Monthly Archives: May 2016

Indridi H. Indridason – The presidency in Iceland

This is a guest post by Indridi H. Indridason from the University of California at Riverside

For most part of its history Iceland has functioned as a ‘regular’ parliamentary system despite having a semi-presidential constitution. For sixty years, since gaining independence in 1944, the president’s role was basically that of a figurehead and the extent of the president’s political actions was, at best, that of managing the coalition formation process. It has been suggested that the president occasionally had preferences over the outcome of the negotiations and sought to influence the coalition formation. It is, however, not clear that the president has had much of a role as a formateur in the formation of governments.

Things changed, however, with the president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson refusing to sign legislation on the ownership of the media into law in 2004.  According to the constitution, if the president declines to sign legislation into law it is referred to a referendum.  In this instance, however, the government opted to withdraw the legislation.  The question whether the president had a right to independently exercise the authority to refer legislation to a referendum was hotly contested. While the 26. clause of the constitution is clear in requiring the president’s signature being required, the debates largely focused on clauses 11 and 13 which state, respectively, that the president is not responsible for the actions of the government and the president lets the ministers exercise his power.  Whatever the intent of the authors of the constitution, the constitution was clearly sufficiently ambiguous on the role of the president for Grímsson to recognize, and grab, a politically opportune moment to redefine and expand the powers of the presidency – the government had sought to pass the legislation with little debate in Althingi against the will of the opposition parties and the legislation appeared to have limited popular support.  By 2010, when Grímsson next refused to sign legislation, there was far less debate about the constitutionality of the president’s actions – thus, intentionally or not, the Grímsson presidency has transformed the office of the president.

Recent events, however, suggest that Grímsson has embraced the more political role of the presidency.  Early April, the Panama Papers revealed that Iceland’s Prime Minister Gunnlaugsson (Progressive Party) had failed to disclose his family’s offshore accounts as well as his wife being one of the foreign creditors of the Icelandic banks that collapsed in the financial crisis of 2008. The revelation lead to massive (on an Icelandic scale) protests in front of Althingi and pressures on Gunnlaugsson and his government to resign mounted.  Support for Gunnlaugsson’s continued prime ministership within the other coalition party, the Independence Party, appears to have, understandably, declined – further increasing the pressure on Gunnlaugsson to resign.  Despite these pressures, Gunnlaugsson appears to have been determined to stay in office.  Following a meeting with the leader of the Independence Party, Gunnlaugsson requested a meeting with President Grímsson.  What exactly transpired during the meeting is not completely clear.  President Grímsson claimed PM Gunnlaugsson asked whether he would be willing to dissolve the government and call an election.  Gunnlaugsson, on the other hand, claims that he simply presented the president with what he perceived to be the only two options in the circumstances; for the government to stand united against the opposition’s no confidence motion or to resign.  What appears to be clear is that a formal request to dissolve parliament was not made and the claims made by both actors reflect their own, possibly selective but certainly entertaining, accounts of a private discussion.  President Grímsson’s, interpretation that a request for dissolution had been made appeared, for example, to rest on his observation that the Prime Minister was accompanied by ministerial staff carrying a briefcase that presumably contained a formal request.  It is also important to note that the right of the President to refuse the Prime Minister’s request to dissolve parliament is not uncontroversial – for the same reasons as the President’s ability to refer legislation to a referendum.  Thus, Grímsson’s insistence on having refused to the Prime Minister’s request could be interpreted as part of his agenda to imbue the office of the President with real political powers.

Whatever the case may be, it appears clear that PM Gunnlaugsson wanted to present the Independence Party with an ultimatum, i.e., either its members support continued cooperation in government under Gunnlaugsson leadership or Althingi will be dissolved and an election called.  At the time, the latter option may have seemed unattractive to the Independence party as two of its ministers were also implicated in the Panama Papers scandal and the party’s chances of being in government following an election may also have appeared slim.

The Progressive Party’s threat of dissolution, however, never materialized as President Grímsson informed the PM that he would not dissolve parliament and, moreover, called a press conference after the meeting to announce his decision.  The President’s refusal to left Gunnlaugsson in a very weak position and, in effect, forced him to resign – although later that day the prime minister’s offices issued a press release to the foreign press indicated that the PM was merely stepping aside temporarily.  Thus, it remains to be seen whether Gunnlaugsson plans to return as prime minister (he remains a member of parliament) and, if so, whether he will be successful in doing so.

Having flexed his political muscle, Grímsson decided to go back on his decision to not seek re-election. Possibly as he may have perceived his changes of a successful bid having improved by his role in the removal of the prime minister – even though it fell short of the demands of the protesters, most of whom would have liked to see the government removed and an election called.  But one might also question the causal relationship here, i.e., it is also possible that Grímsson flexed his political muscle because he had already decided that he wanted to run for re-election or recognized that the political fallout from the Panama Papers opened a window of opportunity for him to hang around for a bit longer. Things, however, took an interesting turn when former Prime Minister Oddsson announced his candidacy – incidentally Oddsson was Prime Minister when President Grímsson first referred legislation to a referendum, thereby forcing Oddsson to withdraw the legislation.   Shortly after Oddsson announced his candidacy, President Grímsson withdrew his candidacy – perhaps because he considered his chances of reelection reduced by the Oddsson’s candidacy or, possibly, because he considered his candidacy increasing the chance of Oddsson being elected.

While there is no longer any doubt that the president can use his powers to refer legislation to a referendum, views on the role of the president remain divided, i.e., many voters hold the view that the president should be `above’ politics.  Thus, in some sense the election is, explicitly or implicitly, about what role the president ought to play.  However, as it stands, the leading candidates don’t offer clear alternatives in this regard. From the viewpoint of a political scientist the election would have been far more interesting if Grímsson had not withdrawn his candidacy as his candidacy would clearly stood for the option representing a political president.  Instead, the two leading candidates have indicated that they would consider referring legislation to a referendum.  However, the question about the powers of the presidency is also reflected in another issue, i.e., the question of constitutional reform.

A constitutional council, charged with drafting a new constitution, was established in 2011.  A consultative referendum was held on the draft constitution, in which voters expressed substantial support for the constitution and several of its provisions (although voter turnout was very low by Icelandic standards).  However, the amendment of the constitutions was never brought to a vote in parliament but constitutional reform remains a part of the political discourse.  The two leading candidates do have opposing views on constitutional reform, which is of some significance as the role of the president is probably one of the key issues in the constitutional reform debate.  While it is not clear that the constitution drafted by the constitutional council will be the basis of future reform proposals it is worth nothing that although the draft constitution doesn’t remove the president’s ability to refer legislation to a referendum, the significance of this power is reduced significantly by other proposed amendments.  In particular, the draft constitution has a provision whereby 10% of the voters can refer legislation to a referendum.  Thus, in instances in which there is popular opposition to legislation, it is likely to be referred to referendum regardless of whether the president takes action or not.  Indeed, one might argue that the provision actually reduces the president’s powers further.  As it stands, once legislation lacking majority support among voters has been passed by Althingi – i.e., the only circumstance in which the president has the ability to decide on the fate of the legislation – the president effectively has to power to turn that legislation into law, i.e., against the will of the majority of voters. The president may also be able to leverage this ‘negative power’ into a positive one – i.e., by bargaining for unrelated legislation in exchange for his signature.  When voters can demand a referendum, this power is removed.

The question then is whether the election will be fought in terms of the future of semi-presidentialism (or the form it will take in Iceland).  That seems somewhat unlikely, the same issues were at stake in the 2012 election and the constitutional form of government received fairly little attention – and it was certainly not focused on close consideration of the political implications of expanding or constraining the powers of the president.  However, even if the campaign is not dominated by discussions of the pros and cons of semi-presidentialism, it doesn’t mean that the election will not have implications for the future of semi-presidentialism in Iceland.

Indridi H. Indridason was on the faculty at the University of Iceland from 2003 to 2007 and was the chair of the department of political science for two years. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester. His research is in the areas of comparative political institutions and applied game theory with focus on electoral systems, electoral behavior, coalition formation, and cabinet management strategies. Among his current research projects are i) the determinants of coalition bargaining outcomes including policy outcomes and portfolio allocation, ii) strategic coalitional voting, and iii) the effects of extremist parties on the policy platforms adopted by other (more moderate) parties. His recent work has been published in journals such as American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, British Journal of Political Science, Economics and Politics, and Journal of Theoretical Politics.

Fragmentation and Dealignment: the 2016 national elections in the Republic of Cyprus

On 22 May 2016, Cypriots went to the polls to elect their deputies for the 11th time in the short 56-year-old history of the Republic of Cyprus. There were 543,186 eligible voters and 494 candidates– the most ever in Cyprus’s electoral history, and which corresponded to one candidate for every 1099 voters. There were a total of 13 parties and platforms ranging from the left to the far right and covering niche agendas such as the Animal Party as well as individual candidates.

In the end, the elections were basically little more than a fight among the political parties amidst a largely indifferent electorate. It was a fight between big parties and smaller parties; a fight between the two largest parties to secure the lead in the balance of power and in view of the forthcoming presidential elections of 2018; a fight between the smaller parties for survival and for the lead in the so-called middle space; a fight among all parties against abstention; a fight within the parties for who would be elected.

The context of the elections was defined by three parameters. First and foremost was the huge crisis of legitimation of the entire political system.

Second were the repercussions of the bail-in of 2013, which caused the economy—for the first time in parliamentary elections– to be the most important issue of the elections but not the only one since negotiations for a possible solution to the long-standing Cyprus problem had been revived, bringing the issue into headlines again.

Finally, there was the decision to increase the electoral threshold from 1.8% to 3.6% just a few months before the elections. This was a joint decision of the two major parties (AKEL and DISY), an obvious attempt to keep out unwanted newcomers (e.g., the extreme right ELAM) and also limit their losses to smaller parties. This act invited the severe criticism of the smaller parties as they accused the larger, mainstream parties of authoritarianism, criticizing their decision as undemocratic.

The campaign was rather short by Cypriot standards and was a far cry from the passionate campaigns of the past. Indifference among the voters was the principal characteristic of these elections; polls indicated that approximately one-third of the voters would abstain.

The parties focused on a variety of different issues: the two major parties (AKEL and DISY) stressed the economy in lieu of the Cyprus problem and the ongoing negotiations; this was done to highlight their differences in the face of accusations by the smaller parties that their stances on the Cyprus problem were too similar. Thus, the other parties focused on the Cyprus problem while criticizing the two main parties of cooperation and of making too many concessions towards the Turkish side. This perceived cooperation necessitated, according to smaller parties, a decrease in the total vote for these two main parties.

In terms of the results, the most telling story of this election was the high degree of abstention, 33.26%; this sets a record for Cyprus post-1974 and reveals an 11.96 % increase from 2011. This figure is even more important if we factor in the 22,000 (out of the 32,000) youth who were eligible to register yet declined to do so. Although not confined to the younger cohorts, exit polls revealed their turnout to be the lowest.

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The results reveal that the biggest winners are center-right DIKO and all the smaller parties except EDEK; the biggest losers are the two main parties and especially left-wing AKEL (table). DIKO is the only historical/mainstream party that managed to maintain its seats despite the loss of approximately 13,000 voters; the party also managed to retain its modulatory role in the middle space.

Together, the newly founded parties polled 14.26% (including those that did not enter the parliament), a clear indication of voter frustration with the mainstream parties. In contrast, the entire ‘middle space’ –i.e., all other parties except the two big ones– polled 36.73%, a very important development since together they have the largest representation in the parliament. This fact does not mean that these parties are ideologically similar; at the same time, however, their differences should not be underestimated. Their parliamentary representation shows that they can have a considerable say in all future developments on the island, and especially with regard to the Cyprus problem: these parties all profess a more hard-line position, albeit to varying degrees.

Messages from the elections

These elections reveal interesting patterns and offer important insights.

First of all, the elections reinforce the trend in Cyprus towards dealignment, which indicates a crisis of representation. Abstention has become a systemic feature of Cypriot electoral politics. However, election results also revealed a partial realignment, with up to 25% of voters, according to the exit polls, changing party allegiance.

Second, if we consider the election results in Sartorian terms, the party system of Cyprus seems to resemble the polarized pluralism model. For a second time in its history, the Cypriot parliament houses eight parties compared to only six previously; this has significant implications both for the internal working of the parliament and for the relations between the legislature and the president. In this regard, cooperation and alliances between parties will become more complicated than ever before, which will definitely affect the president’s ability to pass legislation. In turn, this will affect coalition building with regard to the forthcoming presidential elections.

Third, the elections also reveal a shift in the Cyprus party system’s ideological center of gravity: the center-right, albeit more fragmented now, has increased its vote share at the expense of the center-left. In 2011 the center-left represented by AKEL, EDEK and the Greens polled approximately 44%, whereas in 2016 their overall share dropped to approximately 37%. The center-right (including the extreme right), represented by DISY, DIKO, Citizens Alliance, Solidarity and ELAM, rose from 51% to approximately 60%. This could be related to, and could also explain, as many scholars argue, the inability of the (center) left to provide feasible alternatives for overcoming the huge economic crisis, which reinforces conservative reactions among the electorates.

Fourth, the strength of bipolarism has declined considerably. Although AKEL and DISY still command more than half of the votes, together their vote total 56.36%, down from 66.95% in 2011. These losses represent the price they paid for holding the executive in this turbulent period, which saw both parties failing to meet the expectations of their constituencies. This decrease combined with the increased vote share of smaller and new parties verifies the trend shown in other recent elections, i.e., that Cyprus has entered an era of increased fluidity. Nevertheless, the new parties’ breakthrough does not prove their endurance, which must be tested in consecutive elections.

Fifth, these elections are the first in which an extreme, ultra-nationalist, right-wing party garnered enough votes to win seats in the House of Representatives. ELAM, sister party of the Greek’s Golden Dawn, tripled it vote share to elect two MPs. Their presence in parliament offers them an institutional/legitimate channel to air their (populist) views, while their anticipated marginalization by other parties will probably act as a public signifier of their fake ‘anti-systemeness’. In turn, this could help them fuel their propaganda and consequently their electoral fortunes, especially amidst the ongoing negotiations for a possible solution to the Cyprus problem. However, their mere participation in the parliament is also an expression of their incorporation in the political system and their acceptance of the political rules.

Finally, the two big parties’ decision to increase the electoral threshold to their benefit not only failed but even backfired. Many analysts now say that this act has created a reverse dynamic against the big parties and actually helped the smaller parties gain seats in the House.

Mariana Llanos and Detlef Nolte – Brazil, Venezuela, and the Many Faces of Latin American Presidentialism

This is a guest post by Mariana Llanos and Detlef Nolte, both from the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies, on their new paper, The Many Faces of Latin American Presidentialism.

In 1990 Juan Linz published an influential article in the Journal of Democracy entitled “The Perils of Presidentialism” in which he did not make many favourable prognoses for the recently established democratic, and presidential, regimes of Latin America. He argued that the instability of presidential regimes was connected to its essential features – that is, the principle of dual legitimacy, according to which both the president and the legislature equally derive their power from the vote of the people, and the fixed mandates for both elected institutions. The fixed term introduced rigidities to the system that made crisis and conflict resolution more difficult, and the direct election of the executive and legislative powers gave both president and congress direct democratic legitimacy, thus inducing inter-institutional struggles and making it unclear which would prevail in the event of lack of majorities and a conflict between the two.

Although Latin American democracy survived, and the problems that Linz attributed to presidentialism turned out to be less pervasive than he had initially thought, they did not disappeared. In effect, since the beginning of 2016 the region has witnessed two major political crises, in Venezuela and Brazil, which despite being extreme are predictable crises within presidential regimes. In these two cases the presidents face an adverse majority in Congress: in Brazil, congress is using the constitutional mechanism of impeachment to oust President Rousseff, while in Venezuela President Maduro is manipulating the rules of the decision-making process to disempower congress and to avoid a recall referendum that would take him out of the presidency.

While presidentialism may be prone to producing political stalemates, political actors are responsible for creating and resolving these stalemates. Brazil and Venezuela represent two different presidential traditions within the region, and the institutional mechanisms being used to solve the current impasse situations differ accordingly. We should bear in mind, though, that crises are profound in these countries and will persist beyond the short-term solutions to stalemate. It appears that the period of fine-weather democracy may be coming to an end and that some of the “perils” and less pleasant traits of presidential democracy may be resurging.

Coalition Presidentialism and Presidential Breakdowns

“Coalition presidentialism” is the consensual Latin American variant of presidentialism that is practiced in Brazil. Under this scheme, the directly elected president serves as a coalitional formateur and uses his/her appointment prerogatives to recruit ministers from other parties in order to foster the emergence of a legislative cartel that could support her/his proposals in congress for overcoming political deadlocks. Alongside the distribution of cabinet posts, presidents use a wide range of agenda-setting powers and pork-barrelling to maintain control of the legislative process.

Coalitions have helped overcome inter-institutional conflicts, but they are demanding for presidents, particularly when they face other challenges. A tough economic situation, scandals, popular discontent, and public mobilisation, expose the weakness of the presidential leadership and may lead to his/her demise. During the third wave of democratization, many presidents have been challenged and 17 presidents have actually been forced to leave before finishing their constitutionally fixed mandates under the pressure of unfavourable majorities in congress and often also of protests in the streets. A few weeks ago, the Brazilian Senate initiated an impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff who is suffering from extremely low popularity as a result of a serious recession, high inflation and unemployment rates, in addition to the Petrobras affair, a corruption scandal that involves her party (the PT) and many others and that has infuriated the public and motivated protests. Due to these events, latent rivalries among coalition members became apparent, leading to a major break between the PT and the main coalition partner, the PMDB, and giving impulse to the impeachment process. The impeachment resembles previous presidential breakdowns where the president had to leave power prematurely. In these solutions to stalemate where congress prevails, the president has to go and the succession line is activated, but democracy persist.

The Autocratic Phase of Presidentialism

The Venezuelan case belongs to another variant of presidentialism, one based on presidential dominance that has a long tradition in Latin America. It is characterized by the exalted status of the presidency, particularly when the presidential party controls the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Presidents may also use their formal powers to either bypass or manipulate the legislative and judicial branches. Presidents prone to unilateral excursions enjoying strong political backing have populated the regional landscape – for instance, as part of the pink tide during the first decade of this century. Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales have exemplified a delegative and hyperpresidential style of government, notwithstanding their participatory discourses.

In Venezuela, the president’s loss of a majority after congressional elections at the end of 2015 has left in evidence the autocratic tendencies of the regime. President Maduro managed that his outgoing majority appointed 13 new judges by blatantly violating the constitution. The new supreme court has since then proved to be a tremendous functional instrument for serving the executive and disempowering the opposing Congress. The latest of several controversial measures was to hold up the constitutionality of the two-month state of emergency that had been rejected by congress and that gave Maduro extra powers to impose tough security measures and to deal with an uneasy social context characterized by food and medicine shortage, the economy shrinking by 8 per cent, and an inflation rate of up to 500 per cent.

The congressional attempts to get approval for a recall referendum, the constitutional mechanism to depose the president, are also being boycotted by the president-controlled electoral judiciary. We understand that the way in which Maduro is prevailing in the conflict with congress has crossed the line in the direction of authoritarianism. This solution to the gridlock closely resembles the autogolpe solutions (such as that in Peru in 1992), where we saw congress unilaterally closed by the executive and the democratic regime break down. It is quite difficult to predict how the political stalemate, the partisan polarisation, and the economic crisis in Venezuela can be overcome. What would the military reaction be if they were asked to intervene?

For a More Sincere Solution to Gridlock

Whether a presidential triumph in case of gridlock may lead to an authoritarian variant of presidentialism, a congressional triumph also entails the risks of leading to more political polarisation. The latter is connected to the fact that impeachment concerns a president’s misconduct or violation of norms while, in the end, it is the size of the presidential majority that determines his/her fate. It would be more honest if impeachments were replaced by votes of non-confidence (by a two-thirds majority): the political debate would be framed less in normative and more in political-programmatic terms. Certainly, the call for earlier elections would be a more embracing solution for critical stalemate situations. We believe that either of these semi-presidential solutions to gridlock, which have often informally prevailed in similar crises during the last thirty years, are preferable to old-style Latin American authoritarian rule.

Mariana Llanos is a lead research fellow at the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies and head of GIGA’s Accountability and Participation Research Programme.

Detlef Nolte is the vice president of the GIGA, the director of the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies, and a professor of political science at the University of Hamburg.

Link to the Article: https://www.giga-hamburg.de/en/publication/the-many-faces-of-latin-american-presidentialism

Gustavo Plácido dos Santos – The 2017 presidential elections in Angola: clinging to the status quo?

This is a guest post by Gustavo Plácido dos Santos from the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS).

Gustavo

“I have taken the decision to quit political life in 2018,” President José Eduardo dos Santos said to the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) Central Committee, on 11 March 2016.

His words may lead us to think that he is willing to retire, after 37 years in power. The reality, however, is more complicated than that, as he did not clarify whether he was running for the 2017 presidential elections and it does not make much sense to “quit political life in 2018” with presidential elections scheduled for 2017.

In power since 1979, José Eduardo dos Santos will be 80 years old by the time his eventual new mandate ends in 2022. Irrespective of his age and possible intention to retire, it is only logical that President dos Santos is giving a deeper thought on ways to protect his interests and those of his family and close circle. Moreover, he is certainly seeking to ensure that a new political leadership won´t target him and his circle with criminal charges.

How likely is a post-José Eduardo dos Santos scenario?

In a speech given to the MPLA Central Committee, on 2 July 2015, José Eduardo dos Santos said that “[i]n certain restricted circles it was almost an established fact that the president wouldn’t carry out his mandate until the end, but it’s evident that it’s not wise to consider that option under the current circumstances.” The president added that “we should study very seriously how to build that transition.”

This said, and considering the worsening of “the current circumstances”, it would be hardly surprising that José Eduardo dos Santos decides to stay in power for as long as he is physically and mentally capable. In this setting, his announcement becomes nothing more than mere rhetoric, possibly aimed at testing his popularity within the party, assure a peaceful nomination and disarm internal contestation.

With this in mind, the President faces two options: end the presidential term prematurely or complete it. Both scenarios, however, ultimately require ensuring the protection of his interests and those of his close circle in the long-term. This is both a necessity and a priority, and implies naming an individual of his trust to be his number two in the elections, in view of succeeding him further ahead.

Given that the MPLA historical leadership looks with suspicion at the nomination of someone from José Eduardo dos Santos’s close circle, it is likely that he may seek a compromise solution.[1] Conversely, the President´s announcement also suggest that he may be aiming at increasing his room of maneuver to further consolidate control over strategic sectors before an electoral process and eventual succession.

The Constitution specifies how a power transition might be effected, although it leaves room for interpretation. As per the 2010 constitutional revision, the President is no longer directly voted into office. Instead, “[t]he individual heading the national list of the political party or coalition of political parties which receives the most votes in general elections” becomes Head of the Executive. Considering that José Eduardo dos Santos candidacy for the party’s presidency has been approved by the Central Committee, the current leader is poised to become the ruling party’s candidate.

Furthermore, the MPLA’s presidency allows him to actively influence the party and choose his number two, i.e. the Vice-President. In light of this, it is worth noting that Article 116 of the Constitution establishes that “[t]he President of the Republic may relinquish office”[2] and when the office “becomes vacant, the duties shall be performed by the Vice-President, who shall complete the term of office with full powers.” Therefore, the power transfer can be made in a legitimate manner and in accordance with the Constitution, thus not giving the opposition many legal arguments against it.

There is, however, one third option: to postpone the 2017 elections, such as in 1999.[3] This time now, with peace consolidated, it can possibly be argued that the country needs to address “current circumstances”, i.e. economic and financial challenges, before elections can be held.

 Who are his contenders?

Although there is still time left before the submission period of candidacies for the party’s presidency – between 15 June and 15 July –, it is highly unlikely that an internal candidate is willing to challenge José Eduardo dos Santos’ rule. Even if that would happen, any other candidacy faces a major challenge. According to MPLA Electoral Rules, “the competent body to verify the proposed candidacies, validate and organize them for the electoral act (…) is coordinated by the party’s high officials.” As such, José Eduardo dos Santos and his close circle can easily impede a challenging bid.

Regarding the political opposition, given that the person heading the list of candidates of the most voted party becomes President, the leaders of major opposition forces in parliament, Isaías Samakuva (UNITA) and Abel Chivukuvu (CASA-CE), are poised to be José Eduardo dos Santos’ main challengers. These two candidates, however, are highly unlikely to pose a significant challenge.

The opposition is divided amongst several political parties, hindering any chance of establishing a united opposition, while the President has the MPLA’s well-oiled electoral machine and state resources at his disposal to promote the campaign across the country.

Coupled with these factors, the government´s strategy of “divide and rule” and the ease with which opposition politicians and militants take political, economic and financial ´donations´, establishing a considerable challenge to the status quo becomes a near impossible task.

In addition, security forces and intelligence services embed a feeling of fear among any movement willing to stage an anti-government demonstration. Also relevant is the fact that the military leadership is deeply integrated in the country’s political and economic spectrum.[4]

The status quo will remain unchanged

Given that President will do its utmost to ensure a substantial degree of continuity, there will hardly be any major changes in government policy.  The same applies in an eventual post-José Eduardo dos Santos scenario, due to the intricate network of economic and political interests amongst the Angolan elite.

The powerful elite is so intertwined and accommodated to the perks associated with being close to power, that it is improbable they would challenge or change the status quo and risk losing those benefits by promoting a new, more democratic and transparent order. Therefore, this privileged sector of the Angolan society will certainly be the main opponent of any significant change to the political order, and its main preserver.

Of course, that is also the case with the elite’s response to the introduction of measures and reforms aimed at tackling the difficult economic and financial context. Although those initiatives might be favourable to the diversification of the elite’s sources of revenue beyond oil and a limited number of sectors, it is highly unlikely that Angola’s economic policy will change in a substantial manner. In fact, any alteration will certainly be limited to the strictly necessary, since an abrupt one would primarily hit the privileged sectors of the society that benefited the most from the status quo.

The same applies to foreign donors. The April 2016 “formal request” made by Angolan authorities to the IMF “to initiate discussions on an economic program,” is, at least in theory, what Angola needs. However, negotiations will certainly be long and difficult, especially if the IMF´s demands collide with electoral interests[5] and the elite’s stakes.

That is probably why the government has, since the start of this year, been charming Asian emerging powers, such as China and India, to open lines of credit and support project development. The aim is likely to be to diversify financing sources away from an undesired overly dependence on the IMF and benefit from external support that require a lesser degree of preconditions, hence better safeguarding the interests of the Angolan elite.

On the other hand, with external financing from emerging economies pouring into state coffers and project development, the government acquires tools to ensure that the elite and the rising middle-class continue to have access to the goods and services they became accustomed to. Additionally, the government has greater leeway to appease potentially dangerous social grievances linked to rising living costs and budget cuts in public investment.

Notes

[1] The Minister of Defence, João Lourenço, and the Minister of Territory Administration, Bornito de Sousa, stand as appropriate candidates in this context.

[2] By means of a message addressed to the National Assembly, also notifying the Constitutional Court. Article 130 establishes that, besides “Resignation from office, under the terms of Article 116,” other circumstances are valid: “Death”, “Removal from office”, “Permanent physical or mental incapacity”, and “Abandonment of duties”.

[3] When the National Assembly voted to do so, due to the renewal of conflict.

[4] Through positions in government, state companies, participation in private ventures and access to national wealth.

[5] There are rumours that an IMF assistance programme may lead to the introduction of a consumption tax, salary cuts and rationalization of public investment.

Gustavo Plácido dos Santos is a Senior Researcher at the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS). He holds a Bachelor degree in international relations from Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon and a Master degree in international conflict from Kingston University in the United Kingdom. His work focuses on Africa-related political, defence and security issues, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa, Lusophone countries and maritime security. He tweets as @PlacidoGustavo and is the founder of the blog Africa Defence & Security.

James D. Boys – Hillary Clinton: Slouching towards success?

This is a guest post by James D. Boys from Richmond University, London

After a lifetime in politics, Hillary Clinton finds herself at the threshold of greatness. The White House is tantalisingly close, yet the American people remain uncertain what to make of her. The 2016 campaign will either result in Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president of the United States, or it will undoubtedly mark the end of her political career. Though she is far ahead in the delegate count, she has yet to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination, despite the smallest, weakest field of challengers the Party may have ever known. Until she secures the nomination, she cannot turn her energies to defeating her Republican opponent in the general election. To date, the 2016 primary season has demonstrated Hillary Clinton’s continuing struggle to overcome a series of formidable obstacles that have long-plagued her time in public life.

Her steadfast determination to appear tough and resilient has ensured that she remains an enigma, removed from the lives of the American electorate. Little, it seems, has been as important to Hillary Clinton as portraying a sense of control, either real or imagined throughout the course of her life. All things considered, this is perhaps not surprising. Raised by a cold and distant father, and married to the world’s most famous unfaithful husband, it is little wonder that Hillary Clinton appears to have created a seemingly perfect public persona that few can penetrate. In an era in which the American electorate has routinely demonstrated a propensity to elect presidents they would choose to share a beer with, however, her struggle to project personal warmth is a serious impediment to her election.

A fundamental challenge also exists in regard to Hillary Clinton’s liberal credentials. For many in her party, the New Democrat policies that she and her husband adopted in the 1990s was as unpopular as the New Labour project was with socialists in the UK; it felt like a betrayal of the party principles in a (successful) bid to gain power. Having been out of power for 12 years in 1992, the Democratic Party was inclined to accept such an approach. In 2016, having been in power for the last 8 years, this is no longer the case and explains, in part, why many members of the Democratic Party hanker after a candidate further to the left of the political spectrum. The self-described socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, who no one expected to be any serious threat to Hillary Clinton, has defeated her in key battleground states and has repeatedly drawn tens of thousands to rallies across the country as he advocates an approach very different from that being offered by the Clinton campaign. Although he is now mathematically incapable of winning the nomination, his remarkable efforts have drawn Hillary Clinton to the left of the political spectrum in order to gain her party’s nomination, which will force her to reposition herself once again for the general election in the autumn.

Once she secures the Democratic Party’s nomination, can she win the presidency? A key determining factor will be Hillary Clinton’s continuing capacity to adapt and change. In 2008 she was determined to run on the basis of being the best-qualified candidate and was adamant that gender play no part in her campaign.  ‘I am not running as a woman,’ she told supporters at the Iowa State Fair in July 2007, ‘I am running because I believe I am the best-qualified and experienced person.’ This was perfectly encapsulated in her campaign advert that asked who Americans wanted to answer an emergency call at 3am. In seeking to pass the commander-in-chief test, however, Hillary Clinton appeared to be content to jettison her femininity and unique appeal to 51% of Americans. It was clear that her campaign took far too long to recognise that it had missed an opportunity to make Hillary Clinton’s candidacy about more than her, and to position it as an historic chance to break the gender lock on the Oval Office. Hillary Clinton appears far more content to utilise the gender issue if it will help secure victory in 2016, insisting that whatever her age, she would be ‘the youngest woman president in the history of the United Sates.’

Hillary Clinton has successfully maximised the financial opportunities that have accompanied her celebrity and political power in the United States. However, her highly publicised lecture fees and book royalties have elevated her income and personal net worth into the stratosphere, beyond the wildest imagination of most Americans. Her wealth is compounded by the amount of time she has spent in the public arena. When Bill Clinton first appeared on the national stage in 1992 he was relatively unknown and could introduce himself to the American public, to whom he was a virtual blank canvas. In the subsequent quarter century, however, the Clintons have rarely been out of the American eye, complicating efforts to present a ‘new’ Hillary Clinton to voters in 2016. Indeed, Hillary Clinton has been omnipresent since 1992, through 8 years of her husband’s administration, 8 years in the Senate, a presidential campaign in 2008 and 4 high profile years as Secretary of State. First time voters in 2016 will have never known an American political landscape that didn’t include Hillary Clinton in one role or another, as she has become part of the establishment. Such a situation presents a challenge to her campaign, eager to portray her as a progressive candidate for change.

If elected in November 2016, Hillary would be 69 when she takes the oath of office in January 2017, making her America’s second oldest president; only Ronald Reagan will have been older. The Baby Boomer generation that Hillary Clinton represents is now retiring as the Millennial Generation comes to the fore. The fact that Bernie Sanders has managed to tap into the frustrations of the youth vote is an indication of Hillary Clinton’s status as a member of the establishment, rather than of a reform movement. The experience that she has gained since she last ran has actually proven to be a handicap for her as she seeks to project a readiness to lead, with a vitality that connects her to a youthful demographic. It is a circle she has thus far failed to square.

For all of the talk about personality, politics and policy, however, the presidential election is all about electoral mathematics. All considerations must be geared towards securing the 270 Electoral College votes that will secure the White House. Any electoral calculations, therefore, must address the state-by-state approach that the United States adopts on Election Day, for there is no national poll, but rather 50 individual polls that will provide a victor. The popular vote would be nice, but it is the Electoral College that will decide the election, as Al Gore discovered in 2000.

The Republicans have only won the popular vote in a presidential election once since 1988, ensuring that the Democrats have secured the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections and won 5 of the last 7 presidential contests. The national demographics appear to point to a Democratic victory irrespective of the party candidate, however, with Hillary Clinton’s unique appeal, such a result appears all the more likely. The route to electoral victory will need to ensure that Hillary Clinton retains the overwhelming ethnic minority support that secured Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House and build upon the large female vote that she secured in the 2008 primaries, but which Obama failed to secure in 2012. Such a combination of Latinos, African Americans and women, as well as the usual percentage of white men who would be expected to vote Democrat, should be sufficient to capture the White House in 2016 and propel Hillary Clinton into the history books as the first female president of the United States.

Dr James D. Boys is an Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University, London and is the author of Clinton’s Grand Strategy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015) and Hillary Rising (Biteback, 2016). He maintains a website at www.jamesdboys.com and tweets at @jamesdboys

Austria – Alexander Van der Bellen wins presidential runoff with razor-thin margin

On Sunday, 22 May, Austrian went to the polls for the second round of presidential elections which – for the first time in Austrian history – did not include the candidates of SPÖ and ÖVP. Alexander Van der Bellen (independent/Greens) narrowly beat his opponent, Norbert Hofer (FPÖ), with a razor-thin margin of just 31,000 votes (0.6%) in a neck-and-neck race that was only decided on Monday afternoon after all postal votes had been counted. While a victory of the far-right Hofer, widely feared by international and a majority of national commentators alike, has thus been averted, the election marks without doubt a pivotal moment in Austrian politics. It spells the end of the dominance of SPÖ and ÖVP, the manifestation of ever stronger political divisions between the far-right and the remainder of the political spectrum, and seems to fall within a larger trend in support for right-wing parties and candidates in European politics.

Results of the Austrian presidential elections - Van der Bellen + Hofer

Already the results of the first round had shaken up Austrian politics. First, neither candidate of the governing parties SPÖ and ÖVP – who have dominated the Austrian presidency and government since the end of WWII – made it into the run-off. Both only polled a combined 22.4% of votes – far below their worst combined result yet. Following the election debacle and repeated calls for consequences, Chancellor Faymann (SPÖ) eventually resigned, citing a lack of support in his party. There have not been any consequences yet in the the ÖVP, yet it is likely that the party will, too, try to reinvent itself at least partially before the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Analysts were unsure of whether Van der Bellen, a veteran Green politician (though formally independent), would be able to catch up to Hofer, who serves as one of the speakers of Austria’s federal parliament. Already shortly after the exit polls for the first round had been announced, parties categorically declined to make any kind of recommendations – only the third-placed candidate Irmgard Griss (independent) indirectly came out in support for Alexander Van der Bellen shortly before the second round, saying that she had given him her (postal) vote. The campaign of the two candidates was overshadowed by their widely panned performance during an experimental TV debate in which they went head to head without any TV presenter to moderate the discussion. Regardless, voters turned out in larger numbers to the polls on Saturday – turnout increased by 4% to 72.7% (the highest value since 1998).

During the election night (or afternoon, to be precise) tensions were running high after a first exit poll suggested a victory for Hofer, yet too narrow to exceed the margin of error. Subsequently, projections quickly suggested a stalemate between candidates and it became clear that the race would only be decided after counting the postal vote on Monday. Although Hofer had the majority of votes cast in ballot offices across the country (among these Van der Bellen only received a majority in Vienna and the state of Voralberg), Van der Bellen eventually won the election thanks to an overwhelming majority 61.7% among postal votes (with 746,110 they represented 16.6% of all votes). While some commentators suggested that parties might try to challenge such a narrow victory by either candidates, Hofer acknowledged his defeat on Monday afternoon.

Van der Bellen’s election introduces an unknown intro Austrian politics which – with regard to both chancellery and presidency – has hitherto been dominated by SPÖ and ÖVP. Although Van der Bellen formally ran as an independent, he is still formally a member of the Green party (which also supported his candidacy logistically and financially). While the Green party is part of the parliamentary opposition, it would be incorrect to speak of the advent of a period of cohabitation. Despite his general opposition to the dominance of the two mainstream parties voiced during the campaign, Van der Bellen’s relationship with the government is likely to be neutral and even if not unified at least supportive. Van der Bellen will have to show some moderate activism to please his electorate and while this could be markedly more than his predecessors (who largely refrained from interference in day-to-day politics) it will be far from the dramatic steps promised by his defeated contender Hofer (who signalled he would dismiss the government and dissolve parliament).

Irrespective of the fact that Hofer lost the runoff, he – and his party – will play a much more prominent role in Austrian politics from now on. Since January this year, opinion polls see the FPÖ at 32-34% which would make them the largest party in the next federal election (on overage, SPÖ and ÖVP only poll around 22% each). Hofer’s success also seems to fit in with a larger trend of gains by far-right parties across Europe. While these have partly been able to feed on anti-immigrant sentiments amidst the influx of refugees into (Western) Europe, in Austria the success of the FPÖ also seems attributable to an anti-establishment mood which is not sufficiently and/or successfully articulated by other political parties.

US – Can Donald Trump Win the Presidency?

I count myself among the legions of political scientists, pundits, and other so-called experts that got it wrong about Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination. When he first announced that he was running for president last June, especially in such a crowded field of Republican contenders, I thought that when serious campaigning got underway, the Trump candidacy would fade. Like so many others, I also thought that each subsequent gaffe would surely end his candidacy. Despite the overwhelming media attention, I was skeptical that Trump could turn the hypothetical support he enjoyed in poll after poll throughout the fall into real support from voters. But after losing the Iowa Caucuses to Ted Cruz, Trump did just that with victories in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and many subsequent states along the way to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.

In defense of my profession, while political scientists like analyzing numbers, the credibility of polling in recent years has taken a beating. There are now more polls than ever before, but fewer reliable ones. Reliance on cell phones has made polling more difficult, more time consuming, and much more expensive, to achieve a true random sample through random digit dialing. The Federal Communications Commission forbids automatic dialing of cell phones, and as a result, response rates have fallen dramatically. National polls are also meaningless, despite the continual media coverage, since Americans do not elect presidents nor nominate presidential candidates nationally. Many of the state polls last fall that placed Trump and Ben Carson at the top of the GOP race had small sample sizes (around 400, as opposed to the more reliable sample size of 1,000) and would include “registered” or “lean Republican” voters as opposed to “likely” voters. The latter provides the most valid sample, though last fall was still too early to have an accurate read on who was likely to vote. Several polling organizations have gotten big political stories wrong of late, including the extent of the Republican victory in the 2014 midterm elections, recent elections in both Great Britain and Israel, as well as Gallup’s prediction on Election Day 2012 that had Mitt Romney winning the popular vote over Barack Obama 49-48 percent (while Obama won the actual popular vote 51-47 percent).

Presidency scholars like myself also like to rely on historical precedents when analyzing potential election outcomes. Dwight Eisenhower was the last political outsider to be elected president, though while he had never held nor ran for a political office, being a five-star general who served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II gave him tremendous credibility with voters in 1952. And while several “outsider” candidates have sought the presidency since then, the most notable success belongs to Texas businessman H. Ross Perot, whose independent campaign in 1992 garnered him 19 percent of the popular vote (though zero Electoral College votes).

To say that Trump has re-written many of the rules of presidential campaigns this past year would be an understatement. And now that Trump has proven so many of us wrong with his success in becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, the question is whether Trump can extend his winning streak to capture the White House in November. I recently told students in my Media and Politics course that I am officially out of the prediction business, but I offer this perspective as a political scientist on how Trump can win, and why many who say that Hillary Clinton (if she is, indeed, the Democratic nominee) will easily win in November might be wrong.

First, one of the most important tasks for Trump (or any nominee) is to unify the party before, during, and after the national convention. Despite the #NeverTrump movement, Trump’s bombastic style of campaigning, or the sometimes brutal way in which Trump went after his political opponents, one important fact remains—by early May, it was the Republican Party that had wrapped up its nomination contest. The Democrats, it seems, won’t have a final answer until June 7th, when California, New Jersey, and a handful of smaller states vote. One year ago, no one would have predicted this outcome, as Clinton was supposed to easily defeat Sanders and any other competitor for the Democratic nomination, and the large Republican field was supposed to battle it out until the last contest or even into the convention. Instead, Trump and the Republican Party have already shifted to focus on the general election, while Sanders keeps his slim hopes alive by continuing to beat Clinton in primary contests (like his win last week in Oregon, or the virtual tie in Kentucky due to the proportional allocation of delegates).

Second, as the momentum and enthusiasm for the Sanders campaign continues, so too does the overlap on key issues important to both Sanders and Trump supporters. Assuming Clinton will eventually win the Democratic nomination, the question remains, what will Sanders supporters do? Clinton has not generated enthusiasm among progressives, and Sanders’ anti-establishment message often hits the same points as Trump’s message: Creating better paying jobs, getting big money out of politics, ending corporate welfare and crony capitalism, and ending unfair trade deals. Whether Trump can co-opt any of this support remains to be seen, though the dissatisfaction with the Democratic establishment among Sanders supporters is palpable, as witnessed last Tuesday during a large Sanders rally in Southern California when the mere mention of the Democratic Party set off a loud round of boos from the crowd.

Third, Trump has promised to put new states in play this fall, shaking up the traditional red-blue divide of the Electoral College. Again, time will tell if that can happen. The so-called Rust Belt states will loom large, including Ohio and Pennsylvania. While Pennsylvania has not gone Republican since 1988, Nate Silver just last week identified it as the “tipping point state,” which means he predicts it to be “the state that provides the presidential winner his or her 270th electoral vote when all the states are rank-ordered by his or her highest to lowest margin of victory.” (See the article here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/pennsylvania-could-be-an-electoral-tipping-point/). Much has already been made about Trump’s support among white, working-class men, and higher turnout among this demographic can help to offset the expected gender gap that Trump will face with women.

Finally, the most prominent theme of this campaign to date has been voter anger against the Washington establishment and political insiders. It is still too early to tell whether or not Trump can continue to turn that anger into votes come November. Yet, one of Clinton’s greatest weaknesses as a candidate is her Washington insider status as the former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, and Secretary of State. The narrative of electing the first woman president is often lost among any number of more interesting story lines that have emerged from this campaign. While Trump wants to “Make American Great Again!” and Clinton wants voters to proclaim “I’m With Her,” perhaps the best slogan to describe the presidential race in 2016 is simply, “Anything Can Happen.”

Uganda – President Museveni buying loyalty of newly elected MPs

Uganda’s elections concluded three months ago, and yet political tempers remain high. Most obvious—and perturbing—is the continued state-led repression of the opposition, including most recently the treason charges levelled against opposition leader Col Kizza Besigye. All is not well within the ruling party itself either. As parliament convened this week, the National Resistance Movment (NRM) leadership were scrambling to stave off a rebellion over the party’s official candidate for the position of Deputy Speaker. While seemingly minor in and of itself, this incident shows that President Museveni has his work cut out for him handling backbench MPs. And already he has had to resort to his trump card: money.

Shortly after the February elections, the race to be House Speaker erupted in controversy. The outgoing Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, faced a challenge from her then deputy, Jacob Oulanyah. Both NRM heavyweights organized campaign teams, and started inviting their fellow parliamentarians to meetings with promises of up to Shs200k ($60) in ‘transport’ allowances. Kadaga, a Speaker with a reputation for being independent-minded, won the support of well-known dissident MPs. She attacked Oulanyah for being new to the NRM—he used to be a member of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC)—and for showing undue ambition. Oulanyah, in turn, questioned Kadaga’s loyalty to the ruling party.

With the parliamentary caucus fracturing into rival camps, the NRM Central Executive Committee (CEC) intervened to settle the dispute. CEC opted to preserve the status quo, recommending that the NRM parliamentary caucus nominateKadaga as the official NRM Speaker candidate and Oulanyah as Deputy. This move restored a degree of calm, and the NRM caucus approved both names to be the official NRM candidates ahead of a vote in the full House.

The twist came when one of the other contenders for Deputy Speaker, Mohammed Nsereko, refused to pull out of the race. Nsereko won his seat in February as an Independent. This come-back came after he was first expelled from the NRM, along with three other MPs, for disloyalty in the previous parliament. Ahead of the 2016 elections, President Museveni sought to mend fences with these four ‘rebel’ legislators, two of whom ran again on the NRM ticket, and all of whom were re-elected. After the elections, even those who remained Independents were invited to join NRM caucus meetings.

Nsereko’s‘rebel’ background made his refusal to withdraw his candidacy all the more provocative. Even more troubling for the NRM top brass was Nsereko’s apparent popularity within the caucus. He also showed his financial muscle, outspending both Kadaga and Oulanyah by rewarding supporters with Shs500k ($150) at campaign meetings.

With the very real threat of an embarrassing upset in the election for Deputy Speaker, President Museveni rushed to convene the NRM caucus on Sunday 15 May, four days before the parliamentary vote. He used this meeting to discipline Nsereko, who was escorted out by security after (again) refusing to withdraw his candidacy. Museveni then adopted a softer touch with the remaining MPs.He suggested he might reimburse their inauguration expenses, as many newly elected parliamentarians planned expensive parties for their supporters. He also promised to reconsider his decision to block the Income Tax Bill, which sparked a public outcry after MPs exempted their own allowances from taxation.

Seemingly fearful that money might not speak loudly enough, Museveni took a further, unprecedented step. On Thursday 19 May, he attended the parliamentary session, arriving shortly after Kadaga was elected Speaker and just as voting began for the position of Deputy Speaker.

After such an aggressive campaign, it was no wonder when Oulanyah won 300 out of 413 votes. But this clash between Museveni and the NRM caucus promises to be one of many as the 10th Parliament gets underway. It is in line with a recurring pattern in Uganda. At the start of a parliamentary term, a fresh cohort of NRM MPs—59% new in this parliament—arrive having fought a bruising and expensive election battle.  For many, loyalty to the NRM is conditional at best, leading President Museveni to buy MPs’ support at a seemingly ever more inflated price. This year the tug-of-war between Parliament and the President has started earlier than ever before.

Sensing, at least for now, that parliamentary independence is in vogue, newly elected Deputy Speaker Oulanyah urged his fellow MPs to “choose national interests over party allegiance.” Whether the irony was intentional is anyone’s guess.

 

 

 

 

Comoros – Presidential Election Threatens Fragile Stability

Dubbed the ‘coup-coup islands’ due to a legacy of violent government takeovers, the small African island nation of Comoros (population: 800.000) has long been one of the most politically unstable countries in the world. Upon attaining independence in 1975, one of the four Comorian islands – Mayotte – voted to remain part of France, and in 2011 became a French Overseas Department. While the French incorporation of Mayotte was considered illegal by the United Nations, the significantly higher standards of living on this island stimulated secessionist aspirations on the two smaller Comorian islands – Anjouan and Mohéli – which also desired to be released from the largest island of Grande Comore, and to be reunited with France. After nearly three decades marred by successive coups, violent uprisings, and enduring economic malaise, in 2002 a unique electoral system that provides for a rotating presidency between the three islands was adopted. Every five years, a president from a different Comorian island is elected for a single term. Presidential elections are held under the French two-round system, but in the first round only voters on the island delivering the next president can participate. The three candidates with the most votes take part in a second round, in which all eligible Comorian voters can cast a ballot.

The first elections under the new system were won by Azali Assoumani from Grande Comore, who ruled the archipelago until 2006. Subsequently, presidents were elected from Anjouan (2006 – 2011) and Mohéli (2011 – 2016). While the economic situation on Comoros remains dire, and political violence has not been completely eradicated, the fact that all presidents elected under the new system were able to complete their term in office is widely regarded as a considerable achievement.

On 21 February 2016, the first round of a new presidential election was held on Grande Comore, which according to the constitution would deliver the next president. The outcome was close, and the top three candidates all obtained between 14 and 18 per cent of the votes. Among them was former president Assoumani, who in 1999 had staged a successful military coup, and contemporary vice-president Mohamed Ali Soilihi, who emerged as the winner of the first round. The second round of voting, which was held on 10 April 2016, again resulted in a very close outcome: Assoumani was declared the winner with 40,98% of votes, while Soilihi finished second with 39,87% of votes. While international observers considered the election to be free and fair, and the UN Secretary General congratulated the Comorian people with a peaceful election process, numerous irregularities were reported from the island of Anjouan, among which broken ballot boxes, accusations of ballot stuffing, and acts of violence. As a result, the Comoros constitutional court ordered a partial re-run of the election on this island, which occurred on 15 May 2016. Only 2% of the Comorian electorate was allowed to participate in the re-run, which did not produce a significantly different result: Assoumani remained the winner with 41,43% of votes, while Soilihi remained a close challenger with 39,66% of ballots cast.

The recent Comorian presidential election once more underscored the fragile political situation in the archipelago, which remains plagued by inter-island hostilities and separatism. The lack of a single Comorian identity, as well as the divisive effects of the integration of Mayotte into metropolitan France, continue to undermine economic and political progress in the island nation. Economic growth dwindled from 3,5% to 1% over the last two years, and while the new political system has put an end to the series of violent coups, it has not solved the formidable challenges and obstacles that continue to beset the Union of the Comoros.

Stewart Firth – Nauru: The Retreat from Democracy and the Coming Election

This is a guest post by Stewart Firth, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University.

Since the election of Nauru’s latest President, Baron Waqa, in 2013, democracy and the rule of law in that country have been under threat. The new government moved quickly to remove key members of the judiciary including the Chief Justice, who was not permitted to re-enter the country after foreign travel. A crackdown on media freedom followed, with foreign journalists effectively excluded by a prohibitive visa fee of US$5,000, and a ban placed on Facebook in order to check criticism of the government. An amendment to the criminal code in 2015 makes the expression of ‘political hatred’, that is to say, disagreement with the government, an offence punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment.

As previously reported on Presidential Power, three opposition MPs were suspended from Parliament for ‘talking too much to foreign media’ and bringing their country into disrepute. Since then a further two opposition MPs in the Parliament of 19 have been permanently suspended, leaving a rump of 12 to conduct Nauru’s business. As the 2016 election approaches, the Nauru government is using Parliament to suppress candidature: public servants must now resign three months before the election, and the fee for standing as a candidate has jumped from US$74 to US$1,500.

This creeping authoritarianism has little to do, however, with the institution of the Presidency in Nauru. The Nauru Presidency is a Westminster phenomenon, and the President resembles a prime minister. Under Article 16, 2 of the Nauru constitution, ‘A person is not qualified to be elected President unless he is a member of Parliament.’ Parliament elects the President of Nauru after each election, he or she sits in a Cabinet that is formed from Parliament and is collectively responsible to it, and may be removed along with other ministers on a vote of no confidence.

What has mattered in recent years in Nauru has been the Cabinet, not the President. In fact most observers think the author of Nauru’s retreat from democracy is not President Waqa but instead his Justice Minister David Adeang. Nauru hosts Australia’s asylum seeker detention centre, and Adeang has seized the opportunity created by Australia’s dependence on his country to amass power and suppress dissent, secure in the knowledge that Canberra will offer little criticism. New Zealand has suspended much of its aid to Nauru in protest. Australia has not.