Monthly Archives: December 2014

Chiara Loschi – The second round of the Tunisian presidential election

This is a guest post by Chiara Loschi from University of Turin and the Institut de Recherche sur le Maghreb Contemporain in Tunis

photo loschi

On 21 December Tunisia elected its first president since the 2011 uprisings. Béji Caid Essebsi, founder of Nidaa Tounes party, won the second round of the presidential election, winning 55.68% of the vote in the run-off poll (1,731,529 votes). His competitor, the interim president, Moncef Marzouki, ex-leader of the Congrès pour la République party, gained 44.32% (1,378,513 votes). The difference between them in the first round was just 6%. Turnout was 60.11%, a bit less than the first round. Northern and coastal areas mostly supported Essebsi, while the rest of the country supported Marzouki, who was unofficially backed by the Islamist movements and Nahdha.

Nidaa now controls both the government and the presidency. However, even though the legislative election was held at the end of October no government has yet been formed, although the Constitution states that after the official proclamation of results a new government has to be appointed. The leaders of Nidaa decided to wait for the results of the presidential election before consolidating alliances in the Assemblée des Représentants du Peuple (chamber of deputies). There were preliminary discussions and debates, but they ended as soon as the presidential electoral campaign started.

The second round presidential candidates campaigned on similar issues: unifying the country, security, and the need to improve the country’s socioeconomic problems. The election did not see the emergence of new people, but it did see a change in political communication, the relationships between politicians and media, and a general “acceptance of the rules of the game” by all actors.

Both candidates tried to overcome regional differences and win the support of economic and political elites at the national level. Essebsi dwelt upon international relations and the importance of economic restructuring. He relied on unhappiness with the Nahdha transitional government. The appeal to stability and efficiency found a ready ear among the bourgeoisie and the middle class of the northern regions: they are worried about what they see as the chaos and anarchy of the country’s institutions and everyday life. For these electors, the priorities are now the stability of institutions, security, and bureaucratic apparatus. With several members of the former Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique in senior positions within the party, Essebsi is the natural successor to Habib Bourguiba, who is largely considered as the father of the nation.

Marzouki could rely upon the support of Nahdha party. He portrayed himself as someone who could provide real change for the presidency and the country as a whole and campaigned against what was portrayed as the resurgence of the old regime represented by Nidaa Tounes. Marzouki’s supporters shared the belief that Nidaa wants to return to an authoritarian regime. Marzouki could also count on the support of middle class and economic elites in the central and southern regions.

Both candidates also emphasized the importance of younger voters. Essebsi decided to start his campaign at l’Etoile du Nord, an internet café close to Avenue Bourguiba, which was largely attended by young activists and bloggers. A debate arose around the drugs issue, as Tunisian law on drugs consumption specify a one-year minimum jail sentence and a $600 fine. Opponents claimed the law is an excuse to round-up activists and that it disproportionately affects poor and working class people and leads to overcrowding in prison. Although he did not support the legalization of drugs, Essebsi tried to ride on the wave of this liberal debate by emphasizing the need to defeat drug dealers. Marzouki was more cautious, calling for a deep analysis of the “problem” and a rationalization of the law.

The candidates also exploited the 17 December anniversary of the jasmine revolution. Marzouki attended a campaign meeting in Sidi Bou Zid, the place where the Revolution began. Essebsi went to pay homage to the family of a Lieutenant of the Army, Socrate Cherni, who died in October 2013 during a conflict against Ansar al Sharia militants. These choices are linked to the issue of the Revolution’s martyrs: everyone has his own martyrs and his own revolution.

The Nahdha party, as mentioned above, unofficially supported Marzouki. After a long delay, the communist Front Populaire declared that it was necessary “to bar the way to Moncef Marzouki”, and to religious extremist movements as a whole, implicitly calling for people to vote either for Essebsi or to issue a blank vote.

Nidaa still needs to forge a coalition in order to form a government, and the party has just two options: it can try to form a grand coalition with Nahdha, or form a coalition with small secular parties such as UPL and Afek Tounes, probably excluding the Front Populaire. Now that the presidential election campaign is over, everything is possible, including the grand coalition with Nahdha. The second round results showed that the electoral map is split in two. The World Bank and the IMF are still pressing Tunisia to implement urgent economic restructuring, while ordinary citizens are feeling the effect of price increases. A grand coalition is feasible in the context of national unity and economic reform. However, the religious cleavage is still strong and captures problems that date back to 2011 and before.

Chiara Loschi is a PhD Student in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Turin (Italy) and a PhD Fellow and small grant holder 2014 at Institut de Recherche sur le Maghreb Contemporain (IRMC Tunis).

Maurice Duverger, 1917-2014

Maurice Duverger died on 17 December 2014 at the age of 97. He had been in a rest home for many years, too unwell to make public appearances. Here are some clips of Duverger from the ina.fr website.

The first clip is an excerpt from a December 1965 programme about the first direct presidential election in France after the 1962 constitutional reform.

The second clip of Duverger shows him in a car during demonstrations in Paris in May 1966. He has been invited to comment on events. There is footage of Duverger at 1 min. 20 secs.

The third is from May 1968 where Duverger talks about the student riots that were shaking the country.

There is a further clip from 1976 where he is talking about a new book that had just published.

The final clip is a news report from October 1987. The item is about the National Front’s campaign against absenteeism by deputies in the French National Assembly. There are comments from Prof. Duverger at 1 min. 55 secs.

Other clips are available too.

President Kenyatta escapes ICC prosecution in Kenya

It has been an eventful few weeks for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose case at International Criminal Court was dropped on 5 December 2014. However, Deputy President William Ruto still has charges to answer at The Hague, leaving the president in a difficult position domestically.

The collapse of the Kenyatta trial did not come as a surprise. Commentators have been discussing the weakness of the ICC’s case against Kenyatta for some time. It was always a case based on limited evidence, and therefore heavily reliant on a small number of key witnesses. Many of those witnesses have now recanted their statements, in part because of the absence of an effective and independent witness protection programme to safeguard key informants. Combined with the refusal of the Kenyan government to hand over important evidence, this undermined the prosecution’s case from the very start. According to Human Rights Watch, the Kenyan government had acted as a roadblock “impairing the search for truth”.

As early as December 2013, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the Court that she did not have the necessary evidence to prove Kenyatta’s guilt. She was given more time to procure it, but because the ICC has no investigatory capacity within Kenya this search was doomed to failure. On 8 October 8 2014, the Prosecutor was forced to admit that she had no new evidence that would tip the balance against the president. She was informed by the judges of the ICC Trial Chamber that while they would not support Kenyatta’s application to terminate proceedings there and then, she must find the evidence or request the judges to withdraw the case.

When the evidence was not forthcoming, it became inevitable the case would be withdrawn. Bensouda made one final attempt to have it indefinitely adjourned, so that proceedings could be reopened in the event that new evidence came to light, but this was rejected by the Chamber, who criticized the Prosecutor for failing to ask for evidence that she later claimed was essential earlier in the trial. For many, the collapse of the Kenyatta case is just the latest in a long line of ICC failings that demonstrate the inability of senior lawyers to understand the political context within which they operate.

President Kenyatta was reportedly “excited” and “relieved” at the news. Having always denied the charges, he said that he felt “vindicated” and that his “conscience was absolutely clear”. However, Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, remains on trial. The Ruto case has always been thought to be stronger than the Kenyatta case, in part because it relies on a broader range of evidence and so is less vulnerable to the intimidation or bribery of a small number of witnesses. President Kenyatta is hoping that this case, too, will be dismissed, quipping “one case down, two more to go” on Twitter.

He may get his way. Many commentators remain skeptical about the strength of the Ruto case, especially now that the Trial Chamber has effectively rewarded the Kenyan government for its failure to comply with the Prosecutor’s requests by halting the proceedings against Kenyatta. But the short-term divergent trajectories of the two cases may cause domestic problems for the president. In many ways President Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, and Deputy President William Ruto, a Kalenjin, are unlikely bedfellows. Their charges at the ICC relate to allegedly organizing violence on different sides of the 2007/8 ethnic clashes, and many members of their communities are deeply suspicious about their coalition, which is best conceptualized as a marriage of convenience. Although Kenyatta and Ruto managed to successfully bring their supporters together behind their “Jubilee Alliance” during the 2013 election campaign – thus pacifying the often volatile Rift Valley region, home to a Kalenjin majority and a Kikuyu minority – radicals on both sides have called for an end to the pact.

This tension places the president in a tricky position. Unless he campaigns hard to ensure that the charges against Ruto are also dropped, the Deputy President’s supporters will accuse him of conspiring to use the ICC to remove their man – and his potential rival – from the Kenyan political landscape. But if the president does work hard to ensure Ruto’s freedom, he will frustrate many of his own advisers, who fear that unless the Deputy President is removed he will one day succeed Kenyatta to State House, undermining their access to power. Squaring this circle while keeping his ruling coalition together will be one of the most difficult challenges facing the president in the early months of 2013.

US – 2016: A Presidential Dynasty in the Making?

When asked last month about the 2016 presidential election, President Barack Obama said that Americans are ready for that “new car smell” in presidential politics, and that after six years in office his presidency has some “dings.” The President’s comments seem to be in line with what the American public has said in recent months, with low approval ratings for most politicians in Washington (particularly Obama as well as Congress as a whole), and the number of incumbents who lost their jobs last month during the midterm elections. Yet, as the 2016 presidential contest gears up, it seems several of the potential frontrunners have ignored that message as talk has been dominated by three famous political names: Clinton, Romney, and Bush.

The news media has all but given the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton if she decides to run. Speculation seems to focus more on when she will announce her candidacy rather than if she will run again. As a result, the entire political world, and most importantly other potential Democratic candidates, eagerly await Clinton’s decision (expected sometime in early 2015). Until she announces, the potential of her candidacy weighs especially heavy among Democratic donors as other potential candidates cannot secure their support if Clinton is waiting in the wings. After losing the Democratic nomination to Obama in 2008, most experts and Clinton herself said that her days as a presidential candidate were over. However, constant media speculation about Clinton’s candidacy, the attention received by the Ready for Hillary political action committee, and Clinton’s 2014 book tour have kept the story very much alive, as has Clinton’s insistence that she is still thinking it over and not ready to make a decision.

That unwillingness to rule out the possibility of another presidential run has helped to generate media speculation in recent months about Mitt Romney’s future as well. Several recent polls show Romney running ahead of all other Republican contenders for 2016. While he has not said he would run again, he has also not confirmed that he won’t. This would be the third presidential campaign in a row for the former Massachusetts governor, having lost in the Republican primaries to John McCain in 2008 (though he did win 11 primary contests), and having won the Republican nomination but losing in the general election to Barack Obama (Obama won 332 Electoral College votes to Romney’s 206). His success in helping to campaign for Republican congressional candidates during the recent midterm elections, as well as support from Republican donors who like his deregulatory approach to economic issues, continues to fan the flames of a third presidential run.

In recent days, the famous political name getting the most media attention is Jeb Bush. With his Facebook announcement Tuesday that he will “actively explore” a run for the White House, it is looking more and more likely that the former governor of Florida will enter the 2016 presidential contest. In addition, Bush has released 250,000 e-mails from his time as governor, is writing a book, and recent news reports suggest that his potential campaign manager, Mike Murphy, is telling both Republican donors and campaign staffers to hold off with any early commitments to other potential candidates.

Some are already questioning whether Bush is a viable candidate, being the son of former President George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) and the younger brother of former President George W. Bush (2001-2009). According to Bush family lore, it was Jeb, and not first-born George W., who was meant to become president. Both ran for governor in their respective states in 1994, just two years after their father had lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton in 1992. But while George W. won in Texas, Jeb lost in Florida. Jeb would be elected governor of Florida four years later in 1998. As the 2000 presidential campaign got underway, Jeb was less than two years into his new job and not seen as ready to run for president while George W., well into his second term after a landslide reelection victory in 1998, was the one who benefitted from the name recognition and family ties in seeking the White House.

Whether the ties to his father and brother will help or hurt Jeb Bush remains to be seen. Many Republicans have distanced themselves from George W. Bush, who left office with a low approval rating and did not even speak at the 2012 Republican National Convention. But George H. W. Bush is seen as a popular former president and elder statesman, and in hindsight, receives high marks for his foreign policy expertise, particularly his ability to put together such a broad coalition of allies during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The affection Americans hold for the elder Bush also comes from his charitable activities since leaving the White House, not to mention the fact that he recently celebrated his 90th birthday with a tandem skydive in Kennebunkport, Maine.

More so than Clinton or Romney, and despite his famous lineage, Bush seems to do better with that “new car smell” that Obama talked about. Americans tend to like former governors as presidential candidates (four of the last six presidents were former governors, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush), as they are seen as Washington outsiders with executive experience. Bush has been out of office since January 2007, is not associated with current Washington politics, and has not been in the news as much in recent years. His biggest obstacles as a candidate may come from within the Republican Party, as he is widely seen as a formidable general election candidate if he can secure the Republican nomination. He said recently that Republican candidates may need to consider “losing the primary to win the general election,” which is the acknowledgment that a candidate needs the support of the conservative base of the Republican Party to win the nomination, but must move back to the center to attract moderate, independent, and potential cross-over voters during the general election. While Bush is not a moderate Republican, he is also not as far right as other members of his party and may not appeal to Christian conservative voters in an early state like Iowa (where soon-to-be former Texas Governor Rick Perry might do well) or among Tea Party activists, who would be more likely to support Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky or Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Bush has also stated positions on policies such as immigration reform and Common Core (national K-12 education standards) that many conservatives oppose, and the recent release of the Senate’s report on the CIA’s use of torture has, at least temporarily, put his brother’s administration back in the spotlight. However, Bush is off to a good start in the so-called invisible primary due to his name recognition, potential support among donors, the fact that he is not currently in office, and media coverage that suggests the viability of his candidacy. And while a third Bush presidency would not be a novel idea for American voters, Jeb Bush is still a fresher face for voters than either Romney or Clinton.

São Tomé and Príncipe – A new government has been formed

In the October parliamentary election the ADI party won an absolute majority in São Tomé and Principe’s parliament. On 25 November President Pinto Da Costa appointed Patrice Trovoada as the new Prime Minister. The new government is the country’s 16th constitutional government and the third single-party majority government since the first multiparty elections in 1991.

PM Trovoada’s government consist of 13 ministers of which 9* served in the ADI minority government (2010-2012). On 29 November and according to presidential decree 20/2014 the following ministers are appointed:

  1. Minister of the Presidency and of Parliamentary Affairs: Afonso Varela*
  2. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communities: Salvador dos Ramos*
  3. Minister of Defence and Sea: Carlos Olimpio Stock*
  4. Minister of Justice and Human Rights: Roberto Raposo
  5. Minister of Internal Administration: Arlindo Ramos*
  6. Minister of Finance and Public Administration: Américo de Oliveira Ramos*
  7. Minister of Economy and International Cooperation: Agostinho Fernandes*
  8. Minister of Infrastructure, Natural Resources and Environment: Carlos Vila Nova*
  9. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development: Teodorico Campos
  10. Minister of Employment and Social Affairs: Carlos Gomes*
  11. Minister of Health: Maria de Jesus Trovoada dos Santos
  12. Minister of Education, Culture and Science: Olinto Silva Sousa Daio*
  13. Minister of Youth and Sport: Marcelino Leal Sanches

President Pinto da Costa will again coexist with PM Trovoada. After winning the presidential election in August 2011 until December 2012 President Pinto da Costa (formally independent but co-founder of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD)) faced an ADI minority government led by PM Trovoada. The minority government fell after three opposition parties issued a censure motion, twenty months before the end of its four-year term.

Now, however, the ADI single-party government enjoys a majority in parliament, which strengthens significantly the PM’s position vis-à-vis the President.

Absolute single-party majorities have been the exception and not the rule in São Tomé for the past 25 years. Out of 16 constitutional governments, only three parties managed to secure a majority of seats in the 55-member parliament: PCD (33 seats, 54.4%) in 1991, MLSTP/PSD (31, 46.1%) in 1998 and ADI with 33 seats (38.01%) in 2014.[1]

Both the PCD and MLSTP/PSD single-party majority governments were sent home by the president in 1994 and 2001, respectively. Yet, the 2003 constitutional amendments, which came into effect in 2006[2] make it much more difficult for the president to dismiss the government.[3] This is particularly so in the case of a majority government.

A single-party majority government largely rules out conflict in the government and between the government and parliament. Moreover, it opens a window of opportunity for the ADI party to rapidly change (again) the electoral system, which is considered to be a source of political instability.[4]

[1] I would like to thank Dr. Gerhard Seibert of the Universidade da Integração Internacional da Lusofonia Afro-Brasileira (UNILAB) for providing me with this information.

[2] Seibert, G. (2009) ‘Instabilidade política e revisão constitucional: semipresidencialismo em São Tomé e Príncipe’, in Lobo, M. C. and Neto, O. A. (eds) Instabilidade política e revisão constitucional. semipresidencialismo em São Tomé e Príncipe, Lisbon: Instituto de Ciências Sociais, 201-230.

[3] So, formally, in 2006 São Tomé and Príncipe’s semi-presidential system changed from the president-parliamentary type of government to a premier-presidential one.

[4] Gorjão, P. (2010) ‘São Tomé and Príncipe: Heading into political instability as usual?’, IPRIS Viewpoints, 2.

Chad – Idriss Déby, enough is enough?

President Idriss Déby, in power for 24 years this December, is watching as a coalition of civil society groups, “Trop c’est trop” (enough is enough), is coming together and feeling its way. Formed on 18 November 2014, the coalition is composed of about 15 groups focusing on human rights, corruption, women’s and youth rights, and includes labor unions. The coalition champions citizens’ welfare issues, such as the rising cost of living, lack of access to electricity, and widespread corruption.

The creation of the “Trop c’est trop” coalition follows on the heels of a spontaneous demonstration on November 11 that spread from the southern city of Sarh to the capital N’Djamena and Moundou – affecting the three largest cities in the country.  Hundreds of people rallied to protest against gas shortages and skyrocketing prices for fuel (in a country that produces 130,000 barrels of oil a day), as well as teacher salary payment arrears. The fuel shortages are widely perceived to be artificially created to benefit a small number of traders, some of whom may be closely associated with the president.

“Trop c’est trop” was the refrain chanted by protesters in late October against Blaise Compaoré’s attempt at perpetuating his rule through a constitutional change eliminating presidential term limits.  The Chadian activists claim, however, theirs is not a copy-cat coalition but the result of a long period of reflection, and that their aim is not to “seize power or overturn any regime.” The government is not convinced. Prime Minister Pahimi Kalzeubet Deubet issued a strong warning within days of the coalition coming together. In a public statement he accused civil society of coalescing with opposition political parties against the government, with the risk of inciting disorder and violence.

Prime Minister Deubet stated the government would react firmly to actions perceived as threatening social cohesion and national stability. Putting words into action, police hindered “Trop c’est trop” from doing a press conference on Saturday, 13 December. The coalition wanted to draw public attention to a potential financial scandal involving SOGECT-TCHAD (Societé de Commerce Général de Construction et de Transport), a construction and import-export company headed by a nephew of Idriss Déby. SOGECT has diversified into a number of sectors with lucrative contract possibilities, including biometrics, and had until recently benefitted from an agreement with the Chadian government for the production of official documents such as passports, identity cards and driver’s licenses. Three months before its expiration, the government broke the contract with SOGECT, which promptly sued the state for 34 billion FCFA (64.5 million USD). According to his critics, this outcome was intended all along by President Déby as a way of getting access to quick cash through the pay-out to SOGECT of its claims.

Déby is likely to stand for reelection in 2016. He is a survivor of rebellions and has gradually emerged as a regional powerbroker and purveyor of battle hardened soldiers to UN peace missions in the Africa region. Most recently, Chad has backed negotiations between the government of neighboring Nigeria and Boko Haram. Chad is an important military ally of France whose counter terrorism “Opération Barkhane” is headquartered in N’Djamena.

While Déby will not have to tinker with the constitution, as presidential term limits were already eliminated in 2005, the upcoming poll could still be a unifying opportunity for his opponents, inspired by the Burkina Faso example – reportedly students demonstrating on November 11 chanted “Burkina Faso, Burkina Faso.” It remains to be seen whether other aspects of the Burkina Faso example would translate to the Chadian context, such as the close collaboration between opposition parties and civil society, and the role of the military that ultimately chose to refrain from causing a bloodbath.

Latin America – Corruption and the Executive Office II

I have written before about the relationship between corruption and the executive office in Latin America. Across the region, presidents have often been accused and impeached for corruption while occupying the executive office. For example, this year alone, Guatemalan ex-President Alfonso Portillo was sentenced to five years in prison in the US for taking bribes from Taiwan. In April in El Salvador, it was announced that evidence had emerging linking former president Francisco Flores to illegal and hidden bank accounts. Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, appeared in court in June to respond to allegations that he illegally halted bankruptcy proceedings against a company that he supposedly had an interest in.

Explanations for the persistence of corruption in the presidential office in Latin America range from history and the evolution of a permissive political culture across the region to the combination of PR electoral systems and presidentialism.[1] Latin American executives often need to deal with uncooperative legislatures and so at times, corruption can appeal as the easiest way for the executive to pursue their agenda. The prototypical example of this dynamic can be found in the Mensalão scandal in Brazil.

Given this level of corruption in the highest political office, it is no surprise that many Latin American countries languish in the bottom half of Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index.

Now, two new cases of alleged corruption, which are related to the executive office in Latin America, have come to light. The first of these involves the embattled president of Mexico, Enrqiue Peña Nieto. Peña Nieto was already facing huge political pressure over the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala. Now, his wife and former soap star, Angélica Rivera, has become embroiled in a scandal concerning a mansion she purchased in 2012, and Grupo Higa, a government contractor. In November, Higa, as part of a larger consortium, was awarded a US$4 billion contract to construct a high-speed rail project. It has now emerged that Rivera purchased her house form a unit of Higa, and she has yet to hand over a sizable portion of the asking price. Higa still hold the deeds to the house. As a recent news story succinctly put it: “So the first lady’s mansion is owned by a construction company that has bid successfully for government contracts.” The government has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. The story is not going away however. On Friday, the Mexican Finance Minister, Luis Videgaray, was implicated in a similar house buying scandal.

The other scandal is even larger. Petrobras, the Brazilian state energy behemoth, was allegedly used in an elaborate kick-back scheme, where money from inflated contracts was channeled back to the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). Thirty-five people, including top executives from Petrobras, have already been charged, and this schandal could have long-lasting and wide-ranging implications for the PT and president Dilma Rousseff. Currently, despite the efforts of the opposition, Dilma has remained above the scandal. She denies any knowledge of the kickback scheme, just as Lula did during the Mensalão scandal. It is expected that this story  will only get bigger.

One thing is for sure however. Corruption in the presidential office in Latin America remains a serious problem.

[1] For example, see For example, some of the chapters in Walter Little and Eduardo Posada-Carbó (eds.) 1996. Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America. Palgrave Macmillan or Jana Kunicová and Susan Rose-Ackerman. 2005. Electoral Rules and Constitutional Structures as Constraints on Corruption. British Journal of Political Science, 35: 573-606.

Mauritius – Electorate rejects the incumbent government and semi-presidentialism

Mauritius held its snap parliamentary election on Wednesday. The previous election was held in May 2010 and the parliamentary term is five years. However, Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam from the Mauritius Labour Party/Parti Travailliste (MLP/PTr) asked the president to dissolve parliament in October.

The election took place against the background of a shift in electoral coalitions and the prospect of constitutional reform.

In October the Labour Party and the Mauritian Militant Movement/Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) led by Paul Bérenger formed an alliance. Whereas the MMM was the main opposition party after the 2010 election, the Labour Party’s slim parliamentary majority left PM Ramgoolam looking for allies. The agreement between the two parties was reached on the basis of a programme of constitutional reform.  As reported in a previous post the plan was to introduce a semi-presidential system with a stronger directly elected president. PM Ramgoolam would assume the presidency and Bérenger would take the prime ministership.

The MLP/MMM (or PTr/MMM) alliance was opposed at the election by the Alliance Lepep (Alliance of the People). This electoral coalition was dominated by the Militant Socialist Movement/Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM) led by Anerood Jugnauth, but also included the Mauritian Social Democratic Party/Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate (PMSD). They were opposed to the prospect of constitutional reform. Indeed, the election quickly became a referendum on the proposed changes. However, they also campaigned on a programme of social reform, and human rights (the destruction of information from the country’s identity card).

At the election turnout was 74 per cent. This was lowest turnout at any parliamentary election to date. Even with a number of seats still to be decided, the result is clear. The opposition Alliance Lepep has won an outright majority. Currently, the Alliance Lepep has won 47 seats, while the MLP/MMM has won just 13 seats. PM Ramgoolam was defeated in his own constituency, coming in fifth, while Paul Bérenger, himself a former PM from 2003-2005, came third in his constituency. PM Ramgoolam has already accepted defeat.

The new prime minister, Anerood Jugnauth, is 84 years old. He was the president of Mauritius from 2003-2012. He also served as prime minister from 1982-1995, during which time Mauritius was still a parliamentary monarchy, and again from 2000-2003. Anerood Jugnauth is the founder of the MSM and, in effect, the PM-elect, while the current leader of the party is his son, Pravind Jugnauth.

This is not the first time that Mauritius has considered introducing semi-presidentialism, but now it is off the political agenda for some time.

Greece – The importance of presidential elections

On Monday, Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, announced that there would be an early presidential election. Instead of the scheduled election in February 2015, the first round of voting would take place on 17 December. The election has been called in the context of the renewal of Greece’s financial bailout by the EU, ECB and IMF troika.

The president of Greece is elected by parliament for a five-year term and is one of the weakest presidents in Europe enjoying only residual powers. This is already a sign that the call for an early presidential election is merely part of a bigger political game that is being played. The election is not designed to install a new head of state with the legitimacy to exercise decisive leadership in Greece’s times of trouble. Indeed, PM Samaras proposed the name of a 73-year old former EU Commissioner as his preferred presidential candidate.

Instead, the election is being held in the context of a government that has only a very small parliamentary majority, that is facing a new bailout agreement, and that risks losing office to the anti-austerity opposition.

The key element lies in the process for electing the president. As noted above, the president is elected by the single house of the Greek parliament. At the first two ballots a two-thirds majority is required (200 votes), whereas at the third ballot a three-fifths majority is necessary (180 votes). Crucially, if no candidate reaches this figure at the third ballot, then the legislature is dissolved and the process begins again except at the third ballot under the new parliament a simple plurality is required, thus guaranteeing a successful election. As a general rule, parties collectively and deputies individually do not wish to see the legislature dissolved. Partly for that reason, three presidential elections in Greece have been decided at the third ballot, thus avoiding a dissolution. In 1990, though, a newly elected parliament was so split that a new election suited the various parties. When the presidential election went to the third ballot, the three-fifths majority was not found and new parliamentary elections were held. Only after the legislative election was a president successfully chosen.

Faced with these rules and aware of his slim majority, PM Samaras is using the election to engineer the equivalent a vote of confidence in his own government and the future of the bailout process in general. As things stand, the government has the support of 154 deputies in the 300-seat parliament. Even if the government were to win the support of the 24 independent deputies there, it would still require a small number of votes from anti-austerity deputies to elect the president at the third ballot.

The logic of bringing the presidential election forward is that if a president is elected, then the government will also have demonstrated that it has enough support to pass a revised bailout package and the further tough conditions that will be imposed on the country. However, if it proves impossible to elect the president, which is what analysts predict, then there will be an early parliamentary election. Currently, the anti-austerity opposition leads in the polls. However, there are undecided voters and by forcing the issue PM Samaras hopes that the stakes will be so high that he will be returned to office and will have enough support to pass the new bailout agreement.

There is a further element to the situation. A couple of hours prior to announcement of the early presidential election on Monday, the government received a two-month extension to its original bailout package. Therefore, if a president fails to be elected now and a parliamentary election is held in January, it will take place prior to the finalisation of the new bailout agreement. This means that PM Samaras will not have to defend the agreement at the election, but will be able to campaign on the basis of what he will insist on in the agreement. The PM’s fear is that if the presidential election were held as scheduled in February after the new bailout had been agreed and if, as expected, no president was elected at that time, then the parliamentary election would take place in a much more difficult context for the PM and the chances of defeat would be much greater.

In short, the early the presidential election is being seen as a sort of parliamentary referendum on the forthcoming bailout. The PM is using the rules of the presidential election to manoeuvre himself and his party into the most favourable political context possible. Of course, even if there is a parliamentary election in January, it is entirely possible that PM Samaras’ party could lose, but the PM is calculating that bringing the date of the presidential election forward is the least worst option in terms of engineering his government’s political survival.

In comparative terms, this is an interesting instrumental use of presidential elections to help the  incumbent government.

Czech Republic – President Zeman under fire

Since coming into office, president Miloš Zeman has not shied away from controversy. He made headlines early on in his presidency when he appointed the Rusnok government despite an evident lack of support in parliament and a parliamentary counter-proposal. While this had only little impact on his public standing so far, he recently had to face increasing criticism for his statements and behaviour in office, and experienced a dramatic drop in public approval.

Protesters show president Zeman symbolic red cards during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution | photo via wikimedia commons

Since Vaclav Havel, Czech presidents have given live radio Interviews from their residence in Lany. On these occasions they discussed current political developments and used the opportunity to highlight issues close to their heart. During an interview in early November, Zeman was asked about the Russian dissident punk group ‘Pussy Riot’ while talking about the policies of Vladimir Putin. Yet rather than discussing the latter, Zeman provided Czech translations of the band’s name and a number of their songs using a wide range of profanities. Following the interview, the radio station not only received hundreds of complaints but Zeman’s words were also strongly criticised by politicians across the political spectrum as being inappropriate for a head of state. While Zeman and a number of other prominent Czech politicians have been known to use a more ‘colourful’ language at times, the incident is so far unique.

Following the incident, Zeman and his statements came under closer scrutiny by media and the public, leading to further dissatisfaction and criticism. During his trip to China only a few days prior to the controversial interview, Zeman had declared that he believed Taiwan to be part of China (which contradicts the government’s stance) and said on Chinese TV that he had ‘come to learn how to stabilise society’. Furthermore, he returned from his trip using the private jet of a Czech businessman rather than an official aircraft. While the latter might not seem too controversial for the outsider, the fact that the Czech Republic has long battled with political corruption and flights sponsored by businessmen also played a (admittedly less important) role in the resignation of German president Christian Wulff due to corruption allegations highlights that this was more than just a ‘faux pas’ (which Zeman – as a former Prime Minister – should have known to avoid).

Another part of the public discussion of Zeman’s behaviour was (and still is) his stance on the Ukrainian crisis. Among others, Zeman appeared on Russian TV to criticise the EU sanctions, proposed the ‘Finlandization’ of Ukraine (subordination of foreign & defence policy to Russia), invited Russian president Vladimir Putin to Prague, and spoke up against the prospect of Ukrainian NATO membership. While the latter is also the German position, Zeman’s attitude is not shared by the generally very Russo-sceptic Czech population. It is therefore no surprise that protests against Zeman erupted at celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the ‘Velvet Revolution’. During his speech, he was greeted by a chorus of whistles and booing, and protesters threw eggs at him (one of which hit German president Joachim Gauck who was there as an honorary guest). During a recent trip to Southern Moravia, Zeman was similarly greeted by protesters.

trust in Zeman

According to a recent recent poll by CVVM trust in the president has been falling sharply and to the lowest level since Zeman took office (with his previous low occurring after the 2013 parliamentary elections). Furthermore, the poll was conducted during mid-November and does not take into account the subsequent events and protests. Analysts therefore expect a further drop in the next poll which is being conducted at the moment. The government of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (with which Zeman is in cohabitation) benefits from the protests to some degree. Nevertheless, the fact he openly contradicts government policy has become a problem and threatens the government’s credibility abroad. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has therefore asked Zeman to coordinate his speeches with the government (in this context see also my recent post about presidential speeches Germany). It is unlikely that Zeman will bow to the government’s pressure in this regard. Nevertheless, once the end of his term comes closer (he still has more than three years in office left), he might have to change his behaviour to please his voters and be elected for second term.