Monthly Archives: February 2016

Central African Republic – President-elect Touadéra’s surprising mandate

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC.

On February 21, the National Elections Agency announced preliminary results in the Central African Republic’s runoff election, which showed Faustin Archange Touadéra the runaway winner with 62.71 percent of the vote.  His opponent Anicet Georges Dologuélé accepted the outcome and announced he would not challenge the results in court, while also claiming that fraud was organized and widespread. The campaigns had each deployed 730 pollwatchers, trained with assistance from the National Democratic Institute, MINUSCA, UNDP and the NED. This provided a needed measure of confidence in the returns after the Transitional Constitutional Court had annulled the chaotic first round of legislative polls. While some problems persisted in the runoff, during which the legislative elections were re-run, Dologuélé may have concluded that it would be difficult to overcome Touadéra’s whopping 25-point margin of victory in court. However imperfect the process may have been, the next president will take office uncontested and with a popular mandate.

Touadéra will not, however, have many resources with which to fulfill his mandate. The list of priorities begins with providing security to the population but also includes building physical infrastructure and stronger state institutions. This will require re-establishing the country’s armed forces, which were dismantled during the crisis, and deploying state officials to—and maintaining them in—areas the government does not necessarily control. In many places offices, records, and communications may be destroyed. Reconciliation must be a priority, so that grievances over the recent conflict do not become the seeds of a new one. To face these challenges, the country will require significant international aid and support. Touadéra says that to obtain this aid, his government will have to attack corruption and strengthen accountability and the justice system.

Recognition of his accomplishments as prime minister (2008 – 2013) and as a university mathematics professor helped Touadéra gain a surprise win against Dologuélé. During his tenure, civil servants were paid regularly, through direct deposit to their bank accounts. The security and economic challenges of his tenure may have appeared minor, compared to the destruction and violence that followed the Séléka overthrow of former president François Bozizé. In addition to name recognition, Touadéra’s ability to build a coalition—most of the eliminated presidential candidates rallied to him, despite a first round finish behind Dologuélé with less than 20 percent of the vote—also played a key role. Touadéra also carried strongholds of former President Bozizé’s Kwa Na Kwa party, even though its leaders backed Dologuélé. Moreover, he achieved all this while running as an independent, and with a relatively small campaign budget.

To institute his platform of security, investment, reforms and social services, Touadéra will have to overcome a history of weak institutions and a fractured polity. The new National Assembly will hopefully enjoy more legitimacy than the last, which famously included numerous relatives of Bozizé and was chosen in elections that were widely perceived as flawed. The new constitution calls for the creation of a senate, to be elected by local governments in a country that has never held local elections. Before he can effectively address the country’s pressing needs, Touadéra will have to form a governing coalition out of the many parties and numerous independent legislators expected to sit in the new legislature, for which runoff elections are still needed in 95 (almost two-thirds) of the constituencies.

The country’s new political framework seeks to prevent the use of arms for political gain (Const. of the CAR, Title II, Art. 31), a recognition of how armed groups—and attempts to co-opt them—have disrupted past efforts to build sustainable democratic institutions. For armed groups to lose their influence, however, the new president and new institutions will have to deliver on their promises of security, reconciliation, accountability, and meeting people’s basic needs. Despite the magnitude of the challenges, the new leaders must show progress, and communicate it, quickly.  With hundreds of thousands of Central Africans still displaced and much of the country still at the mercy of armed groups such as Séléka, the Lord’s Resistance Army and anti-balaka gangs, the honeymoon is likely to be short.

Ignacio Arana – Does it matter who the president is?

This is a guest post from Ignacio Arana of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

No other human beings in any Western democracy attract more attention than the country’s presidents. Presidents are the most powerful politicians in presidential systems and their decisions have relevant political, social, economic and symbolic consequences. Given the vast amounts of scholarly literature dedicated to understand presidential behavior and performance, one would expect that many relevant questions have been responded. However, despite the rivers of ink that have run on the study of presidents and presidencies, we still cannot answer confidently two fundamental questions: does it matter who the president is? If so, how does it matter?

These are the main questions I address in my research. I explore how individual differences among presidents have an impact on governance. Research on differential psychology refers to individual differences as how people differ from each other in how they feel, act, think and behave. Most quantitative research in political science that analyzes the presidency treats the unique characteristics of leaders as “residual variance.” My research challenges this approach, building on the literature on differential psychology that has proved that many individual differences are stable and explain a significant part of human behavior. I argue that presidents’ individual differences help explain highly relevant political phenomena, including institutional change and policy outcomes.

My research in this topic is mainly channeled through my current book project, The Quest for Uncontested Power: How Presidents’ Personality Traits Leads to Constitutional Change in the Western Hemisphere. In this project I argue that the individual differences of presidents explain which leaders attempt to change the constitution to increase their powers or extend their terms. Thirty eight presidents of the Americas made such attempts forty eight times between 1945 and 2012. Among the presidents who have tried to consolidate their power via a constitutional change are the most prominent leaders that have emerged in Latin America. Leaders such as Fidel Castro, Augusto Pinochet, Juan Domingo Perón, Hugo Chávez, Getúlio Vargas, José María Velasco Ibarra and Joaquín Balaguer dramatically changed the political paths of Cuba, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, respectively.

To understand why some presidents try to change the constitution to consolidate their power and others do not I conducted semi-structured interviews with 21 former Latin American presidents from eight countries between June 2011 and May 2012. Presidents discussed three types of questions. First, they were asked about their individual differences and whether their personal attributes can be related to their performance in office. Second, they discussed the political context in which they governed. Finally, the leaders were asked about their relation with the constitution, and the reasons they might have had to attempt to change it to consolidate their power.

These interviews served to develop two hypotheses that propose which kind of presidents are more likely to attempt a constitutional change to consolidate their power. First, I claim that the presidents’ individual propensity to take risks influence their decision to attempt to change the country’s legal charter. Risk taking entails the willingness to lose something of value weighted against the potential to gain something of value. Undoubtedly, presidents have much to gain by increasing their powers or extending their term. On the other side, the attempts to change the charter can fail and even mark the end of a government. For instance, Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano was ousted in 1993 due to his attempt to consolidate his power via a self-coup that indefinitely suspended the constitution. Different levels of individual risk taking should explain why some leaders have attempted constitutional changes in risky circumstances, while others have not tried to do so even in promising circumstances. Second, I propose that more assertive presidents are more likely to change the constitution to consolidate their power. Psychologists have proposed different definitions of assertiveness. I follow the operational definition used in the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP; Goldberg 1999; Goldberg et al. 2006). Through eleven statements, the scale captures the characteristics of individuals who are highly motivated to succeed, know how to convince and lead others, feel comfortable taking control of things and do it promptly. This scale fits the profile of leaders who try to change the constitution to consolidate their power. Since a constitutional reform entails a large bargaining process in which presidents need to make a big effort to succeed, the leaders should be strongly oriented toward success. Moreover, presidents need the ability to persuade other political actors that their project to reform the charter is something that they should support. Additionally, presidents who want to increase their powers or extend their terms should feel more comfortable enjoying more responsibilities.

To test the theory I created the Presidential Database of the Americas, a novel dataset of the 315 presidents who governed 19 Latin American countries and the United States between 1945 and 2012. This database integrates information from three sources. Data about presidents’ personality traits comes from an online survey distributed to 911 experts from 26 nationalities. The experts answered standardized psychometric questionnaires and items designed to measure the most important unique characteristics of leaders. Second, researcher assistants coded 13 individual characteristics of presidents taken from biographical data. Finally, the study was enriched with the semi-structured interviews conducted with former presidents.

Through a series of discrete-time duration analyses, my book project shows that risk-prone and assertive presidents are more likely to try to increase their powers. The presidents’ assertiveness also proves to be a relevant cause of their attempts to extend their terms. Interestingly, the individual differences of presidents have a stronger explanatory power than complementary explanations of constitutional change (i.e., institutional and contextual arguments).

A research agenda centered on unearthing how the individual differences of presidents relate to relevant political outcomes will lead to a deeper understanding of how the presidency works. But it also has an important normative implication. Voters and political parties would be better prepared to anticipate some of the consequences of choosing certain types of individuals for office, being able to minimize the problems of representation that arise when voters and organizations feel deceived by the politicians they have supported. Such level of knowledge would resemble an extensive hiring practice in the corporate world. For instance, Beagrie (2005) estimates that two thirds of medium to large organizations use some type of psychological testing in the United States, including aptitude as well as personality, in job applicant screening. The main reason for delivering personality tests is that it contributes to improve employee fit and reduces turnover up to 70% (Wagner, 2000). I argue that such valuable knowledge should be available to voters and organizations that participate in the selection of the most powerful position in the country.

My manuscript is part of a long-term research program for which I have an extensive list of projects. For more information on my professional background and academic projects, please refer to

Beagrie, S. 2005. “How to… Excel at Psychometric Assessments.” Personnel Today: 25-28.
Goldberg, Lewis R. 1999. “A Broad-Bandwidth, Public Domain, Personality Inventory Measuring the Lower-Level Facets of Several Five-Factor Models.” Personality psychology in Europe 7: 7-28.

Goldberg, Lewis R., John A. Johnson, Herbert W. Eber, Robert Hogan, Michael C. Ashton, C. Robert Cloninger, and Harrison G. Gough. 2006. “The International Personality Item Pool and the Future of Public-Domain Personality Measures.” Journal of Research in Personality 40(1): 84-96.

Wagner, William F. 2000. “All Skill, No Finesse. Personality fit is every bit as important as your new hire’s technical ability.” WORKFORCE-COSTA MESA- 79(6): 108-117.

IMG_0700Ignacio has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh. He currently is a postdoctoral researcher at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and coordinates Panoramas (, the online forum of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests center on Latin America and include presidential behavior, constitutional change, judicial politics, informal institutions, and executive-legislative relations. He has published articles in the Journal of Legislative Studies, Latin American Politics and Society, Latin American Perspectives and Política. Before entering the PhD, he worked at the international desks of the newspapers El Mercurio (Chile, 2002-2008) and ABC (Spain, 2008). He can be reached at

Latvia – Party conflict and presidential initiative in government formation

ON 11 February 2016, the Latvian parliament voted in a new government under the leadership of Maris Kučinskis. Over the last years, I have written about Latvian president Andris Berzins’ activism in government formation on several occasions (see my previous posts on Latvia). Today’s blog post discusses the process of formation of the most recent government as well as the president’s role. While it differs from previous posts in so far as with Raimonds Vējonis there is a new president, there are some interesting similarities in the president’s response to party tactics and the preference for a prominent position of his (former) party, the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZSS).

President Raimonds Vējonis (right) announces nomination of Maris Kučinskis (left) as candidate for Prime Minister | image via

President Raimonds Vējonis (right) announces nomination of Maris Kučinskis (left) as candidate for Prime Minister | image via

After heading two Latvian governments since the beginning of 2014, Prime Minister Lajmdota Straujuma (Unity) resigned from office on 7 December 2015 after. A decrease of support for her leadership among parties and potential government reshuffle had been rumoured since late October following her dismissal of non-partisan transport minister Anrijs Matiss (and failure to quickly reappoint a successor), but intensified in the week preceding her resignation in conjunction with discussions about the 2016 budget and the upcoming congress of her Unity party. President Raimonds Vējonis was clearly dismayed by the developments and openly criticised government parties for failing to work to together better and avoid a collapse of the government.

Immediately after Straujuma’s resignation, parties and media began to speculate about potential successors. Although president Vējonis met with all parties to discuss proposals for the new government, it was universally acknowledged that Unity as the largest coalition party would lead the next government (the social-democratic Harmony Centre party holds the largest share of seats parliament, yet it is routinely shunned by other parties due to its affiliation with the sizeable ethnic Russian minority in the country). Even though Unity chairwoman Solvita Āboltiņa was part of her party’s delegation to the talks with the president and had even suggest herself as the new prime minister weeks before Straujuma’s eventual resignation, it soon became clear that she lacked sufficient support among Unity’s previous coalition partners. Both the National Alliance and – more significantly – the ‘Greens and Farmers Union’ (ZSS), which is not only the second largest coalition party but also the former party of president Vējonis, signalled that they would not be happy with Āboltiņa as prime minister. Thus, her party colleague, interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis – who had also been endorsed by Straujuma as a potential successor – emerged as Unity’s new potential candidate. However, as divisions within Unity widened, Kozlovskis announced only two days later that he would not be available for the role. Tensions between coalition parties increased when Unity refrained from offering any other candidates for prime minister except Āboltiņa (albeit only unofficially) and National Alliance and ZSS repeated their opposition to a government led by the Unity chairwoman.

Towards the end of December, particularly the ZSS was able to maneouvre itself into an advantageous position as it announced that it would not be in a coalition with either of the two smaller opposition parties, ‘Latvia from the heart’ and ‘Latvian Association of Region’. Either one could have replaced the National Alliance in the coalition and increased the ZSS share of portfolios. However, the support of both would have been needed to form a coalition of Unity and National Alliance without the ZSS. Furthermore, The fact that the ZSS had a former co-partisan in the presidential office meant that they could be relatively sure to be included in the new government. Although Vējonis refrained from openly taking sides, he publicly criticised Unity for failing to propose a(n agreeable) candidate for PM. Eventually, ZSS even announced to present its own candidate by late December to put pressure on Unity which responded by formally proposing Āboltiņa. After the ZSS eventually away off from formally proposing a candidate and merely flouted two names and Unity once again failed to agree on a potential candidate in addition to Āboltiņa, president Vējonis eventually announced that he would approach potential candidates himself in the new year.

The first candidates – finance minister Janis Reirs from Unity and Mayor of Valmiera, Janis Baiks (affiliated with Unity via a local party) – both declined to be nominated and other potential Unity candidates were unequivocally opposed by both ZSS and the National Alliance. Although Vējonis met with another potential Unity candidate, he eventually nominated ZSS’s nominee Maris Kučinskis on 13 January 2016, disregarding any potential opposition from Unity regarding this candidacy. The remainder of the government formation process can be described as relatively ‘uneventful’ with regard to negotiations between parties and the president’s involvement. However, the latter was largely predicated by the fact that Vējonis was hospitalised with a heart condition and operated on shortly after announcing Kučinskis’ nomination. The government then passed its vote of investiture in parliament on 11 February 2016.

The pattern of involvement by president Vējonis is quite similar to cabinet formation under his predecessor. Here, too, parties disagreed on the candidates for prime minister and/or the choice of potential (additional) coalition partners until the president took the initiative and rejected all candidates formally proposed by parties (which also tended to lack support among other potential coalition parties) and then approaching candidates on his own initiative. Overall, however, Vējonis appears to have been less active, leaving parties more leeway (yet not necessarily more time) in proposing candidates and sorting out their internal differences before taking the initiative himself. Furthermore, although Vējonis would have been in a position to force a cabinet under the leadership by his own ZSS (aided by the party’s generally advantageous position; see above), he gave Unity a second chance after the nomination of Āboltiņa failed to garner any support from the ZSS and the National Alliance. This leads to the question of whether the president is actually necessary/desirable in situations like these and if these were not better solved by parties alone. In this instance, a strongly partisan president (irrespective of party affiliation) might well have significantly delayed the formation of a government by nominating candidates without support from other parties. Vējonis tactics of waiting for the field of candidates to thin out naturally, gauge parties’ support for the various nominees and only take the initiative when deadlock likely saved Latvia a further month of fruitless negotiations. Furthermore, by maintaining the current coalition which elected him last year, his activism will likely not result in a significant decrease of support come the next presidential elections.

The composition of new Latvian government is available at:

Ugandan Elections – No surprises as President Museveni wins again, but just how much support does he really have?

This is a post by Michaela Collord

In Uganda, domestic and international observers are on the same page: last week’s elections were anything but free and fair.

Tensions were already riding high as voters headed to the polls on 18 February. Only days earlier, the leading opposition candidate, Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), was detained after a clash with police that left one opposition supporter dead. A country-wide deployment of up to 150,000 military and police officers only added to the sense of unease.

Voting itself got off to a rough start. Social media platforms and mobile money services were blocked from early in the day. Serious delays, especially around the opposition leaning capital city, Kampala, and neighbouring districts fuelled frustrations. Many suspected a conscious effort to disenfranchise voters. Reports of further delays, incorrect ballot papers, and ballot stuffing also flowed in from across the country.

The Electoral Commission announced presidential election results on Saturday even though votes had yet to be tallied from over 1000 polling stations, allegedly located in opposition strongholds. The official results attribute 60 percent of the votes to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), thereby extending his 30-year rule by another five years. The runner up and four time challenger Besigye received 36 percent of the vote while former Prime Minister turned Museveni rival Amama Mbabazi, once considered a potential threat, collected less than two percent.

Besigye and the FDC criticized the polling process from the start, and resorted to a parallel vote-tallying exercise. Rumours that the FDC was on the verge of announcing its own version of the presidential election results prompted police to encircle the party headquarters and arrest a number party officials, including Besigye. To date, the beleaguered candidate has been arrested four times in eight days and is now under house arrest.

In response, Besigye released a statement denouncing a ‘creeping military coup’ while the FDC party President, Mugisha Muntu, flatly declared, ‘We believe that this was a stolen election. Absolutely.’[1] Museveni has dismissed these remarks as ‘rubbish,’ adding that ‘in the next five years the opposition will be wiped out. […] They are liars.’

International election observers are less dismissive of opposition concerns. The US, EU and Commonwealth observer missions have all criticized the election proceedings with the US mission denouncing irregularities ‘that are deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process.’

The profound mismanagement of the elections raises broader questions, namely how much support do Muesveni and the NRM actually have? What tools are needed to ensure Museveni retains his strong lead in the polls?

It is still highly likely—as suggested by pre-election opinion polls—that Museveni would win the elections even in the absence of any suspected electoral manipulation. As political analysts note, however, his electoral support rests on an increasingly precarious foundation; in many regions of the country, Museveni’s apparent popularity is not rooted in any deep-felt ideological attachment to the NRM but rather depends on the continued manipulation of the electoral playing field.

Winning through intimidation

The mounting security presence ahead of these elections has attracted considerable attention. Previous elections in Uganda, notably in 2001 and 2006, were marred by violence. While the 2016 polls have proved largely peaceful, the threat of state-orchestrated violence was—and still remains—pervasive.

The heavy military and police deployment ahead of elections was a clear sign of this threat, as was the pre-election recruitment of a vigilante force of ‘Crime Preventers’. While the opposition has also recruited its Power-10 group, this effort is dwarfed by the NRM Crime Preventers.

Statements from top military and police officials prior to the elections also sent a strong message. Days before the polls, the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, proclaimed that the police could not ‘hand over power to the opposition to destabilise the peace we fought for.’ Kayihura was referring to the NRM’s involvement in a five year insurgency before seizing power in 1986, thereby restoring stability across much of the country.

Following Thursday’s election, the intimidation has continued. Besigye’s rejection of the results and his calls for a ‘campaign of defiance’ have elicited a strong rebuke. Museveni did not mince words, warning that anyone who causes trouble would be put in a ‘deep freezer’, adding that ‘the whole army and police force are mobilised [to see] who will bring violence.’ Security personnel were indeed deployed around Kampala over the weekend, with the city in an eerie calm according to some residents.

The NRM has long claimed, in keeping with Kayihura’s statement, that it is the guardian of peace while the opposition brings only unrest. Perhaps doubting voters’ continued faith in this message, the pre-election deployment and clear warnings seemed designed to persuade voters that a Museveni win was both inevitable and the best way to ensure security—even if it meant security from a police crackdown. Besigye is now calling on supporters to protest his house arrest, but the continued deployment around Kampala suggest any street demonstration would come at a cost, as many learned during the post-election ‘walk to work’ protests in 2011.

Money, and lots of it

Intimidation aside, the NRM has continued to spend lavishly on elections while also promising coveted development projects in order to boost their vote margin.

In 2011, NRM election spending broke all records and fed into a post-election surge in inflation rates. This time around, Museveni again outspent his rivals by as much as twelve to one. His rallies were a chance to get free drinks a T-shirt, or to see your favourite pop star.

Museveni also used a by now well known claim that a vote for the opposition was a wasted vote; only districts that vote Museveni get the government projects they require. Studies of voting trends in the 2011 elections suggest this argument helped Museveni win back opposition strongholds, such as Teso sub-region in eastern Uganda as well as parts of northern Uganda.

An interesting twist in the 2016 campaigns came when opposition supporters started giving gifts—anything from petty cash to livestock—to support Besigye at his rallies. This was a symbolic coup for the opposition, and even prompted some staged gift-giving events at Museveni rallies. It also helped the cash-strapped opposition bankroll the campaign, raising in total 100m Ugandan shillings or roughly USD 30,000. But at the end of the day, that is a far cry from Musevein’s estimated seven million gathered from a few wealthy donors.

Gaining an institutional advantage

The partisan Electoral Commission (EC) in Uganda is another bonus to Museveni. The long-time chair of the EC, Badru Kiggundu, has repeatedly condemned Besigye’s ‘defiance’ politics. On the eve of elections, he also implied that opposition politicians—the so-called ‘doomsday advocates’—were planning to stuff ballot boxes.

The opposition has called for electoral reforms, not least to ensure an independent EC, but has remained largely unsuccessful.

The opposition has the right to petition the Supreme Court over the election results. Besigye took this route in 2001 and 2006 but, on both occasions, the Court declined to annul results while nevertheless admitting to election irregularities. Besigye’s own legal team, those who argued his case in the past, remain highly sceptical about the potential for the Court to rule in their favour this time, particularly in light of recent, partisan appointments to the bench. Even as Besigye considers his options, his house arrest as well as the police surveillance of the FDC headquarters are undermining efforts to gather necessary documents and evidence.

The police are justifying Besigye’s house arrest in part through reference to the controversial Public Order Management Act, passed in the wake of the 2011 protests. They claim that should Besigye enter Kampala, this would lead to an unlawful procession and therefore they cannot allow him free movement.

What to make of the parliamentary election results

The recourse to intimidation, patronage and institutional manipulation suggest uncertainty—even paranoia—about Museveni’s popularity in Uganda. Ensuring a wide margin of victory is also important to retain the impression that the President is unshakable. Even so, Museveni has lost nine percent of votes relative to his 2011 score.

Results from the parliamentary election leave a mixed impression. The NRM has retained its huge majority in parliament, although final results have yet to be announced; however, because of Uganda’s first-past-the-post electoral system, the large seat share conceals a rather less impressive share of the vote (around 50 percent for NRM parliamentary candidates in 2011).

One potential blow to the NRM in this election is the defeat of party bigwigs, including 19 ministers. Among them were several ‘historical’, NRM members whose support dates back to the 1980s war.

Museveni was quick to reject any suggestion that his ministers’ electoral defeat might reflect poorly on his government. Instead, he flipped the situation around, claiming it was a sign of a robust democracy.

While many ministers lost out, the three so-called ‘rebel’ MPs expelled from the NRM in the last parliament all bounced back as independents. They are among a growing cohort of independents elected to parliament, many of whom are NRM leaning but lost out in the party primaries, which were marred by irregularities and allegations of vote rigging.

The opposition has suffered its own losses with the FDC losing a number of veteran legislators. At the same time, though, the FDC as well as the Democratic Party gained new MPs from Northern Uganda, which swung in favour of the NRM in 2011, as well as western Uganda, an NRM stronghold.

Where to now?

This election has proved anything but conclusive. While Museveni and the NRM have declared a resounding victory, there is still tension in the streets. Ugandans will also be returning to the polls Wednesday, 24 February, to vote for local councillors. With reports coming in that FDC members are being harassed and detained across the country, the outlook is not positive.

Beyond elections, though, Museveni and the NRM must confront the reality of their own fading support. They can continue with their usual strategies to tilt the field in their favour. But at the end of the day, they will need to find some way to appeal to Uganda’s growing population of young voters. Education and a job are what many voters want. So long as both remain in short supply, the NRM is in trouble.


[1] Mugushi Muntu speaking on NBS talk show, Uganda Decides, 22 February.

Erdoğan’s Long-Standing Struggle for a Turkish Type of Presidential System

Constitutionally Turkey is a semi-presidential country with a president whose constitutional powers are more than ceremonial but less than executive. Despite having few constitutional powers with which to check and balance the Council of Ministers, in reality President Erdoğan is an executive president who can control foreign and internal policy choices. Being the founder and the real leader of the ruling AKP, President Erdoğan has managed to compensate for what he lacks constitutionally by his de facto position. Despite the opposition’s reminders that according to the Constitution President Erdoğan should act impartially and that he has no legal powers to involve himself in day-to-day politics or to decide Turkish foreign policy, Erdoğan seems fully in control of his party and the government.

Yet President Erdoğan is still campaigning for a new presidential constitution. Since the AKP’s overwhelming win in the November general election that consolidated its predominant position in the system, Erdoğan has returned to his campaign for a so-called Turkish type of presidential system. This raises three questions. Firstly, why does the president insist on a constitutional change to a presidential system since he can already control every aspect of the government? Secondly, what is a Turkish type of presidential system? And is a new constitution going to come about in Turkey’s intensely polarised political climate?

The answers to the first question differ greatly depending on who is being asked. The president himself claims that a presidential system would stop the double-headedness within the executive which he often complains about despite the fact that he handpicked Prime Minister Davutoğlu. In a meeting with NGOs supporting his campaign, the President argued that an elected president cannot work with an elected Prime Minister, especially if they are from different political backgrounds. He thinks that a prime minister from a different background  might be elected in the future and that this would create tremendous discord within the government. For that reason, precautions should be taken against it now in the form of a new presidential constitution .

This should be an argument against all forms of semi-presidentialism, but President Erdoğan says that it is an argument against a parliamentary system. At one point he even talked of the “French Model” being a positive example, even though the French experience would seem to contradict his argument.

The second argument that the president uses is related to the first one. He claims that a presidential system would create “absolute stability” and prevent a “bureaucratic oligarchy” from implementing legislation and regulations. He says that Turkey needs restructuring, that laws and regulations would prevent it, so he has to be brave and set them aside .In order to completely restructure the system, Turkey must adopt presidential system which would bring absolute stability.

President also emphasises that it is not in favour of a separation of powers. He describes the system he defends as a Turkish type of presidentialism with a harmony of powers, rather than a system of checks and balances. He often complains that the current system is based on a conflict between the judiciary and government (meaning the executive and legislative majority). He argues that this system should be replaced by a system in which powers support each other. He perceives judicial review auto be an impediment, so often he refers to judicial review as being a problem that stems from a parliamentary system. Even though this is not an accurate, it illustrates what the president expects from or means by a Turkish type of presidential system.

In fact, any response given to the first question of why Erdoğan insists on a new presidential constitution also indirectly answers the second question of what Turkish type of presidential system he wants. Often opposition leaders or MPs express their fear that President Erdoğan wishes to become a super-president merging all state powers in a single office and eliminating any constitutional checks and balances as well as the alternation in power between political parties. For the opposition this is not a democratic model. All opposition parties oppose Erdoğan’s arguments for a presidential system and state that they are in favour of keeping alive the country’s parliamentary heritage, which goes back to 1908 albeit with certain changes to improve its efficiency as well as democracy and rule of law.

On the other hand, neither the AKP nor the President has so far produced a text showing the details of the system that they defend, except for the short text presented by the AKP to the former ad hoc parliamentary Commission of Constitutional Consensus which was dissolved in 2013 due to a failure to reach a consensus among participating political parties over the governmental system. This draft text gave strong legislative powers, like the power of decree, veto, initiating budget laws to the president and curbed judicial review. (See Şule Özsoy Boyunsuz, ‘The AKP’S proposal for a “Turkish type of presidentialism” in comparative context’, Turkish Studies’, DOI 10.1080/14683849.2015.1135064.

A new Constitutional Consensus Commission was formed a month ago in parliament under the chairmanship of the Speaker. It comprises three members from each of the four parliamentary groups and has been charged with penning a new constitution. After three meetings in February 2016 this ad hoc commission was dissolved by the speaker due to the disagreements over the presidential system, just like the previous constitutional consensus commission which was formed for the same purpose in 2011 and which was dissolved in 2013. The CHP, the main opposition party, declared that they will not discuss a presidential system as a viable alternative. The HDP and MHP, the other two opposition parties, refuse to form another commission without the participation of the CHP. So the answer to the question of how it is going to be possible to make a new constitution altering the regime remains largely unknown.

President Erdoğan announced that a new presidential constitution will be produced even if opposition parties do not sit in the Constitutional Consensus Commission and that it will then be submitted to a referendum for the public approval. However, This would require at least 14 votes in parliament from the opposition. That would mean fishing for opposition votes using any kind of methods or calling for an early election, which would be another way of changing the composition of parliament albeit one that runs the risk of losing more seats too.

Aside from legal and technical issues related to amending or making a new constitution, changing to a presidential system is a politically divisive topic in today’s highly polarised Turkish society. There is a climate of ongoing conflict between the PKK ( Kurdish separatist terrorist organisation) and the security forces in certain South Eastern cities that has claimed many lives on both sides and this is on top of the government’s increasing involvement in the Syrian war. The co-chair of the pro-Kurdish HDP, Yüksekdağ, has accused President Erdoğan of “opening the door to a very big war and chaos in the region (Syria) in order to become an executive president by becoming chief commander through a declaration of mobilization and martial law” . Indeed, when Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border, the polls showed the highest public support (53.5%) for presidential system. Yet it remains to be seen if the war will help the President realise his dream of a presidential constitution.

New publications

Lydia M. Beuman, Political Institutions in East Timor: Semi-Presidentialism and Democratisation, Routledge 2016.

Şule Özsoy Boyunsuz, ‘The AKP’S proposal for a “Turkish type of presidentialism” in comparative context’, Turkish Studies’, DOI 10.1080/14683849.2015.1135064

Aneta Stojanovska-Stefanova and Drasko Atanasoski (2016), ‘The function President of the Republic of Macedonia and leading of the Macedonian foreign policy’, US-China Law Review, 13 (1). pp. 81-87. Available at:

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

Argelina Cheibub Figueiredo and Fernando Limongi, ‘Political Institutions and Governmental Performance in Brazilian Democracy’, in Dana de la Fontaine and Thomas Stehnken (eds.), The Political System of Brazil, Springer, 2016, pp. 63-82.

John A. Ayoade, Adeoye A. Akinsanya, Olatunde and J. B. Ojo (eds.), ‘The Jonathan Presidency: The First Year, University Press of America, 2013.

Richard Tempets, ‘The Charismatic Body Politics of President Putin’, Journal of Political Marketing, DOI:10.1080/15377857.2016.1151105.

Roediger, Henry L. and DeSoto, K. Andrew, Recognizing the Presidents: Was Alexander Hamilton President? (February 8, 2016). Psychological Science, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Stef Vandeginste, ‘Burundi’s electoral crisis – back to power-sharing politics as usual?’, African Affairs, (2015) 114 (457): 624-636.

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

Filiz Başkan Canyaş, F. Orkunt Canyaş & Selin Bengi Gümrükçü, ‘Turkey’s 2015 parliamentary elections’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, Volume 18, Issue 1, 2016, pp. 77-89.

Jean-Louis Thiébault – President Hollande’s cabinet reshuffle

This is a guest post by Jean-Louis Thiébault, emeritus professor of political science and former director of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Lille

In France, the government reshuffle is a weapon in the hands of the president. It can have three objectives: a change of personnel, the enlargement of the majority, or a change in policy (Editorial by Alain Duhamel on RTL, February 11, 2016). The formation of Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ third government on 11 February 2016 aims to meet all three goals. However, it fails to bring together all of the left and fails to guarantee that François Hollande will be the sole candidate of the left at the 2017 presidential election.

The change of personnel notably concerned Ministers Laurent Fabius and Sylvia Pinel. The former left the Foreign Affairs ministry to become president of the Constitutional Council with his ministerial portfolio being given to former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (May 2012-April 2014). The latter left the Ministry of Housing and Sustainable Habitat to becomes executive vice-president of the Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées region. Other ministers were also replaced, yet the widely touted departures of Marylise Lebranchu from the Ministry of Decentralization and Public Service and Fleur Pellerin from the Ministry of Culture and Communication did not take place. However, the prior resignation of the Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, should be noted. She resigned because of her opposition to a plan to strip French-born terrorists of their nationality. The resignation took place on 27 January 2016, with Taubira being immediately replaced by Jean-Jacques Urvoas. The appointments mark the desire to create a strong ministerial group in the fight against terrorism.

The second objective was the expansion of the majority by rebalancing the distribution of men and women in the government, but also by the entry of three representatives from the environmentalists and the centre-left. The new government has 38 members: 18 ministers and 20 state secretaries. There is a strict gender parity with the same number of women and men among both ministers and secretaries of state. The entry of the environmentalists came with the appointment of the national secretary (leader) of Europe-Ecologie-Les-Verts (EELV), Emmanuelle Cosse, as housing minister, and two dissident environmentalists, Vincent Place, a senator, and Barbara Pompili, a deputy and former co-chair of the EELV parliamentary group. The latter two ministers had already broken with EELV for some time. However, the appointment of Emmanuelle Cosse smacks of poaching from EELV. The new government is not the result of a coalition agreement. There is a return of the greens, but there was no substantive discussion on policy, no programmatic agreement, no concessions made, no compromises accepted, apart from a “consultation” on the construction of the proposed airport at Notre Dame des Landes, near Nantes, in Loire-Atlantique. In a statement on 10 February 2016 EELV stated that the conditions were not ready for a return of environmentalists to the government. Entitled “About the reshuffle”, the text stated that “EELV has not been contacted, but that if an offer” were to be made to the whole movement “by the executive, the direction of EELV would study it “with responsibility”. EELV added: “environmentalists note that if the conditions were no longer in place to advance ecology in April 2014 with the departure of Cécile Duflot and Pascal Canfin from the government, the same remains true today “. The statement mentions no names, but everyone understood that it was aimed at Emmanuelle Cosse. She immediately stepped down as national secretary. David Cormand, the party number two, was chosen as her replacement prior to the EELV congress in June 2016. In short, EELV was against the appointment of Emmanuelle Cosse to the government.

The third objective is the desire to find a new balance with a view to the 2017 presidential election. The new government has been appointed with the presidential campaign in mind. The choices made by the president were not targeted at public policy issues, but to rebalance balances an exhausted government majority. President Francois Hollande has named people who can put out potential political fires in the majority (David Revault Allonnes, “Derniers colmatages présidentiels avant 2017”, Le Monde, February 13, 2016). The most important appointment is that of the environmentalists in order to torpedo any attempt an ecologist candidacy in the 2017 presidential election, which would be very detrimental to him. However, EELV is now free to radicalize even more, making life difficult for the government and raising the prospect of an alliance with the left-wing opposition to to the president. The other appointment is that of the president of the left-center Radical Party (PRG), Jean-Michel Baylet. Again, the tactical aspect is not absent. The appointment of the chairman of PRG allies the party securely with the ruling majority, while removinging the spectre of a left-center radical candidate in the 2017 presidential election.

In the final period of his five-year term, Francois Hollande has once again decided to promote the idea of a “responsible left” and to distance himself from the “protest left.” He understands that he cannot expect anything from either the left wing of the Socialist Party (PS) or from the left of the left.  His opponents inside the PS, the “rebels”, aim to weaken him, to build an alternative project, and to hold a primary election that is open to the left as a whole.

Jean-Louis Thiébault, emeritus professor of political science and former director of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Lille, France (1997-2007). He works on comparative political analysis of emerging countries, presidential leadership, and presidential parties.

South Korea – General Elections 2016: Prospects, Possibilities, and Problems

General elections are around the corner, scheduled for April 13, 2016. A possible total of 300 seats are up for grabs: 246 from single-member districts, and 54 by proportional representation. “Possible” because the Constitutional Court had ruled in 2014 that the electoral map must be revised by the end of 2015 to uphold equal representation, which, according to the Court, means that the current ratio of the most populous electoral district to the least populous of 3 to 1 must be lowered to less than 2 to 1. The deadline has come and passed, with the legislature failing to agree on how to redraw the electoral map. Meanwhile, with less than 100 days to elections, the race is off … to an ambiguous start. What are the prospects, possibilities, and problems for election 2016?

One problem – and it is a huge one – is the lack of an electoral map of the contestable districts. Notwithstanding the lack of an electoral map, the National Election Commission (NEC) announced that candidates may register their preliminary candidacy between January 1, 2016 and March 23, 2016. Registering means that candidates may carry out limited campaign activities up to 120 days prior to Election Day: candidates may establish a campaign office, make campaign phone calls, and conduct a limited number of campaign activities; in contrast, prospective candidates, who must register during the final candidate registration period for the National Assembly between March 24-25, are generally prohibited from pursuing these activities. Also, incumbents running for re-election are allowed to contact their constituencies, which further benefits their re-election campaign. New parties with fewer incumbents, then, suffer several disadvantages. Perhaps not surprisingly, the newly-launched People’s Party by Representative Ahn Cheol-soo, former presidential candidate, proposed delaying the elections as a result of the legislature’s failure to approve an electoral map. That proposal was roundly rejected by the ruling Saenuri Party, and also opposed by the opposition Minjoo Party, the remnant of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD).

Perhaps more interesting, what are the possible parties contesting elections and their prospects? The are three large parties or blocs that comprise or are close to comprising at least 20 legislators, the minimum size of a legislative negotiation blocs: the ruling Saenuri Party (156, as of January 12, 2016); the Minjoo Party (118, as of January 12, 2016), and the People’s Party (17, as of February 3, 2016). A negotiation bloc is accorded rights to negotiate legislative calendars and receive higher state subsidies. Both the Minjoo Party and the People’s Party have been actively recruiting members since the NPAD split in December, 2015.

The People’s Party was formally launched on February 2, 2016; it is led by Representative Ahn Cheol-soo and Representative Chun Jung-bae, both of whom left the opposition NPAD. Representative Ahn Cheol-soo, co-founder of the NPAD, left on December 13, 2015, following open disagreements with NPAD’s then-chair, Moon Jae-in. Representative Chun Jung-bae left the NPAD in March, 2015 and successfully won the Gwangju seat as an independent in the April by-elections; in September, he announced plans to set up a party to contest the general elections. Although the People’s Party has seen a spate of new additions since January, it remains thee legislators short of the minimum 20 needed for a negotiation bloc.

Meanwhile, the Minjoo Party has been aggressively recruiting to stem the flood of high-profile defections from the party that included Representative Kwon Rho-kap, leader of the Kim Dae-jung faction of the former NPAD, who defected in January. The party is in talks for a merger with the Justice Party, which holds five legislative seats; the party has also brought in Lee Soo-hyuck, former deputy foreign minister and chief delegate for the six-party negotiation talks with North Korea, and recruited President Park Geun-hye’s economic strategist for her 2012 presidential campaign, Kim Jong-in, to run the election campaign committee. In addition, Chair Moon Jae-in has stepped down as chair of the party to cede authority to the campaign committee. These efforts may be paying off: a poll of possible presidential candidates conducted in January, 2016, showed Moon in the lead, ahead of Ahn and Saenuri Chair Kim Moo-sung, for the first time since May, 2015.

With at least two parties battling over liberal voters, the conservative ruling Saenuri party looks set to coast to a majority. President Park’s uncanny ability to deliver electoral victories is imponderable: in the April 2015 by-elections, the ruling party swept three of the four contestable seats in the face of record low approvals, stark poll numbers, and with almost every political pundit calling the election for the opposition NPAD. Clearly, she is not known as the “Queen of Elections” without reason. How well that works in April, 2016, will foreshadow much for the presidential race in 2017.

Ukraine – Key Minister Resigns

Two weeks ago, Aivaras Abromavičius, Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, tended his resignation. Once deemed to be the “man who would save Ukraine’s economy, ” and characterised as “one of the greatest champions of reform“ by the US ambassador to Ukraine, Abromavičius accused senior law makers in Ukraine of corruption and slow pace of reform. His resignation threw Ukraine into yet another political crisis endangering much needed foreign aid and support.

Ukraine struggled with corruption well before the current cabinet was appointed. Corruption was one of the reasons for the 2014 Maidan protests that ousted the former president Viktor Yanukovych. As a part of efforts to combat corruption and to make a break from old political ways, the party of the President, Bloc Petro Poroshenko, decided to nominate Abromavičius, as one of the three foreign born ministers, to the cabinet in December 2014. Yet, more than a year later, Ukraine remains to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world and the most corrupt in Europe.

Last week, Abromavičius published an op-ed in Ukrainska Pravda, an online newspaper, calling for a completely technocratic government. He argued that it was the only way to ensure much needed economic reforms in Ukraine.

If his advice is followed, Ukraine will not be the first country to turn to a technocratic government during an economic crisis. Both Italy and Greece appointed technocratic cabinets during the recent debt crisis. Some scholars have been uneasy about the idea of non-partisan cabinets, especially in the case of new presidential democracies, arguing that they were an indicator that the presidents would be more likely to rule by decree [1]. Others, however, argued that there is nothing inherently undemocratic in having a technocratic cabinet. In fact, a cabinet of technocrats might be exactly what is needed to deal with highly technical tasks that frequently face new democracies, especially when they wrestle with economic problems at the same time [2].

If Ukraine were to appoint a technocratic cabinet, it would need to address a number of issues. First, how can the cabinet be insulated from the influence of political parties? Just because it is technocratic, it does not mean that it is automatically immune to political influence. Second, what would be the term limit for such cabinet, if any? And last but not least, getting an agreement for such cabinet from all coalition partners will be crucial. In Ukraine, like in many multiparty democracies, allocation of cabinet portfolios is one of the most important tools that presidents can use to form and maintain their coalitions. [3] The more proportionally distributed the cabinet positions are among the coalition partners, the higher is the discipline of their legislators on roll calls. [4] If this tool is taken away, Ukraine will need to think of other ways to keep the ruling coalition together.

[1] Amorim Neto, Octavio 2006. “The Presidential Calculus: Executive Policy Making and Cabinet Formation in the Americas,” Comparative Political Studies 39 (4): 415-440.

[2] Bermeo, Nancy. 2002. “Ministerial Elites in Southern Europe: Continuities and Comparisons,” Southern European Society and Politics 7 (2): 205-227.

[3] Chaisty, Paul and Svitlana Chernykh. 2015. “Coalitional presidentialism and legislative control in post-Soviet Ukraine,” Post-Soviet Affairs 31 (3): 177-200.

[4] Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2002. “Presidential Cabinets, Electoral Cycle, and Coalition Discipline in Brazil,” in Morgenstern, Scott and Benito Nacif (eds.) Legislative Politics in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press; Chaisty, Paul and Svitlana Chernykh. 2015. “How do presidents manage multiparty coalitions? The coalitional effects of presidential toolbox in Ukraine,” Working paper.

Guinea-Bissau – President and prime minister at loggerheads again, political crisis deepens

A power struggle is raging within the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). The internal division has led to a dangerous political standoff between supporters and opponents of the current government, headed by PM Carlos Correia. Meanwhile, rumours are circulating in the country about an impending coup d’état.

The country has been in turmoil since President José Mário Vaz fired PM Domingos Simões Pereira in August 2015, placing the head of state at loggerheads with his own PAIGC. President Vaz replaced Pereira with his favourite candidate for the post of prime minister, Baciro Djá. However, PM Djá needed to hand in his resignation after the Supreme Court ruled his appointment violated the constitution. The judges said that PM Djá had been given the job without properly consulting the political parties in parliament. Correia was appointed prime minister on 17 September 2015.

The root cause of the growing political instability is a bitter friction between warring factions within the ruling PAIGC party. Supporters of President Vaz, like former PM Djá, want Pereira to resign as party leader. Their protest against Correia’s government in which Pereira serves as vice-prime minister led to the parliament’s rejection of the 2016 budget. Indeed, parliament failed to pass the 2016 budget because 15 PAIGC deputies abstained from voting. The PAIGC then decided to expel the 15 dissenters from parliament, replace them with disciplined members, and seek parliamentary approval for the 2016 budget once again. Meanwhile, rumours about an impending coup d’état were circulating in the capital city Bissau.

When the 2016 budget was presented for approval again in January 2016, the 15 PAIGC deputies refused to leave parliament. Their protest action made speaker Cipriano Cassamá decide to adjourn the vote. In the absence of the speaker and most PAIGC deputies, the leader of Guinea-Bissau’s largest opposition Party for Social Renewal (PRS) Alberto Nambea declared himself speaker and three resolutions were adopted: a censure motion against the government, the reinstatement of the 15 deputies in parliament, and the dismissal of Pereira and Cassamá from the PAIGC. To date, President Vaz has not ratified the resolutions.

Parliament passed the 2016 budget on 28 January. Yet, it is unclear if the budget law is valid. The court recently ruled that the dismissal of the PAIGC deputies was unconstitutional.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has led efforts by the 15-nation ECOWAS regional bloc to resolve the crisis. Yet, prominent members of the PAIGC refuse to talk with PRS and the 15 dissenters. This attitude may indicate that the PAIGC is trying to force new parliamentary elections, allowing the party to remove undisciplined members from the party list. To be sure, such a move would strengthen the PAIGC’s position vis-à-vis the president. For its part, PRS and the 15 dissenters are pressing for the prime minister’s resignation. Yet, Correia’s resignation would only prolong the prime ministerial merry-go-round. The political crisis may encourage the all-too-powerful military to restore decision-making authority. Since the first multiparty elections in 1994, Guinea-Bissau has experienced two coups d’état, an attempted coup, and a presidential assassination by the military.