Monthly Archives: July 2014

New publications

Robert Elgie, ‘Executive Leadership in Semi-presidential Systems’, in R.A.W. Rhodes and Paul ‘t Hart (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Leadership, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 472-488.

Alexander Baturo, Democracy, Dictatorship, and Term Limits, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014.

J. L. Black, The Russian Presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, 2008-2012, Routledge, 2014.

Shane P. Singh and Ryan E. Carlin, ‘Happy Medium, Happy Citizens: Presidential Power and Democratic Regime Support’, Political Research Quarterly, 1065912914534534, first published on May 13, 2014.

Daniel Stockemer and Patricia Calca, ‘Presidentialism and Voter Turnout in Legislative Elections’, Parliamentary Affairs, 2014, 67(3): 561-583.

Rogelio Alicor L. Panao, ‘Beyond roll call: executive-legislative relations and lawmaking in the Philippine House of Representatives’, Philippine Political Science Journal, Volume 35, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 59-77.

Josephine T. Andrews, , Richard L. Bairett Jr., ‘Institutions and the stabilization of party systems in the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe’, Electoral Studies, Volume 33, March 2014, Pages 307–321.

Laura Tedesco and Rut Diamint, ‘Latin American Democracy. What to Do with the Leaders?’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Volume 33, Issue 1, January 2014, Pages: 31–45.

Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, ‘A Two-Level Theory of Presidential Instability’, Latin American Politics and Society, Volume 56, Issue 1, Spring 2014, Pages: 34–54.

Miguel Carreras, ‘Outsiders and Executive–Legislative Conflict in Latin America’, Latin American Politics and Society, Article first published online : 23 JUL 2014.

Alejandro Bonvecchi and Carlos Scartascini, ‘The Organization of the Executive Branch in Latin America: What We Know and What We Need to Know’, Latin American Politics and Society, Volume 56, Issue 1, Spring 2014, Pages: 144–165.

Public Opinion Quarterly, Special Issue: New Directions in Presidential-Election Research [US], Volume 78 Issue S1, 2014.

Oleg Zaznaev, ‘Measuring Presidential Power: A Review of Contemporary Methods’, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, Vol 5, No 14 (2014), available at: http://mcser-org.ervinhatibi.com/journal/index.php/mjss/article/view/3188/3143

Eduardo Frajman, ‘The general election in Costa Rica, February/April 2014’, Electoral Studies, Volume 35, September 2014, Pages 61–66.

Martin Dolezal & Eva Zeglovits, ‘Almost an Earthquake: The Austrian Parliamentary Election of 2013’, West European Politics, 37:3, 644-652

E Morgan-Jones, review of Robert Elgie, Semi-Presidentialism: Subtypes and Democratic Performance, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, in Perspectives on Politics, 2014, March, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 259-261.

Carlos Pereira – Making Brazil Work

SÃO PAULO - SP - 19/02/2014 - NACIONAL - PROFESSOR CARLOS PEREIRA - Priofessor da FVG (Fundação Getulio Vargas), Carlos Pereira

This is a guest post by Professor Carlos Pereira of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is based on the book by Marcus André Melo & Carlos Pereira, Making Brazil Work: Checking the President in a Multiparty System, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013

In our book we argue that over the last two decades or so Brazil has performed surprisingly well, in sharp contrast to previous evaluations and predictions. The country has boasted remarkable, unanticipated levels of institutional strength and democratic stability. We claim that the combination of multiparty presidentialism and postelectoral coalition governments has prevented the sort of abuses that might be seen in single-party majority governments, which usually occur when the governments interpret their election as a blank check by voters to do what the government wants once it is in power, including ignoring the opposition, attempts to control the media, or trying to undermine the independence of institutions providing checks and balance. Considerable good governance has resulted in a fragmented multiparty environment by virtue of a constitutionally strong president checked by reasonably strong institutions for accountability and a competitive media.

What factors then explain the June 2013 wave of protest all over the country and subsequent protests, which at first sight may suggest significant levels of dissatisfaction and malfunctioning institutions? Unlike many pundits, we claim that the problem is not one of failure of institutional design or dysfunctional political institutions. The recent wave of protests and widespread riots in the country neither resulted from insufficient democratization nor a lack of political representation, in the sense that no single political interest in the society is out of or not represented in the political game. Any parallels to be drawn between Brazil on the one hand and Turkey, Egypt, or Tunisia on the other, are misguided because those countries either are not fully democratic and/or have fragile institutions and scant historical experience with democracy. In addition, they face very unstable economic conditions, where economic crises have generated high unemployment, especially among young workers. By contrast, poverty and inequality in Brazil have declined monotonically over the last 15 years and, more importantly, unemployment has reached the lowest level in modern times. Also, Brazil’s political institutions could hardly be called dysfunctional considering the country’s achievements in terms of sound macroeconomic management, control of inflation, and surprising institutional stability. Brazil has, after all, managed to impeach a president and achieve smooth power alternation at the national level. The more appropriate comparison is with Chile’s recent wave of student protests, which point to the limits of democracy in countries historically marked by social exclusion, but where institutions have begun to function well and the economy has shown great dynamism.

Similar to Chile, accountability institutions have worked relatively well in Brazil. The Public Ministry and the media, for example, have shown independence and greater effectiveness than in other countries of the region. Therefore, denunciations, exposés, and perceptions of corruption have been higher in these countries than elsewhere. Not surprisingly, survey data from the Global Corruption Barometer suggests that citizens have shown much greater trust in Brazil and Chile’s judiciary and the media than elsewhere in the region and among developing countries. This enhanced level of accountability has clearly led to great citizen dissatisfaction with the status quo.

As we argue in the book, Brazil is transitioning toward good governance, and the improved effectiveness of checks has resulted in enhanced awareness about political corruption in the country. Citizens, for instance, have celebrated the Supreme Court’s convictions of over two-dozen officials, including high-level politicians, public administrators, and businessmen, for their role in the mensalão scandal—a money-laundering-cum-legislative-vote-buying operation. Citizens’ reaction provided great support to the Supreme Court’s decision especially because high-level conviction under the charge of corruption has been unprecedented in Brazil alone.

Brazil’s accountability institutions have remained unscathed despite a small number of attempts to weaken them. Such attempts include the creation of a National Communication Council to oversee the media, and measures to reduce the powers of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the independence of the Audit Courts. Significantly, as a rule these attempts have never garnered enough support to move forward—neither inside the government’s coalition, nor in society at large.

In addition to the reaction against corruption, the protests of June 2013 targeted the quality of public policies, and health care, education, and public transport in particular. Interestingly, in the Latin America Barometer’s (LAPOP) 2012 survey, Brazilians and Chileans were the least satisfied with the quality of public services of all citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean, except for Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago. The economic progress of recent years has raised expectations, and many Brazilians and Chileans are keen to see social progress.

Another similarity between protests in Brazil and Chile has to do with the reversal of economic expectations following the slowdown of the economy in the wake of changes in the external economic environment and poor macroeconomic management. This is reflected in the level of personal indebtedness in both countries, especially among the emerging new middle class. With inflation under control and economic stability on the rise, Brazilian consumers have been encouraged to purchase on credit. In this stable environment, access to credit and the expansion of formal employment are at the core of the remarkable socioeconomic change Brazil has been undergoing. The resulting personal credit boom coupled with the exhaustion of growth in real incomes had led, in Brazil, to an unprecedented escalation of delinquent payments on loans and bills (including utility bills). The delinquency rate rose by 72 per cent between 2007 and 2010. In Chile, the high cost of college education has been one of the key targets of the protesters. Middle-class families spend 40 per cent of their income per child on tuition expenses—higher than any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Tuition has increased by 60 per cent in a decade and the length of many degree programs has resulted in skyrocketing indebtedness for lower and middle-class student. Combined with the difficulties new graduates from nonelite institutions face in finding jobs, students find themselves mired in debt with few opportunities.

In Brazil, issues of service quality came forcefully to the fore for contextual reasons, but they also reflect structural issues. People protested against the government’s decision to overspend on the construction and renovation of soccer stadiums for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Criticisms that the final cost will significantly exceed initial budgets and the perception that little has been done to improve the urban infrastructure triggered protests everywhere. Reacting against the “Fifa-Standard Soccer Stadiums,” demonstrators carried signs in the streets asking for “Fifa-Standard Hospitals” or “Fifa-Standard Schools.” A more fundamental issue is at the bottom of discontent here: Brazil’s tax burden at 37 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is above the OECD average, an abysmal contrast with federal underfunding of health and personal services.

Therefore, protests are about government performance, not about reforming political institutions. The demonstrations’ banners—calling for “political reforms”—can be misleading: in a poll commissioned by the Perseu Abramo Institute, respondents did not cite political institutions even once when asked about their proposals for “political reform.” Instead, they pointed to an array of reforms aimed at improving service delivery and reducing corruption. Admittedly, political institutions ultimately affect government performance in any country. However, they are not the primary determinant of the Brazilian malaise. The extents of rent-seeking in the country and the inability to root out corruption and reduce politicians’ extensive privileges have structural roots as well as contextual ones. Indeed, citizens’ frustrations with public policies, and with the recent surge in inflation and the slowdown of growth that Brazil has experienced, are at the root of the June 2013 mass protests.

Achieving greater equality and openness is inherently messy; it is a process we, and other coauthors, call dissipative inclusion. Dissipative inclusion is inherently disruptive, leading to all sorts of resistance from those who are harmed by the redistribution of resources taking place. These potential distortions are not necessarily unavoidable, but dissipation may increase when they come in conjunction with bad public policies and erratic government decisions. The benefits generated by this sort of dissipative inclusion are usually not perceived in the short-run and as such generate frustrations and disappointments with the system. However, the positive aspect of this process is that people may perceive the glass as half-empty because they somehow share some sort of inclusion. Thus, heightened expectations, bad policies, and inherently dissipative processes are important factors shaping the recent institutional malaise in the country.

Public policymaking in Brazil’s multiparty presidentialist system is incrementalist because of the various veto points in the system. Policymaking involves extensive bargaining and negotiation. In the context of historically high corruption, this process can engender an institutional malaise characterized by clarity of responsibility that is weak or absent, and extensive blame-shifting strategies. On the other side of the ledger, poor decisiveness and responsiveness reduces policy volatility. As discussed in the book, however, a powerful president who knows how to govern and to manage coalitions may prevent policy inertia. Meanwhile, party fragmentation and strong checks prevent the abuse of power. A powerful president may implement bad policies exacerbating problems that inhere in systems with diffuse accountability, and this certainly has occurred.

If the institutional malaise is measured by the degree of trust in political parties, Brazil is not fundamentally different from some mature democracies. The level of public cynicism is high but not at odds with that found in the United States and France. In Brazil, 81 per cent of citizens think political parties are corrupt or very corrupt, compared to 76 per cent in the United States and 73 per cent in France (data from Global Corruption Barometer 2013). The protests have emerged as a response to overall government underperformance and dismal public services, the reversal of economic expectations, and citizens’ sense of widespread corruption. To construe the mass demonstrations as evidence of the systemic dysfunctionality of the country’s political institutions is to lose sight of the role accountability institutions have played in enabling citizens to demand more accountable governance. By exposing corruption and reducing impunity, they have accomplished this. To argue that Brazil is a victim of its own success because it sets in motion higher expectations—as many pundits have done—however, is to play down government underperformance and the popular perceptions that it has condoned corruption.

Guinea – Opposition demonstrations to begin anew as political dialogue falters

Following failure to achieve consensus on action points from the July 1st – 9 political dialogue between ruling and opposition parties, Guinean opposition parties have declared their intent to resume street demonstrations. Opposition parties claim that the government has misrepresented the recommendations agreed upon by the two parties, aimed at paving the way for a peaceful presidential poll in 2015. The opposition thus intends to organize a political manifestation in Conakry on August 4th. During demonstrations in 2011-2013, more than 60 opposition activists were killed in protests over the modalities for organizing legislative elections.

Opposition grievances center on delays in the organization of local elections and the lack of progress on other provisions of a political agreement signed on July 3, 2013 between opposition and majority parties. According to that agreement, local polls should have taken place by the end of the first quarter of 2014. In March 2014, however, the election commission postponed the elections indefinitely citing a lack of funds. Mistrust between the government and opposition parties has since festered. The 54 seats held by opposition parties in the 114-seat National Assembly remained empty for three weeks, during the most recent legislative session, inhibiting the passage of laws requiring a two thirds majority to be adopted. This included the adoption of rules of procedure to govern the legislature’s own work.

In late June, the Minister of Territorial Administration Alhassane Condé made overtures to the opposition to resume dialogue stalled since the September 2013 legislative elections. Dialogue effectively resumed on July 1st and concluded with apparent success and the opposition resuming its seats in the legislature. Discussions centered on five agenda points:

  • The choice of a new operator for the revision of the voter registry through open tender;
  • The organization of local elections;
  • The political neutrality of the public service;
  • The prosecution of actors responsible for violence related to last year’s legislative elections and the compensation for victims of that violence; and
  • The establishment of follow-up and monitoring committees to facilitate implementation and oversight of agreed-upon action points.

Problems arose when the Minister of Territorial Administration forwarded a synthesis of the decisions made during the dialogue sessions for joint signature, on July 11. Opposition parties found that certain details had been glossed over, omitted or misrepresented. For example, the opposition complains that the synthesis prepared by the government omits the following points on which consensus was reached: that the current operator of the voter registry, Waymark/Sabary, cannot participate in the open tender for a new operator; that political parties should be associated with the elaboration of an election calendar for the local polls; and that disciplinary action will be taken against public servants found to violate the principle of neutrality in public service.

Guinea is clearly far from achieving a rebuilding of mutual trust after the highly contentious 2010 presidential poll. The opposition is particularly concerned that the open tender for the selection of a new operator for the revision of the voter registry appears to be moving ahead, while the follow-up and monitoring committees with representation of both opposition and ruling parties have not yet been seated. The Secretary General of the ruling party, Saloum Cisse, calls the opposition’s intent to resume demonstrations an unnecessary provocation, as the ‘door for dialogue is wide open.’ Hopefully, ruling and opposition parties will succeed in achieving a common understanding of the outcome of the dialogue earlier this month to avoid tensions escalating further and a resumption of violence.

Georgia – President/PM relations

On 17 November 2013 Giorgi Margvelashvili from the Georgian Dream coalition took office as President of Georgia, having won the presidential election at the first ballot the previous month. On 20 November, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of Georgian Dream, stepped down as Prime Minister. He was succeeded by Irakli Garibashvili, who is technically non-partisan, but who is close to Ivanishvili and who was nominated for the post by the Georgian Dream group.

This series of events ended the highly conflictual period of cohabitation in Georgia. When the Georgian Dream coalition won the parliamentary election in October 2012, Prime Minister Ivanishvili and his government were faced with the incumbent President Mikheil Saakashvili from the National Movement. Saakashvili, who had been in power since 2004 and who was term limited, refused to go quietly. The year-long period of cohabitation saw no fewer than 12 presidential vetoes, all of which were overridden, as well as many other highly public conflicts, notably over appointments to the judiciary, the armed forces, foreign ambassadors, as well as potentially destabilising conflict over the size and control of the presidential security services.

The onset of unified government has marked a fundamental change in political practice. There have been no presidential vetoes since November 2013. Moreover, following the 2013 presidential election, the 2010 constitutional reforms came into force. These amendments shifted the balance of power firmly towards the prime minister. The president does retain some powers, but is now little more than a constitutional figurehead. Not only is the period of cohabitation in Georgia well and truly over, so too is the era of superpresidentialism.

Yet, there are underlying tensions within the executive. Unlike President Margvelashvili, who now has little independent political authority, PM Garibashvili remains a close confidante of former PM Ivanishvili. This leads to the common perception that Ivanishvili is still running the government from behind the scenes. Certainly, the president seems barely involved in any key decisions. For example, last week there was a major government reshuffle. Partly for constitutional reasons, the president played no role in the process. More than that, since November 2013, the president has not held a single meeting of the National Security Council (NSC). This would have been unheard of previously. The first meeting of the NSC was scheduled to be held last week, but was postponed because of the reshuffle. Most bizarrely of all, President Margvelashvili was not even invited to attend the jamboree that surrounded parliament’s ratification of the EU Association that took place last week. Officially, there was not room for him. However, the president took it upon himself to attend the meeting uninvited. As he sat down, he said ” “See, I have fit, haven’t I?” This very public spat was just the latest incarnation of a dispute between the president and the PM as to who has the power to sign treaties under the amended constitution.

Fundamentally, though, President Margvelashvili is in a weak position. Constitutionally, he has few powers. Politically, he has lost the confidence of Ivanishvili. Moreover, the Georgian Dream coalition continues to do well at the polls. Having won the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, the group has now done well in this year’s local and regional elections. Up to now, the opposition National Movement continued to control most local offices. However, Georgian Dream’s impressive first round performance in June’s local elections has just been followed up by second-round successes earlier this month. For example, the Georgian Dream candidate will become the mayor of Tbilisi. Generally, Georgian Dream has won about two-thirds of the vote in the local contests.

Georgian Dream is a coalition. However, it increasingly resembles a unified force. Following the local elections, Georgian Dream now controls almost all aspects of Georgian representative government. Within the movement, former PM Ivanishvili still dominates. Within the formal constitutional system PM Garibashvili is the key player. President Margvelashvili has been sidelined. Paradoxically, this may increase the likelihood of tension within the executive as the president tries to use the few remaining powers that he does have. With the collapse of the National Movement’s political presence, perhaps the president will emerge as the de facto leader of the opposition?

Federated States of Micronesia – Tosiwo Nakayama and the founding of a regime

Typically social scientists think of regimes as being the product of underlying structural forces that shape institutions and subsequent political practices. However, David Hanlon’s recent biography of the inaugural president of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Tosiwo Nakayama, reminds us that the nature and character of a regime is rarely preordained.[i] Rather, it is the product of a negotiated settlement between human actors; individuals can and do make history.

The 1975 Micronesian constitutional convention brought together delegates in Saipan from all corners of the then United States’ administered United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands to debate the region’s future political status. Today, we refer to these island-nations as small states but, as Hanlon reminds us, while their population and landmass may be small when compared with other countries, the region they inhabit is vast and diverse (more ‘Macro’ than ‘Micro’). Given 90 days, they were tasked with drafting and agreeing on a constitution. From the outset, logistical challenges combined with the competing interests and agendas of each delegation worked against unity. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands had already entered into separate political status talks with the United States. Furthermore, the announcement that parts of Micronesia stood to gain financially from continued United States military involvement in the region meant that the Marshallese and Palauan delegations were increasingly convinced that they would get a better deal if they negotiated alone. Despite the odds being stacked against a unified constitution, agreement was reached at the 11th hour. Throughout, Hanlon describes Nakayama, the president of the convention, as humbly, persistently and strategically building consensus through compromise and concession.

Nakayama was elected unopposed as the inaugural president of FSM. In my last post I discussed the background profile of those who hold this office. In many ways Nakayama conforms to that portrait. Born to a Japanese father and a Micronesian mother, Nakayama followed a path well trodden by leaders of his generation, first to the Pacific Islands Central School and later to the University of Hawaii. This trajectory aided the work of the convention, as many of the delegates were his former classmates. He worked for the Trust Territory administration, entered politics via the Truk District legislature and later the Congress of Micronesia where he made his mark as Senate President, thus showcasing his talents and building support for his presidency of the convention. A modernist and a quiet but forceful critic of United States rule, Nakayama was a vocal advocate of Micronesian unity.

The FSM that Nakayama brought into being did not include all of the states present at the 1975 convention – Marshall Islands and Palau ultimately did decide to go it alone – but four remained; from west to east they are Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. The concessions required to gain agreement for the constitution – the main concern of delegates was that the new national government would overwhelm its constituent states – meant that significant power remains with the states and as a result the federation has been described as ‘loose’ with national government subject to ‘all checks and no balances’.[ii] Certainly, Nakayama’s two terms in office (the maximum number allowed for by the constitution) were marked by increasing tensions between state and national government. There are no political parties in the unicameral Congress with members drawn from their respective states who, when electing a president, tend to vote in blocs. As a result, Hanlon illustrates, the president’s most important constituency is the Congress who puts them in power.

Negotiations about the distribution of power between the states and the national government have continued since 1975. There have been two subsequent constitutional conventions – 1990 and 2001 – in which agreement was sought for changes that would ease conflict between the two levels of government. However, no amendments were passed. One interpretation is that this supports the orthodox view that once instituted the rules of any regime are virtually impossible to change; they rarely bend but must be broken and a new regime founded (and rumblings of succession persist in FSM). The other is that it endorses the work of the 1975 convention and the constitution it created. In either case, as Hanlon maintains, without Nakayama it is highly unlikely that these institutions would exist in their current form.

[i] Hanlon, D. (2014). Making Micronesia: A Political Biography of Tosiwo Nakayama. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

[ii] Underwood, R. (2006). “Micronesian political structures and US models: lessons taught and lessons learned” The Journal of Pacific Studies 29 (1): 4-24

Uganda – Inflated pay of employees in President Museveni’s State House causes controversy

In early July, a veteran opposition MP, Cecilia Ogwal used a plenary debate in the Ugandan Parliament to call attention to a never-before-published list of staff salaries in President Museveni’s State House. The list, contained in the Ministerial Policy Statement for the Office of the President, pegged salaries for the highest earners among Museveni’s entourage at Shs 96m per month, or approximately 21,000 GBP.

Ogwal’s contribution prompted a flurry of press coverage accompanied by indignant comments from fellow MPs. “The entire civil service of Mukono municipality has a monthly budget of Shs 35m,” noted Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze, adding, “That means that one staff in the office of the president can pay all the staff at my municipality.”

Government representatives were also quick to respond, claiming at a press briefing the day after Ogwal’s intervention that the original salary report contained “typos”. They also claimed MPs had failed to heed an amended list, which indicated that what were originally presented as monthly salaries were in fact annual.

MPs and press analysts have since questioned the veracity of these government assertions, noting incoherencies in the amendments, which now list improbably low salaries for many close presidential aides while failing to reduce the overall State House budget estimates to reflect these revised figures. Sceptics have also observed that the amended list was in fact sent to MPs the evening after Ogwal’s comments, not several days before as claimed.

Beyond the details of this one incident, however, the issue of salaries has rekindled deep-seated concerns over the lack of transparency in State House spending. In the past, these concerns have often focused on State House requests for what appear to be exorbitant supplementary budgets. In 2013, the State House annual budget hit a record Shs 200b (apx 45m GBP) after the Ministry of Finance requested retrospective parliamentary approval for Shs138b worth of “emergency” expenditure. Opposition and some ruling NRM party MPs protested, labelling State House a “bottomless pit” and criticizing the large funds allocated for presidential “donations.”

The controversy this year over seemingly lavish State House salaries is linked to similar concerns that State House funds are used to bankroll presidential patronage politics. President Museveni has long been criticized for using State House jobs as a way to extend his core of NRM support. Moreover, the independent Observer newspaper used the newly published list to highlight a regional imbalance as staff from Museveni’s home region in Western Uganda dominate among State House employees.

The salaries issue has also led to renewed frustration over iniquities in government budget allocations. The controversy comes against the backdrop of a parliamentary review of the bloated public service payroll, weighted down by the large number of “ghost” civil servants. Allegations abound that these “ghosts” are the product of a concerted effort by several ministries to create additional means to siphon off cash. The grossly mismanaged clean up effort nevertheless exacerbated the situation, leaving thousands of teachers and health workers obliged to forfeit months of pay after being wrongly removed from the payroll.

The whistleblower MP Cecilia Ogwal underscored her aim to highlight the “startling” comparison between well-remunerated State House staff and the predicament of other, less fortunate government employees. “I pointed out that while we lament about the delay of salaries of teachers and other underprivileged civil servants, you will be shocked to learn about the earnings of civil servants in the Office of the President,” Ogwal commented.

There is some indication Parliament may be positioning itself to provide more effective oversight of executive spending, including in State House. Much of the most controversial spending, including for defence and in the Office of the President, is kept confidential. As a result, it largely escapes parliamentary review.

Ogwal affirmed that the recent revelations “[have] opened our eyes to investigate how much each staff is earning even in the classified expenditure.” The Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga has, moreover, announced she will use her powers to create a PAC sub-committee to audit classified expenditure, although this move may be motivated more by concerns over undisclosed defence spending in South Sudan than State House salaries. There is also an ongoing effort to reform public service management, which some MPs and commentators argue should be used as an opportunity to reduce inequalities in government employment practices such as exist between State House staff and the rest of the payroll.

Whether or not parliament will have any substantive impact is uncertain. Public service reform is progressing slowly. Kadaga’s sub-committee, meanwhile, may run amok as a result of its structural weaknesses. The committee will report directly to Kadaga and then to President Museveni while the rest of Parliament will only hear of its findings in a sanitized annual report. This arrangement, which sets the committee under the watchful eye of the president, raises questions regarding how independent it can really hope to be.

More generally, the Ugandan parliament has a poor track record of providing effective oversight of the Office of the President. Whereas opposition and government MPs have joined forces on other controversial issues, anything seen to directly target the president is invariably cast as “political” and divisive.

At the very least, the controversy arising from MP Ogwal’s intervention has offered a welcome moment for public debate. An optimistic reading suggests that, in the long run, it may help contribute towards the cumulative build up of parliament’s oversight powers and overall standards of transparency. Indeed, the mere fact a salary list was included in this year’s Ministerial Policy Statement can be seen as a positive outcome of last year’s controversy over the large State House supplementary.

Still, it is hard to avoid the more pessimistic interpretation that this latest episode is one among many routine, almost ritualistic, controversies over presidential spending power, which do little to shift the balance of power, even if they do help clarify exactly where that balance of power lies.

 

Austria & Germany – The pocket-veto power of Federal Presidents

The majority of European presidents (as well as presidents in most other countries around the world) possess at least some role in the legislative process. Typically, this is the right to veto legislation, i.e. send bills back to parliament (usually with comments/sometimes with proposed amendments) where they are then discussed again. Two prominent exceptions are Austria and Germany where presidents do not formally have the right to refuse their signature.[1] Nevertheless, the interpretation of the respective constitutional stipulations is not clear and it can be argued that they possess a form of pocket veto.

Austrian president Heinz Fischer is the only Austrian president to date who has refused to sign a bill despite having no specific veto power |photo via wikimedia commons

At first glance, the stipulations of the Austrian and German constitutions about the final stages of the legislative process appear relatively simple and are almost identical – once a law has been passed it is signed and promulgated by the president (see table below) and the constitution do not foresee a presidential right to refuse the signature. Constitutional scholars in both countries have however argued that presidents may still refuse their signature under certain conditions, although the debate here has not reached a definite conclusion.

Austrian Constitution – Art 47 (1) The adoption of federal laws in accordance with the constitution is authenticated by the signature of the Federal President.
German Basic Law – Art 82 (1) Laws enacted in accordance with the provisions of this Basic Law shall, after countersignature, be certified by the Federal President and promulgated in the Federal Law Gazette.

The main point of contention is hereby the fact that both constitutions do not simply stipulate that presidents sign adopted laws but that they sign laws enacted/adopted in accordance with the respective constitution. For most scholars it is clear that presidents should be allowed to refuse signature to bills (or might pursuant to their oath of office to protect the constitution even have the duty to do so) if there were any procedural errors in any part of the legislative process. This could for instance be that the bill was not passed with the required majority or that the draft did not go through all three readings (correcting such procedural errors is interestingly also a not infrequent reason for ‘ordinary’ presidential vetoes in other European countries).

A significant minority of experts however argues that presidents do not only have the right to check the violation of procedural rules before they sign the bill (and refuse signature if they find any) and assert that the term ‘in accordance with the constitution’ needs to be interpreted more widely. Presidents should therefore also be allowed to review the constitutionality of bills with regard to further stipulations and only sign the bill if there are no ‘obvious’ violations (i.e. presidents and their administration should still not perform an in-depth legal analysis). In Germany, this group of scholars is further divided between a larger group that argues that the president should only check the bill for violations of the ‘fundamental rights‘ and a smaller group supporting an all-encompassing review power. Nonetheless, all scholars agree that presidents cannot refuse to sign bills for political reasons or non-legal objections to the content of legislation.

As there are no provisions that would allow presidents to return the bill to parliament (and for parliament to pass the bill again without introducing it again as a new draft), even the dominant ‘procedural’ interpretation of the respective stipulations can be seen as a form of pocket veto. From 1949 until now, presidents in both countries have only extremely rarely tried to exploit these constitutional ambiguities. German presidents have refused their signature on 6 occasions so far [2] and there has only been one case in Austria. In all cases, the refusal to sign the bills was clearly triggered by very obvious procedural errors or violations of basic constitutional principles. Nevertheless, the practical relevance should not be underestimated.

Although German presidents have only refused their signature under a bill once every ten years, the possibility of the president’s refusal to sign a bill accompanies most debates about controversial legislation, e.g. the recent passage of new regulations on the remuneration of members of the Bundestag. Even by delaying the signature under a bill and speculating about a pocket veto, presidents might able to extract concessions on related legislation in the future. In Austria, incumbent president Heinz Fischer was the first refusing to sign a bill, meaning that even after 60 years of constitutional practice in which presidents routinely played a subordinate role to the government president are able to curb out new powers.  Furthermore, similar to Germany the possibility of a pocket veto has also become part of Austrian debates about legislation.

For now, it is unlikely that parliaments or governments in either country will approach constitutional courts to have presidents’ compentencies clarified as it is possible that the court will provide unfavourable interpretation of the constitution and extend presidential powers. Nevertheless, at the same time the fact that a decision could also be taken in parliaments’ or governments’ favour should ensure that presidents do not use their power more frequently.

_______________________________________________
[1] The Slovenian president also has no veto power, yet regulations differ from the Austrian and German examples.
[2] Tavits, Margit. 2008. Presidents and Prime Ministers. Do direct elections matter? Oxford: OPU. p 81.

Lebanon – 58 days without a President

Lebanon has been without a head of state since 25 May, when the six-year mandate of the former president, Michel Suleiman, came to an end. This is because the parliament was unable to elect a new president. Even as all political parties have now formally agreed to overcome the presidential stalemate, this power vacuum is unlikely to be filled anytime soon. This crisis may affect the entire political and security equilibrium of the country and also put into question the Lebanese “consociational democracy” model.

What is especially worrying about the current presidential stalemate is that it comes on top of another major institutional crisis: the failure to elect a new parliament. The term of the previous parliament ended on 20 June 2013 but, due to disagreements over how to manage the spillover from the Syrian war, the political forces could not agree on holding fresh parliamentary elections. Instead, the parliament opted for an extra-constitutional fix by extending its own mandate until 20 November 2014, thus forgoing popular consultation. The democratic (un)suitability of this political solution was never put in question. The next parliamentary polls are scheduled in November 2014, but, as the two-month-old presidential stalemate lingers on, it seems highly unlikely that elections will be held by then. This may, in turn, entail postponing the election of a new government to replace the current interim cabinet led by Premier Tammam Salam.

With the deterioration of democratic legitimacy of the whole institutional system and an inability to overcome the political impasse, Lebanon’s already intractable problems may become impossible to manage, thus leading to a security collapse. To name but a few, these problems include: Syrian refugees in Lebanon that are expected to soon reach 1.5 million (in a country of 4 million people); car bombs every few months hitting strategic areas of the country; increasing sectarian clashes; fighting between the Army and Islamist militias along the Lebanese-Syrian borders since several months. As if this did not suffice, the general geopolitical landscape of the Arab Levant is falling apart, after the ISIL (Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant) took over Iraq and around 35% of the Syrian territory, proclaiming the birth of the Islamic caliphate.

Against this backdrop, on17 July, the former Sunni Prime Minister and leader of the al-Mustaqbal movement, Saad Hariri, giving televised speech from his residence in the Saudi city of Jeddah, outlined a road map to “preserve Lebanon’s stability”. In his speech, Hariri called for the start of consultations between the two parliamentary blocs of ‘14 March’ and ‘8 March’. However, he ended up by further dividing the two political sides. It is important to note here that, according to the National Pact – an unwritten agreement that regulates the distribution of power among the three main confessional groups— the President of Lebanon has to be a Christian Maronite, while the Prime Minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Sh’ia. But while Hariri’s roadmap has been approved by his Christian ally, the Kataeb member Samir Geagea, who is part of the ’14 March’ bloc and one of the Presidential candidates, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and member of the ‘8 March’ bloc Michel Aoun accused Hariri of discarding tout court his proposal for solving the presidential crisis. Indeed, on 30 June, Aoun had proposed amending the constitution so that the Lebanese people, thus not the parliament, could directly elect the head of state. Aoun’s proposal foresees two election rounds whereby in the first round only Christians can vote, and in the second ballot the two candidates with the most votes would face all Lebanese voters.

However, the 14 March bloc rejected Aoun’s plan, with the approval of Samir Geagea. The fear lurking in the background of these exchanges is that Aoun, who is supported by Hezbollah and the Shi’a community in Lebanon, which is the largest Lebanese community, would easily get elected president through direct polls. In other words, intra-Christian rivalry seems to further exacerbate the dispute between Sunni and Shi’a, respectively represented by the Hariri-led 14 March and the Hezbollah-dominated 8 March.

The dangerous side-effect of this intractable division among the Christians is twofold: not only could a protracted presidential vacuum continue to hinder the proper functioning of the parliament and the government, but it may also challenge the viability of the National Pact. In other words, it might jeopardize the pillar of Lebanon’s consociational system, based on a division of powers among Christians, Sunni and Shi’a. And all this is not at all to the benefit of secularism, but creates room to what seems to be more and more a zero-sum game between the Sunni and the Sh’ia in Lebanon, and in the whole Levant.

Bolivia – Latin American Presidents and Term Limits

Last week, the Bolivian electoral council announced that Bolivia’s incumbent president, Evo Morales, will run for a third consecutive term in presidential elections due to be held on October 12th of this year. This is by no means inconsequential, as this most likely clears the way for Morales’ re-election. Morales, of the left-wing Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), is the clear favorite to win this election with polls suggesting he commands roughly 44 per cent of the vote, far ahead of his nearest rival, the cement tycoon, Samuel Doria Medina, of the center-left Frente de Unidad Nacional.

Opponents of Morales however, accuse him of abusing the constitution. The Bolivian Constitution, the current version of which was adopted in 2009, states that presidents are only entitled to two consecutive terms in office. Morales was first elected in 2006, before being re-elected again in 2009. As such, his opponents claim he has already held two consecutive terms, and so is constitutionally barred from running again.

The Supreme Court disagreed. In 2013, they ruled that his first term in office is not applicable in this instance as it occurred before the new constitution when the two-term limit came into effect. This paves the way for Evo Morales to potentially hold office until 2019.

Whether or not you agree with Evo Morales’ interpretation of the Bolivian Constitution, he is by no means alone in Latin America in fudging the lines between the constitution and term limits, a topic I have touched upon before in this blog.

Initially, most Latin American constitutions, to avoid the perils of presidentialism and prevent the long-term concentration of power in the hands of a few, limited presidents to one term in office. In fact, in 1990, the Dominican Republic was the only country that allowed presidential re-election. However, beginning with a number of ‘neo-populists,’ such as Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori, Latin American presidents began to broker deals with legislatures and the electorate to allow for an extension and/or redefinition of term limits.

And this trend has continued apace. In 2010, Álvaro Uribe received support from the parliament to hold a referendum, proposing to change the constitution to allow him run for a third consecutive term. The Colombian Constitutional Court however, thwarted his efforts. In April, Rafael Correa indicated support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits in Ecuador. Currently in Ecuador, the president is allowed to hold office for three consecutive terms and in fact, Correa already oversaw a constitutional reform to allow him run for this third consecutive term. Last November, Daniel Ortega oversaw the abolition of term limits in Nicaragua to join Venezuela in allowing indefinite presidential election.

Although this trend is widespread, as the Colombian case demonstrates, it is likely to be slower and more muted however, in those Latin American countries with activist and independent judicial branches.

Magna Inácio – Coalition Presidentialism and presidential leadership in Brazil

Magna. InacioThis is a guest post by Magna Inácio of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil

Scholars of Latin American political institutions are fascinated with presidents. The wide array of legislative and appointment powers that presidents enjoy has been seen as a distinctive feature of presidentialism in this region. However, researchers have paid less attention to the organizational setting in which presidential actions are shaped.

In this post, I discuss how the focus on the Presidential Office – the organization formed by agencies directly subordinate to presidential authority and in charge of supporting presidential leadership – can help us grasp another source of variation among presidential systems.

In most Latin American countries, different from the US, Executive power is institutionally robust, but the strength of partisan support, as well as the legislative and administrative powers of presidents varies widely. Whether these differences stimulate presidents to invest time and resources in the Presidential Office in order to expand their powers and leadership is a nontrivial question: to what extent is a complex and professional presidential office necessary to ensure the coordination capacity of an already powerful president?

To answer this question, I understand that a critical dimension is the type of government and its impact on the presidential office. Single-party or coalition cabinets generate different problems of coordination within the government. I argue that under robust Executive power, the strengthening of the presidency is a byproduct of the chief executive’s strategies for overcoming the problems of coordinating a multiparty cabinet. Because the intensity of these problems varies across coalitions and throughout the presidential mandate, ebbs and flows of changes within the presidential office are not rare events. Thus, the strengthening of the Presidency is contingent on the governing coalition profile and the coordination problems faced by the president.

For several scholars, coalitional presidentialism is a source of political stability in Latin America, particularly where legislative-executive powers are relatively balanced and a game of inter-branch cooperation is feasible. According to most studies, the institutional power of the president favors the formation of a political majority and ensures several means for coordinating it. However, little is known about the problems of coordination that presidents face within the multy-party cabinet and how the Presidential Office supports the president to overcome these problems.

The experience of Brazilian coalitional presidentialism sheds light on this point. Multiparty coalitions are a common aspect of building cabinets in Brazil (Figueiredo & Limongi, 1999, 2009; Amorim Neto & Santos, 2002; Santos, 2003). Recently, variations in coalition management have attracted the attention of scholars (Amorim Neto 2002, 2003; Inacio, 2006, 2009; Raile et al, 2010; Chaisty et al, 2012). In this context, the presidential office has gained centrality, encouraging analysis of the evolution of this institution and the dynamics of coalition governments (Inacio, 2009, 2011; Batista Silva, 2011; Rennó& Gaylord, 2011; Rennó, 2010).

The Brazilian presidency is known for its powerful chief executive[1]. However, the extent of presidential powers is greater, considering the prerogatives of presidents to redesign, centralize and politicize the presidential organization. Comprising a set of agencies and advisory offices directly subordinated to the president, the presidential office is regulated by the general laws regarding the structure of the executive branch. Since presidents have the exclusive right of initiative in this area, they can exert strong control over legislative proposals and dictate the timing of these reforms (Figueiredo & Limongi, 1999). By implementing reforms through provisional measures, the president can change the status quo and impose higher costs for any legislative attempts to reverse it.

Remarkable changes have occurred in the internal structure of the presidency in Brazil throughout the post-democratization period, when stable coalitions emerged after a very chaotic phase (1986-1992). An organization, initially in charge of providing personal assistance to the president, became an institutionally complex and specialized structure. From 1995-2010, the structure of the presidency expanded the number of agencies from nine to twenty and the presidential staff increased from 5,000 to 15,000 employees. This expansion was not only structural; it also deepened the degree of specialization and functional differentiation of these agencies. Throughout this process, coordinating units have assumed a central role in the governing process; policy units and an advisory system increasingly support presidential decisions in priority areas. However, this process shows an oscillating dynamic due to the different coordinating problems faced by Brazilian presidents.

The governments of presidents Cardoso and Lula have built oversized coalitions, but they varied considerably. The more compact and ideologically homogeneous coalition formed by Cardoso led to less intense conflict among partners, with the government-opposition cleavage being more relevant. Lula, on the other hand, built a fragmented and ideologically heterogeneous coalition and internal conflicts and cabinet reshuffles were more frequent, particularly during his first term.

Both presidents resorted to a high degree of partisanship in the portfolio, exceeding 60% of the ministries, as a strategy to foster disciplined coalitions. Both are known for their legislative successes and capacities to lead costly reforms and innovations. However, this result cannot be attributed solely to the personal style or broad-base of the coalitions, but also to the roles that the presidential office assumed in this process. It is remarkable that, under costly coalitons, presidents expanded and strengthened the Presidential Office in order to keep tabs on partners. This movement took place through policitization and redesign of this strucuture.

Cardoso and Lula maintained the Presidential Office as a single-party organization commanding a multi-party cabinet, but the politicization of the office was considerably different under the two men. Under Cardoso’s coalition, politicization was a strategy for the ministries, not the presidency. Technicians and a few members of the president’s party held positions at the top of the executive branch. The modest redesign of the agencies supporting the president addressed the informational gaps in presidential advisory system. A different dynamic existed in President Lula’s administration because politicization reached similar levels in both the ministries and the presidency (80% of positions). The expansion of the presidential agencies and politicization were interrelated moves of Lula’s administration. The creation of new units subordinated to the presidency, which grew from 10 to 20 positions, was accompanied by the recruitment of members affiliated with the president´s party. Thus, while the presidential office opened new positions, the president did not share them with all of the parties in his fragmented coalition.

A multiparty coalition reshapes the conditions for presidential leadership and presidents have learned how to handle it. Thus, I think we have to pay more attention to strengthening of the Presidency and whether it has any influence on the performance of presidential system. It is worth considering whether and to what extent the changes in presidential organization are a vector for cross-country and cross-regional differences in presidentialism.

[1] The Brazilian president has a monopoly on the introduction of legislation concerning public administration, taxation and budget, besides the constitutional right to request urgency procedures on a bill and the power to issue provisional measures.

Magna Inácio is an associate professor at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG). Her research interests include coalition governments, the institutional presidency, and legislative parties. Currently, her research is concerned with the institutional development of the Presidency in Brazil and Latin American. She has published co-edited books: Legislativo Brasileiro em Perspectiva Comparada (with Lúcio Rennó). (Ed. UFMG); Elites Parlamentares na America Latina. (Argvmentvm Ed, 2009) and chapters in “Algo más que Presidentes. El papel del Poder Legislativo en América Latina”. (co-edited by Manoel Alcantara Saez e Mercedes Garcia; Fundación Manuel Gimenez Abad 2011); O Congresso por Ele Mesmo. (edited by Timothy Powers e Cesar Zucco; Ed. UFMG 2011). She has published in journals such as America Latina Hoy and Jounal of Politics in Latin America. E-mail: magna.inacio@gmail.com.