Monthly Archives: October 2014

A new dataset of presidential power scores

This is a post by David Doyle and Robert Elgie

Since the beginning of the 1990s there has been ongoing debate about the relative effect of different regime types, specifically presidentialism, semi-presidentialism and parliamentarism. From the very beginning of this debate, there has been an acknowledgement of variation in presidential power not just across these three regime types, but also within each regime type. This within-type variation causes a problem for cross-national studies. If the within-type variation is large, then estimating the effect of regime types themselves may lead to spurious results. For this reason, Crisp, Desposato and Kantha (p. 447) have stated that there is a “need for more explicit theoretical depictions of the institutional variation in the class of regimes referred to as presidential as well as the need for a systematic empirical exploration of the impact of that diversity on regime performance” (1).

In this context, some observers have preferred to estimate the effect of presidential power on outcomes rather than the effect of regime type more broadly. For example, Hicken and Stoll (p. 1114) note that the power of the Colombian president has varied over time as a result of constitutional amendments, even though Colombia has maintained a presidential regime throughout. As a result, they prefer to measure variation in presidential power over time and estimate the effect of such variation. They note: “our overall index of presidential powers reveals variation within each type of regime that the simple trichotomy [of presidentialism, parliamentarism, and semi-presidentialism] obscures. It is this greater level of precision that leads us to prefer the index”.

However, while there is now a well-established literature demonstrating that variation in presidential power has consequences across a range of political and economic outcomes, there are many different measures of presidential power. In fact, we have identified 19 separate and original measures of presidential power, plus a further 16 studies that used one of these measures with different countries, time periods, and/or scores from the original study.

This range of measures raises a number of issues. Individual measures are sometimes poorly correlated with each other, meaning that findings are sensitive to the particular measure of presidential power that is used. There is also a considerable loss of information across the set of measures as a whole as countries are included in some measures but not others and then for only certain time periods. More generally, as Jessica Fortin has recently shown, there are no theoretical priors to tell us which indicators of presidential power we should choose or how the scores for the individual indicators should be aggregated (3).

We agree with Fortin’s analysis. However, we draw a different conclusion from her. She concludes very skeptically, effectively questioning whether any measure of presidential power is likely to be valid. By contrast, we assume that most social science concepts, such as voter turnout, social equality, corruption, and so on, suffer from equivalent problems of construct validity. Therefore, we should not give up on the effort to generate a dataset of presidential power scores. Instead, we should focus on the reliability of the data that underpins the concept we are trying to capture.

We wish to generate a time-series cross-sectional dataset of presidential power scores with country years as the units of observation. To do so, we choose not to construct a new measure of presidential power from scratch. Instead, we draw upon the comparative and local knowledge already embedded in the existing measures of presidential power that we identified. To maximize the reliability of the scores we derive them solely from measures that are based on institutional indicators of presidential power and on the basis of a method that accounts for potential idiosyncrasies of country scores in the existing measures. In addition, we report the standard errors and the confidence intervals for all the country years in our measures, providing information with which scholars can make an informed choice about whether or not a particular country should be included in an estimation and which of our measures might best be used in comparative studies.

The paper outlining our full methodology will soon appear in British Journal of Political Science and is available in advance here. In the meantime, we are making available the full set of presidential power scores, including standard errors and confidence intervals for each country time period, in a separate page at the header of this blog. We also provide more detail about the scores.

Overall, we encourage people to keep developing new measures of presidential power and to update existing measures for as many countries and as long a time period as possible. One of the advantages of our approach is that new country scores can be easily incorporated into the method we have used, creating the potential for country coverage to be further extended, for existing country scores to be updated, and for cross-national measures to become even more reliable.

(1) Crisp, Brian F., Scott W. Desposato, and Kristin Kanthak. 2011. Legislative Pivots, Presidential Powers, and Policy Stability.” Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 27 (2): 426-452.

(2) Hicken, Allen, and Heather Stoll. 2008. “Electoral Rules and the Size of the Prize: How Political Institutions Shape Presidential Party Systems.” Journal of Politics 70 (4): 1109-1127.

(3) Fortin, Jessica. 2013. “Measuring presidential powers: Some pitfalls of aggregate measurement.” International Political Science Review 34 (1): 91-112.

Iran – Conservative Parliament rejects President-nominated Minister of Science


Yesterday, October 29, the Iranian parliament has rejected the President Rouhani-nominated new Minister of Science and Education, Mahmoud Nili Ahmadabadi, after Reza Faraji-Dana was removed from the same post by the parliament in August.

This is the latest chapter in an on-going battle between the majority conservative factions in parliament and the moderate president Hassan Rouhani. The stakes on high because the deadline for the definitive nuclear deal with the 5 + 1 is approaching and Iranian conservatives do not seem ready to accept that it will be their moderate, reformist enemy who will be remembered as the President who put an end to sanctions and to the decades-long cold war against the United States.

The latest blow to Rouhani came yesterday morning when after almost three hours of debate Nili-Ahmadabadi lost the investiture vote with 160 votes against his nomination and 79 in favour. Nili-Ahmadabadi was nominated by Rouhani last month and was introduced to parliament on October 22. The conservative opponents of Rouhani have accused him of proposing candidates who are friendly to the West or who back ‘sedition’ against the ruling establishment, reviving anti-Green Movement rhetoric.

During the discussion in parliament, MPs questioned Nili-Ahmadabadi over his stance in 2009 during the mass protests against the re-election of President Ahmadinejad. He admitted that he did sign a letter with fellow academics condemning attacks on student protesters inside university campuses. However, he said that ‘none of my colleagues nor I have crossed the red lines set by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. You will not find a single one of us who overstepped those limits’ and added that ‘all my colleagues believe in the system (of the Islamic republic) and acted within the framework of it’.

AFP reports a Western diplomat in Tehran saying that the post of science minister is so sensitive because Iranian universities were ‘very politically active and difficult to manage.’ The same source also reports the declaration of Ahmad Shirazi, a university professor, who criticised the use of the word ‘sedition’ by conservative and principalist MPs. ‘This question of sedition has become a stick by which fundamentalists and conservatives impose their will,’ he declared. Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a conservative MP, declared that the responsibility for the current stalemate falls on the shoulders of the government, which is unable to find a suitable candidate who needs to be able and willing to control university campuses and prevent disorders.

For his part, president Rouhani reacted to the accusations of the MPs by recalling that universities need a peaceful atmosphere to be able to promote themselves as centres of science and research. He said that the ministry has a specific importance, adding ‘we want universities to be aware of political issues but not borrow their slogans from politicians.’

Csaba Nikolenyi – Indirectly Elected Presidents: The Importance of the Rules of the Game

This is a guest post by Csaba Nikolenyi of the Department of Political Science, Concordia University

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In my newly released book on Institutional Design and Party Government in Post-Communist Europe (Oxford University Press), I devote a chapter to the assessment of the relationship between the rules of indirect presidential elections and divided government. In democracies, where the chief executive is elected directly by the voters, the notion of divided government refers to split partisan control of the executive and legislative branches. In democracies with indirectly elected presidents, however, the notion of divided government is much less explored. In my study, I do not approach the question of presidential choice and divided government from the perspective of the head of state; instead, my interest is in understanding how particular institutional conditions help, or not, the governing majority of parties to acquire control over the presidency where the constitution provides for an indirectly elected head of states.

Among the ten post-communist EU member states, there are four that had indirect presidential elections as of 2010: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, and Latvia. Since then, the number has dropped to three as a result of the Czech Republic having adopted a constitutional amendment that made the presidency a directly elected office in 2012. I find that in all four cases the rules of the game, specifically the congruence of the presidential election process with the selection of the prime minister, has systematically affected whether the incumbent government coalition of parties will capture the presidency or not. In Hungary and Latvia the rules of winning both the legislature and the executive favor the majority coalition in government. As a result, we tend to see few instances of divided partisan control over the two branches. In contrast, the presidential election rules in the Czech Republic, until 2012, and in Estonia, make it very difficult for the governing coalition to do so: in the former case the selection of the president required bicameral assent, and, in the latter case the winning candidate needs a qualified 2/3 majority in the unicameral Riigikogu. As a result, divided government has been a more frequent outcome in these latter cases.

Do these differences matter? After all, conventional wisdom has it that indirectly elected heads of state tend to have more of a symbolic role than effective political power. I suggest the contrary. Margit Tavits has convincingly shown that presidential power is not always and directly a function of the way in which the chief executive is chosen. At times, an indirectly elected head of state can wield more power over parliament, and political life in general, than a directly elected one depending on factors such as the prevailing balance of powers among parties, personal assets, and, very importantly the formal powers of the office. In the context of East Central Europe, for example, Vaclav Klaus, former (indirectly elected) president of the Czech Republic, was well known for his ability to wield power far beyond what many other directly elected presidents in the region could. In short, it does matter who wins an indirectly contested presidency and, therefore, the rules of the game are very important.

The process of finding the next head of state can be in and of itself an important factor that either supports the institutionalization of the democratic system or paralyzes it. Slovakia abolished the indirectly elected presidency after multiple rounds of balloting in 1998 failed to produce a winning candidate leaving the office vacant for six months and creating considerable political and constitutional turmoil. Similarly, the election of Vaclav Klaus in 2003 was the end product of a prolonged sequence of three rounds of ballots that left the Czech Republic paralyzed for two months. In addition to producing divided government, Klaus’ eventual victory also led to continued acrimony within the ranks of the governing coalition. In fact, it was during the 2003 presidential election process that serious calls in favor of moving to a direct presidential election, as Slovakia had done a few years prior, surfaced. The case of Latvia shows that even a simple majority requirement, that should favor the candidate of the governing coalition, may not be sufficient to generate a straightforward presidential election if the party system is too fragmented: in 1999 it took six rounds of balloting in the Saeima to find the winning candidate, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

All of this leads to a specific recommendation that institutional designers may take to heart. Juan Linz famously argued that presidentialism, i.e. having a powerful directly elected head of state, is perilous for a new democracy for several reasons including the divisive zero-sum nature of the presidential election. I argue that an indirectly elected presidency may be just as divisive and perilous for a new democracy unless the rules of the game are planned carefully. If the constitution calls for an indirectly elected presidency it is best to have such rules in place that will keep the number of rounds, and the possibility of a protracted or failed balloting, to a minimum. Having a presidential election rule in place that requires the winning candidate to have a special qualified majority tends to exacerbate political divisions in two ways: i) they tend to lead to divided government and conflict between the legislative majority and the head of state; ii) and they increase the likelihood of protracted or failed votes. The current political crisis in Lebanon, where the legislature has failed to elect a new president after thirteen rounds of voting at the time of writing, is a stark reminder of the negative political consequences of such rules in a different part of the world. Simple majority rules allowing for limited rounds to elect the head of state may reinforce the political power of the governing majority by reducing the likelihood of divided government. As such, they lead to greater concentration of power than qualified majority election rules do. Nonetheless, they lead to smoother, more efficient and more predictable outcomes that reduce the strain on the institutional structures of a new democracy.

Csaba Nikolenyi received his PhD from the University of British Columbia in 2000 and was hired by Concordia University the same year. His research focuses on the comparative study of political parties, electoral systems and legislatures in post-communist democracies as well as on the political systems of Israel and India. He was former English Co-Editor of the Canadian Journal of Political Science (2006-11). He served as Code Administrator in the Faculty of Arts and Science between 2009 and 2011 and as Chair of the Department of Political Science between 2011 and 2014. Currently, he is the Director of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies. Dr. Nikolenyi has published extensively in comparative politics journals and has authored two books: Minority Government in India (Routledge 210) and Institutional Design and Party Government in Post-Communist Democracies (Oxford University Press, 2014). He was a Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2007-8) and the Centre for European Studies at the Australian National University (2012).

Ukraine – Pro-Western parties win the vote, the President turns to coalition talks

On October 26th Ukraine held its seventh parliamentary election. Although official results are yet to be announced, pro-Western parties are projected to win majority of the seats in the new parliament.

Ukrainian parliament is elected under a mixed system, with 225 members elected under proportional representation and 225 members in single-member districts. The election threshold is 5%. The parliament is elected for a five-year term. However, this is the second parliamentary election in Ukraine in the past two years. The previous parliament was elected in 2012 and dissolved by President Poroshenko in August 2014, following the collapse of the majority coalition.

Pre-electoral period was marked by a few instances of violence both in Kyiv and in the East of Ukraine. A number of candidates, including politicians from People’s Front and the Radical Party, were attacked near their homes a few days prior to the election. However, no major incidents were reported on the election day and the international observers praised the vote.

Elections were not held in Crimea and in a number of constituencies in Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The rebels have declared that they will hold their own election in November. As a result, at least 27 parliamentary seats will remained unfilled. On the election day, Eastern Ukraine remained on the President’s mind, as he undertook a surprising visit to Kramatork, a recently liberated city in Donetsk region.

Source: Central Election Commission of Ukraine

Source: Central Election Commission of Ukraine

A total of 29 parties contested the election. Based on the 78.4% of the votes counted, six parties have passed the 5% threshold to enter parliament. People’s Front, party of the current Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is leading with 21.9% of the vote. Bloc Petro Poroshenko, the party of the President, is a close second with 21.6%. Another four parties have cleared the election threshold, including the Opposition Bloc, which consists mostly of the former members of the Party of Regions.

This is the first time since independence of Ukraine that the Communist party has failed to enter parliament, although it is likely that a number of its members will be elected in single-member districts. Another party, Svoboda, which gained a surprising 10% of the vote in the 2012 elections, has also failed to enter the new parliament.

After the election, Arseniy Yatsenyuk is likely to stay as a Prime Minister. However, according to the law of Ukraine, the current government will have to resign and the new one will be formed following the announcement of the election results.

Further changes to the parliament are expected. In his speech, given in election headquarters of his party, the President announced that there would be a reduction in the number of parliamentary committees as well as in the number of the Government posts. But the immediate goal is the formation of the parliamentary coalition. The President’s team has already drafted a detailed project of the coalition agreement, negotiation of which will start immediately as soon as the results of the elections become available. The President has already expressed a desire to join in a coalition with People’s Front. If two other pro-Western parties, Self-Help and Batkivshchyna, agree to join the coalition, it is likely that the pro-Western forces will have a constitutional majority in parliament.

Mozambique – Elections: FRELIMO triumphs, opposition party RENAMO gains ground

On the 15th of October, Mozambique held its fifth multiparty presidential, parliamentary and provincial assembly elections. Although the official election results have yet to be announced, projections show that longtime ruling party FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) is predicted to win both the presidency and parliamentary elections, but with a lower margin compared to the 75 per cent it gained in the last election in 2009.

The president of Mozambique is elected through a direct popular vote for a five-year term. The electoral system is based on the majoritarian two-round system. The last presidential election was held in 2009. President Armando Guebuza of FRELIMO, who is finishing his second term, is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.

The presidential election was fought between three candidates: former defence minister Filipe Nyusi (FRELIMO), Afonso Dhlakama (RENAMO – Resistência Nacional Moçambicana) and Daviz Simango, the leader of MDM (Movimento Democrático de Moçambique), who is also the mayor of Mozambique’s second largest city Beira.

Provisional results suggested Nyusi winning the presidency with 57 per cent of the votes, and Dhlakama following with 36 per cent, and Simango earning around 7 per cent. It is worth noting that Nuysi did worse than Guebuza who received 75 per cent of votes in the 2009 presidential election. By contrast, Dhlakama saw his share of the vote more than double, from 16.41 to 36 percent. Simango got 9 per cent in the 2009 presidential election and thus lost 2 per cent of the votes.

As for the parliamentary election, FRELIMO is expected to win an absolute majority. The former liberation party has controlled both the presidency and the legislature since the first general elections of 1994.

Despite the fact that FRELIMO is likely to win the presidency and an absolute majority in parliament, initial results show the party may end up with 50 seats fewer than it won in the 2009 parliamentary elections. Mozambique has a unicameral parliament with 250 seats. The composition of the new parliament is likely to be 142 seats for FRELIMO, 89 for RENAMO and 19 for the MDM. So FRELIMO probably loses its comfortable two-thirds majority – which means that should it wish to change the constitution, it can no longer do so on its own.

Meanwhile, RENAMO believes it is the legitimate winner. Dhlakama says he is willing to negotiate with FRELIMO and has suggested a government of national unity. Yet, it is highly probable that FRELIMO will form the next government. The preliminary results also reflect a growing dissatisfaction with politics. The voter turnout is expected to be similar or below to the 45 per cent in 2009 and 43 per cent in 2004.

The presidential and legislative election is being closely watched, especially by foreign investors, as Mozambique stands on the cusp of reaping vast wealth from its nascent gas industry.

Uganda – The ouster of a top NRM cadre reveals President’s struggle for control within the ruling party

Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) is undergoing what may turn out to be its biggest internal battle since it came to power in 1986. At surface level, the dispute revolves around one high ranking party cadre and his alleged presidential ambitions. But this political affair lays bare two broader issues: first, the weak institutionalization of the NRM party—which has multiple, conflicting implications—and second, the determination of President Museveni to further consolidate his power and that of his immediate family circle

The current conflict exploded across newspaper headlines on September 18 when President Museveni sacked his Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, in a one off cabinet reshuffle. This initial fall from grace left Mbabazi with his position as NRM Secretary General intact. On October 18, however, the NRM Central Executive Committee (CEC) pressured Mbabazi into taking a ‘temporary leave’ from his duties as SG, pending a meeting of the NRM National Delegates Conference scheduled for December 15.

Mbabazi’s rapid decline was all the more remarkable given his status as a long-standing ally of President Museveni. The two men have known each other for over 40 years. Mbabazi helped oversee resource mobilisation for the National Resistance Army during the 1980s ‘bush war’, which brought Museveni to power. He later served the President as Minister of State in the President’s Office, Attorney General, Minister of Justice, Minister of Defence, and Secretary General, a position he has held for the past nine years. When Museveni appointed Mbabazi Prime Minister in 2011, many began speculating that the President—in power since 1986—was lining up his successor.

That was clearly a misinterpretation. Indeed, it was Mbabazi’s perceived desire to succeed Museveni that led to his undoing.

From ‘loyal cadre’ to presidential rival

The relationship between Museveni and his close ally took its first hit when Mbabazi refused to relinquish his position as party Secretary General after being appointed Prime Minister. Museveni argued this dual-mandate was untenable, but Mbabazi maintained that, according to the NRM constitution, the SG position was not a bureaucratic one and therefore did not require a full-time commitment.

Museveni’s concern nonetheless deepened after the NRM lost a string of bye-elections in 2012, leading many to point a finger at the SG’s poor mobilization efforts. At the same time, rumours spread that Mbabazi was using his position to enlarge his personal support network and thereby prepare to challenge Museveni ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. At an NRM National Executive Committee meeting in 2013, intelligence reports alleged that Mbabazi smuggled 78 people who were not party delegates into the meeting to speak in his favour.

In February 2014, when the NRM parliamentary caucus enthusiastically adopted a resolution endorsing Museveni as the sole NRM candidate for the 2016 presidential elections, this action was widely interpreted as a thinly veiled effort to pre-empt a potential Mbabazi candidacy. Far from stifling a latent conflict, however, the caucus resolution led to fresh concerns after it triggered a widely publicized schism in the NRM youth wing, a number of whose leaders declared themselves in favour of Mbabazi for president. A few leaders were briefly jailed, charged with soliciting signatures from NRM members to force the party leadership to call a delegates’ conference. Leaked intelligence recordings later revealed that the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura had been interviewing NRM youth about Mbabazi’s mobilisation work out of fear that the SG would be able to marshal enough support at an eventual delegates’ conference to win the party presidential nomination.

A further mark against Mbabazi came after an NRM parliamentary caucus select committee, charged with investigating the botched 2010 party primaries, interviewed Mbabazi only to learn that the SG kept the party register at his private office and refused to hand it over. Mbabazi’s daughter, Nina, who led a group of volunteers responsible for compiling the party register, refused to meet with the committee. Mbabazi’s wife, Jacqueline, had already laid her cards on the table when she compared the parliamentary caucus to a group of ‘fascists’ in the wake of the Museveni sole candidacy resolution.

As Prime Minister, Mbabazi is also alleged to have used his position as chair of Cabinet meetings to marginalise ministers close to Museveni. In early September, youth dressed in Mbabazi T-shirts also started making an appearance at the national football stadium.

Museveni’s counter-mobilisation

Museveni began his effort to undermine Mbabazi long before dropping him as Prime Minister. Many describe the President’s frequent tours around Uganda, which he uses to distribute gifts, as on a par with pre-election campaigning. Some claim that Museveni is also working to ‘neutralize’ Mbabazi economically. The Central Bank closed Mbabazi’s bank, the National Bank of Commerce, under uncertain circumstances while companies associated with Mbabazi have begun losing government contracts. In another strategic manoeuvre, Museveni has appointed a cohort of youthful ministers to act as his new go-to partners in government, thereby side-lining his erstwhile favourite, Mbabazi. Among these new ministers is Richard Todwong, Minister without portfolio charged with political mobilisation, who is viewed as a de facto Secretary General.

There have also been efforts at counter-mobilisation among the youth, led primarily by people in the army and police force. Commissioner for National Patriotic Education, Lt Col Henry Matsiko, is championing ‘patriotism’ lessons in schools while Inspector General of Police Kayihura rallies university students to become ‘crime preventers’, the aim being to ensure 50 crime preventers per district.

Shortly after Museveni sacked Mbabazi as Prime Minister, the NRM party caucus recommended that a group of Ministers tour the country ostensibly in order to monitor implementation of the NRM’s 2011 party manifesto. The group Museveni appointed—led by the younger generation of Cabinet favourites—has been using the tour to peddle the Museveni sole candidacy resolution while de-campaigning Mbabazi.

The meeting of the NRM Central Executive Committee, which led to Mbabazi taking his ‘temporary leave’ as SG, was a further step in Museveni’s drive to push out his political rival. While a success on many levels, the meeting did not go entirely according to plan. Museveni’s claims that Mbabazi had been campaigning to stand as President led Jacqueline Mbabazi, head of the NRM women’s league, to accuse President Museveni, who is also NRM party chairman, of hypocrisy. She argued that nothing bars an NRM member from campaigning for the party nomination, as indeed Museveni has done himself. What’s more, she rejected the parliamentary caucus’ sole candidacy resolution on the grounds that the caucus is not the party organ vested with the constitutional power to designate a nominee. That power lies with the National delegates’ conference. Although a majority of those present at the CEC meeting appear to have sided with Museveni, a number of prominent NRM cadre showed sympathy for the Mbabazis, revealing a rift in the NRM leadership.

The weakness of the NRM

The Mbabazi-Museveni saga is far from over, but its wider significance is already becoming apparent.

First, the current tensions highlight a contradiction within the NRM itself, which raises serious concerns about party cohesion. This contradiction stems from the contrasting implications of the NRM’s weak party institutionalization.

On the one hand, the NRM’s continued failure to develop strong party structures at the local level—a legacy of when the NRM ruled under a ‘no party’ system—is a major contributing factor to the current party malaise. The fact that the Mbabazis—Amama and his daughter Nina—were able to maintain the party register like a piece of private family property attests to a more fundamental lack of organization within the ruling party. This is not a situation that can be resolved simply by ejecting Mbabazi, nor will it be remedied once the NRM changes its constitution to introduce a technocratic SG, as is currently being proposed. Rather, as was concluded following the above-mentioned investigations into the chaotic 2010 party primaries, the NRM needs to restore confidence among its members by undertaking critical reforms. These touch on everything from membership registration to candidate nomination to primary election management through to clarifying the party hierarchy in order to ease high-level party decision-making. Short of this, the party will continue to suffer from embarrassing internal conflicts, time consuming legal suits, low morale and disaffection among elected members, not to mention electoral defeats. Meanwhile, in the absence of reliable party structures, the state security apparatus is likely to become ever more present in routine political mobilisation processes, as is already the trend.

Although weak institutionalization at the lower levels of the NRM makes party discipline and control more unpredictable, there are nevertheless clear signs that Museveni views this institutional weakness as desirable at the higher levels of the party decision-making structures. Indeed, he is perfectly happy to use the NRM parliamentary caucus, where he can more easily manipulate pliant MPs, as the supreme party decision-making body. Lately this has proved more expedient than relying on the Central Executive Committee full of party Big Whigs, many of whom view themselves as his peers rather than subordinates. Museveni has, moreover, repeatedly tried to disregard the party constitution (at one point claiming he would assume the powers of SG), but this disregard has met with staunch criticism from his opponents within the NRM.

To recap, there is a fundamental contradiction emerging within the NRM organisation at the moment. While the party would benefit from strong institutions throughout, notably at the lower levels, the ever increasing identification of the party with a single individual—Museveni—encourages a personalization of power at the top, which overrides existing institutional structures.

This observation leads to a second, and final, point arising out of the Mbabazi affair: the focus of NRM party reform has never been primarily about ensuring party endurance, like say is the case for the far more institutionalized CCM party in Tanzania; rather, the NRM has remained a personal vehicle for Museveni. Previous reforms, for instance in the run up to the major constitutional amendments of 2005, have focused on securing Museveni from rivals and on ensuring more discipline of party dissidents. Party members have been content to ride the presidential coat-tails, so long as Museveni can continue to orchestrate NRM electoral victories. This continues to be the case today, although with increasingly worrying implications as the President looks beyond the civilian structures of the NRM party towards the security forces to do the political work.


United States – President Obama and White House Memoirs

Sometimes a president’s harshest critics are not the partisan opposition, but former Cabinet members or advisors who write memoirs before the end of the president’s time in office. Such has been the case this past year for President Barack Obama, who has seen four memoirs published—“Duty” by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (2009-2011), “Hard Choices” by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (2009-2013), “Stress Test” by former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (2009-2013), and “Worthy Fights” by former CIA Director (2009-2011) and Secretary of Defense (2011-2013) Leon Panetta. Each have offered reflections on, and sometimes harsh criticism of, both Obama’s leadership and policy decisions. The latest book by Panetta is particularly critical of Obama as a foreign policy leader regarding the Middle East, specifically his handling of Iraq after the removal of US troops and the ongoing civil war in Syria. By failing to leave some US troops behind in Iraq, and in failing to arm Syrian rebels, Obama’s decisions, according to Panetta, contributed to the growing strength of the terrorist group the Islamist State.

Not surprisingly, others in the Obama White House, including Vice President Joe Biden, have shot back at Panetta, criticizing the decision to write such a book before the end of Obama’s term. Often, the authors of such books—Panetta included—are called disloyal to the president they served. When former Clinton advisor George Stephanopoulos wrote his memoir, “All Too Human,” published in 1999, he was roundly criticized by former White House luminaries—including LBJ advisors Jack Valenti and Richard Goodwin—as being disloyal to his former boss. It’s not hard to understand the motivation for writing such a book, as the money to be made is significantly more than the salaries earned while serving in the White House or Cabinet. Most memoirs bring a large advance in the six or seven figures for the author, and also receive tremendous attention and hype in the news media prior to and after publication.

Obama is certainly not the first president to experience criticism from former advisors in the form of a highly-anticipated memoir. The trend began in earnest during the Reagan years, when one former advisor after another seemed to take turns in the media spotlight with a new book trashing some aspect of the Reagan administration. Most notably, former budget director David Stockman (1981-1985), in his book “The Triumph of Politics,” criticized the Reagan economic plan that he helped to create, and former Treasury Secretary (1981-1985) and Chief of Staff (1985-1987) Donald Regan took aim at First Lady Nancy Reagan in his book, “For the Record,” revealing, among other things, that decisions made in the White House often involved consultation with Mrs. Reagan’s astrologer. More recently, Scott McClellan, former press secretary to George W. Bush (2003-2006), accused the Bush administration, in his book “What Happened,” of relying on political propaganda, instead of hard facts, to sell the American public on why the Iraq War was necessary.

Should advisors wait to write these books until after the president has left office? Or, is the American public better served by a transparent look inside the White House prior to the end of the term? We know that presidents would prefer the former option, while political opponents relish the latter. One can assume that for some advisors, their level of candor may come easier when writing an assessment after the fact than when coming face-to-face with the president. Still, one has to wonder if the content of some memoirs can serve a larger purpose. In Panetta’s case, he is candid about the fact that he did share his opinions with Obama regarding numerous foreign policy decisions, but the President and other advisors often chose another course. He also points out both strengths and weaknesses of Obama’s leadership style, clearly respecting Obama yet being frustrated with him at the same time. As a long-time public servant, with experience in three administrations (Nixon and Clinton prior to Obama), and having served in the House of Representative for 16 years, Panetta is in a good position to offer Obama advice on how to navigate his last two years in office. In addition, at 76, he is unlikely to seek future political office, which to some makes his views more credible and less personally motivated (unlike Clinton, for example, who is considering a run for the presidency in 2016). Whether Obama will now accept Panetta’s advice remains to be seen, but this particular memoir may be as much a look back at Panetta’s legacy in public service as it is a preview of what Obama’s presidential legacy, particularly in terms of foreign policy, may turn out to be.

Democracy returns to Fiji: But what of the presidency?

Earlier this month the President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, opened Parliament for the first time since 2006. [i] The return of democracy in Fiji is potentially an historic moment for a country whose post-independence government has been punctuated by successive coups in 1987, 2000 and most recently 2006. The election itself was a one-sided affair with coup leader, Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama (retired), receiving around 60% of the vote, which included 80% of the Indo-Fijian population and 40% of the Indigenous-Fijian population, thus allowing him to claim democratic legitimacy (and international recognition) for the continuation of his reform agenda (more commentary on the elections can be found here, here and here). His Fiji First party have formed government with him as the Prime Minister. But what of the presidency?

The presidency of Fiji is itself the product of a coup. Like many former British colonies, Fiji’s post-independence Head of State was the Queen’s representative. But, when Fiji became a republic in October 1987 the Office of the Governor-General was replaced by the Office of the President, with the incumbent, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, installed as the first President. The role has since been retained under successive constitutions.

Under the 1990 constitution, the President was appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), a non-elected body, for a five-year period, and was accountable to them only. In a country that has long been divided along racial lines – Indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian – the GCC was often regarded as a bastion of Indigenous Fijian authority (Bainimarama would abolish it in 2009). The President had considerable powers, including over appointments to the Senate and senior designated positions in the civil service. He (so far the position has been exclusively held by men) or she could also suspend the constitution and the civil liberties of individuals in certain circumstances.

Some of these features were retained under the 1997 constitution. The President remained an appointment of the GCC but the Office became answerable to Cabinet. Five-year terms remained but a maximum two-term limit was imposed and the Office of the Vice President created. The President retained considerable powers in relation to appointments. This is significant because one of the most controversial features of the 1997 constitution was the provision for a multi-party power sharing Cabinet.

In practical terms, it was understood that the position of Head of State, be it Governor-General or President, would be circulated among leaders of the three Indigenous-Fijian confederacies, thus the first Governor-General, Ratu George Cakobau, was from Kabuna, his successor, the aforementioned Ratu Ganilau, was from Tovata, as we his immediate successor Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Upon his death in 2004 Ratu Josefa Iloilo from Burebasaga succeeded him. But now that the GCC has been abolished, that pattern seems unlikely to persist.

The current constitution envisages a different role for the President. As before, the President is required to address the opening of parliament and outline the policies and programmes of the Government. In his inaugural address, Ratu Nailatikau outlined an ambitious agenda based on the Fiji First election manifesto. However, the position is now elected by the parliament. The length of office has also been reduced to three years (the maximum two-term limit remains). The vice presidency has also been abolished with the Chief Justice acting out the role in the absence of the President.

How this shapes the practice of politics in the new era of Fijian democracy remains to be seen. The Head of State has always essentially been a ceremonial office but the 2013 constitution gives the Fiji Military Forces a guardian role over the constitution. As such, the President’s powers are curtailed to the extent that he or she can only act on the advice of the elected government.

[i] Special thanks to Brij Lal for his comments on this month’s post.

Magna Inácio – Reversals and uncertainty in presidential elections in Brazil

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

Magna. Inacio

The electoral reversals in the ongoing presidential election in Brazil have made it the most contested race since re-democratization. What promised to be a predictable contest between the two parties that have headed the presidency since 1994, PSDB and PT, was thrown into turmoil by the unexpected death in a plane crash of the socialist candidate, Eduardo Campos. A former minister of Lula, Campos defined himself as a leftist alternative to the government and was allied to the environmentalist Marina Silva, who came third (wining 20% of the vote) in the 2010 presidential election. After Campos’ death, Marina Silva became a serious candidate, showing her electoral potential two weeks later. Polls showed that voter support for Silva increased by 11%, overtaking the PSDB candidate, Aécio Neves, and threatening the position of the incumbent, Dilma (PT). This first reversal put the two leftist candidates at the head of the presidential race for the first time in the current democratic period. A second upheaval took place in the week before the first round of the presidential election. Unexpectedly, support for the PSDB candidate increased and Aécio won 33.2% of the votes in the first round and will challenge President Dilma in the second round next week.

Why did these oscillations make this race so uncertain, and so exceptional? These reversals signalled a break with the relative predictability of presidential races over the past 20 years. Under a runoff system, the election of the president has assumed a bipartisan dynamic since 1994, even in the context of a strong multiparty system. The polarized competition drove the last five presidential elections, with the PSDB winning two and the PT winning three. The polarization between these parties gave the presidential race an ideological basis, despite the continuity of policies between governments. This simplified structure of conflict allowed these two poles to work as gravitational centers around which other parties aligned themselves. The bipolar logic of the presidential race has reduced the effects of party fragmentation, driving the placement of parties along two axes. On the one hand, it offers a mitigated sense of left- and right-wing party competition; on the other hand, it establishes the boundaries of government and opposition.

Polarization is reflected in the electoral dynamics of the presidential race, and also the logic underlying the functioning of governments in Brazil. Since 1994, coalition cabinets formed by presidents have strengthened the presidential ambitions of PSDB and PT vis-à-vis other parties. The rule of reelection reinforced this trend, keeping these parties at the head of their electoral alliances. Far from being indifferent to the race at this level, these parties operate under this polarized dynamic with their eyes on subnational and legislative elections.

Signs of tension relating to this polarization have been observed in all elections, although they were weaker than we saw in 2014. With an average number of 8.8 presidential candidates since 1994, PSDB and PT have obtained, on average, 81% of the votes in the presidential races. Attempts to break the polarization were made by medium-sized parties, though without threatening the leadership of PT and PSDB in the presidential race. Since 2010, however, a considerable percentage of voters has supported a third candidate, especially from left-wing parties.

Pressure to break the polarization of the party system has increased with voters moving to the left side of the ideological spectrum. In 2002, the defeat of the PSDB candidate by Lula meant a political alternation across different ideological wings. Seeking the support of the median voter, PT signaled the continuity of the economic policy of fiscal stabilization, bit adding programmatic differences from PSDB in terms of its social agenda. The economic performance of Lula’s government plus the redistributive impacts of social policies made the leftist platform more attractive to voters. At the same time, it became more difficult for the opposition to differentiate itself programmatically from the leftist one, and it made ​​room for alternative projects from left-wing parties. The major presidential candidates outside this polarized dispute, Marina Silva and Eduardo Campos, came from the cabinets of Lula and Dilma. They were former PT ministers and sought to differentiate themselves from the ruling party, in addition to creating of a new party formed by dissidents of PT, after having left the government. In other words, intra-polar fragmentation is growing, since the increase in the electoral strength of left-wing parties, headed by PT.

The positive record of the Lula administration, whose political leadership was the key aspect of the political coordination of government, kept the leftist alliance together and maintained the polarization of the presidential elections in 2006 and 2010. Even with the strong erosion of support for the government, especially in the middle and upper classes due to the scandals and allegations of corruption, PT reelected Lula and paved the way for his successor, President Dilma, a former minister with a technocratic profile and no elective experience. Despite the continuity of redistributive policies, the difficulties of Dilma in managing her cabinet members and dealing with the Congress, problems with economic performance and the growing dissatisfaction with PT formed a different scenario for the presidential election in 2014.

Additionally, the outbreak of protests in 2013 anticipated some divisive issues that have been pushed into the presidential race in the current year. The street protests has diverse ams (quality public services) and institutional demands (political reform, anti-corruption measures) and gave salience to issues with which governments and legislatures have proved themselves reluctant to engage, such as same-sex marriage, abortion, criminalization of homophobia, etc. Merged with sometimes violent demonstrations, protests not only pointed to the negative assessment of governments, but also generated broader criticism about the performance of representative institutions and parties as problem-solvers.

The electoral dynamics in 2014, as signaled by these reversals, seem to show us that a more complex structure of conflict might make the survival of this party polarization more difficult in the future.

After taking the place of her running mate, Silva combined a left-centrist government agenda with criticisms of the party cartel and the coalition government based on non-programmatic party agreements. This mix has attracted the 2013 protesters, but also some of the voters opposed to the PT continuing in the presidency. The intensely negative campaign against the socialist candidacy, mainly conducted by the incumbent candidate, focused on programmatic aspects, the alleged weakness of Marina’s leadership and party support, and diminished the strategic value of her candidacy as a catalyst for the opposition to the PT. Tied to uncertainty on different fronts (economic, social, defense of minorities), the socialist candidate encountered diverse resistance and saw her supporters strategically migrating to Aécio, who was viewed as the candidate most able to defeat PT.

Meanwhile, the PSDB candidate updated the bases of polarization by shedding light on the differences between the PT and PSDB presidential platforms and by showing that his candidacy offered a genuine and systematic opposition to PT. Coming closer to the socialist candidate regarding opposition to PT, Aécio pursued a selective strategy of retrospective voting, recalling the positive economic record of the Cardoso administration, and prospective voting, thereby reinforcing himself as the viable alternative for change. The centrist candidate secured a place in the second round, placing himself at the head of a multiparty coalition against the continuity of PT in power. Before Marina Silva took part in this electoral coalition, the polls already showed the challenger ahead of the incumbent in the second round for the first time since re-democratization. To make his candidacy credible to voters concerned with social policies, the centrist candidate reinforced his commitments to social inclusion and sustainability, maybe pushing PSDB toward a social-democratic platform.

The surprising result of the first round, with a narrow difference of 8% of votes, restored the PT-PSDB polarization as the structure of the competition for the presidency. But the full story of this election is the volatility of voter preferences and intra-polar fragmentation, which might signal if not the exhaustion of existing political alliances then at least very different conditions for presidential races in the future. Although the desire for change seems to be channeled in the form of political alternation for now, the substantive demands for change are pushing political competition towards more divisive issues than old party polarization has had to face in the past 20 years.

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:

Paulo José Canelas Rapaz – Portugal, the president, and open primaries for the prime minister candidate

This is a guest post by Paulo José Canelas Rapaz

 Paulo José Canelas Rapaz

President Aníbal Cavaco Silva’s Republic Day Speech and the Socialist Party Primaries

On 5 October, Portugal’s Republic Day, President Aníbal Cavaco Silva gave a speech. Similar to previous presidents, Cavaco Silva reflected on “Republican values” (in a very French sense) and the country’s institutions, calling for political and party system reform.

Even if he was not the first to make such a call, President Cavaco Silva’s diagnosis was considered grim and somewhat pessimistic. He referred to people’s distrust in politics, parties and political personnel in particular. He heavily criticized partisan careerism and the parties’ lack of rejuvenation, as well as their preference for political skirmishing and short-term gains at the expense of “common good”. His proposals were as familiar as his diagnosis: a change in electoral law to make it easier to form a parliamentary majority and to increase proximity/accountability of elected representatives, a better higher administration and statutes governing elected representatives so as to attract new talents and avoid incentives for corruption, conflicts of interest or shadowy means of party financing. Finally and above all, he called for a change in politicians’ behaviour so that a “much needed consensus” in relation to Portugal’s difficulties could be built.

Despite pundits’ comments and President Cavaco Silva’s own preference for more discreet stances and backstage action, there is a sense that “nothing new under the sun” in this speech. President Cavaco Silva himself has made many calls for political consensus on public policies and the reform of the political system and has made similar criticisms of Portuguese political life. Indeed, similar calls were made by his predecessors both on specific topics and more generally, e.g. former President Jorge Sampaio (1996-2006) and his Sermon on Politics (03/27/2001). Furthermore, political reform has been demanded by many sectors of civil society, but to little or avail. This is the case for the much discussed, but never implemented calls for electoral reform.

It is also possible to read the same speech as a function of its audience. The official ceremonies of Republic Day usually take place at Lisbon Town Hall – where the Portuguese Republic was proclaimed in 1910 – the Mayor being present, currently António Costa, the new leader of the Socialist Party. Cavaco Silva’s speech might be read as an indirect message to António Costa. The president’s call for political consensus might be interpreted as a warning yo Costa, who has professed less orthodox views on economic policies and who seems more open to political alliances with leftist parties after the next general elections in 2015.

The presence of António Costa at the speech was also important for another reason. He became the leader of his party not by winning a congress like his predecessors, but through an “open primary” where socialist militants and sympathisers voted for a “Prime Minister candidate”. It was a first in Portuguese politics. It means that even if António Costa wins the party’s general secretariat during this December congress, the positions of party leader and general secretary are now dissociated, and maybe the latter is subordinate to the former. Furthermore, even if it is not known whether “open primaries” will be renewed or extended to other parties – as was the direct election of major-party leaders by militants instead of congress delegates in the 2000s – the implementation of “open primaries” has deep consequences for the political system, which the President might not be happy with.

The Portuguese Constitution implements a clear separation between the President and the Government, between the Presidential function, dubbed a “moderating power” (its origin lies within the Benjamin Constant’s “neutral power”), and the executive. The sharpest separation is electoral: legislative elections are proportional and programmatic, the presidential election is individual and declarative. Every President, at least since Mário Soares (1986-1996), has stressed this peculiarity of the president’s legitimacy. The expression used is that the President is “the only personally elected constitutional institution” (“o único orgão de soberania unipessoal”). The President is outside the majority/opposition parliamentary dichotomy. This concept of presidential function is not the necessary result of the Constitution or of path dependence (the King had a “moderating power” between 1826 and 1910). Presidents have found that this way of thinking about their function grants themselves a political role and avoid the unknowns of parliamentary alternation and everyday politics. This non-executive and non-partisan President – making the concept of “cohabitation” inappropriate in Portugal – has its foundation in presidential legitimacy. Every Head of State since Mário Soares has said they are the “President of all Portuguese”; that is a traditional formula. But, also since Mário Soares, they have declared that “the presidential majority ends with the victory at the presidential election”. This is the only declaration of making the concept of the “President of all Portuguese” a reality.

This legitimacy, the president’s role as guarantor of “the regular functioning of democratic institutions” and its powers (veto, dissolution or cabinet dismissal), turns the Portuguese Head of State into a schmittian figure. This reference has to do with Carl Schmitt’s Der Hüter der Verfassung (1931), “the Guardian of Constitution”. It must be noted that, contrary to the idea of a “moderating power”, this conceptual analogy is rarely made, maybe due to Schmitt’s background. Notwithstanding this point, the Portugal’s “guardian of the Constitution” differs from Schmitt’s idea on an essential point: it does not act as a substitute for other institutions’, its functions are regulatory. However, as with the Reichpraesident in Schmitt’s view, the foundation of the president’s role in Portugal can be found in its direct, personal and encompassing legitimacy. For this reason, every Head of State has defended this legitimacy and fought against the “presidentialism of Prime Minister” and the idea that legislative elections serve to choose a PM. This was the case when Aníbal Cavaco Silva’ Social-Democratic Party twice won an absolute majority in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly due to his own popularity, prompting Mário Soares to become more active. It was also the case when President Jorge Sampaio reluctantly dissolved the parliament after PM António Guterres quit in 2001, or when President  Sampaio refused to call a general election after José Manuel Durão Barroso left for the EU Commission in 2004.

One might say that having “open primaries” to choose a “Prime Minister candidate” is a further step in the evolution of politics generally, not just in Portugal. The personalisation of electoral choice, the diminishing ideological differentiation between governing parties, media preferences for personal quarrels rather than programmatic controversies, and the functional decay of political parties. If they last, “open primaries” in Portuguese politics are nevertheless a major de facto political reform, independently from the “political reform” that everyone has been calling for. It even might create a disequilibrium, which might end in the, already precariously placed, “constantino-schmittian” President.

Paulo José Canelas Rapaz completed a PhD in Political Science on the Portuguese President and its protagonism within the Portuguese political institutions and public arena, at Université Panthéon-Assas-Paris II, in December 2012. Currently living in Lisbon, his personal research focuses on European Presidents.