Monthly Archives: June 2015

Slovakia – One year on, conflict over president’s refusal to appoint judges remains unsolved

In a post last year I discussed Slovak president Andrej Kiska’s first three months in office and in particular his activism in the area of judicial reform. Since then, the conflict over the appointment of constitutional court judges between Kiska and the government has taken a number of unexpected turns which have opened a new chapter in the complicated relationship between presidents, governments and the judiciary in Slovakia.

The Slovak Constitutional Court | photo via www.concourt.sk

On 18 June, Andrej Kiska celebrated his first year in the presidential office. Having beaten Prime Minister Robert Fico, Kiska is the country’s first truly non-partisan president yet given his centre-right policy positions has found himself in cohabitation with the government since his inauguration. While minor conflicts over health care reform and other legislation as well as foreign policy emerged appeared throughout the first year, the most controversial issue has been Kiska’s decision from last July to only appoint one of the six candidates for constitutional court judges proposed by parliament. The Slovak Constitution stipulates that the president chooses candidates from a set proposed by parliament (which is always twice the number of open positions) but offers no guidance on how to proceed if the president fails to do so or by which criteria s/he is allowed to ask parliament for more/other nominees. Since last year, two seats of the constitutional court have thus been left vacant.

After being denied appointment, all three of the judges filed complaints against Kiska in the constitutional court, claiming that his refusal to appoint them had violated their right to take up public office under equal conditions. In March this year, the court’s third Senate ruled in favour of three of the judges, yet apart from determination of guilt and ruling on compensation, it did not issue any further guidance on how the president should proceed (or should have proceeded) – an issue of which some hoped that it would be discussed in the judgement of the other Senate dealing with the separate complaint of the two candidates. However, during the last weeks the two remaining judges have withdrawn their complaint and the court subsequently seized any proceedings in the matter.

The court’s decision in March – although making clear that the president overstepped his boundaries in rejecting five out of six candidates – has unfortunately not brought political actors closer to resolving the issue much closer than a year ago. This is mostly because Kiska and his advisors still question the legitimacy of the ruling. The third Senate includes Jana Baricová -the only judge Kiska appointed last year – who Kiska accuses of being biased as she was involved in the nomination procedure. Nevertheless, a formal complaint and request to hear Baricová as a witness (which would have disqualified her from acting as a judge on the case) was rejected. Yet, eventually a single vote made the difference in the court’s decision which Kiska and his advisors interpret as supporting their claim of bias. These arguments notwithstanding, there are also some problems with the content of the decision as it only insufficiently discusses the way in which the candidates’ rights were violated and failed to spell out criteria under which a rejection would have been lawful (although it should be added that Kiska, too, failed to spell out why exactly he only appointed Baricová). Constitutional experts are currently at a loss of what should be done and by whom. Some argue that Kiska now has to appoint two of the five rejected candidates while others assert that parliament should present four new candidates (i.e. twice the number of open positions) or would only need to present one more candidate as the three nominees from the March decision were still eligible while the remaining two had disqualified themselves by withdrawing their complaint.

The tug-of-war between president and parliament/government over constitutional court appointments is thus likely to continue. Due to the fact that the term of constitutional court judges runs for twelve years and an increasing number of political conflicts is fought in the court, both sides are engaged in a high-stakes game in which one wrong move could have long-lasting consequences. At first sight, Prime Minister Fico and his government appear to be at an advantage given the court’s ruling in March as well as their strong majority in parliament which lets them control all subsequent nominations. However, with general elections approaching (scheduled for March 2016) Fico and his SMER party will be wary to seek a legislative solution (e.g. by changing the constitution or passing a law specifying the nomination procedures to their advantage) which could backfire in the next legislature. Kiska on the other hand needs to make sure that he does not become too active on this issue, thus spoiling his chances to affect policy change in other areas. Yet as the positions of all constitutional judges are up for renewal during Kiska’s term, he may well try to hold out and wait whether parliament will eventually give in to his demands, thus creating a precedent which would significantly increase his power.

Craig Allen Smith – Presidential Campaign Communication

This is a guest post by Craig Allen Smith, Professor Emeritus of Communication at North Carolina State University. It summaries his book, Presidential Campaign Communication, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Polity, 2015.

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Survey USA conducted several surveys two years before the 2008 presidential election. When they paired Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, McCain won 510 electoral votes to Obama’s 28. Two years later, Obama defeated McCain 364 to 174. The difference between those outcomes was the 2008 presidential campaign. This book is designed to help readers better understand and appreciate the ways that Americans use communication to select presidents.

Presidential campaigns resemble tournaments in which players pursue intermediate goals to bring an ultimate goal within reach. The acknowledgement that a new president has been elected reboots the process and begins the three-year “Surfacing” stage during which players and resources realign. Surfacing culminates in Iowa’s precinct caucuses (early in the election year) where the goal is to finish among the top four in one’s party. Those who surfaced then compete in primaries and caucuses for commitments from a majority of the delegates to their national convention — the “Nominating” stage. Because that competition divides the party, the nominee must heal and unite the party during the third “Consolidating” stage that culminates in the conventions’ nomination acceptance addresses. Finally, the nominees lead their campaigns from their conventions into the fourth “Electing” stage by publicly contesting state elections that allocate 538 electoral votes and the presidency.

Every American enters the presidential campaign with an agenda-driven perspective. By default we are all “Citizens” who (1) decide how to follow the campaign, (2) assess our political priorities, (3) decide whom to prefer, and (4) decide how to participate. Some Citizens decide to participate as candidates or campaign workers, and they become “Campaigners” who (1) decide whether to run, (2) organize substantial resources, (3) win a party’s nomination, (4) consolidate the splintered party, and (5) win state elections that produce 270 electoral votes. Some other interested Citizens choose to observe and discuss the campaign and function as “Reporters” (scholars, entertainers, pollsters, pundits, bloggers and journalists) who (1) observe the campaign, (2) frame those campaign observations as stories, and (3) attract an audience to make their reporting worthwhile.

The phenomenon we recognize as an American presidential campaign is a “Trialogue” among Citizens, Campaigners, and Reporters. We all try to fulfill our agendas in a competitive environment. Campaigners, Reporters and Citizens all seek like-minded others to maximize their influence, and they compete with other Campaigners, Reporters and Citizens for political leverage. Everyone engages in “rhetorical transactions” that trade words or symbolic acts for the resources they need (“victory units”) that range from attention and adherence to money, volunteer hours and votes. Campaigners compete for Citizens’ votes, Reporters compete for Citizens’ interest, Citizens compete with one another to form alliances that can influence Campaigners and Reporters to engage them.

To better understand the nature of those rhetorical transactions the book uses Lloyd Bitzer’s situational rhetoric, Kenneth Burke’s dramatism, Bormann’s Symbolic Convergence Theory and Michael McGee’s ideographs. It conceptualizes presidential campaigns as a series of “rhetorical puzzles”: How should one decide what to say (or not to say) or do (or not do) to whom through what channel(s) to fulfill one’s campaign agenda? We write rules and laws that constrain many rhetorical choices (e.g. who may vote, who can give how much money to whom), we cultivate shared identities, we make our private stories public and public stories personal, and we encapsulate arguments in ideographs such as <freedom> and <equality>. Our rhetorical choices cultivate clusters of like-minded Citizens who become the audiences of the campaign.

How do the clusters of like-minded Campaigners, Reporters and Citizens interact to produce an electoral college majority? To answer that question the book prefers analytics to demographics. As Amazon suggests new books from our past preferences, we suggest tracking preferred words over demographics. The Pew Center for People and the Press has been doing so since the 1980’s in a series of studies of the American Electorate. Pew poses a series of dichotomous alternatives and identifies clusters of voter types from their preferences. Pew’s 2015 study identified three “partisan anchor” clusters — one Democrat (Solid Liberals) and two Republican (Steadfast Conservatives and Business Conservatives) — that accounted for 57% of politically active Americans but only 43% of registered voters and 36% of the adult population. Four other clusters — Young Outsiders, Hard-pressed Skeptics, the Next Generation Left and the Faith and Family Left — accounted for only 43% of the politically active but 57% of registered voters and 54% of adults, and all four have reservations about both national parties. “Bystanders” are 10% of adults but 0% of registered voters and the politically active.

There are several possible paths from the Pew clusters to an electoral majority. One is to activate one’s base by saying things that their partisans long to hear (but which often alienate moderates). This strategy could provide a 36% Republican to 21% Democratic majority IF the less engaged and cross-pressured middle groups do not vote (as happens in non-presidential mid-term elections). This partially explains recent Republican efforts to complicate or limit voting. A second path is to expand one’s rhetorical appeals to attract the middle groups and increase turnout, in which scenario Democrats can expect 53% to Republicans 47% (which partially accounts for Democratic presidential victories).  The third and most useful path is to triage the states’ electoral votes into Republican, Democratic and “battleground states”. States that are solidly, favor or lean Democratic account for 249 electoral votes (21 short of victory), whereas states that are solidly, favor or lean Republican account for only 191 electoral votes. Since 1992 the focus has been on keeping one’s base and winning the battleground states needed to accumulate 270 electoral votes.

Whether trying to mobilize their base or to attract middle groups, Campaigners attempt to modify candidate images by acclaiming their policy and character virtues, by attacking their opponents’ policy and character, and by defending their policies and character (Benoit). Acclaims invite attacks and attacks invite defenses to create a mix of arguments. Normally, incumbents acclaim and defend while challengers attack.

Campaigners acclaim, attack and defend in speeches, advertising, debates, and social media, adapting their messages to their target audiences. Generally, advertising and social media trigger the “automatic” reactions of “fast thinking” whereas speeches and debates provide the extended explanations of “slow thinking” (Kahneman). When those messages intrigue Reporters, their stories expand the conversation.

Our “Reporters” are the Greek chorus of observers (scholars, entertainers, pollsters, pundits, bloggers and journalists) who help Citizens to make sense of the campaign. Not unlike candidates, Reporters need audiences to justify and finance their reporting. We conceive of each reporting network as a social system of message producers, distributors, advertisers, and reader/listeners. Thus we differentiate between the cultures of, for example, [CNN] and [Fox News] as the product of different reporters, audiences and advertisers. Each such system strives to satisfy its audience’s informational needs. The proliferation of reporting outlets has nurtured a plethora of like-minded audiences who bookmark their preferred Reporters and ignore alternative reports. Thus each Reporter’s message is biased toward its audience, for there is no requirement that they provide news or opinion unpalatable to their audience. Campaigners rhetorically adapt to core and potential voters and Reporters rhetorically adapt to core and potential readers/viewers.

Televised candidate debates attract the largest audiences of the campaign but have decided only one election (the 1980 contest among Carter, Reagan, and Anderson). In several cases (including the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon campaign) they have enabled the challenging candidate to keep pace with the frontrunner. Indeed, incumbent presidents have fared poorly in the debate era. Citizens’ selective perception, Reporters’ reduction of the debates to sound bites, and Campaigners’ strategizing have rendered debates an event similar to the Super Bowl — a high visibility event with limited consequences for the society.

In conclusion, American presidential campaigns are a trialogue of assorted Campaigners, Citizens and Reporters all trying to fulfill their rhetorical agendas better than their competitors. They trade words and images for “victory units” to increase their leverage and to undermine their competitors. Structural variables (such as war and economics) account for a significant amount of the variance in presidential elections, but (a) those structural variables only become meaningful as they are framed and interpreted rhetorically, and (b) the unexplained variance can often prove decisive.

Because Citizens, Campaigners and Reporters are humans, and because all humans are imperfect, their efforts result in imperfect campaigning, reporting, and voting. Because Campaigners and Reporters all rhetorically adapt to Citizens’ needs and wants, Citizens hold the keys for improving the process if and when they decide to pay more critical attention to the campaign’s rhetorical choices.

Craig Allen Smith is Professor Emeritus of Communication at North Carolina State University. He can be reached at casmith.nc@gmail,com.

New publications

David Hill and Eugene Huskey, ‘Electoral Stakes, Labor Migration, and Voter Turnout: The 2011 Presidential Election in Kyrgyzstan’, Demokratizatsiya, Vol. 23, No. 1 , Winter 2015, pp. 3-30.

Gianfranco Pasquino (ed.), Una storia presidenziale (2006-2015), Paradoxa, ANNO IX – Numero 1 – Gennaio/Marzo 2015. Lots of articles on the Italian presidency.

Asanga Welikala, Reforming Sri Lankan Presidentialism – Provenance, Problems and Prospects, available at http://srilankanpresidentialism.org.

Margaret E. Edwards, ‘Understanding Presidential Failure in South America’, Latin American Politics and Society, vol. 57, no. 2, pp. 111-131.

Lucas González and Miguel Ignacio Mamone, ‘Who Distributes? Presidents, Congress, Governors, and the Politics of Distribution in Argentina and Brazil’, in Revista Ibero-Americana de Estudos Legislativos, May 2015, no.1, pp. 17-32.

Sylvia Gaylord and Lúcio Rennó, ‘Opening the Black Box: Cabinet Authorship of Legislative Proposals in a Multiparty Presidential System’, Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 247-269.

Steven G. Calabresi, ‘Does Institutional Design Make a Difference?’, Direito, Estado e Sociedade,  no. 45, pp. 188-206, jul/dez 2014. Available at:

James N. Druckman and Lawrence R. Jacobs, Who Governs? Presidents, Public Opinion, and Manipulation, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Brandon Rottinghaus, The Institutional Effects of Executive Scandal, Cambridge University press, 2015.

Wayne P. Steger, A Citizen’s Guide to Presidential Nominations: The Competition for Leadership, Routledge, 2015.

Mikołaj Cześnik, ‘In the Shadow of the Smolensk Catastrophe—The 2010 Presidential Election in Poland’, East European Politics & Societies August 2014 28: 518-539.

Ionela Gavril, ‘Alegerile prezidentiale din 2014 si impactul lor asupra regimului premier-prezidential din România’, Sfera Politicii23.1 (Jan-Mar 2015): 152-161,169. Plus plenty of papers in Romanian on the 2014 presidential election. Available at: http://www.sferapoliticii.ro/sfera/pdf/Sfera_183.pdf#page=154

Russia – From Public Politics to Public Management: Mayors and the Completion of Putin’s “Power Vertical”

One of the hallmarks of Vladimir Putin’s rule has been an attempt to “depoliticize” Russian government.[i] Rather than viewing governance as the art of reconciling competing claims by various groups and individuals, the current Russian leadership embraces the concept of government as a science of bureaucratic management.[ii] This approach requires insulating policy-making as much as possible from the “short-sighted” demands of opposition politicians, who are branded as populists and demagogues, and entrusting it to those–the current ruling elite, headed by the president–who allegedly have the long term interests of the Russian state at heart. It is easy, of course, to dismiss this perspective as a self-serving means of legitimating authoritarian rule and keeping the incumbents in power. Although it certainly serves those purposes, it is more than a cynical ploy; it reflects the worldview of Russia’s contemporary ruling class, which has a deep distrust, if not fear, of the common people, the narod, as political actors.

To move Russia from public politics to public management, the political leadership has employed a number of tactics over the last decade and a half, the most visible of which is the construction of what Putin has called a “power vertical” [vertikal’ vlasti]. In this system, the president sits atop a hierarchy of executive officials–from Moscow to the provinces–who are supposed to carry out policies introduced or negotiated by Putin in the center. Among the many factors complicating the operation of the power vertical is the presence of various elected officials, at the federal, regional, and local levels, whose loyalty to the president may be limited by their sensitivity to the views of constituents. In order to neutralize the constraints imposed by the election of other public officials, Putin has placed virtually insurmountable barriers in the path of opposition parties and politicians and transformed many elective offices into appointed ones.[iii]

Over the last year, President Putin’s team has revived a campaign to “depoliticize” local government through electoral reform. Boris Nemtsov, the opposition politician assassinated earlier this year, asked facetiously in December 2014 what the political leadership was doing while the ruble fell 50 percent in value and 130 billion rubles fled the country? His answer: “The Kremlin…gave an order to eliminate the election of mayors of the capital cities [of Russian regions].”[iv] In fact, the shift to appointed rather than elected mayors had begun a decade earlier, though it had affected less than half of Russian territories by late 2011.[v] And it was not just regional capitals–where local governors often find themselves in disputes with popular local mayors–but larger cities throughout Russia that have been capitulating in recent months to political pressure from above to abandon elections for mayor. In many cases, the mayors are being replaced by city managers, an institution that appeared in Russia for the first time in 2003 as part of the depoliticization initiative.[vi]

Although President Putin had succeeded earlier in marginalizing the opposition in federal and regional politics, public politics remained vibrant at the local level, where mayoral contests were often genuinely competitive. In the race for Moscow mayor, for example, one of Putin’s harshest and most visible critics, Alexei Navalnyi, received over 27 percent of the vote in a losing but impressive effort. According to one source, “[o]ne quarter of mayoral elections held between 2001 and 2012 were decided by less than 15 percentage points….[and] in many notable instances, opposition mayoral candidates have been able to defeat United Russia candidates, although many of those opposition mayors were subsequently arrested.”[vii] It is no surprise, then, that a Russian president intent on eliminating pockets of resistance to the power vertical would seek to complete the depoliticization of local government.

There is a danger for Putin, however, that the attempt to strip mayors of public accountability will prove a pyrrhic victory. Not only are Putin’s tactics running roughshod over more than two decades of constitutional traditions on the autonomy of local government, they fly directly in the face of public opinion on the issue. According to a poll taken by the Levada Center in May 2014, 77 percent of Russians believed that mayors of large cities should be directly elected.[viii] In a survey conducted at the end of last year, 80 percent of Yaroslavl residents favored direct mayoral election.[ix] Even for a normally compliant population, many of the justifications offered by the regime’s representatives for diminishing the power of the ballot appear insulting. The governor of Krasnodar region noted that the government would save considerable money by not having elections, and at any rate the population was “tired” of all the campaigns.[x] The vice speaker of the regional assembly in Ulianovsk admitted that the elimination of direct mayoral elections would subordinate the office of mayor to the regional governor, which “will strengthen the power vertical, and that has never hurt Russia.”[xi] For his part, the head of the Karelian Republic argued that the reform would “remove unnecessary politicization from local government…”[xii] More convincing to some will be the opportunity that the new electoral rules provide for the formation of directly elected borough councils within cities, but the candidates drawn to these bodies are likely to resurrect “the image of milk-maids and lathe operators recruited in the Soviet-era local elections.”[xiii]

Students of presidentialism and semi-presidentialism traditionally focus on national politics and on relations between executive and legislative institutions. However, presidential power rests not only on political relations in the center but on the ability of the leader to command the loyalty of the periphery. Designed to ensure that Putin’s writ extends to the farthest reaches of Russia, the current attempt to depoliticize mayors’ offices tests the limits of the Russian power vertical. In Joel Moses’ words, under the new system, “…Russians will be denied accountable citywide institutions responsible for their daily lives and left with protests, demonstrations, and grassroots organizations as their sole political outlets….”[xiv] Given that the biggest winners in this reform are governors rather than the Russian president, one has to wonder if this initiative is a step too far for Putin.[xv]

Notes

[i] An excellent work of Russian scholarship on this subject is Viktor Mart’ianov, “The Decline of Public Politics in Russia: From Public Politics to Political Administration: The Depoliticization of the Regions,” Russian Politics and Law, vol. 45, no. 5 (September-October 2007), pp. 67-82 [translation of “Padenie publichnoi politiki v Rossii: ot publichnoi politiki k politicheskomu administrirovaniiu. Depolitizatsiia regionov,” Svobodnaia mysl’, 2006, no. 5, pp. 5-18] The title of this blog entry and the framework for analysis were inspired by this piece.

[ii] This idea is developed with regard to Soviet-style regimes in A.J. Polan, Lenin and the End of Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

[iii] Although the public regained the right to vote for governors after almost a decade during which the president appointed governors to the country’s 83 regions, new, arcane rules all but ensure that gubernatorial candidates favored by President Putin will emerge as winners. See Joel C. Moses, “The Political Resurrection of Russian Governors,” Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 66, no. 9 (November 2014), pp. 1395-1424, and especially pp. 1414-1415 for the rules limiting genuine competition. Recently adopted rules also provide that certain regions may choose to forgo direct elections for governor, and that option has been adopted by violence-plagued regions in the Northern Caucasus. Here, the regional parliaments select the governor.

[iv] Boris Nemtsov, “Panoptikum: rubl’ rukhnul, a oni vybory otmeniaiut,” Ekho Moskvy, 1 December 2014.

[v] The provisions of Russian legislation on mayoral elections are complex, but essentially they allow cities to choose among several options, which allow for an elected mayor, a mayor-city manager tandem, or a city manager. Putin’s recent moves are effectively removing this choice and forcing locales to abandon the direct election option. See Noah Buckley, Guzel Garifullina, Ora John Reuter, and Alexandra Shubenkova, “Elections, Appointments, and Human Capital: The Case of Russian Mayors,” Demokratizatsiya, vol. 22, no. 1 (2014), pp. 93-98.

[vi] Vasilii Skalon and Maksim Rubchenko observed in 2010 that the introduction of city managers was “proceeding apace in places where United Russia [the hegemonic, pro-presidential party] has been unable to win mayoral elections.” Skalon and Rubchenko, “Local Government in the Grip of the ‘Power Vertical’,” Russian Politics and Law, vol. 49, no. 4 (July-August 2011), p. 33 [translation of “Samoupravlenie v tiskakh vertikali,” Ekspert, no. 45 (15 November 2010). See also Moses, “The Political Resurrection of Russian Governors,” pp. 1402-1403. The study by Buckley, Garifullina, Reuter, and Shubenkova, “Elections, Appointments, and Human Capital: The Case of Russian Mayors,” offers fascinating detail on the differences in backgrounds between elected and appointed mayors in Russia.

[vii] Buckley, Garifullina, Reuter, and Shubenkova, “Elections, Appointments, and Human Capital: The Case of Russian Mayors,” p. 98, citing http://echo.msk.ru/blog/tulsky/826429-echo/

[viii] “V Irkutske deputaty otmenili priamye vybory mera goroda,” NEWSru.com, 23 March 2015.

[ix] “V Iaroslavle otmenili priamye vybory mera,” Russkaia sluzhba BBC, 12 December 2014.

[x] Mariia Epifanova, Nataliia Zotova, “Izbrannykh vse men’she,” Novaia gazeta, 15 December 2014.

[xi] Sergei Titov, “V Ul’ianovske vosstanavlivaiut vertikal’ vlasti,” Kommersant, 27 June 2014.

[xii] “Karel’skie parlamentarii otmenili priamye vybory mera Petrozavodska,” TASS, 18 June 2014.

[xiii] Joel C. Moses, “Putin and Russian Subnational Politics in 2014,” Demokratizatsiya, vol. 23, no. 2 (Spring 2015), p. 197.

[xiv] Ibid., p. 201.

[xv] In the Yeltsin era, the Russian president allied with the country’s mayors as a way of constraining gubernatorial power, but Putin’s gambit in this ongoing triangular game assures that local officials will not see the presidency as a protector. See Eugene Huskey, Presidential Power in Russia (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1999), pp. 189-190.

Scott Straus – Making and Unmaking Nations

This is a guest post by Scott Straus, Professor of Political Science and International Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison

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In Making and Unmaking Nations, I set out to understand why genocide occurred in some places but not in others. The answer is complex, of course. But a good part of the story, I found, has to do with long-running political ideologies, which stem from decisions that presidents had made previously. To understand then why genocide happens, or does not happen, leadership matters. I further argue that some of Africa’s first generation of presidents, which today do not often receive credit, had a long-term positive impact on the political trajectories of their countries.

Some background on the project: for the past 18 years, the focus of my research has been genocide. My first book focused on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. From there, I sought to develop a general theory by employing comparative methods. As I worked on that subject, I developed two main critiques of the existing literature. The first is that scholars typically compared genocide cases to genocide cases. A common comparison included the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and Bosnia, for example. The second is that scholars compared cases that were quite different—in terms of world region, historical time period, and the countries themselves.

My research thus privileged two comparative principles. First, genocide cases should be compared to non-genocide cases, in particular ones that possessed many of the drivers that scholars believe cause genocide. The operative question became: what was commonly different among the non-genocide cases compared to the genocide cases? Second, the comparative frame should aim for greater structural similarity among the cases. All told, I decided to focus on post-Cold War Sub-Saharan Africa. For the non-genocide cases, I examined Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal. For the genocide cases, I examined Rwanda and Darfur.

The non-genocide cases all experienced a civil war that could be construed as being fought along identity lines. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, there was a civil war that began in 2002 in which the rebels were based in the north and were primarily Muslim. They fought against a Christian, southern-led government, and the rebels fought in the name of ending discrimination against Muslim northerners. In Mali, in the early 1990s, Tuareg and Arab rebels fought the government in the south, also in the name of their communities. In addition to war, the countries experienced political transition. In Côte d’Ivoire, there was a succession fight, failed elections, and a coup. In Mali, the country was transitioning from an authoritarian system to a multi-party one. Moreover, in each country there was low-level, unpunished violence against civilians committed by state forces and in some countries there were pro-government militias, even hate media. On balance, these factors represented much of the consensus in the genocide studies literature about the causes of the phenomenon.

So what was different about the non-genocide cases? Part of the answer lies with the dynamics of the armed conflict, in particular the level of threat that the rebellions posed to the central governments. In Côte d’Ivoire, an international intervention halted the rebel advance and separated the two sides. In Mali, the rebels were confined to the north. In Senegal, the rebels were restricted to the far south. In contrast, in Rwanda the rebels ultimately overpowered government forces. Darfur is more complicated. There the rebels were limited to the west but they were able to score some significant military success and threaten local, government-allied actors.

But alongside questions of threat, I also discovered an element that surprised me. In particular, in the non-genocide cases, when I conducted interviews with leading military and political actors, as well as intellectuals in the country, they consistently said something along the lines of, “We do not define this fight as a war between one identity group and another identity group.” In effect, they argued that the nation was multi-ethnic or plural. In some cases, they also claimed that dialogue, rather than war, was a founding principle of politics in their country.

That raised the question of why? Why in places like Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal did at least some elites not define the armed conflict in identity terms? Obviously not everyone held such views. In these countries, there clearly were elites who framed the fight as a war between ethnic groups or religious groups. But a significant current did not.

The answer that I develop in the book concerns “founding narratives,” or public stories that define who constitutes the primary political community of the country, who should hold power, and what values, if any, define the national political community. They are “founding” in the sense that they define first principles of the nation and were developed at critical junctures when regimes changed. That included when countries became independent or when regimes transitioned from one type to another, say as they transitioned from authoritarian states to democratic ones.

At these critical junctures, presidents faced and made choices about how to define their nations. In some cases, they explicitly fashioned and promoted a plural or multi-ethnic vision. They said, in effect, “we are a country of many groups,” and they in turn developed policies that allotted institutional or development power across the country. To be sure, there was favoritism, but the vision was of a multi-ethnic nation. In contrast, in other countries, the claim was that the state belonged to a primary identity group, which was said to have political primacy over another identity group that shared the same territory.

To explore this proposition, I developed a database of presidential speeches for the five main countries in the study. For each year, prior to the onset of a military crisis, I selected the same two national holidays when presidents typically delivered addresses to the nation. I in turn sought to track what kinds of themes were developed, and then to see whether those themes reappeared when the military crisis unfolded.

The finding in brief is that presidents in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal consistently developed themes of pluralism, unity, tolerance, and dialogue as fundamental to their nations while in Rwanda and Sudan presidents promoted the idea that the state represented the interests of Hutu and Arab Muslims, respectively. In war, these ideological visions in turn shaped the strategies and tactics that military and political leaders crafted in response to threat. Where the nation was imagined as plural, the idea of fighting a final war against another ethnic or religious group was not in the repertoire of action. By contrast, if elites saw a threat emanating from a group that did not deserve power against a group that did, the idea of a war of destruction against the former group became imaginable.

The story is more complicated than that. One has to ask whether and how these founding narratives took root in a country. One has to ask whether there were counter-narratives and also whether other factors shaped escalation or de-escalation. But in the end I attribute significant impact to ideological visions and to the presidents who developed and promoted them. In Africa, the likes of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Léopold Senghor, and Alpha Oumar Konaré displayed real leadership. They were not saints, but their visions for the nation created bulwarks against genocide and similar forms of mass violence against civilians.

Scott Straus is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at UW-Madison. Scott specializes in the study of genocide, political violence, human rights, and African politics. His most recent book publication is Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa (Cornell University Press, 2015). His introductory book on genocide, Fundamentals of Atrocity Prevention, is scheduled for publication in late 2015 by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has also published several books on Rwanda, including The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda (Cornell University Press, 2006); Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011); and Intimate Enemy (Zone Books, 2006). Scott also co-authored (with David Leonard) Africa’s Stalled Development (Lynne Rienner, 2003), translated The Great Lakes of Africa (Zone Books, 2003) and co-edited (with Steve Stern) The Human Rights Paradox (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014). He has also published in the American Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, Foreign Affairs, World Politics, Politics & Society, Journal of Genocide Research, African Affairs, Terrorism and Political Violence, Genocide Studies and Prevention, and the Canadian Journal of African Studies. Scott has received fellowships from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the United States Institute of Peace. In 2009, he was awarded the campus-wide William H. Kiekhofer Distinguished Teaching Award and in 2015 a Distinguished Honors Faculty award. In 2011, he was named a Winnick Fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He co-edits the book series Critical Human Rights with Steve Stern. Before starting in academia, Scott was a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

Brandon Rottinghaus – The Institutional Effects of Executive Scandal

Brandon Rottinghaus is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Houston

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If reports in the media are any indication, political scandals resulting from corruption or personal indiscretions are ubiquitous. Governors fly to international locations on the public’s dime for extramarital trysts or attempt to sell Senate seats. Presidents and their senior staff conspire to cover up political crimes. Political nominees are accused of financial misdeeds related to federal income tax returns. This year alone we have seen several governors under serious scrutiny, the President of the United States in hot water and dozens of mayors, members of Congress and state legislators involved in political scandals.

Scandals are argued to be on the rise because the media is more invasive, communications technology is more pervasive, laws are stricter and political opponents thrive in using these tactics as political weapons. Assertions of “gotcha” politics have become predominant in shaping American political culture, changing how the media and other political actors relate to the political system. American presidents, in particular, tend to be highly susceptible to the perceived growing tide of scandal as their political fortunes are often linked to such events. This is especially true of certain presidents who tend to be shrouded in accusations. The resulting legal skirmishes have given an avenue to the venom in partisan politics for a generation since Watergate.

My book, The Institutional Effects of Executive Scandal, takes a systematic look at the universe and scope of executive scandals, the nature of these scandals, the reaction of the participants to these scandals and the effect on the political system at both the state and national levels. Given the continual presence and the importance of scandal and the toll that such events have on cooperation, bargaining and the arc of political careers, we need to better understand the dynamics of what shapes the duration of a scandal, the way scandals affect the executives’ capacity to govern and the strategic choices executives make in confronting scandal.

This book will help to clarify our understanding of the dimensions of how scandals shape the political environment (and the aftermath) at both the state and national levels. It specifically explores the frequency of scandals at the state and national levels affecting both governors and presidents from 1972 to 2012, how these scandals cause executives to react to allegations, conditions under which executives and related officials “survive” scandals, the effect of scandals on policy and political actions, the effect of scandal on executive-legislative relations and the reaction of the legal system to scandals. These topics give us a broader perspective on why scandal is important and the specific effects on governing in the political system.

In the aftermath of scandal, political actors demonstrate a robust institutional resiliency, and although political accountability is often compromised, the political system responds with additional scrutiny. Indeed, chief executives are generally more likely to adapt than retrench. Executives react expectedly to scandals, dictated by their central position in the political system. Both presidents and governors respond aggressively to revelations of scandal, large and small, by adapting their behavior and using the powers of their office to demonstrate political fortitude. Although the institutions of government survive these crises, democratic accountability, the lifeblood of the public political system, is often limited by scandal. Scandals involving presidents or governors are more likely to be met with obfuscation rather than truth telling (especially if the scandal is serious), nominees involved in scandal are permanently thwarted and more legislative allies and political stonewalling leads to greater political survival. The system, though, bends but doesn’t break in the aftermath of these crises; the system maintains good health and is responsive in predictable ways. The system reacts to investigate and admonish further wrong doing in the aftermath of scandals: more legislative hearings are held to probe wrongdoing and more investigations by internal and external agencies are conducted. Ultimately, the institutional ramifications for executive scandals demonstrate impressive adaptability by the actors involved and the system at large.

Brandon Rottinghaus is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Houston. His primary research and teaching interests include the presidency, the media, public opinion, executive-legislative relations and research methods. His substantive interests are in how presidents and Congress work together to manage policy, presidential unilateral action, executive scandal and how presidents lead with their rhetoric. His work has appeared in Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, Political Research Quarterly, Political Science Quarterly, Political Communication, PS: Political Science, Electoral Studies, American Politics Research, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Congress and the Presidency, White House Studies, American Review of Politics. He is the author of The Provisional Pulpit: Modern Conditional Presidential Leadership of Public Opinion (Texas A&M University Press).

Emiliano Grossman – The French “guillotine” procedure: rationalized parliamentarism gone mad

This is a guest post by Emiliano Grossman, Associate Research Professor, Centre d’études européennes de Sciences Po, Paris

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The announcement that the government would again resort to Article 49.3 of the Constitution for the adoption of the second reading of the “Macron Act” on June 18 caused a new outcry among politicians and the press. The first reading had already been subject to this procedure[1]. The main reason behind this is the existence of increasingly strong divisions within the center-left government majority in the Assemblée nationale, France’s lower chamber. The Macron Bill contains a series of measures meant to boost the French economy, but many of its critics within the government camp consider it to be a classic pro-market measure with few benefits for employment or public finance.

The use of this article is not new and neither are the hostile reactions that its use has led to. Opposition parties pretend to be outraged, while members of the majority remain, at best, awkwardly silent. Created by the 1958 Constitution, the ’49 .3′ or ‘guillotine’ is a permanent issue of conflict under the 5th Republic. The reason is simple: the procedure puts an end to parliamentary debate and the normal legislative procedure. In its original wording, the article is very explicit:

The Prime Minister may, after deliberation by the Council of Ministers, make the passing of a Finance Bill or Social Security Financing Bill an issue of a vote of confidence before the National Assembly. In that event, the Bill shall be considered passed unless a resolution of no-confidence, tabled within the subsequent twenty-four hours, is carried as provided for in the foregoing paragraph.

In other words, once the announcement is made, the law is adopted unless the opponents to the bill force the government to resign through a no-confidence vote! Originally, this text was conceived as a protection for the executive against the excesses of the Fourth Republic with its very high government instability. Article 49 carries very narrow understanding of government responsibility, defined simply as the absence of an absolute hostile majority. This has made it possible to make governments more stable and less vulnerable to fragile majorities. But over time it has turned into a tool in the hands of the executive, even in the absence of a real danger to the government.

As with any use of 49.3, voices on all sides have expressed hostility. Moreover, the two current heads of the executive feature an “anti-49.3” record. The Huffington Post quotes François Hollande arguing in favor of the “abolition of the 49-3” in 2007 (as well as many other now forgotten measures meant to strengthen the powers of Parliament) and Prime Minister Manuel Valls was part a group of “deputés” who, in 2008, introduced an amendment to delete Article 49.3 from the Constitution.

They were also opposed to the only reform of this article, which took place in 2008, under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. The reform was considered too timid. Rather than abolishing the article, it limited its use to the finance bill and one other bill per parliamentary session.

The graph below shows the number of 49.3 per legislature. This includes “complete” five-year legislatures as the last three legislatures, but also shorter ones, such as the 10th (1993-1997) or eighth (1986-1988). The blue-red band above the graph indicates the color of the majority for each legislature (blue = right, red = left).

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The all-time champion of 49.3 is Michel Rocard, prime minister during the 9th legislature. At the time, the left held theoretically had an absolute majority in the Assembly. De facto, however, it could not rely on the Communist Party. With 28 uses, the Rocard governments account for one third of the 83 appeals to date. Edith Cresson, during the same legislature, used the article almost once a month. Before them, Pierre Mauroy, Raymond Barre and Jacques Chirac during the 1986 cohabitation had been regular users. François Fillon, the only Prime Minister of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential term, never resorted to 49.3 in 5 years of government.

If the opposition and often much of the majority oppose the use of 49.3, so why is it not abolished once a new majority comes to power? I order to answer this question it is necessary to remember that the world does not look the same from government or opposition benches. The same tool can thus look very attractive to the government and very questionable in the eyes of the opposition. And Article 49.3 is not the only example to illustrate this state of affairs.

The underlying reasons for this almost systematic shift in preferences with regard to article 49. 3 are rather straightforward. The 49.3 is very helpful to incumbent governments. The reasons put forward to justify its use are always more or less the same: “emergency”, the “need” or “no time to lose or risk-taking”. Indeed, in a context of crisis and divisions within the majority, 49.3 appears to be a weapon of last resort. It is a way to re-solidify the majority by confronting it to the danger of new elections. Thus, without even having to improve the bill and convince reticent allies the 49.3 will allow the party of Prime Minister to rely on the absence of opposition, rather than the presence of her majority.

While it is true that parliamentarians do not like the 49.3, there may be secondary benefits to it. It allows “small parties” or government minority partners to dissociate themselves from the government majority on specific bills. Thus, the left wing of the Socialist Party and the Greens can publicly take their distance with the Macron Act and signal their disagreement to their constituents. At the same time, they know full well that they cannot really prevent the adoption of the text. In doing so, they hope to retain a particular electorate, perhaps hostile to the text. Thus, the 49.3 also performs an ‘electoral’ function, as had John Huber (1996) had explained about 20 years ago.

It is therefore remains a valuable tool. To give it away once in power would be short-sighted. This certainly explains the discrepancy between the opposition parties’ advertised projects with regard to article 49.3 and their implementation (or rather, the lack of implementation) of reform once these parties come to power. As a consequence, we can expect new outcries and indignation the next time that the current opposition, when it is in power, resorts again to article 49.3.

[1] The government had already used the same procedure during the first reading. A discussion in French is available here.

John D. Huber, Rationalizing parliament: legislative institutions and party politics in France. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

 

Emiliano Grossman was born in Buenos Aires and grew up in Germany. He holds degrees from Sciences Po and the University of Cambridge. He has been a senior research fellow at Sciences Po since 2003, working now at the Centre d’études européennes (CEE). He is the co-convenor of the Master’s Programme in European Affairs. He teaches courses on EU politics, interest-group politics and comparative politics at Sciences Po. His research concentrates on economic and financial regulation in the EU and political institutions. He has more generally focused on the variety of state-society relations in the EU and the challenges they are facing. At the same time, he has worked on the political systems of EU member states and the effects of the EU on politics, policy-making and political institutions in France. He recently co-edited a special issue for the 50iest anniversary of the French 5th Republic. He is currently working on two major research projects. The first concerns the political agendas in France, which aims at creating quantitative indicators of political activity for the past 30 years or so. The second deals with the politics of financial liberalization in several EU member states over the past twenty years.

Uganda – Rival to President Museveni announces bid for top job in 2016 elections

On Monday 15 June Amama Mbabazi, long-time heir apparent turned political rival of President Museveni, declared his intention to run for president in a video released on youtube. The much anticipated announcement triggered a media storm and widespread speculation about what this development could mean for the 2016 presidential race. While the implications for the election itself are uncertain, the Mbabazi bid is already fuelling runaway campaign spending, exacerbating a trend that continues to threaten Uganda’s political and economic stability.

An announcement long in the making

Late last year, Mbabazi was dropped as Prime Minister and pushed out of his role as Secretary General of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) in a series of moves designed to stymie his alleged presidential ambitions. More recently, Museveni and his close allies in government have mixed conciliatory personal overtures with more authoritarian efforts to suppress dissent in hopes of discouraging an Mbabazi candidacy.

Many political observers, meanwhile, remained uncertain about Mbabazi’s strategy and intentions. The erstwhile ally of Museveni revealed very little of his plans, leading some to speculate he was discouraged by the NRM’s heavy handed response. Mbabazi’s silence appeared to have a dampening effect on some of his supporters, notably among a break-away faction of the NRM youth league, many of whom were brought back into the fold following personal invitations to visit Museveni’s private ranch.

Ultimately, pressure from within the Mbabazi camp may well have precipitated Monday’s announcement. In particular, prospective campaign donors reportedly wanted Mbabazi to go public in order to gauge the response and therefore the merits of backing him as a candidate.

The opposition view – Mbabazi the hero?

Mbabazi walked a thin tight-rope in his five-minute declaration, balancing between, on the one hand, a renewed affirmation of his allegiance to the historic ‘values’ of the NRM and, on the other, a call for something akin to regime change. Seemingly picking from an opposition playbook, Mbabazi asserted, ‘It is abundantly clear that what Ugandans want now – what you want is not simply change in leadership but change of system. A change in order.’

The response among leading opposition figures has been largely positive, if cautiously so. Perhaps most enthusiastic are a number of former NRM MPs, expelled from their party for indiscipline in 2013. They heralded Mbabazi’s bid as the ‘birth pangs of democracy’ while insisting that ‘for the first time, Museveni is going to have an election.’ Veteran opposition politicians were also sanguine in their response. Nadala Mafabi, Secretary General of Uganda’s largest opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), commented, ‘When President Museveni wanted power, he opted for the gun, but Mbabazi has decided to use the ballot. This is good for democracy and as Opposition, we welcome Mbabazi’s candidature.’

There is little love for Mbabazi personally. Despite the encouraging statements, the expelled, ex-NRM MPs could, until recently, be heard denouncing Mbabazi as the man who oversaw their ejection from the ruling party. The opposition, meanwhile, has weathered numerous direct confrontations with Mbabazi, notably during his days as the implacable Leader of Government Business in Parliament responsible for, among other things, ensuring the passage of the opposition-baiting Public Order Management Bill. Mbabazi’s considerable personal wealth is also seen as an indication of his involvement in a string of corruption scandals.

Mbabazi the man aside, what opposition sympathizers do welcome, as the above statements imply, is the opportunity an Mbabazi candidacy offers to reset the political chessboard. The initial optimism associated with Uganda’s 2005 return to multiparty politics quickly faded as successive elections have left the opposition with an ever dwindling share of the vote. Some opposition leaders, including former FDC President Dr Kizza Besigye, even advocated boycotting the 2016 elections, arguing they are a futile regime-legitimating exercise with a predetermined outcome. Viewed from this perspective, Mbabazi’s presidential bid is a breath of fresh air; it can at least guarantee an ‘intriguing’ election rather than yet another rerun.  As such, anything with the potential to shake Museveni and the NRM’s hold on power is a positive.

The NRM view – Mbabazi the hypocrite

Those close to Museveni have responded to Mbabazi’s bid by labeling the erstwhile Prime Minister a ‘hypocrite’ and resorting to vitriolic attacks. The government’s media centre boss, Ofwondo Opondo did not mince words, hammering, ‘[Mbabazi] is really finished and we shall frog-march him to the delegates conference should he present his candidature.’

Mbabazi’s video launch was also accompanied by a formal letter sent to the President’s office, which earned Mbabazi an invitation to speak with Museveni personally on Monday. While all sides insisted the meeting was ‘cordial’, it failed as a last ditch effort to dissuade Mbabazi from contesting.

Mbabazi’s supporters have also had to contend with an aggressive counter-offensive. Campaign coordinators convened launch ‘parties’ across Uganda on Monday to coincide with the video release. These were rapidly suppressed by the police while many Mbabazi supporters were arrested.

These arrests are in line with the tactics used by the NRM regime against the opposition to date. Mbabazi and his supporters will undoubtedly face heightened police retaliation in days to come. Mbabazi may also have to handle renewed criminal investigations and corruption charges.

Mbabazi’s attempt to launch his bid from within the NRM seems particular irksome for those close to Museveni. Minister for Youth, Evelyn Anite, sought to remind Mbabazi that he signed the NRM parliamentary caucus resolution endorsing Museveni as sole presidential candidate in the 2016 elections. Anite was herself responsible for proposing that resolution, which helped catapult her into a youthful cohort of NRM MPs who now serve as Museveni’s close ministers, advisers and NRM campaign strategists. Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister for the Presidency, similarly called Mbabazi out for criticizing a government of which he himself was until very recently one of the main architects.

An Mbabazi candidacy – what can it achieve?

It is too early to tell whether Mbabazi’s bid will have much of an impact on the coming elections, or even whether it will succeed in exacerbating tensions within the ruling NRM party, as many opposition supporters hope. There is at least one effect that is, nevertheless, already influencing this year’s election cycle, and with potentially destabilizing implications for Uganda both politically and economically: Mbabazi’s campaign is driving up the inflated cost of elections.

Election spending in 2011—much of which involved redirecting funds from the Treasury—is credited with fuelling a post-election spike in inflation, a collapse in the value of the shilling and a steep drop in GDP growth. These, in turn, helped propel the opposition-led ‘walk to work’ protests, which saw Kampala streets filled with tear gas for several weeks. The 2016 elections promise to be no better. The fears over an Mbabazi bid have pushed spending up a notch. Already the NRM is reported to have invested hugely in a special NRM delegates’ conference convened in December 2014 in order to amend the party constitution and replace Mbabazi’s elected secretary general position with an appointed bureaucratic post. Mbabazi also has money to spend and is believed to have used at least 50m ($15,000) to facilitate Monday’s launch parties alone.

The added financial pressures involved in countering an Mbabazi campaign will further stretch the ability of the NRM to use its financial muscle to hold members together while avoiding post-election economic shocks. MPs in particular have been calling for some kind of compensation from Museveni for their role in spearheading the sole candidature agenda. These dynamics raise the prospect of record spending in 2016 with serious consequences for an economy already reeling from a weak currency. Whether or not Mbabazi achieves his short-term goal of winning the election, which seems highly unlikely, his candidacy looks set to exacerbate and expose the vulnerabilities of the political system upon which the NRM relies.

 

 

Tapio Raunio – In Finland, a conservative government supported by a conservative president

This is a guest post by Tapio Raunio, Professor of Political Science at the University of Tampere

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When Sauli Niinistö, the candidate of the conservative National Coalition, was elected the Finnish president in 2012, he became the first non-left head of state in 30 years. The Social Democrats had controlled the presidency since the long reign of Urho Kekkonen (1956-1981), with Mauno Koivisto (1982-1994), Martti Ahtisaari (1994-2000) and Finland’s first-ever female president, Tarja Halonen (2000-2012), all representing the Social Democrats. The Eduskunta elections of 19 April continued the decline of the left in Finland, and on 29 May the new Centre-led coalition that includes also the Finns Party and the National Coalition was appointed by Niinistö. Indeed, the elections were a massive blow to the Social Democrats, and the two leftist parties (the Social Democrats and the Left Alliance) won together a meagre 23.6 % of the vote, the lowest ever showing for left-wing parties in Finland.

Commanding a comfortable majority with 62 % of the Eduskunta (the unicameral national legislature) seats, the Sipilä government is unusual in three respects. First, it contains ‘only’ three parties, whereas most Finnish cabinets in recent decades have included four or even more parties. Secondly, the Swedish People’s Party ended in opposition after a continuous run in the government since the 1979 elections. And thirdly, the number of ministers is down to 14, the lowest number since the 1950s and five less than in the cabinet appointed after the 2011 elections.

But how should we define the government ideologically? Calling it a centre-right coalition is not exactly correct, given the mixed ideological profile of the Finns Party. While Timo Soini’s party is internationally known mainly for its anti-immigration and Eurosceptic views, on the left-right dimension the party is firmly centrist, or even centre-left. The core of the party’s vote comes from people with lower levels of income and education, and, in line with its populist ideology, the Finns have blamed the ‘old parties’ for corrupt and cartelised practices and for forgetting the needs of ordinary citizens.

The coalition is instead quite socially conservative, with the electorates of the Finns Party and the Centre, in particular, and a sizeable minority in the National Coalition leaning towards more traditional values and Euroscepticism. When the Eduskunta voted on the law allowing gender-neutral marriages in November 2014, almost all of the Finns Party and the Centre MPs and roughly one-third of National Coalition MPs voted against the proposal. The situation is thus new in Finland: a conservative government ruling the country, and a conservative president that is bound to support the cabinet in its challenge of reviving Finnish economy.

Presidential support for budget cuts

Economic policy may indeed cause a serious headache for the cabinet. The election campaign focused very much on the worsening state of the national economy, and when putting together his government, Sipilä strongly emphasised a commitment to budgetary and social policy cuts. While there is rather broad societal consensus about the necessity to curb the public debt and introduce austerity measures, the implementation of various reforms contained in the government programme – many of which are predicted to hit low-income citizens especially hard – will be particularly troublesome for the Finns Party.

One of the key targets for the government is removing barriers to employment and implementing more flexible labour market rules, and hence Sipilä has been courting the powerful trade unions to sign up to a ‘societal contract’ that would bind unions to the reforms. The first attempt at such a contract failed in May, but a new deal is being attempted over the summer. It is surely no accident that the new minister for employment is Jari Lindström from the Finns Party. A former paper worker and trade union activist, Lindström may be the right person to woo the unions, but the price may be lower support for his party among working class voters. The question is also very difficult for trade unions themselves, and particularly for the main blue-collar confederation, the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), that has received a lot of criticism in recent years for standing in the way of economic recovery.

Perhaps the most interesting portfolio choice was that made by Soini. It is commonly acknowledged that the second most important post in the cabinet is the finance minister, and hence it was assumed that the chair of the Finns Party (that finished second in the elections) would occupy that role. However, in the end Soini opted for the minister for foreign affairs instead, with the new finance minister being Alexander Stubb, the previous prime minister and leader of the National Coalition. Soini, who chaired the Eduskunta’s Foreign Affairs Committee in the 2011-2015 electoral period, justified his decision by citing his personal interest in foreign policy, but many inside his party feel that he intentionally avoided responsibility and influence. Foreign affairs are surely important, but now the government’s economic policy is steered by the Centre and the National Coalition.

While the president has no constitutional authority in economic policy, Niinistö has quite frequently commented on the health of the economy, reminding of the necessity of introducing fiscal reforms for curbing public debt. Niinistö of course has relevant experience, having served as the finance minister in the Social Democratic-led ‘rainbow governments’ from 1996 to 2003. To be sure, Niinistö is by no means a hard-line market liberal, but he is likely to offer consistent support to Sipilä – support which the prime minister may well need given the difficult road ahead.

More bilateral foreign policy?

With the government in charge of domestic and European matters, the last remaining area of presidential powers is foreign and defence policy. According to the constitution foreign policy is co-directed by the president and the government. Relations with Russia provide a good example of the challenges involved in this set-up, as Finnish-Russian relations are increasingly influenced by the EU, not least because trade policy is in the competence of the Union. When Halonen was in office her activism towards Russia was not always welcomed by the government. During the Ukrainian war the division of labour appears to have functioned smoothly, with the prime minister representing Finland in the EU and Niinistö engaging in bilateral talks with his Russian counterpart. While the sanctions imposed by the EU are hitting the national economy particularly hard, Finland has supported EU’s line, with the government and Niinistö underlining that there is no other option.

When in opposition, both the Centre and the Finns Party emphasized the need to safeguard bilateral ties with the eastern neighbour, and it is likely that the government will not stand in the way of Niinistö’s active role. However, European policy may result in tensions both inside the cabinet and between the cabinet and Niinistö. The European section of the government programme is certainly quite critical of integration, wanting the EU to be reformed (although not through Treaty changes) and explicitly stating that the government ‘is opposed to increasing Finland’s liabilities in handling the euro crisis’ and that ‘if the European Stability Mechanism must still be used, it should be done only within the framework of the mechanism’s current capacity and capital structure’.

Overall it feels that such a critique of the EU is primarily aimed at domestic audiences. The Finns Party has been consistently opposed to the EU since the party was established in the mid-1990s, and hence Soini needs to signal this stance to voters. Potential bailouts for Greece or other euro area countries may prove very challenging, given that both the Finns Party and the Centre were against such measures in the 2011-2015 Eduskunta. Finland may also be one of the EU countries showing most sympathy toward David Cameron’s attempts to re-negotiate Britain’s terms of EU membership. European policy may well produce heated conflicts inside the government, especially when considering the starkly opposing EU positions of Soini and Stubb. Niinistö appears to sympathize with the ‘German’ austerity approach to Eurozone problems, but should the government go too far in its critique of EU, he will surely intervene, reminding the cabinet of the importance of European integration for Finnish economy and security.

Tapio Raunio is professor of political science at the University of Tampere. His research interests include national legislatures and political parties, the Europeanization of domestic politics, the European Parliament, semi-presidentialism and the Finnish political system. He has published articles in journals such as Comparative European Politics, European Journal of Political Research, European Union Politics, Journal of Common Market Studies, Journal of European Public Policy, Party Politics, Scandinavian Political Studies, and West European Politics. Raunio is the co-author of Finland in the European Union (2003, with Teija Tiilikainen), and the co-editor of National Parliaments within the Enlarged European Union: From ’victims’ of integration to competitive actors? (2007, with John O’Brennan) and Connecting with the Electorate? Parliamentary Communication in EU Affairs (2014, with Katrin Auel). He is currently leading with David Arter a research project that examines the links between Nordic parliaments and MPs and their electorates. (tapio.raunio@uta.fi)

Madagascar – President’s impeachment ruled unconstitutional

Recently scholars have pointed to the increase in presidential impeachment votes. For example, Leiv Marsteintredet and Einar Berntzen in Comparative Politics (41:1, 2008) discussed how impeachment has been used in Latin America to ‘resolve’ crises between the executive and the legislature. When the two institutions are deadlocked, the legislature votes to dismiss the president. This is a solution to the problem of temporal rigidity that Linz first identified and that is brought about by fixed presidential terms. Mariana Llanos and Leiv Mainstentredet followed up this idea in 2010 in an edited volume with a number of case studies. Aníbal Pérez-Liñán also published a book on the topic in the same year.

In Madagascar presidential impeachment has already been used once before to dismiss the head of state. In September 1996 President Albert Zafy was removed from office by a combination of the National Assembly and the country’s highest court. There is a nice resume of these events in the edited book by Jody C. Baumgartner and Naoko Kada on presidential impeachments in comparative perspective. In the last few weeks it looked as if history in Madagascar was about to repeat itself in this regard.

In December 2013 Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected president of Madagascar. He was elected in the first presidential election since the coup that topped President Marc Ravalomanana in March 2009. President Rajaonarimampianina was the candidate supported by Andry Rajoelina, who had taken power following the coup against Ravalomanana. With legislative elections being held concurrently and with Rajoelina’s group ending up as the largest single group in parliament, it seemed as if there would be a period of stability. However, this hasn’t happened.

Soon after taking power, President Rajaonarimampianina effectively broke with Rajoelina. Seemingly, Rajoelina wanted to be appointed Prime Minister, but President Rajaonarimampianina refused to to do so. The constitution states that the prime minister has to come from the largest group in the legislature. Rajoelina’s group was the largest and it wanted him to be appointed as PM. However, the president reasoned that there was a bigger non-Rajoelina group, even if it was not formally constituted. In the end, after a number of months of wrangling, another figure within Rajoelina’s group was appointed as PM. A new PM from the same group was appointed earlier this year.

Since this time the relations between the president and the legislature have remained strained. This came to a head on 26 May when deputies voted to impeach President Rajaonarimampianina by a vote of 121-4 with no abstentions. This was more than the two-thirds vote needed to dismiss the head of state in the 151-seat legislature. There were reports from pro-presidential deputies that the vote was rigged, but it stood.

The constitution states that the Assembly can vote to dismiss the president on the grounds of mental or physical incapacity to carry out the functions of the office. The list of reasons drawn up by the Assembly against the president were very wide ranging and somewhat contradictory. They included his supposed incapacity to run the country, his lack of action since his election, his interference in the business of the legislature, his failure to uphold the principle of laicity in the constitution, and his prime ministerial appointments.

According to the constitution, once an impeachment vote has been passed, it has to be approved by the High Constitutional Court. If they uphold the vote, then the Assembly once again has to vote by a two-thirds majority to formally dismiss the president.

On 12 June the High Constitutional Court issued its ruling. The Court rejected the Assembly’s impeachment vote. The Court ruled that the vote had not taken place properly and that at least 64 deputies had formally sworn that they had not voted to dismiss the president. Therefore, the two-thirds majority had not been reached. The Court also found other procedural irregularities with the process. Generally, they ruled that the impeachment claim had no legal foundation.

Interestingly, for some academic scholars at least, the Court also officially ruled that the country was semi-presidential. More importantly, it also stated that there were grounds for an agreement between the opposing parties. This was a signal to the president that even though they had ruled in his favour, he should avoid dissolving the legislature and calling fresh elections that would only introduce another period of instability.

On 13 June President Rajaonarimampianina appeared on television and in effect declared that he would not dissolve the legislature. Generally, his address has been interpreted as an attempt to calm the situation. However, some deputies remain resolutely opposed to the president and claim that they are willing to take to the streets to see him dismissed. Here, too, Madagascar has history. Let’s hope that this piece of history does not repeat itself either.