Monthly Archives: December 2015

New publications

Da-Chi Liao, Yu-chung Shen, and Yu-Shan Wu (eds.), Semi-presidentialism across continents: A dialogue between Asia and Europe, Wunan Books, 2015.

John Gaffney, France in the Hollande Presidency: The Unhappy Republic, Palgrave, 2015.

David Revault d’Allonnes, Les guerres du président, [France and president Hollande] éd. du Seuil, 2015.

Valerie A. Pacer, Russian Foreign Policy under Dmitry Medvedev, 2008-2012, Routledge, 2015.

Mathieu Turgeona and Éric Bélanger, ‘Institutions and attribution of responsibility outside the electoral context: a look at French semi-presidentialism’, European Political Science Review, FirstView Article, 2015.

T.Y. Wang, S.F. Cheng, ‘Presidential approval in Taiwan: An analysis of survey data in the Ma Ying-jeou presidency’, Electoral Studies, vol. 40, 2015, pp. 34-44.

Christopher A. Martínez, ‘Presidential survival in South America: Rethinking the role of democracy’, International Political Science Review, online first

Arnaldo Mauerberg Junior, Carlos Pereira, and Ciro Biderman (2015), ‘The Evolution of Theories about the Brazilian Multiparty Presidential System’, Journal of Politics in Latin America, vol. 7, no. 1, 143–161. Available at: http://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/giga/files/journals/2/articles/824/public/824-854-1-PB.pdf

Asanga Welikala ‘Sri Lanka’s Long Constitutional Moment’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Volume 104, Issue 5, pp. 551-562, 2015.

Erik S. Herron, Michael E. Thunberg, Nazar Boyko, ‘Crisis management and adaptation in wartime elections: Ukraine’s 2014 snap presidential and parliamentary elections’, Electoral Studies, vol. 40, 2015, pp. 419-429.

Hyunji Lee, ‘The Democratic Deficit in South Korea: The 2012 Presidential Election and its Aftermath’, Representation, Volume 51, Issue 3, 2015, pp. 311-326.

Elections reports on Finland, Moldova, Northern Cyprus, Electoral Studies, vol. 40, 2015, pp. 433-444.

Elections report on Finland, West European Politics, vol. 38, no. 6, 2015, pp. 1345-1353.

South Korea – Opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Splits?

Former presidential candidate Representative Ahn Cheol-soo announced his departure from the NPAD on Sunday, December 13, 2015, ending a troubled relationship with the opposition alliance that he co-chaired when it was officially launched in April 2014. The NPAD has had its share of problems, failing to fill the role as a viable opposition expected by members and supporters. Still, Ahn’s departure is a significant blow: it bares open the fractures within the alliance that the leadership has ineffectually tried to reconcile. Meanwhile, with about four months till the general elections in April 2016, the fragmented opposition is likely to hand the electoral advantage to the ruling Saenuri Party, as the following account shows.

The first signs of trouble in the opposition alliance surfaced soon after its founding, on the issue of party-nomination reforms which the NPAD had pledged to observe for the June 2014 by-elections. Closed-door party-nominations have been blamed for feeding corruption, public disapprobation, and distrust; consequently, the NPAD’s initial resolve on reforming the process promised to bring “new” politics to challenge the predominant politicking-as-usual. However, while the NPAD pushed hard for the reform, the Saenuri party maintained the party-nomination process, which advantaged its party candidates. In the face of the growing disadvantage, NPAD members challenged the reform while old-timers such as Gwangju mayor Kang Un-tae and party spokesperson Representative Lee Yong-sup quit the party. In response to the open rift, voters handed the by-elections to the Saenuri Party, giving the party 11 seats but only four to the NPAD. 20 NPAD party leaders, including co-chairs Ahn and Kim, resigned from their leadership posts to take responsibility for the trouncing and a major leadership change was underway.[1]

The leadership change seemed completed at the party convention in February 2015, with 2012 opposition presidential candidate Rep Moon Jae-in installed at the helm. At the same time, however, the contest laid bare the three major factions in the alliance: (1) Moon, who leads the pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction that comprise supporters of the deceased former president; (2) Rep Park Jie-won, a leader of the pro-Kim Dae-jung faction that comprise supporters of the former president and Nobel-peace prize winner; and (3) Rep Lee In-young, a leader of the 486 faction that comprises former student activists and protestors of the authoritarian regime. Moon’s successful election did little to stem the party infighting. As a result, notwithstanding poor approvals for the president and the ruling party, the NPAD managed to snatch defeat from sure victory (again), losing all four seats in liberal strongholds in the April 29, 2015 by-elections, with three going to Saenuri and one to NPAD-turned-independent candidate, Chun Jung-bae.[2]

Since the 2015 by-election routing, the NPAD has openly feuded over responsibilities for the results. Ahn is not the first to bolt the party following the rising hostilities in the party, but his standing in the party is likely to induce others to follow suit. Thus, Ahn’s confidant and chief-of-staff, Rep. Moon Byung-ho, is expected to announce his departure by mid-December, and Moon predicts between 20 and 30 current NPAD members will join Ahn to create a new party. If Ahn and his allies manage to pool at least 20 seats in the legislature, Assembly rules means that it will be entitled to government subsidies and other parliamentary privileges.

_____________

[1] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea in 2014: A Tragedy Reveals the Country’s Weaknesses.” Asian Survey vol 55 no 1: 132-141

[2] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea – Will the Opposition be a Viable Challenge in the 2016 Elections?”

 

 

Young Hun Kim – Democratic Performance of Semi-presidentialism: It’s the Presidential Powers

This post by Young Hun Kim is a summary of an article “A Troubled Marriage? Divided Minority Government, Cohabitation, Presidential Powers, President-Parliamentarism and Semi-Presidentialism,” (Government and Opposition 2015).

Young Hun Kim photo

Semi-presidentialism, with its combination of prime minister and directly elected president, is a common feature in many of the world’s new democracies. About 40 percent of countries that experienced democratization between 1974 and 2009 (40 of 103) are classified as semi-presidential systems. More interestingly, some presidential and parliamentary democracies have transformed to semi-presidential governance. For example, presidential Armenia and Georgia adopted a dual-executive system in 1994 and 2004, respectively. More recently, the parliamentary Czech Republic elected its president by popular vote for the first time in February 2013 and Turkey, another parliamentary country, in August 2014.

However, research to date generally views semi-presidentialism as a liability to democratic governance, since it is more likely to experience partisan infighting in the executive branch and to foster political fragmentation in the legislature. Thus semi-presidential regimes are thought to be prone to government instability, lower levels of democracy, and even democratic failure (see for example, Elgie 2008; Elgie 2011; Elgie and McMenamin 2008; Protsyk 2005; Roper 2002; Sedelius and Ekman 2010). Considering the high popularity of semi-presidentialism among new democracies, these pessimistic understandings do not seem to bode well for their democratic future.

A recently published article “A Troubled Marriage?” reassesses democratic performance in all new semi-presidential systems across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America from 1974 to 2009. By democratic performance, the study refers to three challenging tasks that new democracies often deal with at executive and system levels. The first one is executive stability measured by presidential impeachment attempts and prime ministerial turnovers. Impeachment attempts are efforts made by legislative deputies to effect a constitutional removal of a president. Prime ministerial turnovers are situations in which a prime minister is replaced by a new figure excluding changes immediately following parliamentary elections. The second is the levels of democracy which is measured by dividing democratic years into partial democracy (where a Polity2 score ranges from +1 to +5) and full democracy (where a Polity2 score ranges from +6 to +10). The last one is democratic breakdown defined as a situation in which new democracies cease to function due to a military coup or civil war.

For factors that may affect the democratic performance, the study focuses on divided minority government (where no party or coalition controls a majority in the legislature), cohabitation (where the president and prime minister are from different parties and the president’s party is not represented in the executive), unchecked presidential powers, and a president-parliamentary subtype (where the prime minister and cabinet are responsible to both the president and the legislature, and the president has power to dismiss the legislature) that previous studies have identified as risk factors for semi-presidential regimes.

The results are more encouraging than previous research has suggested. A divided minority government contributes to higher levels of democracy, even though it, along with president-parliamentarism, generally means presidents becoming more vulnerable to legislative impeachment efforts. And cohabitation poses less risk than previously thought. It has little effect on either executive stability or the level of democracy.

What does appear to be a great risk for semi-presidentialism is a failure to check presidential powers. As presidents enjoy more powers, the level of democracy tends to decrease. In addition, prime ministers’ tenure in office becomes less stable and presidents are more subject to impeachment drives.

What explains the negative effects of a strong presidency? It might be suggested that having a strong president would be an asset in semi-presidential systems. This is because strong presidents may effectively coordinate and undertake critical reforms after transition (Holmes 1993). But it should be emphasized that presidents with stronger powers are not likely to negotiate and compromise with other political actors mostly because they can get things done on their own. As a result, the horizontal accountability is prone to be compromised (Fish 2006). Also strong presidents are likely to personalize the political process. Overall, disadvantages of a strong presidency seem to trump any merits associated with it from the experience of new semi-presidential democracies.

The findings have a significant implication for countries that already practice semi-presidential governance or are contemplating a move in that direction: checking presidential powers is one of the key factors that will influence democratic consolidation in semi-presidentialism. In particular, executive powers need to be balanced between president and prime minister. Doing so would not require a major constitutional overhaul. What is necessary is a relatively minor constitutional amendment regulating the distribution of executive powers. If countries can successfully check presidential powers, then a semi-presidential system may appear to be a more appealing option than it does now for many young democracies.

References:

Elgie, Robert. 2008. ‘The Perils of Semi-Presidentialism. Are They Exaggerated?’ Democratization 15 (1):49-66.

———. 2011. Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performance. New York: Oxford University Press.

Elgie, Robert, and Iain McMenamin. 2008. ‘Semi-presidentialism and Democratic Performance.’ Japanese Journal of Political Science 9:323-40.

Fish, M. Steven. 2006. ‘Stronger Legislatures, Stronger Democracies.’ Journal of Democracy 17 (1):5-20.

Holmes, Stephen. 1993. ‘The Postcommunist Presidency.’ East European Constitutional Review 2:36-9.

Protsyk, Oleh. 2005. ‘Politics of Intraexecutive Conflict in Semipresidential Regimes in Eastern Europe.’ East European Politics and Societies 19 (2):135-60.

Roper, Steven D. 2002. ‘Are All Semipresidential Regimes the Same? A Comparison of Premier-Presidential Regimes.’ Comparative Politics 34 (3):253-72.

Sedelius, Thomas, and Joakim Ekman. 2010. ‘Intra-executive Conflict and Cabinet Instability: Effects of Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe.’ Government and Opposition 45 (4):505-30.

Dr. Young Hun Kim (pokocham@hotmail.com) is a Visiting Assistant Professor at North Carolina Wesleyan College. He has earned his Ph.D. in political science in 2008 from the Pennsylvania State University. His research has focused mostly, but not exclusively, on comparative political institutions and democratization, with regional expertise in East Asia and Eastern Europe. More specifically, he examines sources and consequences of new types of presidential instability (interrupted presidencies and impeachment attempts), post-tenure fate of political leaders, and institutional determinants of democratic performance in presidential and semi-presidential systems. His research has appeared in Cross-Cultural Research, Democratization, Government and Opposition, and Journal of Politics.

Ben Graham – Marshall Islands Elections: Big Turnover, but Bigger Challenges Ahead

This is a guest post by Ben Graham.

National elections in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) in November delivered unprecedented results, with many of the 33 Nitijela (parliament) members, including some veteran politicians, losing their seats to mostly younger political novices. Unofficial results, which include postal votes from Marshallese in the US, suggest that one-third of Nitijela is out, much higher turnover than in prior elections. Giff Johnson, editor of the Marshall Islands Journal, says that voters were eager for change, with the results signaling a major political shift now underway.

Most of the newcomers are in their 40s and were popular candidates among younger voters, many of whom now use social media to express their views on key issues. The new Nitijela will also have three female members—there has never been more than one.

When it reconvenes in January, the Nitijela’s first order of business will be to select a President from among its members. Several older parliamentarians, including the incumbent President Christopher Loeak, will be jockeying for the post. But with no real political parties, no formal political platforms or agendas, and such a large number of newcomers, it is uncertain who will form the government.

The small country faces very big challenges, with climate change and economic development the most pressing. Made up entirely of low-lying coral atolls and islands, the nation faces the real possibility of extinction—even within several decades—if the worst-case sea-level rise scenarios play out. Economic assistance from the US is decrementing and set to discontinue after 2023, putting pressure on government to grow the economy and mobilize new resources. This is a struggle, despite some growth in revenues from the fishing industry. Government is also trying to accelerate contributions into a trust fund it established with the US in 2004, which should help ease the post-2023 transition, but this too has been difficult given sluggish economic and fiscal conditions.

The challenges go well beyond climate change and economics. Underperformance in healthcare, education, transportation, and environmental management, and weak financial management and control of corruption, altogether highlight the need for more responsive and effective leadership. These were among the key issues surrounding the election.
Meanwhile, thousands of citizens continue to vote with their feet. Slow development progress has led to high outmigration, with entire families reluctantly leaving the islands in search of better schools, healthcare, and jobs in the US. The population has now levelled off at just under 60,000 while around 30,000 now call the US home. The 2011 census showed a clear pattern of depopulation on many atolls.

While a new national development plan and the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals provide some guidance for government, it remains to be seen whether these plans will be effectively implemented, or whether a set-it and forget-it approach (as some locals call it) will prevail. There is some optimism that the new leaders will bring a renewed sense of energy and direction, but this is highly cautious optimism.

One thing is certain: the Marshall Islands’ leaders, old and new, will certainly have their work cut out for them.

Ben Graham is a former consultant and advisor in the Marshall Islands. He is from Majuro Atoll.

Rut Diamint and Laura Tedesco – Rethinking political leadership in Latin America

This is a guest post by Rut Diamint (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella) and Laura Tedesco (Saint Louis University/Madrid Campus) based on their newly published book, Latin America´s Leaders, available here.

In writing Latin America´s Leaders, we had four objectives: to review the main bibliography on political leadership; to examine the domestic political conditions that impact on the emergence of different types of leaders; to offer a qualitative analysis of interviews with political leaders; and to devise a typology of democratic leaders.

Our research[i] was motivated by questions related to the democratic quality of leaders[ii]. Why do democratically elected leaders undermine democracy as soon as they are in power? Is there any relationship between the features of political party systems and the leaders’ democratic quality? Why has the return to democracy not done away with Latin America’s tendency to generate strong leaders?

We looked at Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay. While all these countries suffered similar political and economic crises during the 2000s, the outcomes were different: five presidents were expelled in Argentina, three in Ecuador, one in Venezuela and none in Uruguay and Colombia. In Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the crises brought about the fragmentation or collapse of the party system and the emergence of strong leaders. Conversely, in Uruguay the 2002 crisis neither affected the political party system nor became a major systemic crisis; the traditional political parties lost the elections and the Frente Amplio won the presidency for the first time since its creation in 1971. In Colombia, political parties underwent an important transformation following the political reforms in 1991 and the 2003, and political stability with a high degree of institutionalization allowed a strong leader in the form of Álvaro Uribe to come to power – yet these features also helped to control his political ambitions.

We conducted 285 interviews with former Presidents, Vice-Presidents, MPs, mayors and party leaders. The aim of the interviews was to learn how leaders interpret democratic quality and how far they perceive themselves as the architects of democracy.

Our interviewees talked about powerful presidents who concentrate power and, in many cases, usurp power from other institutions. Many presidents in Latin America dis-empower institutions to empower themselves.

The qualitative analysis of the interviews showed two different groups: in Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the analysis of Néstor Kirchner, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez dominated the interviews while in Uruguay and Colombia our respondents examined political leadership together with the role of political parties, state institutions and historical processes.

One of our conclusions is that the degree of institutionalization of the political party system influences the type of leader that emerges in a given country.[iii] We developed a typology based on three elements: the political context, the ability of the leader to lead and the impact of the leader on the quality of democracy. Cutting across these elements are three dimensions of leadership: the relationship between the leader and the rule of law; the leader’s efforts to achieve consensus or in contrast to provoke polarization; and the leader’s methods to increase power. Our typology highlights leaders’ democratic quality by looking at their attitude to rules (obey, challenge or manipulate) to opposition (polarize, tolerate or build consensus) and to power (share, concentrate or usurp).

Democratic-enhancer Ambivalent Democrat Soft Power Usurper Power Usurper
Rule developer Rule-Obedient Rule-Challenger Rule-Manipulator
Bridge-Builder Receptive Soft Polarizer Polarizer
Respectul Rule-Challenger Power Builder Power Maximizer

Democratic-enhancers include leaders who push for the building or reinforcement of democratic institutions, accept the limits on power imposed by state institutions, respect and promote democratic rights and civil liberties, and leave their posts on time. This type of leader invariably belongs to a political party in which he has developed his career.

The ambivalent democrat respects people’s rights, works in a cooperative manner but seeks to accumulate personal power. Unlike the democratic-enhancer they respect but do not strengthen democratic institutions. The ambivalent democrat can actually end up weakening democracy in his bid to increase his own personal power.

The soft power usurper navigates between challenging and accepting the rule of law and state institutions. The historical context becomes crucial since it can either facilitate or block the leader´s ability to gain autonomy. In crises, this type of politician can take advantage to reduce other institutions’ maneuverability. However, at some point, a brake is applied by his party, the judicial, the legislative power or even societal pressure. The soft power usurper then retreats in the hope of more favorable conditions arising that will enable him to fit the political game to his own personal or collective aims.

Power-usurpers accumulate power by absorbing it from other state institutions, either by minimizing the role of the legislature and/or by undermining the independence of the judiciary. Power-usurpers are democratic leaders who have been elected in free elections. However, some end up manipulating constitutional or electoral instruments to increase personal power, thus worsening the quality of democracy. Power-usurpers believe that they are the only legitimate representatives of their people. Politics becomes embedded in them. They generally aspire to perpetuate themselves in power.

In Uruguay most leaders are democratic enhancers. In Colombia, Álvaro Uribe was a mix of ambivalent democrat and soft power usurper, while Juan Manuel Santos is a democracy-enhancer. In Argentina, Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner were soft power usurpers. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa combines elements of a power usurper with a soft power usurper. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez was the archetype of a power usurper: he challenged the rules, polarized society and maximized his power.

This typology distinguishes four ideal types that measure leaders’ degree of democraticness. It offers a framework for how leaders´ political influence and democratic quality can be studied in other parts of the world. And it can serve as an instrument to promote democratic-enhancers and avoid the rise of power usurpers.

Notes

[i] The research was done between 2009 and 2012 and was financed by Foundation Open Society Institute, Washington DC.

[ii] The quality of democracy has been debated in Guillermo O´Donnell, Jorge Vargas Cullell and Osvaldo Iazzetta (2004) The quality of democracy. Theory and applications (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press) and Pippa Norris (2011) Democratic Deficit. Critical Citizens Revisited (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

[iii] The degree of institutionalization of political parties has been analyzed by Manuel Alcántara (2004) ¿Instituciones o máquinas ideológicas? Origen, programa y organización de los partidos latinoamericanos (Barcelona: Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona); María Matilde Ollier María Matilde (2008) “La institucionalización democrática en el callejón: la inestabilidad presidencial argentina (1999-2003)”, América Latina Hoy, vol. 49, pp. 73-103 and Scott Mainwaring and Timothy Scully (eds.) (1995) Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America (Stanford: Stanford University Press).


Rut Diamint is professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at Universidad Torcuato di Tella, researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET) and a member of the Advisory Committee of Club de Madrid and the UN Secretary General Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. She has been visiting professor at Columbia University, and has received scholarships from Fulbright, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the PIF programme of the Canadian government, the Tinker Foundation, the UN Commission for Peace Studies and the US Studies Center for US–Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego.

Laura Tedesco is associate professor of political science at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus, and at Instituto de Empresa, Madrid. She has received scholarships from the British Council, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and CONICET (Argentina) and grants from the British Academy and the Open Society Institute. She has taught at Universidad de Buenos Aires, FLACSO, the University of Warwick and the University of East Anglia. She has been a consultant for UNICEF and worked as an analyst for FRIDE, Spain.

Switzerland – Indirect presidential elections with a twist

Yesterday, Johann Schneider-Ammann, from the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP) was elected as the new Federal president. Having been elected as vice-president the year before, his election was no surprise with most attention attached to the election of the remaining six Federal Councillors.

The Swiss National Council | photo via wikimedia commons

The Swiss Federal President differs from the other presidents discussed on this blog. Rather than being the head of state or head of the executive, s/he is merely chairperson of the seven-person ‘Federal Council’ which acts collectively as both head of state and head of government. While the Federal President is is the highest representative of the Swiss state and is ‘primus inter pares’ (first among equals) with regards to other members of the Federal Council s/he has no authority over the other Federal Councillors. Although elected by parliament, neither the president nor the collegiate government of the Swiss Federation is responsible to or dependent on the legislature. The Federal President, too, differs in the mode of election from other presidents. S/he is elected only for a one-year term in a joint session of both houses of parliament from among the members of the Federal Council and (usually) after having been elected to serve as vice-president in the previous year. Re-election is possible, yet not for consecutive terms; the constitution also forbids the election of a serving president as next year’s vice-president.

For these reasons, we do not usually include Switzerland or the Swiss presidency in the coverage of this blog. The election also tends to receive very little international coverage (as frequently lamented by Swiss journalists). Nevertheless, looking at election over time can prove to be an interesting and insightful exercise. Although the winner of the election is more or less predetermined, there is significant variation among the individual results pointing at political dynamics beneath the surface of the data and illustrating the need for further study and investigation. On the occasion of yesterday’s election, I therefore take a look back at the presidential elections in Switzerland during the last century based on a new data set of the votes obtained by Swiss Federal Presidents between 1919 and 2015.

% of votes obtained by Swiss Federal Presidents, 1920-2016 (c) Presidential Power

The Federal President is elected by a joint of session of both parliamentary chambers – the National Council (proportional representation; currently 200 members) and the Council of States (two representative per state, 1 per former ‘half-state’; currently 46 members) in the first winter session of the parliament (which now coincides with the first session after each parliamentary election). To be elected, a candidate must obtain the absolute majority of valid votes – the latter is often up to 25% lower than the number of National Council members as invalid votes have become established means of expressing discontent over the election of a predestined candidate (and some do not even pick up a ballot paper). The vast majority of presidents in the last 100 years has nevertheless managed to obtain the votes of over 60% of the members of parliament. The record for the highest number of votes obtained during the last 100 years is jointly held by Hans-Peter Tschudi and Willi Ritschard who both obtained 213 out of 246 votes (85.59%) – both when running for their respective second time. Given that nine others presidents obtained at least 80% of votes of total members, this record is however not as striking as its opposite. The record for lowest number of votes obtained is held by Micheline Calmy-Rey who received just 106 votes for her second candidacy and was only elected due to fact that only 223 ballots (out of 246) were collected by members of parliament and only 198 valid votes were cast.

% change in support by number of repeated candidacies

Out of the 96 elections held between 1919 and 2015, 32 were contested by previous office holders – 23 presidents then served a second term, two presidents were re-elected three times thus serving four terms. Factoring in his first term as president in 1915 respectively, Giuseppe Motta even served five terms. The re-election is thereby conditioned by the continued membership in the Federal Council where presidency and vice-presidency are decided (albeit informally) by the seniority principle. On average, former president can generally sustain their support base in parliament (former office holders only lose 1.45% votes per election attempt), yet there are great variations. While Calma-Rey already achieved only 147/246 votes (59.8%) for her first candidacy as federal president (and thus the lowest share of support among members of parliament for a president since 1935), she lost 16.7% in her second candidacy compared to these numbers (a record loss). Five other presidents, too, lost a two-digit percentage, but as their previous results ranged between 70-80%, the loss was less dramatic. On the other hand, presidents with meagre results in the first election could boast their result in the second attempt. For instance, Pascal Couchepin was first elected president with 166/246 votes in 2003 but received an above-average result of 197/246 votes in 2008.

Results for vice-presidency and presidency compared

The result presidential candidates obtained as vice-president (usually) a year before their election as president would appear to be a better predictor of the support for (all) presidential candidates. A first look at the scatter plot above seems to confirm this, yet the correlation coefficient is merely R2=0.2661 thus showing only a weak correlation. Overall, the variation between results appears to be even greater than between the results of repeated candidacies. While the average change is a mere 2.31%, gains and losses of up to 20% are not unusual.

Rather than being entirely ‘pre-determined’, the electoral results for Swiss Federal Presidents can thus be an important indicator of the relationship between legislature and executive and the evaluation of the leadership capabilities (or past leadership) of individual Federal Councillors. To return to the case of Micheline Calmy-Rey, both of her comparatively poor results can be explained by criticism of her activities as head of the foreign policy department which she headed during her membership in the Federal Council 2003-2011. Similar explanations can be found for other examples of poor or excellent performance in Swiss presidential election, illustrating that there is variation worth studying even in a consociational democracy with a multi-party collegiate executive such as Switzerland which is due to its uniqueness often avoided by political scientists. Even comparison with other countries are possible (e.g. with the number of votes received by government candidates in indirect presidential elections). Last, this brief analysis has of course not included a number of other interesting factors, such as the timing of parliamentary elections, the parliamentary power balance and party membership of Federal Presidents, or the votes received by Federal Councillors before being put forward as (vice-)president. If you have further ideas on how to find and explain patterns in these election results, please feel free to leave these in the comments below.

 

Armenia – The constitutional referendum and the role of the president during the campaign

On Sunday a referendum took place in Armenia. Citizens were called to express their opinion on a set of constitutional amendments. With 63.35% voting in favour, the “yes front” prevailed (though the official result will be published the 13th December). Among other things, the result means a deep restructuring of the architecture of state power. More precisely, the Armenian semi-presidential political system will transition into a parliamentary one.

This result, relished by the ruling Republican Party, was not necessarily determined in advance. In fact, surveys conducted in the previous weeks did not show clear-cut result. Even the referendum day witnessed a certain surprise element. First, the voter turnout was slightly above 50%, which is the minimum threshold to validate the result. Second, and probably most importantly, some observers denounced the elections as rigged.  In particular, the opposition lamented cases of pressure, ballot-stuffing, violence and vote buying. Journalistic sources reported the episode of a man in a van distributing 10,000 drams (almost $20) to elderly voters. When asked about it, he claimed he was paying back a debt. These incidents also raised concerns among international observers. On Tuesday (8th December), the US and the EU invited the Armenian authorities  to conduct an investigation on the major irregularities that plagued the referendum.

Fraud was feared even before the vote. In fact, already in November various groups suggested that the authorities were planning to rig the referendum. The main opposition to the changes were the “No” Front and the “New Armenia Public Salvation Front”. The former is mainly composed of the Armenian National Congress (ANC), and the People’s Party of Armenia. In the past months Levon Zurabian, an ANC leader, emerged as probably the most visible character from this group. The latter is principally composed of the Heritage party, the Democratic Homeland opposition party, the socio-political organization ‘Constitutive Parliament’, and the protest movement ‘Rise, Armenia!’ Even if they occasionally cooperated in the campaign, they never merged. In the aftermath of the allegedly rigged vote, the groups are holding joint protests in the capital.

During the referendum, though, one actor was surprisingly quiet: the President of the Republic, Serzh Sarkisian. Even if the reform was strongly supported by his ruling Republican Party, President Sarkisian, who originally set up a Commission on Constitutional Reforms (on 4 September 2013) and facilitated the various stages of the referendum, did not play a role prior in the vote. In fact, after signing the decree setting the day of the referendum, he limited his number of declarations to both domestic and international media outlets.

Looking at his behavior, it seems that he did not want to present the change as his own brainchild. Even if he limited his comments, an attentive interpretation of some of his declarations supports this idea. For example, in his address to the 3rd International Forum of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MSIIR) Alumni, President Sarkisian underlined how the final text of the proposed new draft was the result of a prolonged dialogue with the opposition and the civil society. Additionally, he pointed out that the “draft of amendments to the acting Constitution [was] based on the Concept Paper published six months ago [by the Venice Commission]”. Similarly Edvard Nalbandyan, the Armenian Foreign Minister, declared in Tbilisi, at an unofficial meeting of EU Eastern Partnership foreign ministers, that the Venice Commission considered the work of the Constitutional Commission to be accurate and in line with international standards.

In addition, in the final phase of the campaign the president and (to a lesser degree) the Republican Party stated that a positive result was not an absolute priority and that, no matter what the outcome, the government’s position in office was not at stake. The press conference that the President gave on the 3rd of December, after weeks of quasi-silence, illustrates this point. President Sarkisian said that:“ Our priority is to conduct a normal referendum, within legal boundaries, and not just make changes. Changes are not the matter of life and death, and in general, for me no voting is a matter of life and death”.  Sticking to the same line a couple of days before, Vice President of the National Assembly Eduard Sharmazanov declared that the reform was not a top priority for the Republican Party.

The aforementioned declarations seem aimed to present the reform as a shared effort, bringing together domestic and international actors, instead of a personal battle. Ultimately, they might be interpreted as an effort by President Sarkisian to distance himself from the project. As reported by the pro-opposition “Zhoghovurd” Newspaper, the opposition considered this silence, which was quite unusual shortly before a referendum, as an attempt not to transform a possible defeat into a personal failure of the president and, eventually, into a de facto vote on his tenure in power[1].

In spite of this low profile, the pre-referendum press interview obtained huge attention and criticism from the opposition. The president seemed to contradict his previous declarations on his future. In the past months, he has declared that he would not be seeking the role of prime minister after the end of his presidential mandate in 2018. Departing from that position, when asked about his future intentions, he said that: “We will talk about that after the 2017 parliamentary elections”. This vagueness reinforced a major critique of the reform, namely that it was aimed at the good of the country but the perpetuation in power of President Sarkisian. In the immediate aftermath of the interview, Levon Zurabian, a leader of the “Armenian National Congress” party, said that: “Serzh Sarkisian has refuted his loyalists’ claims that he has no desire to reproduce his regime (..) With his statement, he has exposed his entire plan to retain power”.

Commenting on the final result, President Sarkisian said that:We can now conclude that the parliamentary system of government for our state is already a reality (…) It means the existence of strong government and strong opposition, an increased role for political parties and new opportunities for their development”.  He did only briefly mentioned the allegations of fraud, suggesting that the competent bodies should investigate any fraudulent episodes. At this stage, no comment was made on his political future.

This research was supported by a FP7/Marie Curie ITN action. Grant agreement N°: 316825

Note

[1] This last point is particularly significant if we consider that one of the main discussion points in the previous months was whether the constitutional change would allow the president to remain in power. In addition, some groups started to question President Sarkisian would serve until the end of his term. More precisely, on 1st of December, the “New Armenia Public Salvation Form” held a permanent sit-in in Freedom square (one of the main squares of the capital) and openly called for the resignation of President Sarkisian.

Vanuatu – President calls snap election amid bribery scandal

JACK CORBETT & KERRYN BAKER

For the past few months the tiny island nation of Vanuatu has been gripped by a bribery scandal that has ultimately led to 14 of 50 MPs – all from the government side – facing lengthy prison time after being convicted under both the leadership and penal codes (another MP received a suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty). As a result, Vanuatu’s President, Baldwin Lonsdale, has dissolved the country’s parliament and called a snap election. The bribery case revolves around payments made by the Deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses to his fellow MPs during 2014, when they were all members of the opposition. Carcasses claimed that the payments were for development purposes but the court decided otherwise.

At the root of this scandal is the perpetual “vote of no-confidence” issue that has bedevilled Pacific Island governments since independence. As previously outlined on this blog, most Pacific Island democracies are renowned for having weak or non-existent party systems. Instead, politicians rise and fall on the strength of their own personal appeal. A number of factors are important for prospective MPs seeking to generate the profile and reputation to win an election in Vanuatu, including family alliances, churches and community involvement. But, increasingly money politics is crucial. As a result, getting elected in Vanuatu can be incredibly expensive.

For prospective Prime Ministers, however, getting elected is just the start. In the absence of strong parties the leader who can cobble together a coalition forms government. Typically, this coalition building process, both in Vanuatu and across the Pacific region sees considerable amounts of money change hands with MPs either recuperating their campaign costs or stockpiling funds for next time around. Once installed, however, coalitions are precarious. The choice of only a few MPs to switch sides can topple a government. Money becomes an important means of inducing MPs to either stay or go.

This game has been going on for years. What makes this case so interesting is that it is the first time these practices have been subject to legal scrutiny. One observer noted: “Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the current case is the fact that it was prosecuted in the first place.” It marked the first occasion that politicians had been tried under the Leadership Code Act. Among the convicted were numerous high-profile figures: several Cabinet Ministers, including the Deputy Prime Minister, as well as the Speaker of the House.

The bribery case and its outcome have also prompted several tests of the limits of presidential power. When the convictions were handed down, President Lonsdale was out of the country; in his absence, the Speaker of the House – one of those convicted – was Acting Head of State, and used the powers granted to him in this position to pardon himself and his 13 co-defendants. These pardons were revoked by Lonsdale, a move that was then appealed, and upheld. Then, on 24 November, Lonsdale dissolved Parliament and called a snap election. The opposition has challenged the legal basis of the dissolution, and this case will be heard in the coming days. Whatever the outcome of this challenge in the courts, what is clear is that the bribery case is a landmark event for Vanuatu. The convictions have sent a clear message to political players and may have long-term ramifications for Vanuatu politics.

Local Elections in Ukraine – Results

The party of the President, Petro Poroshenko Bloc “Solidarity,” won the largest number of seats in the local elections in Ukraine. It was followed by Fatherland, Our Land, Opposition Bloc and Radical party of Oleh Liashko. The People’s Front, party of the current Prime Minister Arsenij Yatsenyuk, did not take part in the elections.

The first round of elections was held on 25 October 2015. The second round of mayoral elections took place on 15 November. The second round was held in 29 out of 35 cities in Ukraine with over 9,000 registered voters, where none of the candidates secured majority of the vote in the first round. Based on the results of the second round, some have been re-elected, including the mayor of the capital Kyiv, Vitaly Klitschko and mayor of L’viv, Andriy Sadovy.

International observers noted a number of shortcomings in the elections, including protracted tabulation of the results of the first round. Although the results of the mayoral elections were scheduled to be announced on 30 October and local elections on 4 November, neither were released on time. The observers also criticised high turnover and frequent replacement of the members of precinct and territorial election commissions, noting the negative impact of these changes on the electoral process.

Overall, the results of the elections did not change the political balance in the country. The president’s party retained its dominant position in the West and centre of the country. At the same time, the Opposition Bloc retained its influenced in the East, winning the majority of the vote in the major cities in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

Even though the elections were for local representatives, the parties and the candidates were criticised for focusing mostly on the national-level issues such as security, military reform, and gas prices. These issues did manifest themselves during the elections. The polls were cancelled in some territories in the East and not held at all in Crimea. Crimea declared a state of emergency shortly after the elections, when power lines connecting the peninsula to Ukraine were cut, leaving it without power. This intensified the standoff between Ukraine and Russia and was followed by the announcement that Gazprom would be cutting all gas supplies to Ukraine.

The local elections were largely viewed as a test of popularity for the policies of the ruling coalition. Although the coalition parties managed to hold on to their bases, major challenges remain. Public opinion survey conducted by the International Republican Institute before the elections showed widespread dissatisfaction with the pace of reforms and low support for the ruling coalition – only 13% of the respondents approved of the cabinet and 11% of the parliament. The president received a slightly higher approval rating with 24% of respondents supporting his actions. However, this figure is one of the lowest for President Poroshenko, who enjoyed approval rating of 63% in March 2015. These low figures are not surprising, as Ukrainians remain concerned with national security, poor economic performance, and the slow pace of integration with Europe.

Uganda – President Museveni and the NRM slated to win in the coming elections, but at what cost?

Campaigns ahead of Uganda’s February 2016 general elections are heating up. The presidential race kicked off last month. President Yoweri Museveni of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) is running against his long-time opponent, Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), as well as  his erstwhile close political ally and former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, who is standing as an independent.  Nominations for parliamentary candidates closed yesterday with an expected 10,000 aspirants for just over 400 elected positions, or roughly 25 contenders for every seat.

With this array of candidates, the coming elections look to be the most heavily contested—and costly—ever witnessed under President Museveni’s 30-year-old regime. Bookmakers have Museveni and the NRM down to win by a large margin. But even with a sound victory over the opposition, the expense of handling intra-party factionalism may make it a pyrrhic one. With Mbabazi’s decision to vie for the presidency, the amount of money needed to keep the NRM house in order has risen sharply. This elite rivalry has made an already existing situation much worse, and all but guarantees more financial and political trouble after the elections are done.

The ‘commercialization’ of politics in Uganda

Museveni’s and the NRM’s long stay in power has come with an ever bigger price tag. Elite cohesion at the highest levels has been purchased by allowing Uganda’s ‘aristocracy’ to take advantage of government positions to amass personal wealth. The regime has meanwhile maintained local support through a combination of patronage, public services and coercion. The creation of new districts, each with its promise of lucrative jobs and more sate resources, has proved a particularly expedient but expensive method of bolstering the NRM’s popularity.

Pressure to extend more patronage to local areas has steadily risen throughout Museveni’s rule. This is a result of competition between the NRM and the opposition parties but also of growing competition within the NRM itself. Around elections, this pressure reaches a fever pitch. After losing ground to Besigye in the 2006 polls, Museveni started touring the country a full two years before the 2011 election, distributing money and issuing presidential pledges along the way.

Pressure on MPs is also high. Ugandan legislators report spending more on routine constituency visits than their counterparts in 15 other African country surveyed, bar Nigeria.[1] This spending rises precipitously during election campaigns. For MPs from the ruling party—who make up over 70 percent of legislators in the current parliament—the hardest test is often not the general elections but the NRM party primaries. In 2010, the first time all NRM party members had the right to participate, the primaries were marred by allegations of extensive vote rigging, bribery and fraud. The party emerged bruised. Many NRM-leaning legislators entered parliament as independents after losing in the primaries while NRM MPs openly wondered what their party had done for them. The losers, either in the primaries or the general election, were left to stew, with many calling on Museveni for compensation.

Frustration with the 2011 elections and how they were handled by the party contributed to later divisions within the NRM parliamentary caucus. Faced with an unusually rebellious legislature, Museveni had to make an effort to subdue MPs, something he achieved notably through offering them bribes for votes or support to help them manage their debts.

Beyond the political challenge, the economic consequences of the 2011 elections were unprecedented in Uganda. Since the 1990s, the government has built up a reputation for its prudent macroeconomic management, reflected in overall low inflation levels. Yet after the 2011 polls inflation rates soared, fueled to a large extent by excess election spending. The Governor of the Bank of Uganda later admitted that he had been called on to essentially print money.

Mbabazi’s bid – more factionalism, more money

Amama Mbabazi, now Museveni’s presidential rival, is very much a member of the NRM political aristocracy. He previously served Museveni as Attorney General, Defense Minister and finally Prime Minister starting in 2011. He was also elected NRM Secretary General in 2009. Over the course of his stay in government, he built up a personal fortune. He was repeatedly listed in high profile corruption scandals, but always benefited from political cover. For a long time, many saw Mbabazi as Museveni’s heir apparent with the possibility of a succession in 2016.

But shortly after 2011, it became clear Museveni was still planning to run again. Moreover, he appeared to be positioning his son, wife or son-in-law to take over after him. This seeming desire to keep the presidency as a family business has stoked tensions among the NRM’s top elite. This frustration is particularly noticeable among certain long-serving members of the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC). Observers have argued that corruption levels in Uganda are reaching unprecedented levels in part as a result of the growing challenge of keeping the NRM top brass in the Museveni camp.

And even so, that challenge has clearly not been met. Rumors that Mbabazi—tired of waiting—was planning to challenge Museveni spread around the end of 2013. Museveni dropped him as Prime Minister in September 2014 and shortly thereafter orchestrated an extraordinary NRM delegates’ conference to change the NRM constitution and effectively strip Mbabazi of his role as party Secretary General.

Both Museveni and Mbabazi spent lavishly in efforts to build their support throughout this period, and have continued to do so since, targeting various groups—and notably youth—with patronage. As the elections season got under way, the pressure on Museveni to buy off politicians willing to auction their support to the highest bidder has also grown. In May, for instance, a group of NRM parliamentary flagbearers who lost in the 2011 elections approached Museveni asking for help with their debts. Any candidate who loses a parliamentary election on the NRM ticket automatically becomes the party chairperson in their area, thereby potentially retaining considerable power to mobilize voters for or against a presidential candidate of their choosing.

Mbabazi has repeatedly offered financial support to both opposition and NRM MPs. The prospect of Mbabazi bankrolling their campaigns was among the primary reasons why opposition parties, briefly united as The Democratic Alliance (TDA), considered adopting him as their joint presidential candidates. Opposition MPs were reportedly particularly drawn by the prospect of his support. After the TDA dissolved and Mbabazi went on to stand as an independent, certain opposition parties including the DP stuck by him, again partially for financial reasons.

The NRM party primaries have offered a new set of opportunities for Mbabazi both to campaign and decampaign certain candidates. As was the case in 2010, this year’s primaries, completed last month, were heavily contested and fraught with allegations of foul play. At one stage, two top-ranking NRM leaders, both of whom had a long-standing personal antagonism with Mbabazi, accused him of fronting rival candidates in their constituencies. One then went on to lose the primary election in a major upset.

Throughout the primary process, the newly appointed NRM Secretary General claimed the party would not tolerate failed NRM aspirants running as independents. This threat quickly proved hollow, though. Shortly before the official nominations were due, over 60 incumbent MPs who lost their NRM primaries met with Mbabazi’s sister-in-law and were offered financial backing in exchange for supporting Mbabazi. Museveni then invited the 60 MPs to a separate meeting at State House, at which he declared the NRM would not decampaign them should they run as independents.

As was the case in 2011, this tolerance of independents is resented by official NRM flagbearers. It keeps the elections tight in many areas where it would otherwise be easy, and forces candidates to keep spending after already going through costly primaries. This outcome ultimately undermines the NRM’s ability to consolidate as a political party capable of encouraging cohesion or imposing discipline among its members; rather, the current set-up is more akin to a kind of ‘no-party’ system beset by costly intra-elite rivalry.

What happens next in an aging regime?

Mbabazi’s presidential bid is, to some extent, highly predictable.  Subduing elite political ambitions through patronage and a high tolerance for corruption—the Museveni strategy—has its limits. Similarly, in a ruling coalition already fraught with internal divisions, albeit lower down the hierarchy, it is not surprising that the top level jockeying between Museveni and Mbabazi is fuelling more demands for pay-outs from below. Yet as patronage spending soars, the dangers of further economic instability looms large. One only has to think back to 2011, and then multiply. Museveni may also face additional trouble from his parliamentary caucus, which at the very least, may find ways to extract more costly patronage in exchange for support.

Finally, increased violence is another clear possibility for when patronage becomes unsustainable, or no longer works. Museveni has been most careful to consolidate his support within the military and police force, and has also overseen the formation of new militias ahead of the election. Mbabazi and Besigye have repeatedly clashed with security trying to prevent them from traveling or holding rallies. The militias pose a different, in some ways more ominous threat. In past elections, especially 2001 and 2006, they were used to intimidate the opposition—as well as NRM members who’d fallen from grace.

While Museveni is still far and away the most likely winner of the coming elections that does not mean that Mbabazi’s challenge is insubstantial or that Museveni’s regime is strong; rather, as intra-party contestation intensifies, his ability to exert control comes at an ever higher price.

[1] These results are form a survey of 16 countries conducted by the African Legislatures Project.