Monthly Archives: January 2016

Peru – Leading Contender in Presidential Race May be Barred from Running

Last Wednesday, the electoral committee in Peru announced that it might bar one of the leading candidates, César Acuña, from this year’s presidential election, because of allegations that he plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation.

César Acuña completed his doctoral thesis, on education, at the Complutense University of Madrid in 2009. Acuña, an entrepreneur and owner of three private universities in Peru, including the Cesar Vallejo University in Trujillo, has campaigned on a largely populist platform, with some overtures to capital and domestic business. He has argued for increased state intervention, and suggested that the government should impose price controls in key areas such as food, gas and utilities and that the Central Bank should set the exchange rate. Peru’s rate of inflation has been slowly rising and is currently at 4.4 per cent. At the same time, Acuña has tried to stress his market friendliness by highlighting his business credentials.

His campaign has proved popular and one of the more recent polls have him tied for second place with Pedro Pablo Kuczynski with 13 per cent support.

However, last week, Acuña was accused on Twitter by the anthropologist Sandra Rodríguez, of plagiarizing big chunks of his 2009 dissertation. Given his ownership of Peruvian universities and his emphasis on education during the election campaign, this has generated enormous controversy. The newspaper, El Comercio has launched an in-depth investigation and extracts of the thesis are now actively discussed, analyzed and dissected online and on social media.

In response, the Complutense has launched an investigation into any wrongdoing. Now, everyone is awaiting the results of this investigation. If evidence of plagiarism is discovered, than according to the electoral committee, César Acuña could potentially be barred from competing in the upcoming election.

The presidential election is due to be held this April. Ollanta Humala is constitutionally barred from running again, and despite previous alterations of the Peruvian constitution, and unlike many of his contemporary presidential counterparts in Latin America, President Humala has stated he will respect the constitution and step aside. The current front-runner in the race is Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of currently jailed former president Alberto Fujimori. A 50 per cent majority is needed to avoid a run-off and given Fujimori and Acuña are both appealing to lower income groups, Acuña’s removal from the race could stand to benefit Fujimori and help her avoid a second round run-off.

 

Timor-Leste – Presidential veto causes political tension

President Taur Matan Ruak vetoed the 2016 budget law on 29 December 2015. The president vetoed the law because, in his opinion, the budget disregarded the needs of the poor. Parliament ignored the president’s objections and his veto was overridden without a single dissenting vote.

The adoption of the budget law has been delayed several times. Firstly, the ministers themselves could not agree on the proposed budget and failed to meet the October 15 deadline set by the Budget and Financial Management Law. The government presented the proposed budget to parliament on September 29th 2015.

On 2 December 2015 President Taur Matan Ruak threatened to veto a budget that does not prioritize education, health, agriculture and other sustainable sectors over physical infrastructure. Likewise, civil society groups stated that programs which benefit most people – such as health care, education, agriculture, rural roads and water – were cut, while projects which will be mainly used by the affluent and powerful – airports, highways, oil processing – got a larger share. Physical infrastructure[1] takes up more than a third of Timor-Leste’s budget (see figure below).

 

2016 budget - picSource: http://www.laohamutuk.org

The veto threat provoked considerable discussion in parliament about the president’s constitutional powers. Yet it did not influence the contents of the budget. Timor-Leste’s National Assembly voted unanimously in favour of the budget law on 3 December.

True to his word, the president vetoed the budget law on 29 December. In a six-page letter addressed to parliament, the president reiterated his objections to the (size of the) budget. For its part, parliament ignored the president’s recommendations and an identical budget was unanimously approved on 8 January 2016.

The president can complicate the enactment of legislation by referring it to the court. The constitution of Timor-Leste grants the president power to send legislation to the Court of Appeal (the country’s highest court) to determine whether it violates the constitution. If so, the president can issue a ‘constitutional veto’. Former President José Ramos-Horta, used this power when, for instance, he asked the court to review the constitutionality of the (rectified) 2008 and 2011 budget. A two-thirds majority in parliament is necessary to override a constitutional veto.

President Taur Matan Ruak decided not to send the budget law to the court. Such an act would probably only have postponed the implementation of the budget. To be sure, the president faces a government in which all parties in parliament are represented. So, parliament can easily override a constitutional veto as well.

The president reluctantly promulgated the 2016 budget law on 14 January 2016.

[1] Roads, ports and airports, other infrastructure, and Tasi Mane. The Tasi Mane project involves the development of a petroleum infrastructure on the south coast of Timor-Leste.

Azerbaijan – Fall in oil price, economic crisis and possible political consequences

The drop in the global oil price represents a cold shower for the oil-producing economies. In 2008 a barrel cost $140, whereas in January 2016 it is now down to $30. The Middle-Eastern dynamics, first and foremost the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and the previously-sanctioned Iran, do not suggest a quick reversal of this trend. In light of that, the oil-rich economies have had to review their budget allocations and growth forecasts. Azerbaijan is no exception in this regard.

If we compare the first presidential speeches of 2015 and 2016, President Ilham Aliyev seems extremely aware of the trend affecting the country. In 2015, reviewing the economic performance of the past year, Mr. Aliyev proudly said: “Our main economic indicators for 2014 are very positive. I can say that perhaps they are the highest in the world”. By contrast, at the beginning of 2016 the president had to admit that: “The development which was observed in previous years has not been achieved. That was not possible, because, as I have already noted, the price of oil has fallen 3-4 times”.

The drop in oil prices is not purely an economic issue. Indeed, this dynamic may have strong repercussions on the political system, which is dominated by the president. Remarkably, Azerbaijan is by far the wealthiest country in the South Caucasus. According to CIA Factbook, in 2014 the GDP Per Capita was $17,800. In comparison, Georgia’s and Armenia’s was $9,200 and $8,200 respectively. Azerbaijan is also the most authoritarian of the three countries. In fact, according to the Freedom House, the country is Not Free. These data are relevant because various analyses point to a link between oil wealth and the authoritarian regime in the country. More precisely, Farid Guliyev[1] considers that the oil revenue, managed by a State Oil saving Fund, has benefited and expanded a patronage network and ultimately has fostered the stability of the ruling regime. Similarly Jody La Porte[2] considers oil wealth to have promoted elite cohesion and economic prosperity. These circumstances have made it possible to effectively marginalise existing and potential opposition movements[3].

Over the years, the huge energy revenues have triggered a dynamic which often characterises oil-producing states: rentierism. Azerbaijan can be considered a rentier state since the bulk of the state budget is made up of oil and gas dividends instead of taxes. In fact, given the abundance of energy resources and the positive global energy trend (for producing states), oil and gas were the main economic focus of the country. The CIA Factbook data shows that energy commodities constitute 90% of national exports, which, in turn, compose 43.3% of the state GDP. Even if the Azerbaijani president has periodically mentioned the importance of boosting the non-oil sector, various experts seemed skeptical about the practical application of that. Farid Guliyev, analyzing the phenomenon, observes that it has mainly concretized in the form of pharaonic infrastructures, carried out by elites’ cronies and payed for by oil money[4]. Similarly in summer 2015 another local expert, under condition of anonymity, called this emphasis on the development of the non-oil sector as an empty litany: many words and no concrete actions.

This rentierism, in the absence of abundant oil revenues, does not seem sustainable anymore. Suddenly, diversification has become a top priority and the declarations about it no longer sound like an empty statement: the poor state of the local finances requires something to be done. Looking at the steps taken, the stabilization of the currency seems the main targeted area. That has been made urgent by the decision taken by the Central Bank on 21 December to unpeg the Manat (which is the local currency) from the Dollar and let the currency fluctuate. This happened only after half of the hard-currency national reserves were used up in a desperate attempt to postpone the inevitable. As a result, in a few days the Manat lost one third of its value.

The devaluation of the local currency has been feared for a long time. From mid-November, hard currency was available only in banks, tourist facilities and airports. In fact, almost everybody expected it to happen in the immediate aftermath of the European games in summer 2015. Not only citizens but also banks considered this possibility extremely realistic and started to grant loans in dollars. Radio Free Europe has reported the story of a desperate debtor who explained how, no matter insistent he was, he could not obtain a loan in the local currency. Even if it was expected, the devaluation hit  many citizens hard, seeing prices rocketing up in few hours and their life-time savings shrinking. In reaction, protests took place in various cities and in some cases resulted in clashes with the police and arrests. At the moment, measures taken to mitigate the monetary shock include: the imposition of limits on foreign currency outflows and the introduction of a 20 per cent currency tax aimed at discouraging direct investments or real estate purchases abroad[5]. Additionally, the president has recently approved some poverty-reduction measures. Among them, some pensions will be increased by ten per cent. In the next months new welfare provisions, such as scholarships and extra-employment benefits, will be probably introduced.

Considering these circumstances the state budget for 2016 has been revised and now forecasts factor in the oil price at $25 per barrel instead of $50. Additionally, the presidential office plans to grant fiscal advantages to investors who will diversify the economy. For example, for seven years entrepreneurs who import equipment in Azerbaijan not only will not pay taxes but also will have only half of their income taxed[6]. However, even if almost everybody talks openly of the economic difficulties, the new circumstances will not end tout court the willingness of the country to host international grand events. For example, the organization of the Formula One Grand Prix, scheduled for June 2016, will not be affected by any new measure.

In light of these elements, it is worth looking at how the president frames the issue. On January 2016 the website of the World Economic Forum published an article authored by Mr. Aliyev. On that occasion, consistent with what he had said in previous days (and which is reported at the top of this post), Ilham Alieyv admitted that global trends were not favorable to the structure of the Azerbaijani economy. However, he declared that the government was doing everything in its power to mitigate the negative circumstances. He also added that, in spite of the low oil price, Azerbaijan is still crucial in providing energy security to Europe. Thus, the authorities are actively managing the things they have control over. The next weeks and months will show the response of the population. There is no obvious development. Even if the Azerbaijani establishment is perfectly in control of its security forces, some nervousness among top elites can reasonably be expected. As Thomas de Waal masterfully put it: “The public, it seems, can forgive an authoritarian government almost anything except a falling standard of living”.

Notes

[1] Guliyev, Farid. “Oil and Political Stability in Azerbaijan: The Role of Policy Learning.” Caucasus Analytcal Digest 47 (2013)

[2] LaPorte, Jody. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Political Opposition and Hegemonic Authoritarianism in Azerbaijan.” Post-Soviet Affairs 31, no. 4 (2015): 339-366.

[3]The oil revenue does not only affect domestic policies but also foreign policy strategies.  In this regard, the ESI Think Tank coined the term “Caviar Diplomacy”, which refers to the Azerbaijani strategy of winning over Western public figures in exchange for precious gifts.

[4] Guliyev, Farid. “‘After Us, the Deluge’: Oil Windfalls, State Elites and the Elusive Quest for Economic Diversification in Azerbaijan.” Caucasus Analytical Digest 69 (2015).

[5] AAP Newsfeed. “CIS: Azerbaijan imposes currency controls.” January 19, 2016.

[6] “New law excepts some Azeri entrepreneurs from tax for seven years”, BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit (2016), January 19.

 

Pedro C. Magalhães – The Portuguese presidential elections of 2016 (or a tough day for party politics)

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

Pedro

Last Sunday, Portugal elected the fifth president of its democratic Third Republic. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, 67 years old, is a professor of constitutional law and a long time member of the center-right PSD, over which he presided in the late 1990s. However, he’s probably best known among the general public as a political pundit, after having held a weekly political commentary show for many years, first on the radio (in the early 1990s) and then on the TV (since 2000). Endorsed in the election by his own party and by the CDS (a smaller party on the right), he got 52% of the vote (about 2.4 million votes), thus dispensing with a second round.

Turnout was 48.8%. Although slightly above the 2011 elections, this a low figure. First, presidential elections such as this one, where the president does not run (there is a two term limit), typically have higher turnout levels (70% on average since 1976), in contrast with the less competitive cases when the incumbent president runs (60% on average since 1976, 46.5% in the last such election, in 2011). 48.8% this means means it was the lowest turnout ever recorded for an election without the incumbent running. Second, turnout was also low from a comparative point of view. If we start from a list of European semi-presidential systems and look for the turnout rates in the most recent presidential elections held there (from IDEA’s Voter Turnout website), we see that Portugal’s turnout rates have been very low recently. The 2016 rate, although an improvement over 2011, still ranks among the lowest in these countries’ recent elections (see Figure 1). In other words, there is a clear mismatch between the important powers enjoyed by the Portuguese president —including, among others, the discretionary ability to dissolve parliament, appoint the Prime Minister, veto legislation and refer bills and laws to the Constitutional Court — and the level of electoral mobilization reached in recent elections.

Voter_Turnout_in_presidential_elections_for_latest_election_2016-01-26-2

Part of the explanation may be structural, as turnout has been decreasing throughout in Portugal both in legislative and European elections. However, some specificities of the election may also account for this. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa presented a campaign budget of 157.000 euros (170.000 US dollars, 119.000 British pounds), a ridiculously small amount. Contrary to common practice, there were no campaign billboards or posters of him to be seen across the country. That a candidate can win a presidential election without any major conventional mobilization efforts is interesting and deserves attention. Part of the explanation is that Rebelo de Sousa started out with a stratospheric advantage over all other nine candidates in terms of public notoriety, fed by a decade and a half of television appearances and reinforced by discrete year-long ground efforts near local chapters of the PSD. For him, “lowering the heat” to the bare minimum was clearly the preferable strategy, decreasing the salience of the campaign and thus making it as hard as possible for his opponents to overcome their notoriety gap. Besides, he also understood quite soon that he was not the preferred candidate of his own party’s leadership. The PSD continued throughout most of 2015 to toy around with the possibility of endorsing Rui Rio (former mayor of Oporto) or even Durão Barroso (former EU Commission President). Thus, Marcelo had to impose himself to his own party. This he ultimately achieved, after all potential opponents withdrew. But he still could not count with the mobilization efforts of the PSD party machine, and he knew it.

After having meticulously distanced himself from the PSD/CDS center-right cabinet in his political commentaries throughout the last year, he also proceeded to make himself as palatable as possible to the centrist and even center-left electorate. After the tense and polarized political environment that followed the October 2015 legislative elections — which included the fall of a new short-lived minority PSD-CDS government and its replacement by a PS minority cabinet supported in parliament by the Left Bloc and the Communist Party — Rebelo de Sousa avoided taking strong stances on almost all of the issues raised during those last months, refusing to commit to any systematic opposition to the left-wing government and presenting himself as a moderate president aiming at “reconciliation”. “I am the left of the right”, he said. If pre-election polls are to be trusted in this regard, he did manage to broaden his appeal to a segment of the leftist electorate, while remaining hegemonic among PSD and CDS voters. The latter were probably too concerned with the possibility of ending up with a left-wing president alongside the current left-wing government to care about Marcelo’s unwillingness to cater to their disappointment with recent political developments. It is true that, as he started dropping in the polls (from about 62% in late December to 53% in the last week of the campaign), some feared that his moderation and his effort at “lowering the heat” of the campaign would end up in a failure to mobilize his support base and avoid a second round. But these fears were unjustified.

The Socialist Party (PS) ended up not officially endorsing any candidate, and the party cadres divided their support between Sampaio da Nóvoa (a left-wing independent and former Rector of the University of Lisbon) and Maria de Belém (a former Socialist minister). Together, they got no more than 27% of the vote, about 1.25 million votes, five percentage points and almost 500.000 votes below the (already disappointing) result of the Socialists in the October 2015 election. Belém’s result (4.2%) was particularly catastrophic, and certainly not alien to a controversy in the late campaign about her opposition to the withdrawal of a life-time subsidy for MP’s. However, her lag vis-à-vis Sampaio da Nóvoa had started earlier, and in a sense also seems to be linked to the general theme in this campaign: while Rebelo de Sousa became president regardless of his own party, “party” did next to nothing for Belém, with many Socialist voters turning their hopes instead in the direction of the independent Sampaio da Nóvoa. A 27% aggregate result is worrying for the Socialists. However, it is also a reflection of Rebelo de Sousa’s “long campaign” strategy: becoming a seemingly unbeatable favorite from early on, he conditioned everybody else’s response, including the PS’s. The Socialists failed to find a single strong candidate willing to challenge Marcelo and ended up with two people that, regardless of their personal merits, are political lightweights. One thing could have seriously derailed Marcelo’s strategy and its repercussions to the overall campaign: if former Socialist PM António Guterres, currently UN High Commissioner for Refugees, had decided to jump into the fray. But Guterres seems instead interested in a candidacy for UN Secretary General and, if that fails, there are interesting and highly prestigious non-political jobs waiting for him back in Portugal.

Finally, a note about the performance of the candidates supported by the Left Bloc (BE) and the Communist Party (PCP). Marisa Matias, from the BE, got about 10% of the vote. That’s 460.000 votes, merely 30.000 below the score of the BE in October (in a more participated election) and 170.000 more than the best BE presidential candidate ever. This contrasts starkly with the abysmal performance of the Communist Party candidate, Edgar Silva, a virtually unknown former priest: 4% of the vote, the worst result ever by a candidate endorsed by the PCP. This result confirms and expands that of the 2015 legislative elections, where the BE clearly surpassed the Communists. Whether this means that the BE will be finally able to overcome the past volatility of its electoral base and definitely replace the Communist as the main party to the left of the PS remains to be seen, but this is clearly the most dangerous threat to Communists’ role in the political system that the party — the oldest, best organized, and most socially rooted in Portugal — has ever faced. That the survival of the Socialist minority cabinet depends on both the PCP and the BE adds additional uncertainty about how the response of the former to this threat will affect cabinet stability.

In his victory speech, president-elect Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa talked about “national unity”, “social cohesion” and the need to address “social injustices that the crisis has increased, but without endangering financial solidity”. This may sound like a bunch of generalities spoken by a powerless figurehead president, pleasing all sides and alienating nobody. Generalities they may be, but Portuguese presidents have never been powerless or irrelevant. Nor have they been particularly predictable. In 1990, by the end of Mário Soares first term as president, people debated whether it still made sense to popularly elect a President what had turned into a sort of “Queen of England”. But in his second term, Soares quickly proceeded to become the main source of opposition to the government and, since his tenure, more than one cabinet was led to its demise with the active collaboration of a president.

So it is wise not to make any rash judgments on the basis of this victory speech. It is true that, like others before him, the new president will be constrained by the so far irresistible lure of reelection five years from now (all previous Portuguese presidents successfully went for a second term). In the past, this has helped keeping first term presidents in check, forcing them to aim at the median voter and at the fulfillment of the most general expectation seem to have Portuguese have of the presidency: that it should be a vigilant but mostly neutral and impartial arbiter of politics. However, facing a minority cabinet, and with the present level of political, financial and economic uncertainty in Portugal, playing that relatively modest role may become difficult for the new president. At the very least, whenever Rebelo de Sousa needs and wants to act, he can do so as one of the least politically constrained presidents Portugal ever had, having imposed himself on his party, being elected with little help from it, and having no favors from campaign funders he has to pay back. So what kind of president will he be? Unfortunately, now we won’t have Marcelo the pundit speculating about Marcelo the President. Or will we? Even that is unpredictable.

Haiti – Chronicle of a presidential election failure foretold

The Haitian President, Michel Joseph Martelly, will leave office without completing a single election during his five-year term. On Friday 22 January the president of the Electoral Council (CEP) announced what for the opposition parties and the most relevant sectors of civil society was a foregone conclusion weeks ago, namely that it was not possible to organize the presidential runoff that was scheduled to take place on Sunday 24 January. The head of the CEP, Pierre Louis Opont, declared that his concern for the security of voters and poll workers was the main reason for the cancellation of the elections. As evidence, he cited a dozen cases of violent acts against electoral officials and polling buildings.

Besides the escalation of violence in the last days, the final decision to adjourn sine die the elections is the results of a lack of trust of the opposition parties in the CEP and the government. Jude Célestin, the candidate who was supposed to oppose Jovenel Moise, the protégé of President Martelly in the electoral runoff, declared three days earlier he would not participate in any electoral event organized by the CEP. In fact, since the announcement of the results of the first round of the presidential election he decided not to campaign until the allegations of massive fraud in favor of Moise were investigated by an independent commission of experts.

The other presidential candidates, especially Moise Jean Charles and Maryse Narcisse, respectively placed in third and fourth at the first round according to the results published by the CEP, also denounced the elections. While other opponents concentrated their efforts on street protests, Narcisse used the recourse in the electoral law. A sample of 50 electoral acts confirmed the allegation of fraud of the opposition. All of the acts confirmed important irregularities that, according to the electoral law, were sufficient to warrant their invalidation, which is what the CEP finally did. But, instead of deciding to completely reject the entire electoral process, the decision was to close the process of contestation.

This last decision seals the fate of the elections, the President, and the CEP. Street protests and violence escalated. President Martelly, Pierre-Louis Opont, the Ambassador of the US in Haiti, the delegations of the Organisations of American States (OAS), the Core-group (friends of Haiti), and European Commision were the only actors that could not understand the situation. Previously, three members of the CEP had presented their resignation. A candidate at the Legislative Assembly elections admitted to having bribed two members of the Electoral Council in other to win the election in his district. Meanwhile, the president had appointed a special commission to analyze the validity of the elections. The commision found important anomalies in another 296 electoral acts, recommending a thorough evaluation of the results and a dialogue between all parties involved before holding the runoff. But, with the backing of the US, the OAS and the Core-group the President decided to ignore the recommendation of his own commission, publish the electoral results, and schedule the elections for January 24.

Meanwhile the opposition decided to escalate its protests. Friday 22 January was especially violent. At least one person was killed and several schools and other public buildings were burned down across the country. The Conference of the Roman Catholic Bishops, several other actors from the Civil Society, declared their opposition to the electoral contest. Face with this new situation, and against the will of the president and the International Community, Pierre Louis Opont, decided to cancel the elections.

After the cancellation of the elections the opposition parties are now pushing for the resignation of the President, before the completion of his constitutional term on 7 February. Because of the proximity of this date it is almost impossible that they will be successful, but their ongoing mobilisation marks an outstanding victory against the government, the US and other powerful international actors and could serve at least two short-term purposes: setting the terms of the transitional government that will replace Martelly and influencing the next Electoral Council.

Our main preoccupation in this post was to highlight the potential lack of legitimacy of the elected authorities coming out of this election circle. Without doubt recent political events have worsened the problem. But, at the same time, they represent a unique opportunity for the political system. Because of the weakness and divergent interests of all the actors involved, including the opposition parties and the International community, the situation can force the actors to put in place an Electoral Council that is truly independent and that can guarantee fairness for all.

South Africa – President Zuma’s economic (mis)management

January has provided no reprieve for South Africa’s embattled President, Jacob Zuma. Anti-Zuma protests continue apace, the most recent headline-grabber being a giant ‘Zuma must fall’ banner erected by activists in Cape Town.  Economic indicators meanwhile continue to spiral downward, heralding further political unrest ahead. The IMF recently revised South Africa’s growth projection for 2016, nearly halving its original estimate to a mere 0.7%. This poor outlook is in part due to external factors—notably falling commodity prices and rising borrowing costs. Yet much of this decline is also self-inflicted. It is a testament to Zuma’s dangerous politicking, which in turn, speaks to a more fundamental malaise within the ruling ANC, a party at the mercy of competing patronage-seeking factions.

Zuma has had to fight off a succession of political scandals throughout his career. Since assuming office in 2009, criticism over corruption and policy uncertainty has continually dogged Zuma personally, as well as his government. And yet, in December of last year Zuma managed to outdo himself, unleashing market chaos after changing his Finance Minister three times over five days.

On December 9, he shocked South Africans and foreign investors alike when he replaced his respected minister, Nhlanhla Nene, with a little known ANC backbencher, David van Rooyen. Rumors quickly spread that Nene was fired due to his unwillingness to sacrifice fiscal discipline in order to satisfy Zuma’s personal political interests. Nene had opposed a bid by the lossmaking state-owned company, South African Airlines (SAA), to renegotiate an aircraft deal with Airbus. The chair of SAA who was in favor of the renegotiation, Dudu Myeni, is a close Zuma ally. What’s more, the President also felt compelled to issue a highly unusual statement, denying allegations that he is romantically involved with Myeni.

The apparent sidelining of Nene for political reasons raised serious questions regarding the credibility of the Treasury, long seen as one of South Africa’s strongest institutions. Zuma’s decision sent the rand tumbling to all-time lows against major global currencies. It wiped R169bn of equities listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and R52bn off the local bond market. Protests also broke out across the country as South Africans called for Zuma’s ouster. Facing pressure from within his own party, Zuma finally acquiesced. Four days after he fired Nene, the President announced the return of respected former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to head the Treasury.

Gordhan has gone some way towards reassuring markets. He has reaffirmed the Treasury’s commitment to fiscal discipline at a time when the cost of repaying South Africa’s public debt has become the single greatest drain on the national budget. He also successfully upheld Nene’s original position, rejecting the SAA bid to renegotiate its deal with Airbus.

Nevertheless, observers and financial commentators in particular underscore the lasting damage incurred as a result of Zuma’s gamble. Recent credit rating downgrades have brought South African bonds close to junk status while investors increasingly question the lack of policy direction and the uncertain prospects for South Africa’s commodity-dependent economy.

More worrying still is the reigning political uncertainty. Zuma’s own future is on the rocks, with many citing this year’s local government elections as a key test. A poor showing for the ANC could trigger Zuma’s early removal from office.  But Zuma’s immediate future aside, a succession battle is already underway for the ANC top post. Next year’s leadership congress is likely to pit Zuma’s former wife and current head of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, against current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Zuma’s own preference would be to retain his current position as party leader and to see Dlamini-Zuma becomes presidential nominee. The dynastic quality of such an arrangement is problematic in and of itself, but it would also contravene ANC precedent, which dictates that one person should hold both the position of presidential nominee and party leader so as to prevent competing power centres from emerging. Ramaphosa’s potential candidacy is hardly a reassuring alternative, though, given his own checkered record. Corruption allegations abound while South Africans will not have forgotten Ramaphosa’s alleged implication in the 2012 Marikana massacres and subsequent cover up.

For now, the ANC has remained outwardly united in defending its President. However, intra-party tensions abound as competing ANC heavyweights jockey for positions. Against this troubled backdrop, it is unclear how South Africa’s ruling party can prevent what some interpret as the weaknesses of Zuma’s personal leadership style from remaining a fixed element of the ANC status quo. Indeed, Zuma is not alone in his willingness to indulge political cronies; any successor will have his or her own patronage network to satisfy. This situation means it will only become more difficult for the ANC to convince South Africans, as well as foreign investors, of the government’s political (and economic) credibility.

 

 

Kyrgyzstan – President Atambaev Seeks to “Idiot-Proof” the Constitution by Reducing the Power of the Presidency

Constitutional reform has been a national pastime during Kyrgyzstan’s first quarter-century as an independent state.  Since the adoption of the first post-communist constitution in 1993, Kyrgyzstan has introduced new constitutions–or significant constitutional changes–six times.  From 1993 to 2007, under Presidents Akaev and Bakiev, these institutional reforms were designed to concentrate greater power in the presidency and to keep the political opposition off balance.[i]  However, in the wake of the ouster of President Bakiev during a popular revolt in April 2010, former opposition politicians succeeded in pushing through, by referendum, a new constitution that promised to introduce a parliamentary republic in Kyrgyzstan.  The 2010 Constitution contained numerous provisions that reduced the power of the presidency, strengthened the role of the parliament and the prime minister, and protected the opposition.  However, as we noted in an earlier entry on this blog,[ii] the new constitutional order in Kyrgyzstan retained many features that are associated with semi-presidential rather than parliamentary models of government, including direct presidential elections and the subordination of the security services to the office of the president.

Relegated to a single six-year term by the current constitution, President Almazbek Atambaev is now leading an effort to reduce the powers of the presidency and align the country’s institutions with those of classic parliamentarism, following the script of President Sarkisian of Armenia, who recently engineered a transition from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system.[iii]  The initiative in Kyrgyzstan appears to have the support of the leaders of the country’s five parliamentary parties, which is an unexpected development given that some of these parties had previously favored the return to a stronger presidency.[iv]  Not surprisingly in a country with a vibrant civil society, the consensus of the governing establishment around constitutional reform has generated vigorous opposition from non-governmental organizations, which suspect Atambaev of maneuvering to maintain his political power after he steps down from the presidency.[v]  In the view of some, Atambaev lacks confidence in his ability to ensure that a sympathetic successor will win the next presidential election, and therefore he prefers to take his chances with a parliamentary system, in which his party, the Social Democrats, would play a prominent role.[vi]  For his part, Atambaev has insisted that he is looking forward to a quiet retirement when his term ends in late 2017.  “I am not planning to remain President for a second term or to become prime minister or speaker…..In less than two years, I’ll be going into retirement.  Of course, I’ll sleep and read books, and I haven’t given up my dream of playing the piano.”[vii]

As to why constitutional reform is needed at this juncture, Atambaev points to two dangers for the country under the existing institutional arrangements.  The first is the possibility of “cohabitation,” where two “young hotheads” who are politically and personally at odds occupy the posts of president and prime minister, “with one [the President] controlling the army and the secret police while the other [the Prime Minister] is in charge of the Minister of the Interior, whose forces outnumber those of the army.”[viii] Kyrgyzstan has thus far avoided the perils of cohabitation because Atambaev’s Social Democratic Party has always been in the ruling coalition, usually as the leading party.

The second fear advanced by Atambaev is that the presidential election, always a high-stakes, winner-take-all contest, will be closely contested in 2017. Unlike in his own election in 2011, where he captured 60 percent of the votes and the second-place finisher garnered only 14 percent, Atambaev notes that the next election could be much closer, and “someone could storm the gates [of the White House] if they lost by only .5 percent.”[ix] Atambaev claims that he knows “such dinosaurs,” who are willing to spill the blood of young supporters in this kind of effort.[x]  Therefore, in his view, the country must adopt a constitution that can serve as “defense against a fool” [idiot-proofing].[xi]

However, the proposed constitutional reforms do not merely envisage a reduction in presidential power and a transition from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary model of government.  They also promise to undermine judicial independence, local self-governance, and the freedom of maneuver for individual members of parliament.  In the name of judicial accountability, the reforms would allow the President and Prime Minister, rather than the members of the court, to select the chair and deputy chair of the Supreme Court, who have responsibilities for the allocation of cases and the assessment of judicial performance.  In Russia and some other post-communist countries, this ability to appoint the court’s leadership has seriously eroded judicial independence. [xii]  Furthermore, the constitutional reform would reduce the ability of the judicial branch to restrain executive power by removing the Constitutional Chamber from the judicial system and potentially transforming it into a body issuing merely advisory opinions.[xiii]

The proposed constitutional changes would also strengthen considerably the authority of the leaders of Government and parliament, from the Prime Minister to the heads of parties.  Besides exercising some existing powers now carried out by the President, the Prime Minister would assume several new powers, among them the right to dismiss ministers unilaterally and to appoint the heads of local governments, who are currently selected by local councils.  For their part, party leaders would be empowered to remove from parliament individual rank-and-file members of their fractions who vote against the party line.  Thus, while touted as a corrective to certain perils of the existing constitution, the proposed changes would also weaken the independence of the judiciary and local government and the accountability of the parliamentary leadership.

Standing in the way of the introduction of the new institutional arrangements is Article 4 of the Law on the Enactment of the 2010 Constitution, which states that no changes may be made to the constitution for ten years–that is before 2020–unless they are made by a popular referendum.  Although there is some discussion of trying to circumvent this rule by introducing the reforms through so-called “constitutional laws,” which require a supermajority vote of parliamentary deputies, President Atambaev has stated that he is willing to call a referendum if necessary to revise the constitution.  That Kyrgyzstan has gone almost six years without  a constitutional overhaul is unprecedented, and efforts to block the proposed changes may yet prolong the country’s streak of constitutional stability.

Notes

[i] Eugene Huskey and Gulnara Iskakova, “Narrowing the Sites and Moving the Targets: Institutional Instability and the Development of a Political Opposition in Kyrgyzstan,” Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 58, no. 3 (2011), pp. 3-10.

[ii] Eugene Huskey, “Another Year, Another Prime Minister,” Presidential Power blog, 18 May 2015 http://presidential-power.com/?p=3321.

[iii] On the Armenian reforms, see the entries on this blog by Chiara Lodi, “Armenia–From Semi-presidentialism to parliamentarism,” 16 September 2015, http://presidential-power.com/?p=3805, and “Armenia–The Constitutional Referendum and the Role of the President during the Campaign,” 9 December 2015.  http://presidential-power.com/?p=4231

[iv] Daniiar Karimov, “Atambaev ubedil,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, 2 July 2015. http://www.rg.ru/2015/07/02/konst.html

[v] Aidanbek Akmat uulu, “Konstitutsionnaia reforma: usloviia i sroki,” Radio Azattyk, 13 November 2015. http://rus.azattyk.org/content/article/27362706.html  Some politicians, like Kubatbek Baibolov, former presidential candidate and Minister of Interior, believe that “whatever the real motivations [podopleka] behind the initiative, a transition to a purely parliamentary form of government should be supported.” Ibid.

[vi] Some observers claim that Atambaev favors the indirect election of the president by parliament, but Atambaev has stated that he has no such intent.  As Emil’ Juraev notes, Atambaev’s concerns about his successor relate in part to how he would be treated once he left office.  Without a sympathetic successor, a departing president could be the subject of litigation endangering his property and person.   IWPR Central Asia, “V Kyrgyzstane vnov’ govoriat o politicheskoi reforme,” Global  Voices, 11 December 2015.  https://iwpr.net/ru/global-voices/в-кыргызстане-вновь-говорят-о-политической-реформе

[vii] Leila Saralaeva, “Spasibo nashim liudiam za ikh vyderzhku i spravedlivost’,” Novye litsa, 24 December 2015.  http://www.nlkg.kg/ru/politics/prezident-kyrgyzstana-almazbek-atambaev-spasibo-nashim-lyudyam-za-ix-vyderzhku-i-spravedlivost

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.  The reference is to the ousters of former presidents by crowds that climbed over the White House fence in 2005 and 2010, and the unsuccessful attempt by opposition figure Kamchibek Tashiev to do that with a group of supporters in 2013.

[x] Ibid.  Left unsaid by Atambaev is the possibility that candidates from the North and South of the country could be in a close contest, which could endanger the country’s stability and even its integrity.

[xi] This concept was first advanced by an industrial engineer from Toyota, Shigeo Shingo.

[xii] Peter H. Solomon, Jr., “Informal Practices in Russian Justice: Probing the Limits of Post-Soviet Reform,” in Ferdinand Feldbrugge (ed.), Russia, Europe, and the Rule of Law (Leiden: Nijhoff, 2007), pp. 79-92.  According to some of President Atambaev’s critics, the presidency already dictates many judicial decisions, especially in cases of political corruption.  See Makhimur Niiazova, “Femida–chto dyshlo,” Respublika [Bishkek], no. 24, 19 November 2015.  http://www.respub.kg/2015/11/20/%D1%84%D0%B5%D0%BC%D0%B8%D0%B4%D0%B0-%D1%87%D1%82%D0%BE-%D0%B4%D1%8B%D1%88%D0%BB%D0%BE/

[xiii] The Venice Commission and other international organizations have expressed their concerns about the proposed reforms.  Anna Ialovkina, “Kyrgyzstan: popravki v Konstitutsiiu ‘neizbezhny’,” Institute po osveshcheniiu voiny i mira [Institute for War and Peace Reporting], 3 July 2015. RCA Issue 764.  http://www.refworld.org.ru/docid/559fc6344.html

Bulgaria – Cabinet member chosen from the president’s staff and a brief sneak peek at the 2016 presidential election

Bulgaria’s Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov resigned on 9 December 2015 after the parliament revised some of his proposals for constitutional amendments, which were aimed at reducing the influence of the country’s chief prosecutor on the judiciary. His plans to reform and make the prosecuting authority more accountable before parliament had already led to tensions between GERB’s junior coalition partners, the Reformist Bloc (RB), a loose coalition of five right-wing parties, and the centre-left Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) party together with the nationalist Patriotic Front. Formally an independent minister, Ivanov entered PM Borisov’s government in November 2014 as part of the RB quota.

Initially, Ivanov’s resignation seemed to threaten the government’s own survival, as the leader of the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), one of the parties in the Reformist Bloc, threatened to withdraw support from government. The RB holds 23 seats in the 240-seat legislature, including 10 DSB members. Additionally, the minister’s resignation was followed by street protests calling for a full-scale judicial reform, which were reminiscent of the mass demonstrations that had brought down PM Borisov’s first government in 2013. Given the government’s minority status in parliament, both the president and the prime minister raised concerns over political stability and warned of early elections if the coalition broke down.

In a move that seemed typical for the contradictory positions assumed by the members in the RB coalition, DSB announced its decision to move into the opposition without withdrawing their Health Minister Petar Moskov from the cabinet. Nevertheless, the other four parties in the Reformist Bloc decided to continue their support for the government, conditional on the renegotiation of the coalition agreement and the next steps in the judicial reform.

PM Borisov’s GERB and the RB held talks over possible nominations for the justice ministry, both parties advancing claims over the position. In the end, PM Borisov proposed Ekaterina Zaharieva, the president’s chief of staff as a new Deputy PM and Justice Minister. Her nomination was approved by 126 out of the 240 MPs, although some coalition members were split over the appointment.

Like her predecessor, Hristo Ivanov, Ekaterina Zaharieva is a non-partisan minister. She took office as the president’s Chief Secretary in 2012, after serving as a deputy minister for public works at the time when Rosen Plevneliev also held office as minister before winning the 2011 presidential election. Hardly a newcomer to key cabinet positions, she had previously held office as Deputy PM in the two caretaker cabinets appointed by President Rosen Plevneliev in March 2013 and August 2014. At the end of her caretaker minister duties, she returned as the president’s Chief of Staff in November 2014.

What could follow next in 2016? Despite the coalition splits unveiled by the recent government crisis, PM Borisov’s grip on power seems secure in the face of an even more divided opposition. The government may nevertheless need to demonstrate its support in parliament soon enough, as the opposition Socialists are holding consultations for a no-confidence motion with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS).

Nevertheless, one of the most important events of the year is the presidential election that will be held in October. President Plevneliev has once again demonstrated his ability to provide solutions to political crises and skills in recruiting cabinet talent, which can be used as valuable assets if he decides to run for a second term in office.

The justice reform is likely to play an important role in the election campaign, not least because Bulgaria’s progress in this area continues to be monitored by the European Commission. In fact, PM Borisov accused DSB leader Radan Kanev of trying to exploit coalition tensions over the judicial reform to kick-start his election campaign. In his first messages addressed in early January, President Plevneliev has also taken the opportunity to stress the need for new constitutional changes to speed up the judicial reform.

Taiwan: Presidential and General Elections, January 2016

January 16, 2016 witnessed two historic events in Taiwan: the election of the first female president, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the first legislative majority for the DPP. Tsai was elected to the presidency with an absolute majority of 56.1% of the votes, Eric Chu of the Kuomintang (KMT) received 31 percent of the popular votes, and James Soong of the People First Party (PFP) got 12.8 percent of the votes. Turnout was 66.3 percent, the lowest since 1996 when direct elections of the presidency began.

In the 113 legislative-seat race, the Central Election Commission reported a total of 354 candidates for 73 regional seats, 23 aboriginal candidates for 6 seats, 18 parties with 179 candidates for 34 at-large seats. The at-large seat-allocation for the parties is:

DPP 18
KMT 11
PFP 3
New Power Party (NPP) 2

Source: Central Election Commission

With the election, DPP holds 68 seats of the 113-seat legislature (up from 40); the Kuomintang (KMT) has 35 seats (down from 64), and the NPP, a new party formed in January following the Sunflower Movement where student-led protestors occupied the legislature in protest of opaque cross-straits trade agreements, wins five legislative seats. The other parties to sit in the legislature include three seats for the PFP (no change), 1 seat for the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (down from 2), and one seat to an independent.

Going into election day, Tsai was the consistent leader in the polls, hitting her stride early in the race as the candidate-nominee for the DPP with no other contenders for the nomination. Indeed, Tainan mayor, William Lai Ching-te, who was rumoured to be a possible contender, mayor advocated for the party to unite behind Tsai’s candidacy on his facebook page.

In contrast, the majority ruling party going into the election, the KMT, floundered. The party’s presidential nomination was notable for the lack of political heavyweights contesting the party’s nomination. The party officially nominated Hung Hsiu-chu, deputy legislative speaker, as party nominee at the party congress in July following her success at the two-stage party primary, but the candidate was dogged by lacklustre support within the party. Indeed, key party figures absented themselves from Hung’s campaigns, and party members’ resistance to Hung’s candidacy amplified when the chair of the People First Party (PFP) James Soong, entered the presidential race in August.

Soong’s contestation of the presidential race was not a surprise: the candidate had left the KMT to form the splinter PFP party in 2000 to contest presidential elections then. Soong was rumoured to be approached by former DPP Chair Shih Ming-the, who announced his own candidacy for the presidential elections in late May, about a possible joint-ticket. However, Shih struggled to obtain the 270,000 signatures as endorsement to be eligible as presidential candidate and exited the race in September. Soong’s entry into the presidential race saw him immediately placed ahead of KMT’s Hung. That may have emboldened the candidate, or perhaps it was a standing strategy, but Soong was rumoured to be seeking support from his erstwhile party comrades, a charge he denied even as his visits to former KMT council members became known.

Meanwhile, the KMT – which had maintained publicly of support for the party nomination of Hung – saw increasingly vocal and public party opposition to the candidate. On October 17, the KMT officially cancelled Hung’s candidacy and replaced the party-nomination with Eric Chu, the KMT party chair and Taipei City mayor.

Despite the party-switch – or, perhaps, because of it – Eric Chu never gained ground against Tsai. The party seemed to weaken further with the announcements of the vice presidential candidates: Tsai running mate was Academia Sinica Vice President Chen Chien-jen; Chu selected former labour minister, Jennifer Wang, while Soong’s vice-presidential nominee was Hsu Hsin-ying, chair of the newly formed Republic Party. Of the three vice-presidential nominees, Wang was the most controversial, igniting protests over her labour-rights record.

The presidential inauguration will be held on May 20, 2016. Meanwhile, the president-elect is busy getting her cabinet in order in the presidential-parliamentary system. 1 Optimism – and expectations — run high for the new president.

———–

  1. Elgie, Robert. “List of president-parliamentary and premier-presidential systems.” August 12, 2014. http://presidential-power.com/?p=1757

New publications

Coalitional Presidentialism in Comparative Perspective, podcasts available at: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/coalitional-presidentialism-comparative-perspective

Steven G. Calabresi , ‘Does Institutional Design Make a Difference?’, Direito, Estado e Sociedade, n.45, pp. 188-206, jul/dez 2014, available at: http://www.jur.puc-rio.br/revistades/index.php/revistades/issue/view/66/showToc

João Paulo Madeira, The Semi-Presidential System of Cape Verde: the relationship between the Executive and the Legislative Powers’, Universitas: Relações Internacionais, vol. 13, no. 2, 2015, available at: http://www.publicacoes.uniceub.br/index.php/relacoesinternacionais/article/view/3533/2889

Larry Eugene Jones, Hitler versus Hindenburg: The 1932 Presidential Elections and the End of the Weimar Republic, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

George C. Edwards III, Predicting the Presidency: The Potential of Persuasive Leadership, Princeton University Press, 2016.

Heidi Kitrosser, Reclaiming Accountability: Transparency, Executive Power, and the U.S. Constitution, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Serap Yazıcı, ‘Turkey in the Last Two Decades: From Democratization to Authoritarianism’ (2015) 21 European Public Law, Issue 4, pp. 635–656.

Slaviša Orlović, ‘Predsednik Republike: konstitucionalno-institucionalne dileme’, Yearbook of the Faculty of Political Sciences / Godisnjak Fakultet Politickih Nauka Beograd. June 2015, Vol. 9 Issue 13, pp. 151-164.