andrej Kiska giving his inaugural address in the concert hall of the Slovak Philharmonic | photo via

Since 1993, Slovakia has experience three different presidents – indirectly elected Michal Kovač (1993-1998; indirectly elected), Rudolf Schuster (1999-2004) and Ivan Gašparovič (2004-2014; both directly elected) – all of which declared to stand above parties and act as presidents of all people. Kiska, too, declared his ambition to be a president above parties, yet in contrast to his predecessors he is – in his own words – “the first president without political or partisan past”. Non-partisan presidents are not an unusual phenomenon and given that constitutional stipulations or constitutional practices in most European republics foresee that presidents give up their party membership a number of presidents could be classified as such. Nevertheless, Kiska is exceptional in so far as he never served in any other political office and has never been member of a political party. His predecessors were all experienced politicians and (at least up until their inauguration) party members. In a European context, the only real point of comparison for such apolitical and non-partisan candidate even entering the second round of a popular presidential election would be Stanislaw Tyminski, a Polish-Canadian businessman who surprisingly advanced to the second round in the 1990 Polish presidential elections but eventually lost against Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

Kiska’s lack of a political past together with his background as a self-made man proved to be his most important asset and unique selling point in the presidential campaign. However, Kiska’s independence will now likely be an obstacle to his success as a president. The political left, almost exclusively represented by the governing SMER-party of Prime Minister Robert Fico, sees Kiska as a representative of the right and will generally be hostile towards the new president (not only because he defeated Fico). While this might not lead to open conflict between government and Prime Minister, the refusal of outgoing president Gašparovič to meet with his successor is reminiscent of the way the semi-authoritarian government of Vladimir Meciar (1992-1998) tried to sabotage the work of president Michal Kovač and shows how the government could try to prevent Kiska from becoming an effective check-and-balance. The fragmented political right on the other hand is wary of the new president and despite the support Kiska received from the third- and fourth-placed centre-right candidates, Radoslav Procházka and Milan Kňažko, he can hardly count on any party to act as his support base.

With the next parliamentary elections still two years away and SMER holding a majority of 55% in the assembly, Kiska is in a difficult situation. On the one hand he is in cohabitation with the government and should therefore be more active to show his closeness to and build alliances with the centre-right in parliament. On the other hand, although SMER’s approval ratings have been falling since their victory in the snap elections of 2012, it is currently unlikely that an alliance of centre-right parties will emerge that can topple the current government. Furthermore, if Kiska wants to play at least some role in everyday politics in the next two years, he needs to stay on neutral terms with the government and parliamentary majority. Although the contents of Kiska’s inaugural address should be interpreted with caution, his announcement to support political ideas from whichever political side they come from appears to be a signal in this direction.


Kiska’s campaign poster [slogan reads: ‘The first independent president’] | image via

In their discussion of presidentialism, Linz (1990) and Mainwaring and Shugart (1997) agree that popular presidential elections are more likely to bring political outsiders into power which can have negative consequences for political stability and presents one of the theoretical perils of presidentialism. Due to the limited powers of the Slovak president, a destabilisation of the political scene is unlikely – even the extremely frequent use of vetoes by president Rudolf Schuster who vetoed more than 10% of all legislation did not affect the parliamentary character of the system. Rather, the outsider status appears to have a negative effect on the president’s ability to influence policy and thus represents a peril for the president, not democracy.

For now, Kiska’s most likely course of action appears to be to continue stressing his philanthropic activities – he is founder of the “God Angel” charity, declared that he was willing to give his salary to the poor (see also here) and invited a number of socially disadvantaged people to the first dinner he hosted as president – while looking for a viable political partner. The new centrist formation ‘Sieť’ (Net) of third-placed presidential candidate Radoslav Procházka (the only of the centre-right candidates to unequivocally support Kiska in the second round) could be an option. According to a recent poll, its approval stands at 13% and is thus only second to Prime Minister Fico’s SMER (34.6%). Nevertheless, Kiska will likely remain cautious in affilliating himself with any political party (even inofficially) and probably wait how ‘Sieť’ fairs in local election in autumn before deciding on further steps.