Monthly Archives: October 2015

The 2015 Presidential Race in Argentina: A “Change” Election?

This is a guest post by Ezequiel González Ocantos and Luis Schiumerini, University of Oxford

In October 2011 President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner monopolized the Argentine electorate, securing 54% of the popular vote and with it a second term in office. Her victory was in many ways overwhelming: she won in almost all of the country’s municipalities; the distance with the runner up was over 30 per cent; and her allies secured comfortable majorities in both chambers of Congress. Yet four years later, in October 2015, Fernández’s faction of the Peronist Party, in power since 2003, suffered a reversal of fortune. Not only did the government’s candidate and governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, Daniel Scioli, fail to win in the first round, but his runner up, Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires and non-Peronist challenger, Mauricio Macri, finished the race dangerously close (36.86 vs. 34.33%). Macri won in 5 provinces, and put into question Peronists’ hegemony over some of their traditional bastions. Most notably, his coalition defeated Peronism in the strategic battle over the governorship of the largest, richer and politically influential province: the Province of Buenos Aires.

These results were unexpected. Kirchnerism had emerged from the primary elections held in August 2015 in relatively good shape, winning almost 40 per cent of the popular vote and defeating Macri’s coalition by nearly a 10 per cent margin.[1] These numbers made Scioli and his followers highly optimistic about their chances of victory in the upcoming October election; they were indeed very close to meeting the requirements of the less demanding of the two Constitutional paths to a first round win.[2] So what happened between August and October 2015? More importantly, what happened between 2011 and 2015 to reduce the odds of Peronist continuity? What are the implications of last Sunday’s election for the future of party politics in Argentina? Who will win the presidency in the November runoff?

The Emergence of Credible Challengers

The last four years of Kirchnerist rule in Argentina were very different from the first eight. After her resounding victory in 2011, President Fernández had to deal with much lower rates of economic growth, much higher levels of inflation, a pronounced devaluation of the currency, a partial default on the country’s foreign debt, and high profile corruption scandals involving the president’s inner circle. In times of economic decline or stagnation, voters asked to make evaluations of incumbent performance are more likely to distance themselves from the President. Moreover, it is in this type of context that corruption scandals are more likely to become a relevant factor in voters’ decision making functions. But as Figure 1 shows, even though voters became increasingly concerned about the economy, trust in Fernández’s government remained stable and at acceptable levels all throughout her second term. Although trust in her administration regressed to the mean after the October 2011 honeymoon, it never plummeted and even recovered in the months prior to Sunday’s election. Given this stability in the government’s popularity, it makes sense to ask why the impetus for change suddenly gained momentum during the first round of the 2015 presidential race.

Figure 1. Trust in Cristina Fernández’s Government (2011-2015)

Fig1Source: Índice de confianza en el gobierno. Universidad Torcuato Di Tella

Voters do not make prospective or retrospective evaluations in a political vacuum. These calculations are only electorally relevant in so far as citizens are able to compare the incumbent with credible challengers. One of the reasons why Fernández obliterated the opposition in 2011 was that the latter lacked credibility, strength and political capital. It remained highly fragmented, fielded tickets with little downward integration (e.g. presidential candidates were not matched with strong gubernatorial ones), and lacked effective leadership. For example, the runner-up in 2011, Hermes Binner, belonged to a party with limited territorial reach, no political infrastructure in the all-important Province of Buenos Aires, few relevant coalition partners, and no parliamentary influence. It is likely that most voters did not even consider not voting for the government, or voting strategically to bolster the chances of one of the many opposition candidates.

The situation in 2015 was quite different. In addition to a continuing deteriorating economic situation, voters were now offered two alternatives to the incumbent, which were credible and counted with effective forms of partisan, territorial, and leadership capital. In this context, prospective and retrospective evaluations acquired a new meaning and electoral significance.

The main non-Peronist challenger was Cambiemos (Let’s Change), a coalition between the historic Radical Party, Macri’s PRO and the Civil Coalition, the latter two formed after the 2001 economic and political crisis. The Radical Party provided a nationwide territorial presence and subnational campaign resources such as militants, surrogates, candidates, and crucially, election monitors. Macri provided the Radical Party with what they lacked, i.e. a leader with a well-known record in office and reputation for managerial competence. Cambiemos was able to field competitive candidates in several gubernatorial and mayoral races, generating the potential for positive coattails up and down the ticket. Although the incentives to coalesce around Macri were obviously bolstered by economic decline and higher —though not high— levels of discontent with the government, in early 2015 it was by no means obvious that a broad opposition coalition would emerge. The fact that several key members of the non-Peronist camp overcame coordination problems, as well as personal and ideological differences to form Cambiemos was a crucial development leading up to a close first round result. The presence of Cambiemos in the ballot made it possible for citizens to express their discontent by voting for a credible alternative, one with governability potential.

The presence of Sergio Massa as a viable second challenger added nuance to what would otherwise have been a polarized election. Massa, Fernandez’s former chief of staff, also cultivated a reputation for managerial competence during his tenure as mayor of Tigre, a highly visible municipality in the the Province of Buenos Aires. Unlike Macri, Massa had the added value of being a Peronist, providing an alternative for his co-partisans disaffected with Kirchnerism. This position allowed Massa to defeat Peronism in the 2013 legislative elections in the strategic Province of Buenos Aires and placed him as a credible Presidential candidate. While Massa’s inability to differentiate himself from Macri and the defection of some key allies to Scioli’s camp weakened his candidacy, he remained an electorally relevant player, polling around 20 per cent. A crucial element in Massa’s bid for the presidency was the support of José Manuel de la Sota, the leader of Peronism in the second largest province, Córdoba.

Campaign Effects and Realignments

This three-way yet weakly polarized scenario opened space both for campaign strategies to shape voter choice and also for preferences to change over the course of the campaign. Given the government’s enduring popularity, and Scioli’s high approval ratings in the Province of Buenos Aires, Macri’s campaign avoided an outright ideological confrontation with left-leaning President Fernández. Instead he focused on occupying the center ground. His rhetoric deemphasized programmatic differences and highlighted instead valence issues such as the need for “another way of doing politics.” Backed by a strong record governing the City of Buenos Aires, the message offered disenchanted voters technocratic competence in the face of bad performance in several key areas of the national administration, and a different, more moderate style of government. Given the centrist strategy adopted by Macri, Massa opted for more polarizing rhetoric. To do so, he moved to the right on security issues and politicized corruption in Fernández’s administration that had become a very visible issue in the public debate.

Scioli had a more difficult terrain to navigate as he both needed to appeal to Kirchneristas and non-Kirchneristas. Support from the Kirchnerista coalition was lukewarm, as Scioli was perceived as too moderate and willing to compromise on key stances held by Fernández. In order to appease these concerns, he accepted the imposition of a Kirchnerist hardliner as a running mate, but also sought to signal that he was his own man. For example, he announced a cabinet dominated by non-Kirchnerists, and used his surrogates to indicate his intention to reach an agreement with holdout creditors. This ambiguity was also apparent in his campaign slogans, which combined non-ideological appeals to values such as ‘hope’ and ‘hard work’, with statements in favor of extending Fernández’s interventionist economic policies. It is likely that this ambiguous strategy backfired, as it cemented Scioli’s electoral ceiling by tying him to the government’s supporters and not bringing new voters to his camp.

When comparing the results of the primaries with those of the first round, it is possible to see that these campaign strategies were accompanied by critical shifts in voter preferences, leading to a greater concentration of opposition voters around Macri. At the end of the day, Scioli lost over two percentage points (36.86%), Macri gained almost 4 (34.33%), and Massa managed to add some decimal points to his non-trivial performance in the primaries (21.34%). These results prevented a first round Scioli victory, ended the momentum behind his candidacy, and transformed Macri into the new favorite.

Figure 2. Macri’s Vote Share at the Section Level. Primary vs. First Round

Fig2Through a complex balancing act, Macri made inroads into two segments of the electorate. First, the pledge not to undo some of Kirchnerism’s most popular statist policies allowed Macri to lure voters who despite being unsatisfied with the performance of the government still support the main pillars of its economic policies. The second source of growth came from voters ideologically opposed to the government, who solved their coordination problem by shifting from Massa to Cambiemos. Both components can be illustrated by looking at changes in vote share across the electoral districts or departments that make up 6 provinces representative of Macri’s overall performance (Figure 2) [3] Observations above the dashed 45-degree line indicate that Macri improved his performance relative to the primaries, while observations below it suggest that his vote share declined.

The case of Córdoba stands out. Home to the second largest electorate in the country, Macri averaged a 15 percent vote share surplus in the province. This allowed him to improve his performance in every single district. Córdoba exemplifies two key components of Macri’s growth. First, this growth came at the expense of Massa, who suffered a net vote share loss in every provincial district.[4] Second, Macri’s success reflects the defection of the rural vote from Massa’s coalition. Ideologically opposed to Kirchnerism, the so-called gringos displayed a text-book example of strategic voting, abandoning Massa for Macri, who had a clearer shot at the presidency. Macri’s success with the rural vote went beyond Córdoba, and extended to provinces such as Santa Fé and Entre Ríos, where Cambiemos lost in the primaries but won in the first round.

Ultimately it was the Province of Buenos Aires, home to 40 percent of the electorate, that enabled Macri to translate his growth in the interior of the country into a higher national vote share. Out of the impressive 1,591,268 additional votes that Cambiemos received on Sunday’s first round, 520,870 (33 percent) came from the Province of Buenos Aires. Though not as big a gap as that observed in Córdoba, Figure 2 shows that Macri improved his vote share in most districts across the province.[5]

If Buenos Aires exemplifies how Macri was able to penetrate the metropolitan component of Peronism’s core constituency by winning key municipalities in the Greater Buenos Aires region, the Province of Tucumán illustrates his ability also to damage Peronism in its less developed Northern core. This was perhaps the least anticipated aspect of the dealignment process observed between August and October. Macri’s success in Tucumán is in part explained by the scandal surrounding the gubernatorial election held in September 2015, in which the Kirchnerist incumbent party won by a confortable margin. Allegations of fraud led to a sustained cycle of protest against the provincial executive and to a lower court ruling invalidating the election. These exceptional circumstances are likely to have persuaded opposition voters to coalesce around Macri, a phenomenon not observed in neighboring provinces such as Salta and Jujuy. But the fact that he did so well in the largest of the northeastern Peronist bastions certainly contributed to his nation-wide growth.

Figure 3. Massa’s Vote Share at the Section Level. Primacy vs First Round.

Fig3Turning to Massa, Figure 3 confirms that Macri’s crucial growth in Córdoba is explained by Massa’s debacle. Yet, Massa managed to compensate the losses inflicted by Macri by making inroads in the two core constituencies of Peronism: the urban areas of the Province of Buenos Aires, and the Northern provinces. Indeed, Massa improved his performance in most sections of the province of Buenos Aires. His growth in the northern region was even more impressive. Unlike Macri, who only improved in Tucumán, Massa exhibited a substantial increase in this province as well as in Salta and Jujuy, where he won the race.

Figure 4. Scioli’s Vote Share at the Section Level. Primary vs. First Round.

Fig4Macri and Massa’s growth obviously came at the expense of Scioli (Figure 4). The largest portion of his decline in vote share is accounted for by the results in the Province of Buenos Aires, where both of his challengers made substantial inroads. His reversal of fortune was particularly surprising in the northern provinces where extreme poverty, voters’ reliance on public employment, and other forms of clientelism normally create buffers that shield the incumbent Peronist vote. Interestingly, like Macri, Scioli also improved his performance in Córdoba, but this was not enough to counter losses in other provinces.

Political scientists often distinguish between two causal forces that shape vote choice during electoral campaigns. The so-called fundamentals are the structural variables that shape the preferences of voters regardless of campaign dynamics, such as economic performance, class, region, and partisanship. Campaign effects, on the other hard, include the processes that unravel as a result of the events and strategies deployed during the course of the campaign, and that end up influencing vote choice. The Argentine electoral campaign thus far has shown how fundamentals and campaign effects complement each other. Campaign dynamics meant that many voters were yet to be persuaded by Macri’s message when they cast a ballot in the primary elections. The fundamentals still biased them against the risks entailed by a change in government, opting either for Scioli or for less competitive opposition candidates. Come the first round of the general election, Macri’s move to the center, the increasing doubts about Scioli’s ideological commitment to either Kirchnerism or anti-Kirchnerism, corruption scandals, and a series of events that underscored the deterioration of the economic situation, persuaded many voters to jump ship.

Who will win in November?

Some may argue that, notwithstanding Macri’s successful balancing act, his chances of winning the runoff are slim. In this sense it is important to note that Massa stole votes from both core constituencies of the traditional Peronist coalition: the metropolitan low income voters of the province of Buenos Aires (and other big cities), and the state-dependent voters of the northern provinces. A phrase famously attributed to Perón comes to mind: “For a Peronist there is nothing better than a fellow Peronist.” This would suggest that those voters who left Kirchnerism for Massa will come back to Scioli once the runoff pits him against a non-Peronist like Macri. Meanwhile, Macri has exhausted his growth potential after stealing all the rural conservative voters that Massa had to offer.

Although this is an entirely plausible scenario, there is an alternative one, often overlooked in the post-election analysis. It is possible that the above interpretation of the nature and potential behavior of Massa supporters gives too little credit to voters, too much credit to the strength of Peronist party identification, and unwarrantedly assumes that the average Massa voter is a staunch Peronist. First, Massa’s emergence as a viable challenger in 2013, as well as his recent resilience, was based on the articulation of an anti-Kirchnerist message. This suggests that many of those attracted by this rhetoric are voters who strongly dislike the president, her policies and governing style. It would therefore make sense for them to support Macri in the runoff. And those who are Peronists and therefore might be in principle more reticent to vote for Macri are not obviously bound to vote for Scioli in November. It is unclear that on its own the Peronist identity, whatever its content and meaning, is strong enough to change the minds of these individuals who were initially enticed by Massa’s crisp anti-government message.

Figure 5 presents public opinion data collected by the Argentine Panel Election Study in July 2015. Of those who expressed support for Massa, 31% evaluated Fernández’s administration poorly or very poorly, and 33% thought it was neither good nor bad. This distribution is not very different from that observed among Macri supporters. Although somewhat dated, these figures suggest that Cambiemos has potential for growth among those who voted for Massa in the first round.

Figure 5. Evaluations of Fernandez’s Administration Among Macri and Massa’s Voters

Fig5Source: Argentina Panel Election Study 2015, First Wave.

There is also the issue of valence. On the one hand, the substantial and uniform growth of Macri in the most populated provinces suggests that being a credible, competent manager matters to voters. Moreover, Macri has also benefited from a valence shock by virtue of winning the narrative about the outcome of the first round and showing that he can credibly beat Kirchnerism. Cambiemos may have narrowly lost the war, but so far it has won the peace. This is not only due to Macri’s unexpected performance, but also to the fact that his coalition won the governorship of the Province of Buenos Aires, the quintessential Peronist bastion. In this context, it wouldn’t be surprising if non-Macri voters updated their valence evaluations after observing that many of their compatriots have already done so in favor of Cambiemos. This is true even for Scioli supporters. It is reasonable to assume that Scioli’s non-trivial 36.86% of the vote is not solely made up of hardcore Kirchnerists, but also includes voters who supported him because of his moderation and his experience governing the largest province in the country. It wouldn’t be surprising if a non-negligible portion of these voters were to re-think their vote ahead of the November ballot.

Given these two plausible scenarios, the outcome of the runoff remains uncertain. But regardless of who wins in November, the 2015 electoral cycle could have far reaching political consequences. In particular, it has enabled non-Peronist parties to make unexpected inroads into Peronist stongholds. Although Peronists still control most of the provinces and enjoy a considerable advantage in both chambers of Congress, their territorial grip over the most populous areas of the country is not as firm as it used to be in the years following the 2001 debacle, which led to profound imbalances between Peronists and non-Peronists. In 2015 the Radicals won two important governorships, a myriad of provincial capitals and many small municipalities. Similarly, Macri’s PRO, initially a highly personalistic party circumscribed to the City of Buenos Aires, will now control the two most visible and resourceful subnational executives, i.e. the Province and City of Buenos Aires. PRO candidates were also extremely close to winning the governorships of large provinces such as Santa Fé and Entre Ríos, further consolidating the party’s potential for territorial expansion and institutionalization. If Macri wins the presidency it is likely that this trend will continue, with important implications for the structure of Argentina’s party system. Because of these developments, this may well have been the last election of a political cycle dominated by the legacies of the 2001 crisis.

[1] According to Argentina’s electoral law, all candidates must participate in a primary, even if they face no internal competition. The party as a whole must surpass a vote share threshold in order to be allowed to compete in the Presidential race. In August 2015 Scioli participated in an uncontested primary, whereas the other two main presidential hopefuls, Macri and the leader of the anti-Kirchnerist faction of the Peronist Party, Sergio Massa, competed against their respective challengers to secure the nomination.

[2] Victory can be achieved by winning 40% of the vote with a 10% margin of victory, or by wining 45% of the vote, regardless of the margin of victory.

[3] Departamentos are aggregate electoral precincts comparable to US counties. Though in some provinces they overlap with municipal boundaries, in others they do not serve any administrative or institutional purpose. Here we use the words sections and districts interchangeably.

[4] In the primaries Massa competed against Córdoba’s incumbent governor, José M. De la Sota. In August their combined vote share in Córdoba was larger than that of Cambiemos and Scioli..

[5] Because Buenos Aires also exhibited a uniform increase in turnout, these vote share increases at the district level led to net increases in the national vote share.

The authors want to thank Andy Tow (http://www.andytow.com/), Pablo Celayes (@PCelayes), and Andréz Vázquez (@avdata99) for their generous help getting departamento level electoral results.

Ezequiel Gonzalez Ocantos (Ph.D. Notre Dame, 2012) is Associate Professor in the Qualitative Study of Comparative Political Institutions in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, and Professorial Fellow in Nuffield College. His research focuses on the determinants of judicial behavior in cases of state repression. In particular, he studies how the diffusion of international legal ideas by local activists changes the way judges and prosecutors in Latin America perceive these cases and the legal viability of ruling against impunity. His book manuscript “Shifting Legal Visions: Judicial Change and Human Rights Trials in Latin America” is currently under advanced contract with Cambridge University Press. His work on this and other topics has appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, Comparative Politics and Comparative Political Studies and The International Journal of Human Rights. Gonzalez Ocantos received APSA’s 2013 Edward S. Corwin Award for the best doctoral dissertation in the field of Public Law.

Luis Schiumerini is a Post-doctoral Prize Research Fellow in Politics at Nuffield College, and received a Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 2015. His book project examines the causes of incumbency advantage and disadvantage in developing democracies. In other research, he studies preferences for redistribution and mass protests.

Tanzania – An historic election

Tanzania’s elections last Sunday were the most competitive the country as ever seen. Results so far suggest the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party will remain in power, extending its 54-year reign. But even if CCM wins, these elections mark a decisive shift in Tanzania’s politics.

CCM divided

This campaign season has laid bare the entrenched factionalism within CCM. What was once a highly centralized, bureaucratic party is increasingly split by rival networks of competing political elites. These networks link national political figures, influential financiers, and regional and local party leaders, who are in many areas grouped into personalized political machines.

Faction tensions reached a fever pitch during the CCM presidential nomination process last June and July. A leading contender was Edward Lowassa, a former Prime Minister in outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete’s first government before he resigned over a corruption scandal.

This fall from grace set Lowassa at loggerheads with Kikwete, his former political ally. It is widely accepted that Kikwete personally intervened to ensure Lowassa did not get the CCM nomination despite enjoying widespread support. The nomination instead fell to John Magufuli, a long-time minister with no clear factional affiliation.

Lowassa responded to his exclusion by defecting to the opposition, where he was selected as the presidential candidate for the coalition known by its Swahili acronym Ukawa. Lowassa brought with him a wave of other defectors from CCM, including more former ministers and local party cadres, especially from his home area in Arusha region where his personal network is strongest.

This development fundamentally changed the election calculus, giving the opposition a shot at winning the presidency.

The opposition united

Tanzania’s opposition parties were in a relatively strong position even before Lowassa’s entry.

Four parties—Chadema, CUF, NCCR-Mageauzi, and NDL—united in the Ukawa coalition in 2014 and had agreed to field joint parliamentary and district council candidates in the 2015 elections. Chadema, now Tanzania’s leading opposition party, had also built up its local party structures in the years following the 2010 elections, and had managed to implant itself in areas where previously it had only a slight presence.

Lowassa’s arrival at the helm may have cost the opposition some of its support, particularly as parties like Chadema built their reputation as anti-corruption crusaders and were now seen to embrace a politician long maligned as corruption incarnate. CCM took advantage of this situation during the election campaigns, branding the opposition hypocrites.

Even so, the opposition momentum only grew with Lowassa drawing huge crowds at rallies. CCM meanwhile was struggling with its own flagging legitimacy, seemingly relying on the relatively untainted image of its presidential candidate, Magufuli, to carry the day. More skeptical observers tended to question both candidates’ promise of ‘change.’

The election results so far

Vote counting is still ongoing with CCM leading. Besides providing a sign of who will ultimately win, the available results reveal interesting patterns.

In a country where politics do not generally play out along ethnic lines—certainly not when you compared with neighbouring Kenya—it is striking that both Magufuli and Lowassa’s home regions have swung strongly in their favour. In Magufuli’s home area south of Lake Victoria, a number of constituencies that previously voted for opposition parliamentary and presidential candidates—and where Chadema hoped to consolidate its base—reverted to voting CCM. Around Arusha, the swing was still more dramatic in the other direction. A large swath of constituencies that had never previously voted opposition did so for both the parliamentary candidate and presidency, including constituencies that voted CCM by 60-90% in the last elections.

It would be a mistake, though, to interpret these swings as a marker of purely ‘ethnic’ voting. Both Magufuli and Lowassa’s areas are ethnically diverse, making it difficult to rely on one group to win a victory. What’s more, if we take Arusha as an example, the opposition was already making strong inroads there on its own. What Lowassa was able to add was his own political machine, carved out from within CCM over the 20 years he has served as a Member of Parliament. Finally, there is also a rational assessment voters make whereby they judge that having a president from their area—regardless of ethnicity—will ensure development gains for everyone.

Whichever way you choose to interpret this regional vote, it does add to the perception of a more personalized politics where party allegiance is pegged to personal networks.

The importance of personality is also implied through the prominence of split-ticket voting in a number of regions. For instance, several constituencies in the CCM regional stronghold of Morogoro have gone to opposition parliamentary candidates even though these same constituencies supported CCM’s Magufuli for President. Voters in other regions, notably Mbeya, are more consistent, voting Chadema across the board and seeing off at least one minister and regional CCM chairman in the process. In that area, at least, it is clear that Chadema as a party is firmly implanted.

Finally, much has been made of the growing number of CCM big-wigs who have lost in the elections so far. An emblematic case was the defeat of Stephen Wasira, a minister under three different presidents and a top ranking CCM official. Wasira lost to a young woman, Esther Bulaya, who stood out as a CCM MP critical of government in the last parliamentary session before defecting to Chadema (ahead of Lowassa) earlier this year. This result speaks to a growing popular disillusionment with a CCM old guard, its yes-man politics and its apparent inability to address critical issues, such as corruption.

But are these even the real results?

While polling went smoothly on Sunday, vote tallying has raised serious concerns to the point where both sides are now accusing the other of foul play.

On Monday, police raided a number of Chadema vote tallying centres and eight volunteers were later charged with publishing false election results under the newly enacted and much criticized Cyber Crimes Act. This incident prompted a volley of accusations and counter-accusations form Chadema and CCM.

More worrying, however, was the decision made by the Chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission on Wednesday to nullify the Zanzibar elections on the basis of vague allegations of ‘irregularities.’ This came after the opposition presidential candidate for Zanzibar announced he had won and security forces surrounded a hotel where ZEC commissioners and international election observers were staying.

The opposition sees the ZEC announcement—issued just as vote counting was nearing completion—as a panicked response to CCM losing the election in Zanzibar. Lowassa has also responded by calling into question results published by the National Electoral Commission responsible for counting votes for the Union President and National Assembly candidates.

Tanzania has a reputation as a peaceful country where election violence, outside of Zanzibar, is virtually unknown. The rapid degeneration in trust after the Sunday polls—and the nullification of the Zanzibar election—has brought the country into unchartered territory. Political leaders are calling for calm, but so long as accusations continue to fly, the potential for a dangerous escalation cannot be ruled out.

As it stands, the elections in Tanzania have proved historic. Even if they do not herald a transfer of power, they have unveiled the extent of factional divisions within CCM as never before. They also testify to a public desire for ‘change,’ particularly within Tanzania’s growing youth population. However, how that change will be delivered, and who will oversee it, is more uncertain than ever.

Justin Vaughn – Presidential policy czars

This is a guest post by Justin Vaughn, Associate Professor of Political science at Boise State University

One of the more surprising controversies early in the first term of Barack Obama was his alleged over-reliance on so-called czars. Although consensus about what constitutes a czar and precisely how many the president was using was elusive, a fair number of the chattering class – particularly those on AM radio airwaves – were quite convinced that the new president was seeding his administration with nefarious staffers hell-bent on achieving his agenda while thwarting both Congress and the U.S. Constitution in the process.

Distracted by the colorful and provocative label ‘czar,’ many lost sight of what it is that these staffers actually do. Czar is a metaphor, one most accurately applied to key, typically high-level managers in the White House who coordinate operations across various organizations in and out of government that are involved in salient, frequently crisis, policy efforts. Almost as a rule these positions tend to be short-term administrative band-aids, necessary because of the ever-more complex nature of White House governance and the broader political system.

Inspired by the sudden attention being paid to an otherwise overlooked bureaucratic and rhetorical phenomenon, we set out to understand how and why presidents use czars, the consequences of this usage, and what we might learn about what separates the best czars from the worst.

The result of our efforts is the book Czars in the White House: The Rise of Policy Czars as a Presidential Management Tool (University of Michigan Press, 2015). In it, we attempt to set aside the myths and mistaken assumptions about presidential policy czars and instead pursue an objective inquiry into whether and why presidents have increasingly relied upon czars to execute their policy agendas and what factors shape the success those czars might have in doing so.

To do so, we identify the leading examples of czars over the past several decades, and use in-depth analyses of them to not only identify the trajectory of czar politics but also what separates successful czars from those who are less so. These examples include: the drug czar, a position that has existed in various forms since the Hoover Administration but became institutionalized in the manner we know today in 1989; the energy czar of the 1970s; the AIDS czars of the 1990s and, to a lesser extent, today; George W. Bush’s post-9/11 czars (e.g., Homeland Security, National Intelligence, and Iraq/Afghanistan War), and Barack Obama’s prominent domestic policy czars.

In the course of these investigations, we find that although every czarship is distinct, motivated by different goals and operating in different contexts, there are some important continuities across time, policy area, and political climate that future czars and the presidents who appoint them alike should consider when determining what is required for a czar to be successful. We identify four key determinants of czar success from our analyses; these include: clarity, expertise, analysis, and access.

In a perfect world – or at least one where a successful czar is an objectively good thing – a president would select an individual who had expertise in both the substantive area in question and managerial experience. The president would also give that person a clear mission to accomplish while communicating to other influential individuals within the administration and the broader bureaucracy that this person speaks with the authority of the president, and then back them up when the czar was inevitably challenged by another disgruntled stakeholder. Finally, the president would give the czar reasonable opportunity to assess the problem and analyze best practices moving forward before implementing potentially half-baked solutions, and then ensure the czar had clear access to them throughout the duration of the crisis that lead to their appointment. Whereas the president largely can’t shape the political context that will encompass the czar’s experience, they can make certain these central factors are present.

It is in the interest of the president to do so, of course, as previous failures in czar leadership can be tied back directly to the absence of these conditions. For example, Bill Clinton’s trio of AIDS czars, widely seen as ineffective and occasionally irrelevant, had very little access to the president, something at least one of them brought to the attention of the president’s chief of staff as they sought to improve the fortunes of their successor. Similarly, czars lacking either substantive expertise or managerial experience find themselves at a disadvantage. George W. Bush’s Intelligence Czar, John Negroponte, was widely known and had tremendous experience as a diplomat, but virtually no experience with the intelligence community. Unsurprisingly, he was unable to bring order to the chaotic intelligence apparatus he inherited. Jerome Jaffe, Richard Nixon’s drug czar from 1971-73, had the opposite problem: he had exceptional public health and drug treatment credentials, but was woefully inexperienced when it came to management. The result of this inexperience was organizational drift that had far-reaching consequences on the way the United States began and continues to wage the war on drugs.

Conversely, situations where presidents ensured the kinds of situations we suggested as ideal above found themselves with czars who made great headway in managing the policy crises they were chosen to corral. For example, William Simon, who ultimately may have been the most effective czar in American history, was instrumental to weathering the energy crisis in early 1974 in large part because of the enormous authority Nixon gave him, even if the president did make the curious and ill-advised comparison to Nazi armaments minister Albert Speer when he introduced Simon in his new capacity as energy czar to the rest of the Cabinet.

The research presented in Czars in the White House leads us to the conclusions that not only was the furor over Barack Obama’s alleged over-reliance on czars at the start of his presidency over-stated, but that the general narrative of increasing presidential reliance in general is also inaccurate. That said, at key moments of political and policy crisis, czars have been important players in the modern presidency, and as the presidency continues to become the focal point of American national governance, this will continue to be the case. And as long as czars are charged with coordinating the executive branch’s response to salient policy problems, it will matter a great deal how successful they are in doing so.

That said, performance effectiveness is not the only useful way of thinking about czars. There are equally valid concerns about presidential usage of czar coordinators, and other political scientists have done well to raise them. Although we shy away from allegations such as those that suggest czars represent a significant threat to constitutional integrity and undermine the legitimacy of Congress, we do agree that the occasional but consistent for presidents to find clever and entrepreneurial administrative solutions to the ongoing problems of organizational complexity and cross-cutting jurisdiction in the federal bureaucracy in general and the Executive Office of the Presidency more specifically indicates that the presidency itself is underserved by an outdated Twentieth Century organizational apparatus, and that new and bold ways of thinking about the administrative presidency are needed as we continue to sail into the Twenty First.

VaughnJustin Vaughn is Associate Professor of Political science at Boise State University. A scholar of the American presidency, he focuses particularly on the rhetorical and administrative dimensions of that office. In addition to Czars in the White House, he has published three other books and several journal articles in outlets including Political Research Quarterly, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and Public Administration. He is currently at work on a book project about the rise and consequences of the post-rhetorical presidency.

jdvillalobosJosé Villalobos is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research on the American presidency centers on presidential management/policy making and the public presidency. He is also interested in studies on race/ethnicity and immigration. Aside from Czars in the White House, he has published numerous journal articles in Political Research Quarterly, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Public Administration, Administration & Society, and other venues.

Elections in Guatemala – Former Comedian Becomes President

The rise of political outsiders and the ‘politics of anti-politics’ is a recurring feature of the Latin American political landscape. On Sunday, Guatemala elected an archetypical political outsider as president. Jimmy Morales of the Frente de Convergencia Nacional (FCN-Nación) won the second-round run-off election with 67 per cent of the popular vote. His opponent, Sandra Torres of the left-leaning Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE), the former first lady and wife of Álvaro Colom, who she divorced in 2011 to ensure her candidacy was eligible for these elections (spouses of former presidents are constitutionally barred from running for the office), with only 33 per cent of the popular vote, was forced to concede defeat early.

Jimmy Morales, a self-descried ‘common man’ with no prior political experience, has spent the last fourteen years starring in a popular TV comedy series with his brother. Morales, a social conservative, released a manifesto that was only six pages long. This means his policy preferences remain something of a mystery and given his party, the FCN, have only 11 of 158 seats in the house, it will be very difficult for him to govern effectively.

Morales’ election to the highest political office in the land perhaps marks the apogee in the evolution of political outsiderism in Latin America. He joins the ranks of former amateur candidates across Latin America who previously ran for political office for established parties, including Álvaro Noboa (PRE) in Ecuador and Mauricio Funes (FMLN) in El Salvador.[1] His victory comes in the wake of the resignation of current incumbent, Otto Pérez Molina, over allegations of corruption. Molina has been accused of involvement in a scheme, know as La Linea, that allowed businesses to evade paying custom charges in return for generous kickbacks. Molina is now housed in Matamoros prison awaiting trial. His resignation follows months of protests, which slowly eroded Molina’s support.

During the campaign Morales railed against the existing political elites and widespread political corruption and his campaign slogan was ‘neither corrupt nor a thief’. Morales is not just an outsider – his lack of policy specifics and his ‘anti-politics’ message, highly critical of the political establishment, also echoes many of the populists across the region. But his message clearly appealed to a Guatemalan public that is hungry for political change.

Of course, given Morales’ lack of political experience, and given his party’s very weak position in Congress, it remains to be seen whether they will actually get the change they want. This is one to watch. Conflict seems inevitable as this case has all the ingredients of Linz’s causal chain.

[1] For an institutional argument for the rise of political outsiders, see Miguel Carreras, 2012. “The Rise of Political Outsiders in Latin America, 1980-2010: an Institutionalist Perspective.” Comparative Political Studies.

Poland – President’s party wins absolute majority in parliamentary elections

After the presidential election in May this year and the referendum in September, Poles were called to the polls once again yesterday to vote in elections to the Sejm (the politically dominant lower chamber) and the Senat (upper). According to first exit polls and results, the ‘Law and Justice’ party (PiS) of recently elected president Andrzej Duda has clearly won the election and – according to first exit polls – might even be able to form the first single-party majority government in Poland’s recent democratic history.

TVP exit poll

Results of the first exit poll by IPSOS for state broadcaster TVP and TVN24.

The victory of PiS had been foreshadowed by the victory of its candidate Andrzej Duda in the presidential elections earlier this year, yet achieving an outright majority in parliament had been seen as unlikely as smaller parties were assumed to enter the Sejm. Having won 39.1% of the vote, PiS will take up to 242 seats in the 460-seat Sejm. Until now, only the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) once came close to winning an absolute majority of seats (it won seats in 2001). PiS fought the election campaign with their deputy chairman Beata Szydlo as candidate for Prime Minister. However, Szydlo – even if eventually elected Prime Minister – is unlikely to enjoy much discretion in her decisions. After it had been widely rumoured that former Prime Minister and PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski would still pull the strings from behind the scenes, the fact that he (and not Szydlo) was the first to address co-partisans and the press on election night was universally interpreted as a sign of his continued dominance in the party. In 2005, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, too, held back on his ambition to premiership to increase the chances of his twin brother Lech to win the presidential election. However, only half a year later he took over the position of Prime Minister and led the last PiS government until the 2007 elections.

The PO experienced significant losses, not the least due to appearance of the neo-liberal ‘Nowoczesna’ party, but still performed better than predicted by several pre-election polls. It remains by far the largest opposition party with around 133 seats and was thus punished significantly less severely by voters than the Electoral Action Solidarity (AWS) in 2001 or the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) in 2005. Nowoczesna has not been the only new party to successfully enter parliament. ‘KUKIZ’, the party of Pawel Kukiz – the surprising runner-up of the first round of this year’s presidential elections – gained 9% of the popular vote and is thus the third largest party in parliament (44 projected seats). Two other new parties – KORWIN lead by far-right MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke and the leftwing ‘Razem’ (Together) seem to have failed to cross the 5% threshold according to national projections. The new electoral alliance ‘Zjednoczona Lewica’ (United Left), made up of the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance, ‘Your Movement’ and a number of smaller leftist parties also failed to cross the electoral threshold (which lies at 8% for electoral coalitions). This is the first time since Poland’s return to democracy that the SLD, is not represented in parliament (and in fact no other left-wing party). The Polish Peasant Party (PSL) is thus the only political party to have been continuously represented in parliament since 1989. Nevertheless, as it gained only 5.2% of the vote according to exit polls it may still find itself out of the Sejm, too.

President Andrzej Duda will certainly not hesitate to appoint a PiS-led government, but it remains to be seen what policy implications this constellation with bring. The last time when both presidency and government were controlled by PiS in 2005-2007, Poland underwent a phase of diplomatic isolation. A strong anti-Russian sentiment (many members and activists still blame the death of late president Lech Kaczynski on Vladimir Putin) and euroscepticism are firmly anchored in the party which will not make Poland an easy partner to work with. Domestically, PiS could once again try to increase state (and ultimately party) control over the judiciary and media – Jaroslaw Kaczynski has long expressed an admiration for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, yet at the moment changes as controversial as in Hungary seem unlikely.

Pedro C. Magalhães – Government survival in semi-presidential regimes

This is a guest post by Pedro C. Magalhães, Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, Portugal

If you are a Portuguese political scientist like myself, it is almost certain that, regardless of sub-field, at some point, you have been interested in “semi-presidentialism”. In my case, I am afraid it has happened again.

You see, semi-presidential regimes, where heads of state are popularly elected but where there are also prime ministers responsible before the legislature (in Elgie’s impeccable “dispositional” clarification of Duverger’s inicial concept), are very intriguing. While the “semi-“ part suggests something “weak” or “incomplete” about the presidency, presidents in these regimes can be enormously powerful, sometimes arguably more than presidents in presidential regimes, depending on the prerogatives constitutions assign them, given the lack of separation between legislature and executive, and their potential role as actual de facto majority leaders (think the French president). However, they can also be non-partisan former archaeologists and museum curators. So there’s some puzzlement to be enjoyed here.

The article I have written with Jorge Fernandes, now available for early view in the European Journal of Political Research, deals with a particular puzzle that much better political scientists than me have faced before when addressing a particular question about semi-presidentialism. It is a question about government stability. On the one hand, many excellent works have suggested, with the help of sheer logic but also deeply researched case studies, that two things tend to be particularly inimical of government stability under semi-presidential regimes: whether presidents can dismiss governments as will (what Shugart and Carey famously coined as a “president-parliamentary” regime, in contrast with “premier-presidentialism”) and whether the president’s party is absent from the cabinet (what has been called “cohabitation”). However, once one uses the statistical tools normally employed to systematically examine the determinants of government survival, neither presidential powers (including cabinet dismissal but also parliamentary dissolution) nor cohabitation seem to make much of a difference in that respect (see here, here or here, for example). So what’s going on?

Jorge and I examined the post-War political history of twelve European semi-presidential regimes, using the invaluable European Representative Democracy dataset, which contains data about the duration and several other features of cabinets in those countries. We then added a few variables collected on our own, particularly concerning presidential powers of discretionary dismissal of cabinets and dissolution of parliaments, and tracking how those powers have changed with time. Furthermore, we looked at the party affiliation of presidents (if any) and identified the contexts where the president’s party was in the cabinet, when it was not, and when the president was non-partisan.

Having done this, we then used survival analysis to determine how presidential powers, cohabitation, and their interaction affected the risks of cabinets falling, controlling for a bunch of other things that a very large body of research has shown to make a difference in this respect (minority v. majority cabinets, single-party vs. coalition, time until end of regular legislative term, investiture rules, which we found to have impacts similar to those found in other studies). And we added a small twist in relation to the previous literature: besides looking at the competing risks for a cabinet of ending through a parliamentary dissolution or through a cabinet replacement (without elections), we also look at two types of replacement: one where the new cabinet involved a change in the PM’s party, and one where it did not. This seemed important to us for the same reasons that it also seemed important to Cheibub and Chernykh: you can have a lot of apparent “instability” (successive and frequent cabinet replacements) which hides, nonetheless, a basic continuity in the cabinets’ make-up and control (an extreme – non semi-presidential – example is Italy’s First Republic).

So what do we find? First, in semi-presidential systems where presidents enjoy the discretionary power to dissolve parliament, the risk of a government being terminated through a parliamentary dissolution increases massively. Although this does not really seem earth shattering, it is nice to find it empirically confirmed. Furthermore, once we employ a refined (we hope) taxonomy of cabinet termination through replacement, the effects of “president-parliamentarism” (presidents than can dismiss cabinets) finally emerges with clarity: although such power does not affect the risk of “generic” cabinet replacement, it does increase the risk of replacements that involve a change in the partisan control of the government. And to top it off – and this emerged out of a reviewer’s suggestion – we find that “continuity replacements” (the cabinet is replaced without elections, but the partisan control remains the same) becomes more likely in the combination of premier-presidentialism and unified government, a finding that fits nicely with several arguments presented by Samuels and Shugart on how premier-presidential regimes work when the same party controls the presidency and the cabinet.

Interestingly, though, cohabitation emerges as mostly irrelevant in our story about cabinet stability. Although we tried to be as thorough as we could (and as the reviewers helped us to be), it may be the case that we are missing something, either in terms of the measurement of the phenomenon or model specification. But we do speculate a bit in the end about why this might be the case. Having a president whose principal is the electorate is a tricky thing. Will she remain a purely partisan actor, intent on bringing her party to the cabinet and throwing out opponents using her powers (when available)? Or will she consider median voter preferences, public opinion, and the state of the economy, i.e., everything she needs to consider in order to preserve the support of the majority of voters that brought her to power? Even when presidents are facing a non-friendly cabinet, their partisan concerns and their own office and electoral concerns may collide in such a way as to make “cohabitation” less of a threat to cabinets than previously thought. Jorge and I (and Luís) are now in the middle of a paper looking at how presidential powers, cohabitation, and the state of the economy interact in order to examine this a bit further.

Take a look if this interested you. Comments most welcome.

PedroPedro C. Magalhães is a Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, Portugal

 

 

 

JorgeJorge M. Fernandes is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Bamberg, Germany.

 

Finland – When a constitutional reform really works as intended

Earlier this month the Finnish president Sauli Niinistö visited Turkey where his host was Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president. While Niinistö’s trip to Ankara made headlines mainly on account of the state of democracy and human rights in Turkey, the meeting of the two presidents provided a good example of the current role of the Finnish president.

Finland has experienced significant constitutional change since the late 1980s. The objective of these reforms was to strengthen parliamentarism after a long period of presidential dominance that reached its peak during the reign of President Urho Kekkonen (1956-1981). Finland was from the Second World War until the 1990s a president-led polity, but the current constitution, in force since 2000, completed a period of far-reaching constitutional change that curtailed presidential powers and parliamentarised the Finnish political system. However, it became very soon clear that the majority of political elite, not to mention constitutional lawyers, were somewhat unhappy with the constitution, arguing that it contains many articles which can produce unnecessary frictions between the government, the Eduskunta (the unicameral national parliament), and the president.

Indeed, the presidency of Tarja Halonen (2000-2012) was plagued with both open conflicts and behind-the-scenes tensions between the two executives. In EU matters, Finland was known for its policy of ‘two plates’, referring to the dual representation of both the prime minister and the president in European Council summits despite the fact that according to the constitution EU policy belongs to the competence of the government. Many felt that through participating in the European Council meetings, Halonen was acting against the spirit of the constitution. The government acquiesced to the situation, but was seemingly relieved when the Lisbon Treaty and the resulting changes to the European Council’s rules of procedure offered an external solution to the problem through allowing each country to be represented in the summits by either the prime minister or the president. The government wasted no time in dictating that the president would no longer attend European Council meetings. This was subsequently given constitutional status in 2012: ‘The Prime Minister represents Finland on the European Council. Unless the Government exceptionally decides otherwise, the Prime Minister also represents Finland in other activities of the European Union requiring the participation of the highest level of State.’

According to the constitution ‘The foreign policy of Finland is directed by the President of the Republic in co-operation with the Government.’ Such a dual leadership would naturally be tested in case of strong opinion differences between the president and the prime minister. Overall, the system has functioned rather smoothly thanks to regular exchange of views between the PM, the foreign minister, and the president. However, the constitutional amendments from 2012 also included a new conflict-resolution mechanism, with the position of the Eduskunta decisive in cases of disagreements between the president and the government. While only a small share of foreign policy matters, basically those issues necessitating formal decision-making, would probably be decided under that procedure, its symbolic value is important. Through underscoring the position of the Eduskunta, it further consolidates the government’s authority in foreign policy.

Turning to domestic matters, the president has retained the suspensive veto in legislation (the president has three months to confirm a law approved by Eduskunta but the latter can override president’s potential veto). However, whereas under the old rules the president formally determined that a bill shall be introduced in the Eduskunta, since 2012 the government is responsible for initiating the parliamentary processing of legislation. This change was logical as the involvement of the president was purely symbolic given that she could not really prevent cabinet’s legislative proposals from being introduced in the parliament. More importantly, the president’s appointment powers were further reduced in 2012 – a change motivated no doubt by the fact that President Halonen several times vetoed government’s proposals, appointing instead persons of her own choice to leading civil service positions. Most significantly, the president no longer appoints permanent secretaries who are the leading civil servants in the ministries.

The constitutional amendments from 2012 appear to have produced the intended results: the president is excluded from domestic policy, EU matters are now strictly reserved for the government, and the last remaining area of presidential powers is foreign and defence policy. Here a logical division of labour seems to have emerged: the government is responsible for those issues handled through the European Union, whereas the president focuses on bilateral ties with non-EU countries, especially those lead by presidents.

The on-going crisis in Ukraine has certainly given Niinistö much exposure, with the president engaging in active talks with his Russian counterpart. Since Finland joined the EU, one of the major issues in foreign policy has been finding a balance between maintaining bilateral links with the eastern neighbor while contributing to the EU’s common foreign and security policy. When Halonen was in office her activism towards Russia was not always welcomed by the government, but now the cabinet has not stood in the way of Niinistö. The more comfortable relationship between the two executives is no doubt facilitated by party politics, as Niinistö is from the conservative National Coalition and governments appointed since 2011 have been led by centre-right prime ministers. Halonen, a social democrat, in turn had to share power from 2003 onwards with centre-right PMs. However, more important are the new constitutional rules that have reduced the potential for conflicts through carefully delineating the remaining powers of the president.

Georgia – Prospects for a Mandatory Gender Quota

More than 100 countries around the world have adopted different types of gender quotas to address the issue of women’s underrepresentation in legislative bodies.

On September 24 in Tbilisi, the parliamentary committee on Human Rights and Civic Integration supported the legislative initiative of local NGOs to introduce a mandatory gender quota for the Georgian parliamentary elections of 2016.

The legislative draft, submitted to the parliament in June 2015, was prepared to introduce changes to the electoral code of the country. According to the authors of the initiative, the bill aims at increasing the share of female legislators in the next parliament to at least 25 per cent. In the current parliament there are 17 women deputies, accounting for 11.3% of the 150-seat Parliament. This will help women in the parliament to reach a so-called “critical minority” (30 or 40%).

Notably, the proposal is designed only for the party lists and, if passed, it will not oblige parties to apply the rule to the majoritarian candidates. Advocates of the gender quota hoped that the electoral system for the next elections would exclude the majoritarian system. However, the current ruling coalition Georgian Dream decided to postpone this reform until 2020.

The proposal offers the introduction of the so-called “zipper” system, where male and female candidates appear alternately on party lists. The president of Georgia has openly backed mandatory gender quotas. He reiterated his support in his annual address to the parliament in March 2015.

Furthermore, speaking at a conference in Tbilisi on women’s political participation in March, parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili said that although in general he is against any kind of mandatory quotas, he is “a supporter of equality and if I see that it is impossible to achieve equality without setting quotas, then I become a supporter of quotas.”

The existing legislation offers financial incentives for political parties in the event that their electoral lists comprise at least 30% of different sex. Despite the measures, the financial incentives have proven an ineffective mechanism to increase women’s representation in elected bodies.

Opponents of the mandatory gender quotas fear that, as a form of positive discrimination, it is not the right approach for achieving gender balance in the parliament. Moreover, they think that the “quality” of women candidates will decrease significantly as the political parties will be obliged to comply with the electoral code.

Initiators of the legislation claim that an increase in the number of women in the legislative body will be a step to achieving equality since more than half of Georgia’s population deserve to be represented equally to men. Furthermore, advocates for gender quotas are convinced that more women in politics will have positive impact on the socio-economic situation in the country.

In fact, only in 2014, 19 women were killed as a result of domestic violence and according to the recent research women hold only 35% of leadership positions in the public sector of Georgia.[1]

According to NDI commissioned polls, in Spring 2015, 68 % of population supported mandatory gender quotas and only 16 % countrywide opposed the idea.[2]

Political rivals, Coalition Georgian Dream and the opposition United National Movement as the only electoral subjects in the parliament are to decide the fate of mandatory gender quotas in Georgia. If finally passed by the Parliament of Georgia, political parties will be required to compose gender balanced electoral lists in less than a year, for the parliamentary elections of 2016.

[1] https://idfi.ge/public/upload/IDFI/opendata/gender2015.pdf

[2]https://www.ndi.org/files/NDI%20Georgia_April%202015%20Poll_Public%20Issues_ENG_VF_0.pdf

Cyprus – Challenges to Presidential Authority

The Republic of Cyprus was established as a bicommunal state in 1960 after 82 years of British colonialism. The Constitution of the Republic provides for a clear separation of powers. Executive power is exercised by the president, who appoints the cabinet and is not held accountable to the parliament, which plays a secondary role within the political system. Thus, the power vested in the president’s office places the elected president at the heart of the political system: he serves as head of the state and the government at the same time and may be seen as an ‘elected absolute monarch’.

The role of the president grew even stronger after the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriots from the governing institutions in 1964 following incidents of intercommunal violence. According to the Constitution the president is elected among the Greek Cypriots -the major community of the island- and the vice-president among the Turkish Cypriots. The only effective check and balance regarding the president’s authorities provided in the Constitution was the veto of the vice-president. After the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriots there was no effective check and balance for the elected president. This, combined with the importance attached to the negotiations for the solution of the Cyprus problem that have been taking place since and for which the president is responsible, adds moral weight to the presidential powers.

Despite the heavily weighted power of the president in the Cypriot political system, there have been some signs of change in recent years. In particular, three specific challenges to the presidential authority are more obvious than ever in contemporary Cypriot politics.

The first, relates with party system dynamics and the increased power the political parties have successfully claimed throughout the years. Party competition dynamics refer primarily to changing political alliances. Cypriot presidents are elected in office through some alliance between parties that usually breaks down at some point during their tenure. This has important implications for the implementation of government policies. Although the government retains the privilege to enact laws that inflict financial costs, these laws are subject to parliamentary approval. Therefore, parliamentary majority is crucial for any president.

The current President, Nicos Anastasiades (elected in February 2013), has lost parliamentary majority just one year after his election and, as a result, faces difficulties in implementing his programme. As the leader of the governing right-wing party Democratic Rally (DISY), A. Neophytou, has acknowledged: ‘the government is dependent upon the (opposition) left-wing AKEL for promoting its goal for reuniting the island and on the (opposition and former governing partner) Democratic Party (DIKO) in promoting its economic programme’.

Moreover, the political parties have developed mechanisms to exercise pressure on the president that include the mobilization of public opinion and parliamentary voting. This has been most evident in recent years with the parties utilizing certain powers of the parliament they previously didn’t, thus, openly challenging the president’s authority. This could have long-term effects and ultimately change the balance of power between the two institutions (executive and legislature).

The second challenge concerns the ‘scandalology’ that has broken out in Cyprus in recent years and some unfortunate appointments made by the President in important public offices. Both phenomena had the same cumulative effect: levels of trust towards the President (and politicians in general) have declined and public life has been under severe scrutiny leaving the President little room for manoeuvre.

‘Scandalology’ followed the dramatic worsening of Cyprus economy and the ‘bail-in’ agreement in March 2013 when a number of scandals involving a number of public officials plagued the public sphere making the public opinion very suspicious towards politicians and state officials which are all seen as corrupted. Some of these scandals touched upon the president himself and his family or people directly appointed by him; a condition that increased levels of distrust towards the institution, as well as the holder. The most significant scandals in this regard were (a) the indictment of the General Attorneys’ Assistant for a serious criminal offense that led to his removal from office by the Supreme Court, and (b) the enactment by the President -through the Attorney General- of the process for removing the Governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus from her office following accusations for deliberately falsifying the terms of her contract.

Another source of grievances was a number of high profile appointments in independent authorities and public offices made by the President that have subsequently been involved either in fraud scandals (see above) or severe conflicts with members of his cabinet or even with the President himself, thus turning a boomerang for him. The new Auditor General is a case in point here, whose tenure thus far has been characterized by tension with a number of minsters, mayors and MPs.

All these must be placed in context. Expectations of public officials are significantly higher now in Cyprus than they were in the past, which means that their personal and professional careers are subject to much pressure and scrutiny from a number of institutions that were not present in the past, in particular, the mass media and the rising numbers of NGO activists, as well as the citizens. Both factors work against a ‘quiet’ service in office. Public officials are today more easily expendable: mistakes and/or bad judgments are difficult to hide and may easily result in an officials’ loss of position.

The third challenge relates with the ongoing negotiations for reaching a solution to the Cyprus problem. The Cyprus problem has been the object of continuous discussion and often tension among political parties and the public opinion for many years, especially during negotiations. 41 years after the Turkish invasion and the subsequent division of the island many people believe that the time is ripe for finding a solution. Amidst the ongoing process of negotiations between the leaders of the two communities both parties and public opinion are again forming blocs favouring or opposing a possible solution.

The President is committed to making everything possible to reach a solution; a commitment that prompted reactions against him for being too compromising to Turkish demands. Regardless of his success or failure, the net result will comprise a challenge to the further enactment of his duties. If he succeeds in finding a solution he will have to campaign for passing the solution in a referendum within a turbulent and tense environment. Moreover, if a possible referendum returns a positive vote then the challenge of guiding the people through this new state of affairs will be enormous. If he fails and regardless of his responsibilities, a large number of people that reposed their hopes in him will be hugely disappointed. Consequently, in either case, the President will face a very difficult and divisive terrain which many think that will find him in the losing end anyway. However, the challenge of reuniting the island could entail the prospect of economic development which could benefit him in the long run.

Taiwan – More on Presidential Election 2016: The KMT Saga

Three months before a presidential election is usually crunch time when candidates are stumping through the nation to mobilize support, shaking hands and kissing babies of core constituencies at rallies and fund-raisers, and generally aiming to throw their best political punches at opponents to gain traction for the impending polls. It is, therefore, curious, that at this juncture, the Kuomintang (KMT) has chosen to switch presidential candidates: following an extempore party congress on October 17, 2015, the KMT has firmly, albeit apologetically, replaced the party’s nominee, deputy legislative speaker Hung Hsiu-chu, with KMT chair Eric Chu. The political saga behind the KMT nomination switch clearly deserves some attention.

The KMT presidential nomination had been notable for the lack of political heavyweights contesting the party’s nomination. Indeed, despite endless speculation and rumoured pressures within the KMT, two high-profile candidates – legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng and New Taipei City mayor and party chair Eric Chu – stayed clear of the nomination race. As a result, by the party primary registration deadline in May, only two hopefuls had thrown their names into race; of the two, only Hung mustered enough votes to cross the 15,000 minimum votes threshold to proceed to the next party nomination phase, the opinion survey. Hung subsequently also passed the 30 percent threshold of that phase to garner the party’s official nomination on July 19 at the KMT national party congress.

Despite these achievements, Hung battled uphill to maintain support, much less establish momentum, within the KMT. Some of the resistance to Hung’s candidacy was undoubtedly due to successive polls that showed DPP presidential nominee, Tsai Ing-wen, widening an already-strong lead over Hung and other possible candidates in a presidential match-up. Hung’s support in the KMT was thinned further by the entry of the chair of People First Party, James Soong, into the presidential race. A former KMT member who split from the party in 2000 to contest presidential elections then, Soong continues to draw support from KMT supporters and even within the KMT itself.

Consequently, Hung’s presidential electioneering is marked frequently by the absence of local and national party stalwarts, followed by vehement denials from the KMT that the party is considering replacing the nominee and equally vigorous dismissals from Hung’s office that she is contemplating quitting the race. Nevertheless, the rumours persisted, and Hung’s brief suspension of her election campaign in early September probably did not help to tamp down the rumours.

Still, the candidate returned to the campaign fore, only – it seems – in time to confront yet more bad news: a group of KMT members was rumoured to be considering splitting from the party to force leaders to replace Hung’s candidacy. This was followed by party chair Eric Chu’s public acknowledgment of divisions within the party; days later, KMT Central Standing Committee member Chiang Shuo-ping announced that he would seek the extempore party congress to officially assess replacing Hung.

Following the announcement of the October 17 party congress meeting, KMT officials confirmed that Hung was previously urged to quit the race in favour of other possible candidates. This may be aimed at demonstrating ongoing discussion – rather than abrupt change – within the party about the race. Notwithstanding, the new candidate has a significant feat to perform: it is, clearly, not a question of whether Chu will do better as a candidate but, rather, whether he will keep the KMT in the presidency and as majority party in the legislature. As far as the polls are concerned, DPP’s presidential nominee Tsai Ing-wen remains the person to beat in that race, and the numbers suggest that it will not be an easy contest. In the legislative race, the KMT’s routing in the 9-in-1 elections in November 2014 was followed by more balanced by-election results in February 2015. Still, there is little doubt that the legislative race will also be tough. Clearly, the new KMT presidential candidate has his work cut out for him.