Monthly Archives: September 2014

Vanuatu – Choosing a president

On 2 September the search for a new President of Vanuatu officially commenced when the five-year term of the incumbent, HE Iolu Johnson Abbil, came to an end. The country now waits on the deliberations of an Electoral College comprising of all 52 members of parliament and the presidents of Vanuatu’s six provincial governments to find out whom the next president will be. Early indications are that a politician attached to the main governing party and from Malampa Province could be the front-runner to be the next Head of State. The usual process is that the Electoral Office declares the position vacant and invites applications, with political parties nominating candidates. In 2009, 11 of the 13 people who applied for the position were subsequently approved by the Electoral Office to stand as candidates. Abbil eventually won the support of the Electoral College after two days of voting.

In line with the conventions of its Westminster-inspired parliamentary system, Vanuatu’s president has historically served a ceremonial non-executive function similar to that of a Governor-General. Vanuatu is a cultural and linguistically heterogeneous country but Anglophone-Francophone cleavages have played an important role in post-colonial politics – Britain and France shared administrative responsibility for the New Hebrides colony under a ‘condominium’ arrangement until independence in 1980.[i] The early dominance of the Vanua’aku Pati in post-independent politics meant that it wasn’t until 1994 that a Francophone candidate, Jean Marie Leye, was elected president. This transfer of power and authority from English-speaking to French-speaking leaders has led some commentators[ii] to argue that despite having limited involvement in the day to day operation of government, the office has the potential to facilitate an ‘integrative nation-building processes in which marginalized minority elements are brought into high status decision-making positions’.

On the other hand, what makes the outcome of the ballot somewhat uncertain is that since 1991 Vanuatu has seen successive coalition governments who are regularly subject to votes-of-no-confidence. The current government, for example, was installed in May of this year after successfully bringing down the previous coalition in a no-confidence vote. In such circumstances, while the position itself is largely ceremonial, any such appointment is subject to intense political manoeuvring in a context where the allocation of power and patronage is finely balanced. Indeed, some commentators have argued that disagreement over how to divide the spoils of office have underpinned the collapse of successive coalitions governments since 1998.[iii] So, while in theory the government has the majority, in practice wheeling and dealing is required, especially as the expanded Electoral College alters the numbers.

One prominent example is the 2004 presidential ballot when friction between government and opposition, and within both camps, led to the election of a compromise candidate who it later turned out was under a suspended sentence for fraud (they were forced to resign weeks later).[iv] In this instance, dissatisfaction with the way the prime minister handled the matter led to the disillusionment of parliament and fresh elections. Indeed, while a ceremonial role has been the norm, the presidency of Vanuatu has been known to attract controversy. Most prominently, the inaugural president, Ati George Sokomanu, was dismissed by the Electoral College in 1989 after his decision to dissolve parliament, call elections and appoint an interim government, led by his nephew, was deemed unconstitutional (he was initially arrested and convicted of seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government, among other things, but the charges were later dropped on appeal).[v] So, while the position is largely ceremonial, and the institutional procedure for electing a new president relatively straightforward, the politics of presidential appointments in Vanuatu can be more complex and uncertain.

[i] Van Trease, H. 2005. “The Operation of the Single Non-Transferable Vote System in Vanuatu.” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. 43(3): 296-332.

[ii] Levine, S., and N. Roberts. 2005. “The Constitutional Structures and Electoral Systems of Pacific Island States”. Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. 43(3): 276-295.

[iii] Van Trease, H. 2005. “The Operation of the Single Non-Transferable Vote System in Vanuatu.” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. 43(3): 296-332.

[iv] Van Trease, H. 2005. “The Operation of the Single Non-Transferable Vote System in Vanuatu.” Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. 43(3): 296-332.

[v] Van Trease, H. 1995. “Years of Turmoil: 1987-91” In H. Van Trease (ed.) Melanesian Politics: Stael Blong Vanuatu. Christchurch and Suva: Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies and the Institute for Pacific Studies, p. 73-118.

Kenya – President Kenyatta introduces anti-corruption measures in Kenya

Following a series of major corruption controversies, the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a new anti-corruption drive earlier this month. On 1 September, Kenyatta launched a new scheme to biometrically register all civil servants in a bid to end the phenomenon of “ghost workers” – dead or non-existent workers who nonetheless draw government salaries. According to a government audit, such scams currently cost the government around $1 million a month.

President Kenyatta also announced the launch of a new website,, which enables ordinary Kenyans to upload evidence of corruption “directly” to the president. Through the site, Kenyans can anonymously share videos, documents and photos. The President has said that he hopes that these measures will encourage Kenyans to speak out about the corruption that they experience in their everyday lives. At present, Transparency International estimate that only about 3% of Kenyans do so.

The new measures were introduced after embarrassing corruption scandals undermined progress on two of the government’s flagship projects: the provision of one laptop to every child, and the construction of a Standard Gauge railway linking Nairobi and Mombasa. However, commentators have questioned how effective the new measures will be.

Given that most Kenyans do not report corruption, and the government has a poor track record of impartially investigating corruption allegations, it is unclear whether the opportunity to upload evidence “directly” to the president will prove to be attractive to a skeptical audience. Critics have accused the president of “window dressing”, pointing out that there is already considerable evidence of wrongdoing in the “one laptop” and “Standard Gauge railway” projects and yet little action has been taken.

Moreover, although “ghost workers” represent a significant drain on government resources, the most economically damaging form of corruption occurs through other processes, most notably import/export scams and procurement deals. Biometric registration and the launch of a new website are unlikely to impact significantly on this elite corruption, which typically involves a small number of individuals operating behind closed doors and takes some time to make it into the public eye.

India – A Figurehead President?

In May 2014 Narendra Modi’s National Democratic Alliance won a crushing victory in the world’s biggest election held yet. Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dominates the Alliance, was given an awesome mandate winning 336 of the 543 seats available in the popularly elected Lok Sabha. This massive majority, well over the amount needed to govern alone, gave India for the first time in thirty years a Prime Minister untroubled and unhindered by needing coalition concessions or managing disparate parties within a wafer thin majority.

In 1976 the British politician Lord Hailsham famously spoke of the Elected Dictatorship perception where the Government of the day through its party dominance of Parliament could rule almost unencumbered until the next election. All other institutions, so this argument goes, could not or would not stymie the will of the Executive. Not long before Hailsham’s grim prognostication India under Indira Gandhi had its own very real Elected Dictatorship when the country from 1975-77 was ruled through a State of Emergency. Freedom of speech, the right to assembly, Opposition protests and other key components of democracy were suspended and arbitrary arrests, executive abuse, controversial policies and opposition and media detainment ran amok.

Actually, though, Mrs Gandhi herself did not proclaim this extraordinary period in modern Indian politics, which was done to protect her position. The proclamation was made by the President of the Indian Republic, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, under Article 352 of the Emergency Sections of the Indian Constitution. This was proclaimed without the Cabinet or parliament’s approval on 25 June 1975. It enabled Mrs Gandhi, who had engineered his election, to rule India by decree on grounds of national emergency and internal disturbance. The actions from that period still resonate around India.

The Indian presidency, elected by the national and regional legislatures, was meant to mirror constitutionally the position of the British sovereign. However, the Indian presidency has key powers, which differentiate it from comparable presidencies. These distinctions are most especially found under Part XVIII – the Emergency sections. Article 352 is described above, but more prevalent has been the so-called ‘President’s Rule’ of Article 356, which enables the Union Cabinet through the President to take full and direct control over any state in the republic. Originally envisaged by constitutional framers like B.N. Rau and B.R. Ambedkar as being powers to be used in only the last resort ‘President’s Rule’ has in fact been used well over 100 times since 1950 – often on dubious and partisan grounds, rather than the breakdown in constitutional machinery that the constitution makers presumed.

The current President of India since July 2012 is veteran Congress politician Pranab Mukherjee who has over four decades of high level political experience including holding the Finance, Defence and External Affairs portfolios at the Union level. He is a loyalist to the Gandhi-Nehru family and approaching his eightieth year has little left to prove.

With many of the great institutions of state dominated by Modi supporters, especially in the wake of the massive May 2014 victory the President, who is formally tasked to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the Indian constitution remains one important bastion that will resist the Modi advance. With controversial legislation, minority fears, weakened Opposition (so weak in fact that Congress has with its allies just 70 seats in the Lok Sabha) and concerns overs a revived elected dictatorship, the Indian President, with his substantial formal powers, may yet frustrate the Government as India’s gets used to a unique era of cohabitation.

Indian Presidents can either ensure Government power over the state like President Ali in 1975 or they can do the opposite. At the very least President Mukherjee from the splendour of Lutyen’s palace Rashtrapati Bhavan will be fully aware of the powers and responsibilities of his office and will not be a rubber stamp.

Using Presidential Speeches in Latin America as Data

A few weeks ago on the pages of this blog, Phillip discussed the general trends that can be observed in the inaugural speeches of Presidents in Central and Eastern Europe. His post indicated the value of executive speeches as a potential source of comparative data. Presidents make speeches all the time and in these speeches, they often discuss policies, agendas and future legislative plans.

So I thought that this would be a good opportunity for some shameless self-promotion. With two colleagues, Christian Arnold and Nina Wiesehomeier, I have been working on a project that is using the annual addresses of Latin American presidents as data in order to derive some comparative understanding of executive politics across the region.

Every year, similar to the state-of-the-union speech in the United States, Latin American presidents make a speech to the national assembly. This is an institutionalized event, where the president is constitutionally obliged to make this speech at an appointed time each year and report on the initiatives of the executive over the last year, and the proposed agenda for the year ahead (an example of Dilma’s 2014 speech in Brazil can be found here). Although public interest in this speech varies across the region, there is one constant audience: the legislature. As such, this is a unique opportunity to comparatively explore this speech across countries, which we interpret as primarily a signal to the country’s legislators.

After a rather intensive and somewhat exhausting data collection effort, we managed to collect annual state-of-the-union addresses for 68 presidents across thirteen Latin American countries between the years 1980 and 2014 (we tried to begin with the year of the most recent wave of re-democratization in each case). We then employed computational models, based on the scaling algorithm Wordfish, to scale these speeches (relative to each other within each country).[1] We ended up with a policy position on the main dimension of political competition (i.e. whatever the major underlying issue cleavage is in that country) for each president and for each year. An example for Brazil can be found below.


Given national political and ideological contexts vary so widely across the region, we are unable to compare the absolute policy position of these presidents. We can however, compare their relative movement between one year and the next. For example, see the case of Brazil below.


This data can help us to understand the dynamics of executive-legislative relations in Latin America. We explored under what conditions presidents are more likely to signal their willingness to compromise and whether this has an effect on their rate of executive legislative success. Contrary to the somewhat pessimistic Linzian interpretation of Latin American politics (and in line with the wave of research on coalitional politics across the region), we are able to demonstrate with this data that presidents use speeches as a means to strategically signal policy concessions to coalition partners and the legislature more generally. The degree to which they are willing to do this is intrinsically linked to the dynamics of interbranch competition in Latin American presidential systems and will depend on a combination of the coalition status of the executive’s party and the legislative powers granted to the president. Latin American presidents will often compromise or alter their position in the policy space from one year to the next and this movement will subsequently have an effect on their rate of legislative success.

The upshot: these speeches are not just hot air. They are strategic signals of policy intent and compromise, which the president may use to ensure the success of their legislative agenda.

Our project website can be found here.

[1] More detail on Wordfish can be found here.

Kosovo – Still awaiting a new government and presidential choice(s) for the prime minister post

Three months after a snap parliamentary election was held in Kosovo on 8 June, the country’s parliament has not started to work and a new government is yet to be formed. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has been called upon twice to rule over who should be nominated as prime minister and what is the correct procedure for the election of the speaker of parliament.

A previous post explained how government formation became a difficult constitutional matter in the aftermath of the general election.

Atifete Jahjaga, the non-partisan head of state elected by the parliament with cross-party support in 2011, had to decide whether to nominate outgoing prime minister Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which topped the polls and held 37 seats in the 120-seat parliament; or to nominate Ramush Haradinaj of the opposition Alliance for Future of Kosovo (AAK), which signed a post-election coalition agreement with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the newly established Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma), and claimed to have secured the support of the parliamentary majority. She asked the Constitutional Court to clarify the president’s role in government formation on 19 June.

The Court decided in favour of the PDK nomination. In its 1 July ruling, the Court argued that the president should nominate for prime minister the candidate proposed by the political party or coalition that was registered in the general election under one name and obtained the highest number of seats in the assembly. Thus, the Court specifically ruled out the possibility of nominating as prime minister a candidate put forward by a post-election coalition and opened the way for Hashim Thaci’s third appointment as prime minister.

In the meantime, the battle between the ruling PDK and the anti-Thaci coalition moved on to the election of the speaker of parliament. Under Article 67.2, “the president of the assembly is proposed by the largest parliamentary group and is elected by a majority vote of all deputies”. While PDK holds 37 seats in the new parliament, the opposition LDK, AAK and Incentive for Kosovo control 47 seats. To ensure that they will be able to propose the speaker of the parliament, the three parties formed a joint parliamentary group on 11 July. However, PDK still argued that the right to nominate the speaker of parliament belongs to the party that won the most votes in the election.

In accordance with Article 66.3, President Jahjaga decided that the parliament should convene on July 17. Following the parliament’s constitutive session and the election of the new leadership, she was also supposed to appoint the new prime minister.

However, things took a different turn. The chair of the first parliamentary session held on 17 July refused to recognize the LDK-AAK-NISMA group. The argument was that parliamentary groups could only be formed after the election of the president and deputy presidents of the assembly. As a result, the opposition parties boycotted the session and left the room when PDK’s proposal for the speaker of parliament was put to vote. In the absence of quorum, the meeting was suspended. However, the opposition returned later on and elected Ifa Mustafa, LDK’s proposal, as President of the Assembly in the absence of PDK. Naturally, PDK contested the election and asked the Court to rule on its constitutionality. President Jahjaga also decided to wait for the Court’s verdict before appointing the prime minister.

In its 22 August ruling, the Court found the election of speaker unconstitutional both procedurally and substantially. On the first ground, the meeting called after the adjournment of the Constitutive Session due to lack of quorum was declared illegal. On the second ground, the Court referred to its previous decision regarding the parties entitled to be consulted first about the appointment of the prime minister. The final ruling was that the Constitution prioritizes election results as a criterion for recognizing the largest party or coalition in the new assembly with the right to nominate the next speaker of parliament.

The constitutive session of the Assembly will be resumed on 12 September. Both the opposition and the ruling PDK are claiming the post of the speaker of parliament and are hoping to form the government. The opposition parties have announced that Self-determination will vote against the PDK nominees and are expecting to elect Ifa Mustafa as president of the assembly once again. The ruling party is counting on the support of the ethnic minorities, who do not want new elections to be called.

President Jahjaga is likely to play an important role in this context. Provided that all four opposition parties vote against Thaci, whom the president is expected to appoint as prime minister first, she will need to make a second nomination within ten days. The Constitution is however silent on whether the president should appoint a second candidate from the same party or not. Nevertheless, if the government fails to win majority support for the second time, the president needs to announce new elections, which should be held within the next forty days (under Article 95.4). In its first ruling, the Constitutional Court acknowledged that the president has full discretion in making the second nomination. In a more peculiar fashion, though, the Court also underlined that the president’s main responsibility is to find a solution that avoids new elections.

Iran – Intraelite conflicts keep Rouhani’s government in check


The moderate president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has again come under attack from conservative political groups, in stark contrast to the beginning of his mandate more than one year ago. Conflicting positions over nuclear negotiations with the West, over the Internet-freedom and, more recently, the impeachment of Reza Faraji-Dana, Rouhani’s reformist Minister of Science, Research and Technology, seem to signal that Rouhani’s conservative rivals are gaining momentum.

Within the institutional system of the Islamic Republic, the President is a crucial office, but it is the Supreme Leader, namely Ali Khamenei, who enjoys massive power and extensive control over the policy-making process and pivotal institutions, such as the judiciary system, the media, security forces and, notably, the Sepah-e Pasdaran or Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) (all potential proxies to deploy in the Leader vs President opposition). Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic indeed, successive oppositions between these two offices have brought about numerous institutional crisis and stalemates, which experts have operationalised into the notions of ‘suspended equilibrium’ and ‘dual sovereignty.’

Currently, the Supreme Leader can not only count on his constitutional extensive power, but also on the conservative-led majority in the Parliament, which is very vocal in its opposition to Rouhani’s policies inspired by diplomatic and cultural easiness.

In June and July, after conflicts between Rouhani and the IRGC Commander Major General Ali Jafari, the conservative factions attacked Rouhani’s government-led diplomatic efforts in the context of the nuclear negotiations, with the purpose of condemning Rouhani’s rapprochement with the West, which they consider as dangerous for the revolutionary nature of the Islamic Republic. ‘Negotiations on behalf of the system of the Islamic Republic must follow the path of Islamic ideals,’ declared Karimi-Ghadoosi, an hardline MP, while accusing the incumbent Minister of Foreign Affairs, Javad Zarif, of ‘selling out Iranian interests.’ Fears of ‘cultural invasion’ on the part of the West, should conflicts with the US and the EU be resolved, seem to be the most pressing concern for conservatives, in particular after the boosting of regional turmoil during the summer which have secured Iran’s safety in the region. According to Payam Mohseni indeed, conservatives in Iran are ‘very confident about their rising power and regional standing, and there was no sense of urgency or need to compromise and resolve the nuclear standoff.  They believed to have gained much from the regional turmoil in Syria and recently in Iraq with the rise of ISIS.  Most elites also discussed the sanctions as an opportunity and divine gift for economic development and self-sufficiency – a threat that could be handled and overcome. The main difference between moderates and hardliners was that the latter were more skeptical of the utility of nuclear negotiations and the benefit of cooperating with the United States on regional matters.’

In addition to the nuclear program, conflicts between the moderates and the conservatives have also emerged over cultural freedom. A well-known case is the one of the Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, who declared that Iranian authorities should introduce measures that would prevent access to the ‘negative, un-Islamic features’ of high-speed Internet and 3G services, whose licenses have just been awarded to three mobile broadband companies, in order to prevent the spread of corruption. Rouhani responded by urging clerics not to oppose the Internet and not to ‘cut off’ Iran from the rest of the world. Noting that the internet is vital to the younger generation, he said: ‘If we do not move towards the new generation of mobile today and resist it, we will have to do it tomorrow. If not, the day after tomorrow.’ This is just the last chapter of an older struggle between the conservative establishment and the government over Internet freedom.

Along with conflicts over Internet freedom and nuclear negotiations, the President is also facing the conservative-led Parliament’s attacks over his government. After conflicts over cabinet appointments, on August 20th the Parliament successfully impeached the Minister of Science, Research and Technology Faraji-Dana. With this move, the most conservative elements in Parliament have had a significant political impact. Faraji-Dana was particularly popular among academics thanks to his efforts for de-securitising and revitalising Iran’s universities, in accord with Rouhani’s stance on academic freedom. Moreover, Faraji-Dana brought back to universities the so-called ‘starred’ students and professors, namely those who were expelled because of their political views expressed during and after the highly-contested 2009 presidential election. The Minister’s impeachment was criticised by relevant political personalities backing Rouhani’s administration. The factional conflict is however ongoing as the first vice-president declared that the government’s investigation over the handling of student scholarships will continue despite the Minister’s impeachment, in a bid of unveiling the politically motivated management of grants in favour of conservative students and to the detriment of reformist ones during Ahmadinejad’s mandates.

Despite the relevance of the ongoing struggle between the moderate administration and the conservative establishment, this is ‘politics as usual’ in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Indeed, neither impeachments of moderate ministers nor attacks on moderate presidents are breaking-news in the country. Not only is the conflict between moderate reformists and conservative not a novelty, but also the fact those factional groups are proxies of the President and the Supreme Leader does not constitute any surprise. Indeed the contraposition between Khamenei and Rouhani mirrors previous President vs Leader contrappositions, and therefore is in continuity with the political and historical trajectory since 1979.

Women in Power – Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide

Penetrating the Labyrinths – Women are slowly gaining top positions


This is a guest post by Torild Skard, Senior Researcher, Norway. Her most recent book is Women of power – Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, published by Policy Press.

In 1960 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman prime minister in what was then Ceylon, it caused international concern. How could a woman cope with such a demanding task?

Half a century later the woman president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, received the Peace Prize from an impressed Nobel Committee for her contribution to ‘ensuring peace, promoting economic and social development and strengthening the position of women’.

From 1960 until the end of 2010, a total of 73 women have held the position of president or prime minister in 53 countries. In 2010 there were 18 women in these positions – or 6 per cent of the world’s top leaders. This is more than before, but there is certainly a long way to go to attain gender balance.

All over the world national political institutions are dominated by men. Everywhere, politics is considered a male domain. How did 73 women manage to rise to the top, and what happened when they got to power? These are themes of my new book “Women of power”, the first to give a comprehensive overview of national women leaders in the period since World War II.

Women in Power

Male partners
From 1960, a total of 32 women became presidents and 41 prime ministers around the world.

Many countries, in fact most of them in 2010, had only one politically elected top leader, whether a president or a prime minister. Some countries had a strong president who combined the position of head of state and government. In countries with a parliamentary system the prime minister was head of government and there was an appointed head of state (monarch or Governor General) with mainly a ceremonial role. Other countries elected both a president and a prime minister, who then were respectively head of state and government with a somewhat variable distribution of power.

Of the women top leaders two-thirds, 50 (68 per cent), rose to the top in countries with both a president and a prime minister. This is a clear overrepresentation. There were two top positions to compete for, so the chances of success could be greater, and it was perhaps reassuring that something as unusual as a woman top leader necessarily had to collaborate closely with a male colleague. Women obtained roles both as president and prime minister, and it was particularly in industrialized countries, Asia and partly Africa south of the Sahara, that they were part of a ‘top leader pair’.

Only 23 women (32 per cent) acquired top positions alone, and of these only 15 became strong executive presidents. They lived in Asia and Latin America. The others (8) were executive prime ministers, mostly in Western countries. Thus, it was extremely rare that women held political leadership positions with the most executive power and greatest autonomy.

Variable influence
The titles ‘president’ and ‘prime minister’ cover varying realities. In some countries the president is usually the country’s most powerful person, and the prime minister – if the role exists at all – functions mostly as an advisor. In a parliamentary system the roles are reversed. There the president – if the role exists – usually performs ceremonial duties, while the prime minister has executive power. In dual systems executive power is more or less evenly divided between the president and prime minister.

At the beginning of the 2000s, democratic countries with a strong president were more common than parliamentary systems around the world, but women more often rose to the top in countries with parliamentary systems. However, the difference was not great. 24 women (33 per cent) became national leaders in countries with a strong president and 28 (38 per cent) in parliamentary systems. Only a few, 10 (14 per cent), were leaders in dual systems. These systems were not very common, though. 11 (15 per cent) came to power in authoritarian or transitional regimes. There were most women leaders in presidential systems in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa and in parliamentary systems in Western and Eastern industrialized countries and Asia.

But women did not necessarily hold the most powerful positions in these different countries.
In countries with a strong president, 17 women were presidents and 7 prime ministers, while 7 were presidents and 21 were prime ministers in parliamentary systems. Apart from the three presidents of Switzerland, where there is a collective leadership, 35 women (48 per cent) held executive positions with considerable power, while 17 (23 per cent) held mainly ceremonial or positions with limited power, while 10 (14 per cent) shared power more or less evenly with a president or prime minister in dual systems. In authoritarian or transitional regimes 5 women had relatively strong positions, while 6 were clearly limited.

Why do women rise to the top in some countries but not others?

Rich Countries in the Forefront
In 1945, the United Nations emphasised that women and men should have equal rights. In the following years, the number of nation states increased dramatically and economic and technological developments gave women and men across the globe greater income, more education and better health. Living standards were highest in industrial countries and about 40 per cent of such countries had one or more women as heads of state or government. In developing countries this was the case for only about 20 per cent of countries. Thus conditions in industrial countries were more favourable for female leadership. People’s health, education and income were important, though they were not necessarily the only factors of importance.

It has been an advantage for women in politics that the number of democracies increased. Democracy is based on the principle that people are equal, and it is the people, not a limited elite, that should govern. This entails that women should participate in decision-making bodies.
In non-democratic systems women generally did not become national leaders. Only two women were prime ministers in authoritarian countries (Elisabeth Domitien in CAR 1975 and Milka Planinc in Yugoslavia 1982), while nine women rose to power in turbulent transitions where democratic systems were not in place or did not work, and/or where there were uprisings or civil war (Isabel Perón in Argentina 1974, Lidia Güeiler in Bolivia 1979, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl in GDR, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot in Haiti and Kazimiera Prunskiene in Lithuania 1990, Sylvie Kinigi in Rwanda and Agatha Uwilingiyimana in Burundi 1993, Ruth Perry in Liberia 1996 and Roza Otunbayeva in Kyrgyzstan 2010).

The great majority of women presidents and prime ministers obtained their positions in countries characterized as ‘democracies’. There were 62 women leaders in 48 countries. Most women leaders (23) rose to the top in liberal democracies in Western industrial countries, while some (10) did so in emerging democracies in Eastern industrial countries. Moreover, they were scattered over different regions. In Latin-America 8 rose to power in liberal democracies and 5 in emerging, in Asia 6 in liberal democracies and 5 in emerging and in Africa south of Sahara only 5 in emerging democracies.

Women’s Movement
If a democratic system is necessary for women’s political participation, it does not follow that it is sufficient. After World War II, Western industrial countries mostly had liberal democracies with political rights for women. But the systems were based on long-lasting male dominance, and women were not mobilized and welcomed in political institutions.

An international women’s movement arose during the 19th century in industrial countries and their colonies, among others in Sri Lanka and India where Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi became prime ministers. Inspired by a new wave of feminism in the 1970s, more women started to participate in formal politics. Parties and governments were put under pressure to let women in, and especially from 1975 the United Nations and the international women’s movement supported each other mutually. The women’s movements presented demands and formulated policies, while the UN promoted change, collected data, organized debates and set standards. In many countries political institutions became more open for women, women’s influence increased and woman friendly decisions were made. Generally, the number of women increased in parliaments and governments.

When they rose to the top, at least half of the women national leaders benefitted, directly or indirectly, from women activists requiring more women in leading positions. This was the case also for Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher, though they were seen as very critical to feminism. In Israel, women activists got gender equality as part of a socialist Zionist ideology, so Prime Minister Ben Gurion felt it was necessary to have at least one woman in the government. In the UK, pressure on the Conservative Party was created not only by the women’s movement, but also by the competing Labour Party, that took Barbara Castle into the cabinet as the first woman. Then the Conservative Party leader Edward Heath included Thatcher in his inner circle of men. At the time Meir and Thatcher were of the few women available who were qualified for a top position in politics.

Extraordinary Qualifications
In all regions the women top leaders had varied economic and social background. But regardless of their parents’ occupations and economy the daughters went to school and became an exceptionally well-qualified group. Practically all went not only to primary and secondary school, but also to higher education at college and university. They very often studied law, economics and political science in addition to other subjects.

Most of the women top leaders had far more education than the average person in the population. Many had long professional careers before they became political leaders, and thirty achieved very high positions. Reneta Indzhova in Bulgaria, for example, was head of an agency, Vaira Vike-Freiberga in Latvia was head of an institute, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot in Haiti was a supreme court judge, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese in Ireland were university professors, Luisa Diogo in Mozambique was a director, Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua edited a newspaper, Maria Pintasilgo in Portugal was an ambassador and Chandrika Kumaratunga from Sri Lanka a researcher. It was unusual that men got high-level jobs, and even more that women got them. But more women top leaders had such positions than their male predecessors. More than men, women had to have high status to succeed.

At the same time as the women had employment, nearly all of them married and three quarters had children to take care of. Most had one, two or three, but Sylvie Kinigi in Burundi, Cory Aquino in The Philippines and Agatha Uwilingiyimana in Rwanda had four each and Ruth Perry in Liberia seven.

Struggling upwards

Penetrating Labyrinths
It has almost become a standard expression that a ‘glass ceiling’ blocks women’s way to leadership. But the study of women top politicians shows that the image of a glass ceiling is not only too simple, but also misleading. It gives the impression that there is only a single barrier, not that women encounter obstacles all the way, and it says nothing about what it takes to reach the ceiling. The metaphor also gives the idea that one can break the barrier with a blow, once and for all. But in fact, complex interactions between different factors make it possible or impossible for women to reach the top. Various barriers must be overcome, perhaps one barrier several times in different ways, and when one is overcome there are new obstacles.
Most men also have to go through a labyrinth to advance to the top in politics. But labyrinths for men are usually simpler than those women have to go through, with fewer dead ends, nooks, crannies and barriers and more support. Women most often start with a handicap and encounter more resistance of different kinds due directly or indirectly to their gender.

Tough Party Ladders
Most women presidents and prime ministers achieved political power through political parties. In addition to their professional careers they were active party members, climbed upwards in the party hierarchy and acquired various positions: executive board members, party leaders or deputies, Members of Parliament, Speakers, ministers, vice presidents or deputy prime ministers. It was neither fast nor easy. Although the vast majority of top women leaders acquired extensive political experience, the political credentials of male top leaders were generally greater. The women who nevertheless came to power, benefitted among others from support from a male mentor and their appeal to women voters, from unexpected events (such as the death of a prominent leader or disagreement among the male candidates) and times of crisis (such as armed conflict, transition from authoritarian to democratic rule and economic depression with unemployment and social unrest).

In Asia and Latin America several women based their careers on family relations, aiming to take over the position of a deceased father or husband. Chandrika Kumaratunga in Sri Lanka 1994 and Cristina Fernández in Argentine 2007 took over while their relatives (mother and husband respectively) still were alive. In addition, some women came to power as ‘outsiders’, due to their special occupational status or participation in organisations outside the political parties. Vigdis Finnbogadottir, for example, was director of Reykjavik theatre in Iceland and a well-known personality from TV, while Claudette Werleigh in Haiti was secretary general of the Catholic development organization Caritas.

Solitary Swallows
Parliaments are central bodies in a democratic system. In addition to being important decision-making forums, they provide arenas for training and influence and form recruitment bases for national leaders. However, with the partial exception of the Nordic countries, the representation of women in parliament in the 1980s and 1990s was generally below ten per cent. It was only after the new millennium that the proportions on the average began to rise. But by 2010 there were still not more than 19 per cent women in parliament globally.

Countries with women top leaders generally had relatively high percentages of women in parliament. In these countries women’s rights were relatively strong and living conditions good. But there was no systematic relationship whereby a country had a woman national leader as the result of a certain representation of women in parliament, or that a top woman leader automatically led to an increase in the number of women MPs. For a woman to become a top leader many factors had to fit together, and even if they could have a positive effect, there was no automatic ‘trickle up’ or ‘trickle down’ between the national leader and parliament. Most of the female heads of state or government were therefore more or less solitary swallows as women in their role as leaders.

Openings or Obstacles
Recruitment to different political positions took place in different ways. There were usually direct elections to parliament, but the recruitment of women was hampered by little goodwill in the parties, few women candidates and unfavourable electoral systems.

The electoral system is a key factor. Majority vote in single-member
constituencies and proportional representation on the basis of party lists have been the most widespread systems, majority vote being most prevalent by the turn of the millennium. But proportional representation has generally been more favourable for women. Among the women national leaders considerably more rose to the top in countries using proportional representation (42 women or 58 per cent) than those using majority vote (15 or 21 per cent). The rest had other arrangements (5), were in a difficult situation of transition or did not have elections (11). Majority vote could thus inhibit not only women’s access to parliament, but also further advancement, particularly in parliamentary systems where top leaders had to pass by parliament.

Do women make a difference?

The women in question did not become top leaders primarily because they were women, but because they felt they should lead the nation. Some also acted in the same way as their male colleagues, fighting on their terms and becoming the first among equals, without being engaged in ‘women’s issues’, whatever they might be. Examples are Margaret Thatcher in the UK elected in 1979, Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua 1990, Tansu Çiller in Turkey 1993 and Megawati in Indonesia 2001. Nearly half of the women tried to compromise, however, looking after both men’s and women’s interests. These include among others Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina 2007, Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh 1996, Angela Merkel in Germany 2005, Indira Gandhi in India 1966, Mary McAleese in Ireland 1997, Zinaida Greceanii in Moldova 2008 and Luisa Diogo in Mozambique 2004. And one third, among them Gro Harlem Brundtland in Norway 1981, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan 1988, Helen Clark in New Zealand 1999 and Michelle Bachelet in Chile 2006, challenged male domination and explicitly promoted women friendly or feminist policies. So, some of the top women leaders did more, some less, but the vast majority did something to improve the status of women. It made a difference that a woman rose to the top instead of a man.

Towards the future

Institutional Change
Overall, a small, but growing number of women have become heads of state and government in the world during recent decades. There is still a long way to go to obtain gender parity in the leadership of nations. It will take over two hundred years to get 50/50 men and women in the world’s governing bodies if the pace is as slow as hitherto.

To strengthen gender equality, a woman friendly democratization process must continue. In research and efforts to develop ‘democracy’ and ‘good governance’ the role of women and gender equality must have a central place. Woman friendly democratization is a complex process that requires institutional changes:
– To ensure that women can promote their interests on equal terms with men, focus must be put on the political culture and the political parties: recruitment to the parties, internal processes, elections and decision-making, training and policy development, financing of political activities and forms of political competition. Here the mass media play an important role.
– Parliament and government must become more representative. In many countries, the electoral system must be changed, and ‘critical measures’ such as quotas must be adopted to increase the recruitment of women.
– Further, ‘good governance’ must mean democratic governance with emphasis on participation, human rights and social justice. If women are to participate on a par with men, the status of caring work must be increased and men must assume their share.
– Finally, there must be an efficient state that can safeguard the interests of the community, protect human rights and promote social equality.

The women national leaders who met at the UN on 19 September 2011 underlined the following:

“Women’s political participation and decision-making across the world is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace in all contexts – during peace through conflict and post-conflict and during political transitions.”

With more women as presidents and prime ministers with the support of women activists and men who promote equality, these aspirations are more likely to be met.

Torild Skard is a Senior Researcher in Women’s Studies at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs in Oslo, specialising in women in politics. A pioneer in the women’s movement nationally and internationally, she was formerly a MP and the first woman President of the Norwegian Upper House. She has also been Director for the Status of Women in UNESCO Paris, Regional Director in UNICEF West- and Central Africa and Director General in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has written numerous books and articles on women’s issues, particularly women in politics and travels widely studying and promoting the status of women.

Afghanistan – Explaining the presidential election stalemate: foreign interference and local political culture

This is a guest post by Clément Therme at EHESS, Paris

Photo Clément Therme (4)

In 2001, Afghanistan became the first laboratory for the neoconservative political project of “exporting democracy.” Thirteen years later, the inability of the country’s political system to guarantee a fair electoral process has created a political vacuum possibly lethal to the fragile Afghan political system. Two months after the June 14th electoral run-off between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, the two front-runners of the presidential election, electoral results are still unknown. Widespread accusations of fraud are indeed delaying the result, and diplomatic efforts by the UN and the US have so far failed to move the process forward. The role of the president is vital to the country due to the highly centralised presidential system put in place under the influence of the Americans after 2001.

There are two sets of factors – internal and external – that explain the current stalemate. Domestically, Afghanistan remains a failed state, unable to control its territory and effectively organise elections. In addition, ethnicization of politics remains a major issue in the country, with the mobilisation of ethnic Pashtuns being the main factor behind Ashraf Ghani’s electoral success at the second round of the presidential election. Votes for him increased from 31.56% at the first round of the election, which took place in April 2014, to 56.4% in June – figures that are however challenged by the contender Abdullah Abdullah. Some experts interpreted the first round result as the end of the warlords’ system with its ethnic legacy, and the beginning of a new era of Afghan politics. On the contrary, popular perceptions and the result of the second round seem to prove that ethnicity still plays a central role. Indeed Ghani’s supporters insisted that his electoral success was the “victory of the majority” of the population, the Pashtun, over the minority. It is clear that the ethnicization of Afghan politics remains the main challenge for the stability of the country over the coming months.

On the other hand, Abdullah Abdullah’s supporters denounce the lack of credibility of the electoral results, especially in Pashtun provinces. The scale of the fraud could indeed involve as much as a quarter of the ballots (2 out of 8 million votes). Abdullah accused Karzai of orchestrating Ghani’s electoral success at the June election as a sign of solidarity due to their common Pashtun identity. Abdullah’s accusation are consistent with the popular and widespread belief in conspiracy theories, which led to the resignation of Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail from his post as Secretariat Chief of the Independent Election Commission’s (IEC) in June 2014. This belief, strengthened by nationalism, holds that the IEC is part of a British conspiracy to destabilise Afghanistan, and it is deeply rooted in the long history of foreign interventions in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Conspiracy is one of the crucial factors reinforcing the popularity of anti-government groups like the Taliban and the Pakistan-based Haqqani network. As a result, the widespread dissatisfaction with the 2014 presidential election results is likely to politically weaken the next president. While constitutionally remaining the most powerful man in Afghanistan, he could indeed suffer from a lack of popular legitimacy due to the controversy surrounding his election. In other words, part of the population considers that the election of Afghanistan’s next president is the result of foreign, in this case American intervention combined with a deal-making amongst the political elite. Consequently, the mistrust between people and their political representatives will only widen.

Beyond the widespread belief in conspiracy theories, it is worth mentioning the external factors that are affecting the controversial presidential contest. Generally speaking, when it comes to foreign intervention in Afghanistan, two opposite narratives are present in the country. Whereas one considers it positive, the other one highlights the high cost Afghanistan pays for its dependence on foreign aid and security. The positive view on foreign influence is based on the belief that national actors are incapable of peacefully resolving Afghanistan’s endemic political infighting, which dominated the 2014 presidential election. When John Kerry visited Afghanistan in August 2014, Hasht-e Subh, Herat’s newspaper, highlighted the role he played in mediating between Ghani and Abdullah, stating that his intervention avoided a political and ethnic “explosion” (monfajer) inside the country.

On the contrary, those with negative views on foreign influence point to its tragic consequences, among which is the fact that Afghan institutions have traditionally lacked internal legitimacy. This has been the fate of a number of Afghan rulers, such as the King Shah Shuja Durrani, who was assassinated in 1842 because he was brought to power by the British and accordingly accused of being the servant of a foreign power. The incumbent president Hamid Karzai risked a similar reputation, and it is no coincidence that in the last year of his presidency he seemed determined to ward off the accusation of being an American puppet. In 2013, Karzai’s refusal to sign the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (the SPA, which allows the presence of a limited number of US troops for training purposes) was seen as a move to distance himself from the US, in a bid to guarantee his own survival after the presidential term ended. Moreover, Karzai recently started to use anti-American rhetoric echoing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political statements, especially in relation to the supposed US psychological warfare against Muslim states.

Moreover, Afghan authorities denounce interference from regional powers, namely Pakistan and Iran, as a threat to the stabilisation of the country. The two presidential candidates accuse each other of being in hock to a powerful neighbour: Ghani (a Pashtun) is supposed to be close to Pakistan while Abdullah (a Tajik) to Iran. Despite the influence of the two regional powers in Afghanistan, their respective interests are based mainly on security concerns rather than on hegemonic political projects.

Whatever the final result of the presidential election will be, Afghanistan needs to face numerous challenges that go well beyond its well-known problems with corruption and nepotism. In addition to this, and along with a much needed decentralisation reform able to improve the daily life of the Afghan people, the next president will need to secure his political legitimacy against the threat of divisions and split that will put national security at serious risk.

Clément Therme is an Associate Fellow at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS, Paris). He is author of Les relations entre Téhéran et Moscou depuis 1979 (French University Press, 2012).

Peru – Congress (finally) ratifies Humala’s new cabinet

Last Tuesday, Peru’s congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s proposed new cabinet.[1] However, this was the third time that Congress voted on this issue, and it was a very close call: 55-54 in favor, with nine abstentions. Somewhat dramatically, Humala’s cabinet was only saved by Ana María Solórzano, the President of Congress, who was the last to vote and tipped the balance in favor of the government.

Humala and his party, Gana Perú, do not have a majority in the legislature, and the government has been relying on the support of a number of smaller parties, primarily comprised of a conservative block of legislators, affiliated with former presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, for their legislative initiatives. However, support for the government has haemorrhaged following the stagnation of the economy, and amidst criticism of prominent members of Humala’s cabinet.

The new cabinet, to be led by Ana Jara Velásquez, only managed to receive approval third time round because the embattled Humala agreed to suspend new rules for private pension funds and withdraw his nominee for the Organization of American States (OAS). The weakness of Humala’s government is evident. This is Humala’s sixth cabinet and his last President of the Council of Ministers was only approved on the third vote. This was the first time in ten years that Congress has refused to ratify the president’s cabinet.

This conflict between the legislative and executive branch provides us with an important insight into the variation in regime type across Latin America. There is a general tendency for people to treat all Spanish-speaking South American democracies (and Brazil) as pure-presidential. This however, is not accurate. At least one democracy in South America is a hybrid regime – Peru. Argentina is a possible second although this is a slightly more contentious case (see this discussion over at the Semi-Presidential One). In fact, Peru is what David Samuels and Matthew Shugart class as ‘president-parliamentary’, that is when the prime minister and the cabinet are dually accountable to the president and assembly majority (p. 30).[2]

The current conflict in Peru revolves around the legislature’s refusal to approve the Presidente del Consejo de Ministros (or President of the Council of Ministers), in this instance, the aforementioned Ana Jara Velásquez. To all intents and purposes, this position is akin to a prime minister, and together with the cabinet is ‘dually accountable’ to the president and Congress. Clearly, given it was ten years since the last time Congress refused to accept the president’s cabinet, this rarely occurs, but that misses the point. It can happen, as constitutionally, the prime minister and cabinet are accountable to the legislature and so this is an important distinction between Peru and pure-presidential regimes, because in the Peruvian case, this confidence vote places Congress in a powerful position, particularly in the context of a weak and unpopular president.

Although Humala has a fixed term, the refusal of Congress to ratify his cabinet further undermines his political legitimacy and weakens his popular support. This leaves Humala looking like a lame duck.

[1] Thanks to John Carey for suggesting this post and highlighting the importance of the confidence vote in Peru.

[2] David Samuels and Matthew Shugart. 2010. How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge University Press.

Niger – Legal and political implications of the Speaker fleeing arrest for involvement in baby trafficking

The Speaker of the National Assembly in Niger, Hama Amadou, has left the country after the legislature authorized his arrest for involvement in a baby trafficking case, despite his parliamentary immunity. After first traveling to Burkina Faso, Hama Amadou has left the continent for France, transiting via Belgium. Prior to leaving, he contested the right of the bureau of the National Assembly to authorize his arrest by the police and appealed to the Constitutional Court to interpret article 88 of the Constitution. Feeling ‘threatened by the state,’ Hama left Niger before the Court could render its decision. A former ally of President Mahamadou Issofou, Hama has become the president’s likely chief opponent in the 2016 presidential poll.

The Speaker’s legal push-back is the latest example of a political tradition in Niger established since the first transition to democracy in 1993 – to request the Constitutional Court to clarify and interpret gray areas in the constitution; to serve, in a sense, as arbiter between contending political forces in their reading of the constitution (see earlier posting here, on a dispute regarding elections to the National Assembly bureau). In the present case, the Prime Minister requested authorization by the National Assembly bureau for the Speaker’s arrest and questioning by the police. The bureau obliged, with a sufficient quorum despite the walk-out by 6 opposition representatives. However, while article 88 of the 2010 Constitution enables the bureau of the National Assembly to authorize the arrest of a deputy while the legislature is out of session (as is currently the case), it is silent on the procedure for lifting a deputy’s immunity during an inter-session. The bureau of the National Assembly cannot authorize the arrest of a deputy before the immunity has been lifted.

This whole affair started with a series of newspaper articles appearing in the local press in January 2014, alleging the existence of a baby trafficking ring in which prominent Nigeriens were implicated. Interpol got involved and in June of this year, 17 people (of which 12 women) were arrested on suspicion of buying babies from ‘baby factories’ in Nigeria and claiming them as their own biological children. The trafficking network allegedly involves middlemen in Burkina and Benin. In Niger and other countries in the region, there is social stigma associated with being childless and limited options for fertility treatment. The people arrested included Hama Amadou’s second wife, as well as the wife of the Minister of Agriculture, Abdou Labo. Minister Labo was himself arrested on August 23. Labo is a dissident from the opposition party CDS of former President Mahamane Ousmane. His arrest is an embarrassment for the government and appears to undercut claims that the baby trafficking scandal is a political maneuver to eliminate Hama Amadou as a challenger in the 2016 presidential poll.

The affair happens in the context of persisting tensions between former ally turned opposition leader, Hama Amadou and the parliamentary majority, backing incumbent President Issofou. The majority has tried for months to impeach Hama, without having the sufficient two thirds majority votes among the deputies required to replace him as Speaker. By leaving the country, Hama has in effect removed himself from the position.

What are the legal and political implications of the Speaker vacating his position? A preliminary reading of the Constitution (article 89) would indicate that the National Assembly must hold an extraordinary session to elect a new Speaker. The opposition will, however, likely contest the extent to which the Speaker position is actually vacant, given the pending case in front of the Constitutional Court. The country could thus be in a legal limbo until the Court renders its decision, with the vice-president of the Assembly serving as Interim Speaker. Meanwhile, the opposition has rallied behind Hama Amadou, accusing the government of witch-hunt. It remains to be seen whether Hama Amadou will succeed in clearing his name ahead of the 2016 presidential race. The government of Mamadou Issoufou seemingly has the best cards in hand. The government can stand back and let justice run its course. In contrast, even if Hama is found innocent, leaving the country while his wife remains imprisoned could hurt his image as a statesman.