Monthly Archives: July 2016

Jorge M. Fernandes and Carlos Jalali – Portuguese Semi-Presidentialism after the 2016 Elections

This is a guest post by Jorge M. Fernandes (University of Bamberg, Germany) and Carlos Jalali (University of Aveiro, Portugal)

The famous dictum attributed to former British PM Harold Macmillan, ‘events, dear boy, events’, helps explain the evolution of Portuguese semi-presidentialism during President Cavaco Silva’s second term in office (2011-2016). In a recently published article in South European Society and Politics, we make an an appraisal of the evolution of semi-presidentialism in Portugal over the ten years of Cavaco’s tenure in power and shed some light on the election of his successor – Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

After being comfortably reelected in January 2011, with a 30 percentage point advantage over the second most-voted candidate, the political and economic situation of the country presented Cavaco with a difficult conundrum. The EU/ECB/IMF bailout that lasted from April 2011 until May 2014 placed important constraints on policy-making in Portugal. On the one hand, the president could give vent to popular dissatisfaction with the bailout’s austerity – and use his formal and informal powers to voice bottom-up disagreement with the government’s policies. However, this risked introducing difficulties into the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which could spark the wrath of the international creditors. On the other other hand, by staying idle, Cavaco faced the risk of unpopularity in public opinion.

Cavaco’s decision to give his tacit support to the implementation of the MoU had an important negative impact in his popularity, which, in turn, curbed his political influence. In the final months of his second mandate he was a lame-duck president, with increasing difficulties to use his non-formal powers. For example, in the turbulent government formation process following the October general elections, Cavaco Silva’s influence, or lack thereof, curtailed his capacities to liaise a deal between the two main parties, the Socialists and the Social Democrats, to form a grand coalition. Rather, a sub-optimal solution, from Cavaco’s perspective, was reached: a Socialist minority government with the tacit support of the extreme-left Communists and Left-Bloc.

Typically, Presidents have been the most popular political figures in Portugal, enjoying support levels above party leaders and other office-holders. Figure 1 depicts Cavaco popularity between 2011 and 2016. In January 2012, a sharp drop in popularity hurt Cavaco’s political influence after his public statements on how austerity would have a negative effect on his personal finances and how difficult it would be for him to pay for his personal expenses. Overall, at the end of his mandate, the institutional figure of the Presidency had its prestige and influence severely eroded due to Cavaco’s unpopularity in office.

Figure 1: Evaluation of President Cavaco Silva’s performance, 2011-2016 (balance between positive and negative evaluations)

Picture1

The 2016 presidential election took place against this backdrop. In addition, the months leading to the presidential election had witnessed the unfolding of some of the most dramatic events in Portuguese democracy, with a difficult government formation process. The presidential election had 10 candidates, an unprecedented figure since Portugal held presidential free and fair elections in 1976.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the right-wing candidate supported by the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, seemed poised to win the election, with his high levels of popularity garnered over decades as a political pundit in a popular television show. On the left, a myriad of candidates was trailing Marcelo’s lead in the polls, fighting for an opportunity in the second round. Sampaio da Nóvoa, a highly respected academic figure, earned the support of some of the founding fathers of Portuguese democracy in the Socialist Party. The candidate lacked, however, name recognition by median voters, which would have a negative impact on his result. Maria de Belém, a former Socialist minister, launched her bid to the presidency urged by a faction within the Socialist party. The Socialist party and the Prime Minister chose not to endorse any of the candidates. The Communists presented Edgar Silva, a former priest with low public visibility, while the Left Bloc put forth Marisa Matias, an MEP and a rising star in the party. In addition to the mainstream candidates, there were five independent candidates, looking to build upon the anti-party sentiment and to surf the discontent wave grassing in Portugal.

The campaign had a remarkably low mobilization. The hollowing of the presidential campaign resulted from the perception of the irrelevance of the president’s role, ensuing Cavaco’s choice not to help mitigate austerity and to give his (at least) tacit support to the bail-out measures. For all its problems, the role of the president in the political system was not debated during the campaign. Instead, candidates chose to have a personalized campaign, depoliticizing most of their campaign actions, focusing on personal contact with the population and in making a character judgment of the candidates. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the leading candidate in the polls, followed this strategy strictly in the hope that this would deflate the importance of the elections, allowing him to be elected in the first round.

On January 24th, 48.66 per cent of registered voters went to the polls to elect a new president, the lowest turnout in odd-numbered presidential elections, which have traditionally been more competitive for their importance in selecting a non-incumbent president. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa won 52 per cent of vote, with a catch-all coalition. To be sure, his score surpassed the aggregate score of his supporting parties (PSD and CSD), just three months before, by adding 15.1 to the share of those two parties. Sampaio da Nóvoa came second with 22.9 per cent of the votes, falling just 2 percentage points short of forcing Marcelo into a second round, a remarkable feat for an unknown academic figure. Marisa Matias came third, with 10.1 per cent of the votes, yielding the best presidential score in the history of the Left Bloc. In contrast, the Communists had a grim electoral result, with their worst result ever, with just 3.9 per cent. Maria de Belém, the other candidate from the Socialist area, scored just 4.2 per cent, an extremely bad result for the former Health minister. Surprisingly, for all Portugal’s economic woes, anti-system candidates had very modest scores, totaling 6.84 per cent of the vote for 5 candidates.

What can we expect from a Marcelo presidency? On the surface, President Marcelo differs little from his predecessor. Both Marcelo and Cavaco Silva were previous leaders of the PSD; both had the backing of the PSD and the CDS; and both won their presidential elections on the first round with a margin of 30 percentage points over the second-placed candidate. Yet his first months in office suggest that Marcelo is trying to distance himself as much as possible from his predecessor’s legacy. Indeed, in this initial period President Marcelo has actively courted public opinion, cultivated a supra-partisan stance and avoided tensions with the Socialist government of António Costa. This contrasts sharply with how Cavaco Silva’s presidency ended: an increasingly withdrawn and unpopular political figure, perceived by the left as a partisan president and unable to forge the consensus he sought between PSD, PS and CDS – most notably, in the aftermath of the 2015 legislative elections. President Marcelo thus appears to seek to re-establish the presidency after a period of hollowing out of the presidency which also shaped the presidential elections of 2016.

However, the end of Cavaco Silva’s presidency does not solely differ from the initial Marcelo presidency: it also stands in stark contrast from the initial period of Cavaco Silva’s own presidency. Then, just as with Marcelo, Cavaco Silva was an overwhelmingly popular president (with an average balance between positive and negative evaluations of +52.8 per cent throughout 2006) who maintained an ‘above party’ stance and avoided friction with a Socialist government – indeed, so much so that prime minister Sócrates told President Cavaco in December 2006 that ‘we like working with you’. Cavaco’s undoing was largely the result of a deteriorating economic, social and political situation that culminated in a bailout. Marcelo – who is widely reputed as a master political tactician – will need all his tactical nous to avoid repeating Cavaco’s fate, not least as Portugal’s economic, social and political situation remains uncertain and precarious.

Executive-Legislative Relations and Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe

This is a post by Anna Fruhstorfer, Postdoc at Humboldt University Berlin, who – together with her colleague Michael Hein – is the editor of the new book Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems, published by Springer VS.

With its changes in the political and economic realm, 1989 to many citizens in Central and Eastern Europe marked a spark of great hope for the establishment of a western-style political, legal, and economic order. The aim of the new elite was the introduction of democracy and the rule of law. One important tool to achieve these goals was that of constitutions. The post-1989 constitution-making processes have also been widely discussed in political science research (Arato 2000; Elster 1993; Elster, Offe & Preuß 1998; Holmes & Sunstein 1995; Kitschelt 1994; Sartori 1997). However, since then it has become apparent that the different countries’ pathways do not fulfill the great hopes referred to above. Either the pathways were longer than initially expected or they reached an impasse due to (semi‑)authoritarianism and a poverty trap. These only partially fulfilled hopes also apply to the development of the constitutional systems (see also Rosenfeld, Sadurski & Toniatti 2015).

Against this background, we analyze constitutional politics in 20 post-socialist countries from two perspectives. We focus on constitutional politics following the implementation of the first post-soviet constitution after 1989 and examine all successful amendments and unsuccessful draft amendments, including failed attempts to establish a new constitution, up until 2015.[1] Thus, we considerably broaden the perspective on constitutional studies, since failed amendment initiatives have hardly ever been studied[2], even though such a “success-oriented” angle significantly narrows the data and information on constitutional processes (see Mahoney & Thelen 2010). We focus on three main research questions: How do democratization or autocratization processes influence constitutional politics and vice versa? Do external actors exert a significant influence on constitutional politics? And: Is the ‘transition paradigm’ still applicable to Central and Eastern Europe?

Constitutional politics after the enactment of the first post-socialist constitutions in Central and Eastern Europe – here used in the narrow sense of constitution-making, constitutional amendments, and the national discourse about the constitution and its changes – have dealt with a broad spectrum of topics. In our analysis of 20 Central and Eastern European countries, we find that there is virtually no individual constitutional subfield that has not been the target of amendments or amendment initiatives in at least one of these countries. With this perspective, the variety of topics has led us to assume that certain patterns of constitutional politics might be distinguished.

Most certainly, we can observe problems of path dependence and action constraints. These have particularly emerged with regard to the democracy-autocracy divide. In particular, Belarus and Russia present a case of a thorough autocratization[3], whereas e.g. in Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Moldova certain constitutional provisions ultimately led to democratic deficits or were not helpful in preventing them. However, we can also see the light at the end of the tunnel, i.e. countries in which constitutional politics can actually make a positive difference. The constitutional amendments pursued in Poland solved severe inter-institutional conflicts, and in Croatia and Slovakia semi-autocratic structures were actually replaced with a democratic constitutional arrangement.

The most important constitutional subfields are legislative-executive relations, national identity and minority rights, and aspects related to EU accession. In this post we focus primarily on the findings concerning the relationship between presidents and cabinets within the executive. We particularly expected to find draft amendments in this realm in countries with conflict-prone constitutional specifications, such as Albania, Croatia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. And indeed, the question of presidential power, the agent-principal relation between president and prime minister, and questions of negative or positive parliamentarism dominated both constitutional discourses and politics in a number of countries (in particular in Albania, Croatia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine). Whereas in two of those cases the respective problems in the institutional design were solved by means of a thorough constitutional reform (in Croatia) or a new constitution (in Poland), in the other four cases constitutional reforms did not lead to an enduring pacification of institutional conflicts or a higher efficiency of governance. Not surprisingly, Albania, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine are the countries in our group of 20 cases that witnessed the most serious crises at the heart of their governmental systems.

We believe that these crises, or sometimes even shifts between authoritarianism and democracy, are closely related to constitutional politics. Constitutions can provide the context within which a democracy can thrive (e.g. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovenia). However, sometimes constitutional politics also contribute to a failed democratization (Belarus after 1994, Croatia and Serbia until 2000/2001). We see that autocratization virtually appears as constitutional choice by design, in particular by establishing over-powerful presidential institutions (e.g. Albania, especially until 1998, or Belarus). Furthermore, constitutional choices concerning executive-legislative relations can also become a ‘political battlefield’, such as in Moldova or Ukraine, where executive-legislative relations, or in particular the choice between a premier-presidentialism or presidential-parliamentarism, were vigorously debated. Yet, constitutional amendments have not necessarily advanced the countries’ democratic development (as exemplified by the ‘ping-pong game’ in Ukraine or the constitutional and political stalemate 2009–2012 in Moldova). Thus, some of the country studies suggest that not only the degree of democratic quality, but also the direction of democratic development can be represented in a constitution. Aleksandr Lukašenko, Slobodan Milošević, Franjo Tuđman, and Vladimir Putin did not gain their powerful positions only – if at all – by breaking the constitution. The constitutional choices made during early post-socialist transition have instead featured as a necessary condition for their successes. And although the type of governmental system certainly has no clear causal effect on the success or failure of democracy (see in particular, and representative for the debate, Cheibub 2007), the constitutional crises in these countries did center around the question of legislative-executive relations, thus making the type of governmental system the focal point of the constitutional debate regarding the success of democratization in Central and Eastern Europe.

References
Arato, Andrew 2000. Civil society, constitution, and legitimacy: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Cheibub, José A. 2007. Presidentialism, parliamentarism, and democracy: Cambridge University Press.
Elster, Jon 1993. Constitution-making in Eastern Europe: Rebuilding the boat in the open sea. Public Administration 71(1-2), 169–217.
Elster, Jon, Offe, Claus & Preuß, Ulrich K. 1998. Institutional Design in Post-communist Societies. Rebuilding the Ship at Sea. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Fruhstorfer, Anna & Hein, Michael 2016. Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems. Wiesbaden. Springer VS.
Holmes, Stephen & Sunstein, Cass 1995. The politics of constitutional revision in Eastern Europe, in Levinson, Sanford (Hg.): Responding to imperfection: the theory and practice of constitutional amendment: Princeton University Press, 275–306.
Kitschelt, Herbert 1994. Rationale Verfassungswahl? Zum Design von Regierungssystemen in neuen Konkurrenzdemokratien. URL: http://edoc.hu-berlin.de/documents/ovl/kitschelt-herbert/PDF/Kitschelt.pdf [Stand 2010-07-28].
Köppl, Stefan 2003. Vergebliches Bemühen um Veränderung: Gescheiterte Anläufe zur Reform der italienischen Verfassung. Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen, 310–329.
Lutz, Donald S. 1994. Toward a theory of constitutional amendment. American Political Science Review, 355–370.
Mahoney, James & Thelen, Kathleen 2010. Explaining Institutional Change. Ambiguity, Agency, and Power, in Mahoney, James & Thelen, Kathleen (Hg.): Explaining Institutional Change. Ambiguity, Agency, and Power. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1–37.
Rasch, Bjørn E. & Congleton, Roger D. 2006. 12. Amendment Procedures and Constitutional Stability. URL: http://rdc1.net/forthcoming/DCD%20(Chap%2012,%20Amendment%20Procedures,%20Congleton%20and%20Rausch).pdf [Stand 2016-06-21].
Rosenfeld, Michel, Sadurski, Wojciech & Toniatti, Roberto 2015. Central and Eastern European constitutionalism a quarter century after the fall of the Berlin Wall: Introduction to the Symposium. International Journal of Constitutional Law 13(1), 119–123.
Sartori, Giovanni 1997. Comparative Constitutional Engineering. An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London: Macmillan Press Ltd.

[1]  The selection criterion here is that such attempts have at least gone through the formal amendment procedure as outlined by the valid constitution.
[2]  The rare exceptions are Köppl (2003), Rasch and Congleton (2006), and Lutz (1994).
[3]  All references to individual countries refer to the analysis in the respective country chapters in the edited volume (Fruhstorfer and Hein 2016).

São Tomé and Principe – Election Commission annuls election results, opens door to second round vote

Initial election results indicated that Evaristo Carvalho, candidate of the ruling ADI party, won the presidential election held on 17 July. Carvalho defeated incumbent President Pinto da Costa. Yet, on 22 July, the Election Commission (CEN) cancelled the election results. The Constitutional Court has recently decided that a second round of voting will take place on 7 August.

According to provisional data, Carvalho won 50.1% (34,629) of the votes, incumbent President Manuel Pinto da Costa who ran as an independent garnered 24.8% (17.121), and Maria das Neves of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MSTP-PSD) managed to win 24.1% (16,638). Two other candidates, Hélder Barros and Manuel do Rosário, won 0.3% (194) and 0.7% (488) of the votes respectively. Roughly 70,000 people voted and the abstention rate was 35.91%.[1] President Pinto da Costa and Maria das Neves contested the election results before the country’s Constitutional Court.

In São Tomé and Príncipe the presidential term is five years, and is limited to two consecutive terms. The electoral system for presidential elections is based on the majority principle where the winning candidate is required to obtain an absolute majority (a minimum of 50% plus one vote) of the votes. A second election is organised if none of the candidates receives an absolute majority. In the second round, only the two top candidates are allowed to contest.

The CEN cancelled the election results because of changes in the provisional results affected by vote counts from the diaspora (Portugal, Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea) and because voting had been delayed in one district. According to the Election Commission, no candidate managed to get more than half the votes validly cast. On 22 July, the Constitutional Court decided that a second round between President Pinto da Costa and Carvalho will take place on 7 August.

Both presidential candidates are experienced politicians. President Pinto da Costa, 79, was the first president after independence (1975-1991) and was co-founder of the opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD). Since 2011, he is again president of São Tomé and Príncipe. Pinto da Costa ran three times for president (1994, 2001 and 2011). Yet, his presidential bid was only successful in 2011 when he ran as an independent candidate. Carvalho, 74, was chief of staff to President Pinto da Costa. He was defence minister in 1992 and headed a ‘government of presidential initiative’ in 1994 and in 2001. From 2010 to 2012 Carvalho was the speaker of parliament and became vice-president of the ADI after the 2014 parliamentary elections. This is the second time Carvalho has run for president on the ADI ticket. In 2011, he was defeated by President Pinto da Costa by 47.1% to 52.9%. Yet, it is unclear if President da Costa will beat Carvalho again. For one thing, the incumbent president wants the President of the Election Commission Alberto Pereira to resign and has threatened to withdraw from the presidential elections if he refuses to do so.

If Carvalho becomes president, PM Trovoada’s government may well be the first to finish its four-year term. Under São Tomé and Príncipe’s semi-presidential system, the president can dismiss the prime minister, albeit under circumscribed conditions. Presidents have actively used this power: President Miguel Trovoada (1991-2001) dismissed two prime ministers in his time, while his successor, President Fradique de Menezes (2001-2011) dismissed three.[2] Since 1991 when the first multiparty elections were held in São Tomé and Príncipe, there have been 17 different governments.

Should Carvalho win the elections, intra-executive conflict is unlikely because he is from the same party as the prime minister. The ADI won an absolute majority (33 of the 55 seats) in the 2014 parliamentary election, which resulted into the formation of a single-party government led by PM Trovoada. If President Pinto da Costa were reelected, intra-executive tensions may continue but not escalate. The president’s relationship with the prime minister has not been marked by conflict, but rather distance and non-interference.

Notes

[1] See data published online by the Election Commission (CEN): http://cen.st/index.php/publicacoes/noticias/item/212-resultados-geral-das-eleicoes-presidenciais-2016.

[2] In 2006, constitutional changes reduced the presidency’s executive powers in the areas of defence and foreign affairs and made it harder for the head of state to dismiss the PM and dissolve the 55-member National Assembly. For a detailed description of São Tomé and Príncipe’s semi-presidential system, see: SEIBERT, G. 2009. Instabilidade política e revisão constitucional: semipresidencialismo em São Tomé e Príncipe. In: LOBO, M. C. & NETO, O. A. (eds.) O Semipresidencialismo nos Países de Língua Portuguesa. Lisbon: ICS.

Germany – The headache of choosing a presidential candidate

When German Federal President Joachim Gauck declared that he would not run for a second term in February 2017, The Guardian described it as a ‘headache for Merkel‘. Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor best known for his work in overseeing the extensive archives of the former East German secret police 1991-2000, had been elected as a joint candidate of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats, Green Party and Liberal Democrats (FDP) after his predecessor Christian Wulff resigned amidst allegations of corruption. Many had hoped that Gauck – who still enjoys support from all major parties in the Bundestag except DIE LINKE (successor to the East German communist party) – would run for a second term, thus sparing parties the need to find a new candidate so closely before the next general election due to be held in October 2017. Avoiding a signalling effect for potential post-election coalitions, together with parties’ desire to have their candidate elected by absolute majority in the first or second round (rather than by relative majority in the third and last round of voting) complicates the situation and creates headaches for all party leaders – not only for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German Federal Convention

The German Federal Convention 2012 meeting in the Reichstag building, Berlin | © bundespraesident.de

Since 2013, Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) hold a 71% majority in the Bundestag and form a grand coalition. Even though the Federal Convention – the electoral college convened for electing the German president – consists not only of members of the Bundestag but also the same number of delegates from state parliaments, both parties would have no problems to elect a joint candidate. Nevertheless, neither CDU/CSU nor SPD see this as an ideal option. With the exception of Joachim Gauck, first nominated by SPD and Greens in 2010, both parties have not nominated a joint candidate so far (rather, either party occasionally supported the re-election of the other’s incumbent). This time, too, both parties would most likely be happiest with a candidate clearly affiliated with or at least nominated only by them (not excluding support from a minor party). Nevertheless, the seat distribution the Federal Convention (see projection below) leaves little room for manoeuvre if parties want to see their candidate elected in the first two rounds. Neither CDU/CSU+FPD nor SPD+GREENS, who previously held majorities in the Federal Conventions and subsequently saw their candidates elected, hold a majority. Even a left-wing alliance of SPD, GREENS, DIE LINKE and the SSW (Danish Minority) would fall two votes short of an absolute majority.

German parties are generally cautious about who to support in the Federal Convention as the coalition patterns are seen as indicative of future coalitions on the federal level. Thus, a cooperation of the SPD with far-left party DIE LINKE is unlikely because the SPD leadership has so far categorically denied federal-level coalition potential (despite cooperating with DIE LINKE on state level) – not only could it deter SPD voters, but the CDU/CSU would also likely try to use this pairing for their advantage in the electoral campaign. Similarly, the liberal FDP – although having been in coalitions with the SPD in the past – will likely try to avoid supporting a left-wing candidacy as it hopes to re-enter the Bundestag in 2017 by taking away voters from the right-wing/populist Alternative for Germany. Last, the often-floated option of cooperation between CDU/CSU and Greens is out of the question for similar reasons. Overall, a compromise candidate elected by CDU/CSU+SPD thus seems most likely.

Projection_Seat distribution in the German Federal Convention 2016

1260 seats total; 631 votes required in first and second round, relative majority in third and final round; for more information see http://www.wahlrecht.de/lexikon/bundesversammlung.html

Analysts have highlighted over the last months that parties, particularly the CDU/CSU, would like to see a ‘professional politician’ in the presidential office – although Joachim Gauck has not opposed the government in a major way, some MPs have criticised him for contradicting government positions and even went so far as to investigate means to ‘muzzle’ the president. The CDU/CSU also still lament the resignation of Horst Köhler in 2010 following public criticism of his statements regarding German military deployment which was put down party due to him not having a sufficiently think skin to withstand conflicts of this kind. Foreign Secretary Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) has been mentioned most consistently (even before Gauck’s announcement) as a potential candidate. Despite having been the SPD’s candidate for Chancellor in 2009 and serving as deputy party chairman, he is seen as a relatively party-neutral choice – the fact that he is by far the most popular German politican (71% approval) adds to his suitability. Interestingly, the second most popular politician, veteran politician and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), is also frequently named as a potential candidate. Nevertheless, his hard line on Greek state debt makes him less presentable on an international level. Also, Schäuble is already 73 years old would thus also likely be unavailable for a second term in office. Defence minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) has a number of supporters across the political spectrum, yet is likely more keen to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor than become Germany’s first female president. Last, some social democrats have suggested social science professor Jutta Allmendinger (SPD member), director of the prestigious Berlin Social Science Centre, as a candidate. Nevertheless, the SPD previously failed to see a similar candidate elected on two occasions. On suggestion of then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the SPD nominated professor Gesine Schwan, president of the Viadrina European University in Frankfurt (Oder), for president in 2005 and 2009. Nevertheless, she failed to win and was involved in a number of controversies resulting in several SPD and Green electors refusing to cast their vote for her.

Until now, only the Free Voters – represented only in the state parliament of Bavaria and projected to send a mere 10 electors to Berlin next February – have officially nominated a candidate: Alexander Hold, a judge who gained national prominence by appearing in court room shows on German private TV station SAT 1, currently serving a local councillor and party faction leader for the Free Voters in the town of Kempten. There is little chance that Hold will gain more than the 10 votes of his party colleagues, but the nomination has already produced some headlines which might benefit the party. It would not be the first time that a party nominates a candidate know for their work on TV – in 2009 DIE LINKE nominated actor Peter Sodann as their candidate for president (he received 91 votes – two more than the total number of DIE LINKE delegates – in the first and only round of elections).

The race for president thus still remains open. In contrast to Estonia – where political leaders find themselves in a similar situation – however, there is still sufficient time for parties to find a candidate. On the other hand, a timely decision could mitigate the election’s signalling effect for the next Bundestag election and give parties more time to focus on their campaign. It is without question that all of them do not want to live with a headache for too long.

Rui Graça Feijó – A New Configuration for Portuguese Semi-Presidentialism?

This is a guest post by Rui Graça Feijó of CES/UCoimbra and IHC/UNLisboa

Recent elections (legislative in October 2015, presidential in January 2016) have changed the political landscape in Portugal. This piece aims to assess their impact upon the configuration of Portuguese semi-presidentialism.

The Portuguese government system has been basically stable since its adoption in 1976. Only once (1982) has there been a constitutional revision that addressed the distribution of powers among state organs. No significant institutional change has occurred since then. Politically, however, the story is more complex.

The 1987 elections returned the first single party majority. This gave the PM a prominent position, which has been characterised as the “presidentialism of prime minister” (Moreira 1989). Marina Costa Lobo (2005) has suggested that the “presidentialization of politics” manifested itself in the enhanced role of a PM who had been anointed with a direct mandate. After 1987, a non-written rule existed whereby the election of parliament was combined with a parallel “election” of the PM, reducing the room for decisions for president and parliament, as if being the leader of the largest party was a sufficient condition for acceding to the premiership. Only one PM failed to meet this criterion (Santana Lopes after Barroso left for Brussels in mid-term), and this was credited with weakening his legitimacy. This rule contrasted with the previous practice (the first parliament saw 4 different PMs). The rationale was that it would counteract the instability of the first years of constitutionalism and offer accrued legitimacy to the leader of the largest party in the context where a new government did not require a positive vote of investiture.

After the 2015 legislative elections President Cavaco appointed a PM who was the leader of the winning (but minority) coalition. The left majority in the House brought this government down. For the first time, the “winner” of an election was defeated in parliament at the beginning of his term. The president reluctantly appointed the leader of the second largest party to form a government with a majority of seats. This was a major novelty. Back in 1982, after PM Balsemão resigned, President Eanes refused to appoint Vitor Crespo who had the support of the majority, and dissolved the House. In 1987, when Cavaco’s minority government was defeated in the House, President Soares refused to appoint the socialist leader, even though he was supported by a majority and called early elections instead. Only in 2004 did President Sampaio accept a new PM without fresh elections – but he made a point of placing the government under special scrutiny and four months later he dissolved parliament. All these instances suggest a critical point in the configuration of Portuguese semi-presidentialism: disposing of majority support in parliament is not a sufficient condition for a PM to be appointed or to remain in office as the notion of “popular election” supposes. It takes the political will of the PR to nominate and maintain the PM in office. This embodies the principle of double responsibility of the PM vis-à-vis parliament and the president (one that is central to president-parliamentary sub-types of semi-presidentialism)

The 2015 elections were held when presidential powers were curtailed as he was serving his last six months in office. Faced with a situation he politically opposed, Cavaco considered alternatives that included keeping the defeated PM as a caretaker until fresh elections could be called, or resurrecting the “governments of presidential initiative” that had been the hallmark of President Eanes’ first term – not unlike solutions found in Italy (Monti) and Greece (Papademos). In the end, he bowed to the parliamentary majority and European pressure on budgetary matters. One of his legal advisers, António de Araujo, claimed that a new configuration of Portuguese semi-presidentialism was emerging: a “parliamentary semi-presidentialism” (2016). However, this may be a hasty conclusion.

For one, Cavaco’s term was coming to an end. If he had still been in office on the day new elections would have taken place, there is no doubt that he would have dissolved the parliament. Secondly, Cavaco imposed strict limits on the government’s programme that were not related to institutional considerations (as President Sampaio had done in 2004), but that related instead to the right-wing agenda he espoused. Finally, the new President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who was formally supported by PSD and CDS, was elected on a right of centre platform that was politically different from the one espoused by the coalition with the benediction of Cavaco in the previous legislative elections: he has made it known that he intends to exercise all the powers the constitution bestows upon the head of state, distancing himself both from “minimalist” positions that Cavaco is supposed to have upheld and from the conditions he imposed. Even if Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is not known for the consistency of his positions over time, as far back as 1984 he wrote:

A few months after the constitutional revision the president had the opportunity to exercise three fundamental powers: the power to dismiss the government, the power to refuse the appointment of a prime minister proposed by the parliamentary majority, and the power to dissolve the Assembly of the Republic […] against the opinion of the majority of the Council of State (1984: 57)

This is the view he most certainly still holds of his powers. It came as no surprise that he said he would “review” his support for government in the fall of 2017 when local government elections will be held. This means he has not relinquished any of his prerogatives, including those that refer to the survival of government.

A new configuration of Portuguese semi-presidentialism is thus emerging: both directly elected institutions – parliament and president – have their roles enhanced. The “election” of the PM has lost its importance. It is clear that more than depending on direct popular support, the PM responds politically both to the President of the Republic and the Assembly of the Republic, and both organs are keen to exercise their full competences. Without implying an institutional modification, these developments amount to a new model for Portuguese semi-presidentialism, where the PM is no longer the only central figure.

References

Araujo, António. 2016. “Semi-presidencialismo de assembleia”, in Público, 13 January

Lobo, Marina Costa. 2005. “The Presidentialization of Portuguese Democracy?” in Thomas Poguntke and Paul Webb (eds), The Presidentialization of Politics, Oxford, OUP

Moreira, Adriano. 1989. “O regime: presidencialismo do primeiro ministro” in Mario Batista Coelho (ed), Portugal: o sistema politico-constitucional 1974-1987. Lisboa, ICS

Sousa, Marcelo Rebelo. 1984. O Sistema de Governo Português, antes e depois da revisão constitucional. Lisboa, Cognitio (3rd edition)

Haiti – A country on Autopilot

Joseph Michel Martelly’s presidency ended without a successor being directly elected. The interim president, Jocelerme Privert, has not yet been able to fulfil his mandate to organize new elections. Even though political tensions have somewhat abated, the country is still not out the woods. This post offers a brief overview of the political situation since February, with a focus on the behavior and calculations of the principal actors.

On February 14 when Privert was sworn in to lead the interim government the mandate was clear: He had to complete the electoral process in 120 days. The agreement between then outgoing President Martelly and the Presidents of both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies clearly stipulated that within this timeframe the interim president had to appoint a new government, reconstitute the Electoral Council (CEP in French), put in place the technical recommendations of the Independent Commision of Evaluation of the elections (CIEVE, in French), and organize the second round of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

It was clear both to Privert and to most of the political actors that it would be impossible to respect this deadline. Indeed, Privert was elected seven days after the departure of Martelly, not within the 48 hours set out in the agreement. The new CEP was installed on March 30, nearly a month after the interim President took office. The CIEVE was put in place on April 14 and handed in its recommendations more than a month later on May 29. What is more, the CIEVE recomended not the continuation of the presidential election, but its cancellation altogether.

The first 120 days of interim president Privert’s office have now passed and he has been unable to fullfill the key objective of the transition: handing over the presidential sash to a newly elected president. The CEP has set the first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections for October 9 and the second round for January 8, 2017. Thus, the transition will have lasted almost 365 days, instead of the 120 previously agreed. In this context, the most important question for the principal actors has revolved around what strategy to adopt given this new timetable.

So far the transition has rewarded some actors and punished others. Some are weaker than when the process began. Others are in better position today than before. Others still are looking for a way to reinter the game, after having previously been pushed out by other actors. For simplicity, I will refer to these three groups of actors as pro-Martelly camp, the International Community, and the Opposition during the Martelly government.

The International Community is the group that has lost out the most during this process. From the start, the International Community (namely the United States of America, the European Union, the OAS and the UN) assumed that they could force the opposition to the Martelly government to accept any electoral results independently of their assesment of the fairness and transparency of the process. After the first round of the parliamentary elections on August 2015, while some key actors in the opposition were denouncing widespread fraud, the International Community supported the CEP. The same situation occurred when the results of the first round of the presidential election were published. The opposition parties took to the streets to denounce the results. Meanwhile the International Community was working behind closed doors to force the result to be accepted. When the first Commision of Evaluation put in place by President Martelly recommended a thorough evaluation of the situation and measures to build confidence in the process, the representatives of International Community looked the other way. They were against the idea of interim president and, naturally, are opposed to the most recent recommendations for new presidential elections.

The representatives of the European Union have left the country to signal their opposition. The US Department of the State has made it clear that it will not support new elections financially. It goes without saying that the decision not to fund the CEP will have important repercussions for the already difficult budgetary situation of the Haitian government. But, it means also that the International Community will have less say in the political process.

The decision of the International Community to turn its back on the electoral process has meant that its protegé, the pro-Martelly camp, also has less power to impose an outcome on its adversaries. The various strategies adopted by this group are good example of how they have gauged their strength. At the beginning they were against any concessions to the opposition. Their analysis of the elections converged with that of the International Community. But, once it was clear the second round of the presidential election would not take place, they supported the interim solution agreed between Martelly and the leaders of the two houses of parliament. Their candidate for the new presidential election, Jovenel Moise, has now been chosen.

The most recent strategy of the pro-Martelly camp has been the decision not to permit a vote in the chambers on the continuation of Privert as interim president. The agreement stipulates that if elections were not held in 120 days, legislators should convene and decide what to do. The pro-Martelly group argues that this should mean the end of the Privert government. However, they do not have enough votes to force out the interim president. Consequently they have decided not to participate in parliamentary meetings. This means that since July 14, there is a president without any legitimacy, waiting to be confirmed by the Parliament.

The former opposition to the Martelly government is in a far better situation than it was before the beginning of the transition. In some measure, it has the control of the state apparatus. But it has two formidable opponents in the pro-Martelly camp and the International Community. The new situation has forced them to evolve their strategy from one of trying to derail the system to one that wants to protect the status quo. They are now more interested in keeping Privert in power than any of the other actors.

The future will show how the situation evolves in Haiti. For the moment, with a president without legitimacy, an International actor with less leverage over the key internal actors, and the pro-Martelly group being branded as corrupt, the country is almost literally on automatic pilot.

Nauru – Waqa government re-elected

Nauru went to the polls on 9 July and returned Baron Waqa’s government for another term. The Pacific island nation has a population of roughly 10,000 (around 8000 registered voters) who elect 19 MPs for three-year terms from multi-seat constituencies by majority vote. There is no formal party system with parliament effectively made-up of 19 independent members. Because Nauru’s president is both head of government and head of state Waqa was re-elected to the post on the floor of parliament by 16 MPs.

Two election observer teams – one from the Pacific Islands Forum and another from the Commonwealth Secretariat – declared the election free and fair, and commended the high voter turnout. It was reportedly the first time in more than a decade that Nauruan elections had been monitored by international observers.

One reason for the heightened interest is that much of the media discussion in the lead up to the election centred on the creeping authoritarianism of the Waqa government (see this blog). Opposition MPs had previously been suspended from parliament – those under house arrest claimed their campaigning activities were curtailed – media commentary was sanctioned and foreign journalists effectively prohibited from entering the country due to high visa fees, and amendments to the criminal code made expressions of ‘political hatred’ punishable by up to seven years imprisonment. Some candidates had their employment contracts terminated – a move commonly believed to be government initiated. The fee for candidate nomination was also hiked to a level that made it prohibitive for many aspirant politicians. This latter measure was contested in Nauru’s Supreme Court, leading to the government eventually dropping the fee from $2000 to $500 (it had previously been $100).

The government has been quick to claim the result as a ringing endorsement of their record and plan for Nauru’s future. In the aftermath of the result Justice Minister David Adeang accused the international media of beating up the accusations against his government as a means of undermining the operation of the Australian Government’s offshore asylum seeker processing centre currently housed on the island. Three of the MPs who had been suspended from the last parliament – Former President Sprent Dabwido, Squire Jeremiah and Mathew Batsiua – lost their seats. Another, Roland Kun, chose not to stand – he has since been granted a New Zealand passport on humanitarian grounds (his Nauruan passport had previously been confiscated on the grounds that he had taken part in anti-government protests and had spoken out against the government in the international media).

Despite the government’s triumphalist tone, this story has a long way left to run. The Australian Federal Police confirmed a week after the election that they were still investigating Getax, the Australian phosphate dealer at the heart of an alleged political corruption scandal. Having left Nauru, Kun is said to be a key witness in that investigation. Needless to say, this is an interesting time in Nauruan politics.

 

Jack Tsen-Ta Lee – Singapore’s Elected President: An Office That Is Still Evolving

This is a guest post by Jack Tsen-Ta Lee in the School of Law, Singapore Management University

Changes made to Singapore’s Constitution a quarter of a century ago brought it further away from the traditional Westminster model which the nation inherited from the United Kingdom, the former colonial power. These amendments created a new type of President – not a full executive head of state, but what might be described as a ‘figurehead-plus’. Now, the Government is proposing to tweak the system further.

Before 1991, the office of the President was a purely ceremonial one, and the officeholder was elected by the Parliament. This meant the President was effectively chosen by the People’s Action Party (PAP), as it has been the ruling political party controlling a majority of the seats in Parliament since 1959.

In fact, for 16 years from 1965 when Singapore became an independent republic, the PAP held every single parliamentary seat. The situation only shifted in 1981, when J B Jeyaretnam of the Workers’ Party was returned to Parliament in a by-election. In the following general elections in 1984 and 1988 Jeyaretnam retained his seat, and was joined in the opposition by Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Party.

In this political climate, the PAP began to introduce constitutional changes to allow more alternative voices to be heard in the legislature. In 1984 it became possible for a certain number of opposition candidates in a general election who were the ‘best losers’ to be deemed elected as Non-constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs). At present, the number of NCMPs thus elected is nine less the number of opposition candidates successfully contesting the polls in their constituencies. In 1990 the position of Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) was created. Up to nine NMPs selected from fields such as culture, industry, community service and the labour movement can be appointed by the President upon nominations made by a special select committee of Parliament.

While NCMPs and NMPs are free to participate in parliamentary debates, they cannot vote on certain important issues, including constitutional amendments, financial matters, and votes of no confidence in the Government. Moreover, they are powerless to block the passage of bills they are allowed to vote on. PAP MPs presently outnumber them as the party holds 83 of the 101 seats in Parliament.

Some critics have denounced the NCMP and NMP schemes as a ploy by the PAP Government to dissuade voters from electing opposition MPs, since the schemes ensure a token presence of potentially non-PAP views in the legislature. Nonetheless, NCMP seats have been a platform for opposition politicians to maintain visibility in public life, which may have helped them to win in later general elections. NMPs have also raised a number of important issues for discussion in Parliament.

‘Second key’

These changes to the constitutional order culminated in the Elected Presidency scheme. The PAP described it as a safeguard against a “freak election result” – one in which the PAP no longer forms the Government. In that scenario, the Elected President holds a ‘second key’ over certain significant matters, the ‘first key’ being wielded by the Government. Transforming the office into one directly elected by the people would give the President moral authority to disapprove of government decisions, if need be.

No longer a purely ceremonial head of state, the President has discretionary power to veto attempts by the Government to deplete the nation’s past financial reserves (those built up in previous parliamentary terms); and to effect unsuitable appointments to or dismissals of key public officers such as judges, the Attorney-General, the Chief of Defence Force, and the Commissioner of Police. In addition, the President may authorize the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to conduct investigations in the face of a contrary command by the Prime Minister.

The President also holds a casting vote over whether someone should be detained without trial under the Internal Security Act, or should have a restraining order issued against him or her under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. This vote may only be exercised if there is a difference of opinion between the Minister for Home Affairs who wishes to proceed against the person, and the advisory body appointed to make a recommendation to the President on the matter.

To a degree, some of the President’s discretionary powers only have a signalling effect, serving to highlight to the electorate the Government’s actions. If the President decides to veto such action against the recommendation of the Council of Presidential Advisers, the Constitution authorizes the Government to override the veto with a parliamentary resolution supported by at least two-thirds of all the elected MPs. This override mechanism applies to the President’s fiscal powers and powers over public service appointments and dismissals. Given the PAP’s dominance in Parliament, it is a foregone conclusion that such a resolution would pass. In any case, since the Elected Presidency scheme came into being, no holder of the office has yet exercised his veto.

Further changes

In January this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in Parliament that he would be appointing a constitutional commission chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon to consider further changes to the Elected Presidency scheme. In particular, he said the qualifying criteria to be President might need to be more stringent, and that some mechanism might be required to ensure that members of minority communities are elected as President from time to time.

Among the qualifications for being elected President set out in the Constitution is the requirement that a person must have held, for not less than three years, one of several high offices, including that of cabinet minister, Chief Justice, Speaker of Parliament, Attorney-General, or Permanent Secretary of a government ministry. Alternatively, Article 19(2)(g) states that a person is qualified if he or she has held office for the requisite period:

(iii) as chairman of the board of directors or chief executive officer of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act (Cap. 50) with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency; or

(iv) in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organisation or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which, in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee, has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of President.

The Prime Minister noted the S$100 million sum was to ensure that Presidents are “people with high senior management competence and experience, as they have to assess and decide on financial proposals involving billions of dollars”, and are able to hold a demanding appointment. However, “over 25 years, our economy has grown, government spending and reserves have increased, and the size and complexity of the organisations subject to the second key of the President have increased many fold”. Thus, he suggested the figure might need upwards adjustment.

The Prime Minister added:

The President is the Head of State, he represents all Singaporeans in our multi-racial society. I think it is important that minorities have a chance to be elected President, and that this happens regularly. […] But in future, when Presidential Elections are more likely to be contested, even hotly contested, I believe it will become much harder for a minority President to get elected.

He therefore submitted there should be a procedure “to ensure that minorities can be periodically elected if we have not had a particular minority as President for some time”.

The Constitutional Commission, only the second to be convened since Singapore’s independence, issued a call for submissions on the matter and held four public hearings in April and May. I was one of those who made a submission and appeared before the Commission, and also attended a number of the hearings. Judging from the questions asked by Commission members, it appears that serious consideration is being given to pushing up the financial criterion, perhaps by several hundred million Singapore dollars; and to having occasional elections reserved for minority candidates if no President from a minority community has been President for a certain number of terms. Quite a few of those appearing before the Commission were asked to comment on the latter suggestion, originally made by Dr Mathew Mathews of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

My own view is that the two main issues the Commission is focusing on pull in opposite directions. Increasing the financial threshold to be President reduces the potential pool of candidates, and might make it harder for minority candidates to qualify. Only senior executives who are Singapore citizens may stand for office, and many will probably not wish to do so anyway. Of the citizens willing to throw their hats into the ring, because almost 75% of Singapore residents are Chinese, only a low percentage are likely to be from the Malay, Indian and other minority communities.

While diversity in institutions of governance is vital, legislating some sort of reserved election might also imply that minority candidates cannot succeed on their own merits without a leg-up, a point made to the Commission by Dr Gillian Koh and Mr Tan Min-Wei, also from the IPS. Perhaps a ‘softly, softly’ approach is warranted, at least for a start. We could experiment with having an independent body reach out to business and professional associations, and other relevant organizations, and encourage minority candidates to participate in presidential elections.

The Constitutional Commission is expected to report in the latter half of the year, and if changes are recommended the Government may seek to implement them before the next presidential election due in 2017. It will be interesting to see how such changes affect the election. Regardless, it seems the office of the Elected President continues to evolve.

Estonia – Six weeks before the presidential elections, there is no clear front-runner

The date for Estonia’s next presidential election has been set for 29 August 2016, with 24 September determined as a possible follow-up date should voting in parliament prove inconclusive. Incumbent Toomas Hendrik Ilves is not allowed to run again, having served two consecutive terms from 2006-2011 and 2011-2016. Over the last year, a field of potential candidates has blossomed, yet until now the it is still difficult to tell the wheat from the weeds or to speculate who will become Ilves’ successor.

Election of the Estonian president 2006 in the electoral college | © Riigikogu 2006

Election of the Estonian president 2006 in the electoral college | © Riigikogu 2006

The Estonian president is elected by parliament and except for the 1992 election – when the first round was exceptionally held by popular vote with a runoff held in parliament – parliament has three attempts to elect a candidate with a two-thirds majority of its members, i.e. 68 out of 101 members. If parliament fails to elect a candidate, the election passes on to an electoral college consisting of all members of parliament and roughly two-and-a-half times as many representatives from local parliaments and city councils (the number of representatives is based on population size – in 2016 there will be 234 local representatives). In the electoral college, only an absolute majority is necessary to elect a candidate in two rounds of voting. New candidates can be suggested in the first and second round of voting in parliament and in the first round of voting in the electoral college, making it possible for surprise candidates to emerge (and in the case of Arnold Rüütel, president 2001-2006, even win) at a relative late stage.

Parties, candidates and the public

Until now, there is only one confirmed candidate for the presidency: The Centre Party has nominated Mailis Reps, a 41-year old former minister of education and deputy chairman of the party who supports popular presidential elections. Interestingly, Reps beat long-time party leader and one-time Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar in the party internal ballot for the nomination by a 90:78 margin. The Centre Party however remains an outcast in the Estonian parliament – despite its continuous electoral success – and is eyed with suspicion by other parties due to its close links with the Russian minority and contacts to Vladimir Putin’s ‘United Russia’. Thus, it is unlikely that Reps will eventually take the presidency.

The names of several other candidates have been mentioned over the last year, yet as 21 members of parliament are needed to receive a nomination, only the Reform Party of Prime Minister Taavi Roivas would be able to formally nominate another candidate of their own accord (the internal nomination of Mart Helme by the ‘Conservative People’s Party’ which holds only seven seats in the Riigikogu is thus largely inconsequential). Roivas on the other hand will likely not try to claim the presidential office for his own party but give it to either of the junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats or the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union. The Social Democrats have informally nominated Riigikogu speaker and veteran politician Eiki Nestor as their own candidate, while the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union want to put forward former Chancellor of Justice, Allar Jõks. Public opinion however still complicates the situation for the coalition. Despite having never been formally nominated or endorsed, foreign secretary Marina Kaljurand (independent; nominated to the cabinet by the Reform Party) has topped opinion polls for months as the public’s preferred president. Former Prime Minister and EU Commissioner as well as Reform Party co-founder Siim Kallas has also declared his willingness to be a presidential candidate but has not received any endorsement from the party so far. A joint candidate of Reform Party, Social Democrats and Pro Patria and Res Publica seems to be the most likely outcome of the election, yet it will likely only be decided in the electoral college (until now, Ilves’ reelection in 2011 was the only time that the Riigikogu elected a president without the help of the college).

Marina Kaljurand (middle) with Prime Minister Taavi Roivas (l.) and president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (r.) | © president.ee

Marina Kaljurand (middle) with Prime Minister Taavi Roivas (l.) and president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (r.) | © president.ee

The future of the presidency: Popular elections unlikely

President Ilves, although not always unequivocally liked by parties and citizens, leaves large foot steps to follow. He is an internationally renowned expert of cyber security and as a former foreign minister and ambassador to the United States brought a great deal of diplomatic skill to the role which helped him to make the country considerably more visible. The discussion about a future president is very much influenced by that role, with Prime Minister Roivas and others stressing that any potential candidate would need to have international experience and know their way around issue of foreign and defence policy (especially the latter has been rising in importance for the small Baltic nation in the wake of the Ukraine crisis and disputes with Russia over borders). In turn, Mailis Reps, who already as a education minister was criticised for lack of experience, has little to offer in this regard and thus stressed that in her view the president should be more active in domestic politics – a view not shared by the majority of politicians and very much counter to the development of constitutional practice over the last 20 years as my own research showed. Reps proposal to introduce popular presidential elections, a change equally favoured by Mart Helme of the ‘Conservative People’s Party’ is thus also unlikely to be implemented – previous projects for constitutional amendments proposed by the Centre Party as well as the first presidents, Lennart Meri, were all unsuccessful.

Martin P. Wattenberg – Will Trump vs. Clinton See a Resurgence in the Relevance of Presidential Candidate Personality?

This is a guest post by Martin P. Wattenberg, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.”  Because the presidency is a uniquely personal and powerful office, character matters enormously in terms of governing.  Recognizing how factors like integrity, competence, reliability, and leadership skills have made a difference in past presidencies, American voters naturally take such factors into account when they cast their ballots.

In the 2016 campaign, it is clear that both of the major party nominees will be extensively discussing personal attributes.  Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to Hillary Clinton as “crooked Hillary” and charged that she is a weak leader.  He offers his business experience as a major reason for voting for him, saying that if he can make billions of dollars he can certainly manage the nation’s economic affairs.  For her part, Clinton argues that Trump is temperamentally unsuited to be president and too politically inexperienced to be given the reins of power.  In contrast, she has offered her vast experience in government and knowledge of the issues as major justifications for voting for her.

Yet to be seen is just how much voters will really focus on personality matters when they cast their ballots in the fall of 2016.  My research finds that in recent elections the electorate’s focus on candidate attributes has substantially declined.  The analyses were based on a set of open-ended questions asking respondents what they liked and disliked about the major candidates, which have been asked in every American National Election Study from 1952 to 2012.

A great advantage of open-ended questions is that people can say whatever is on their mind, without prompting from survey designers.  Hence, it is revealing that the majority of respondents have consistently said something about the candidate’s personal attributes.  But the trend has definitely been downward, as displayed in the figure below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 20.40.37

An examination of the data from 2008 and 2012 reveals that young people were substantially less likely than older people to focus on candidate personality.  Having grown up in a much more polarized political environment in which policies are more clearly sorted according to party affiliation, young voters have come to focus more on policies than candidate character.  Assuming this generational change continues, we can expect that the saliency of personal attributes in voters’ evaluations of candidates will probably continue to decline in the future.

In this more polarized era, there is reason to expect that personality evaluations will be more diametrically opposed than ever before.  In the past, it was pretty common for respondents to say that they liked both candidates in terms of their personal characteristics.  But as people have come to hold more black and white views of the candidates, personal character is no longer likely to be judged objectively without regard to political bias. The correlation between personality evaluations of the Democratic and Republican candidates’ provides a simple measure of polarization, with a more negative correlation indicating greater polarization.  The figure below shows that candidate personality evaluations have been more polarized than ever during the last three presidential elections.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 20.41.26

One major reason why candidate character evaluations are now more polarized is that they have become more likely to be seen through the perceptual screen of partisanship.  Indeed, recent elections have seen a much tighter relationship between partisanship and evaluations of candidate character.

With fewer people mentioning personal attributes and with those who do so filtering their comments through the perceptual screen of partisanship, the independent impact of candidates’ personal qualities on voting behavior has declined over time.  My final figure shows that the partial correlation between voting decisions and candidate attribute ratings has clearly lessened in recent presidential elections, with the 2012 election representing the lowest figure ever in the time series.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 20.42.27

Although these results point to a generally lessened role for personality evaluations in the decisions of American voters, they do not necessarily mean that candidate character will never again be crucial to the outcome of presidential elections.  Any future presidential candidate who sees an opening to take advantage of a perceived edge on some personal attribute will no doubt seize on it and voters are bound to pay at least some attention.  With Donald Trump’s outsized personality it is certainly conceivable that personality factors will play a larger role in 2016 than they have in the past several elections.  However, as candidate character evaluations have become so polarized and filtered through partisanship, it seems unlikely that personality factors will be as important to the outcome as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s.