Monthly Archives: May 2017

Senegal – Sall vs. Sall

Senegal is preparing for legislative elections on July 2, 2017. In the country’s semi-presidential system, the prime minister and cabinet are responsible to both the president and the legislature. A legislative majority in opposition to the president can force out the prime minister and cabinet through a vote of no confidence. This could theoretically result in a situation of cohabitation – where a president and prime minister from opposing parties/coalitions have to share executive power.

Senegal has never experienced cohabitation and President Macky Sall surely hopes he will not be the first president to explore this uncharted territory. A new opposition coalition with the participation of Dakar’s mayor Khalifa Sall (no family relation) hopes to the contrary to wrestle away the majority from the presidential coalition in the July elections.

President Sall’s coalition, Benno Bokk Yaakaar (BBY), controls a comfortable majority of 119 seats in the sitting 150-seat unicameral legislature, with the remainder distributed across 12 parties or coalitions. With two years remaining of his first, seven-year term, will Macky Sall be able to maintain control of the National Assembly in the upcoming polls?

The government’s performance record appears at face value to be good. The economy is doing well, with above 6 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the past two years, a trend the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects to continue this year. Senegal has become one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, the fiscal deficit is falling, and after Tunisia, Senegal is only the second country in the world to adopt a new national digital currency – the eCFA. According to Transparency International, the fight against corruption has progressed, with the adoption of a number of anti-corruption reforms and the creation of a Ministry for the Promotion of Good Governance Responsible for the Relations with Institutions.

So why is the well-known youth group Y’en a marre in the streets, protesting against Macky Sall in an unlikely alliance with the Parti démocratique sénégalais (PDS), the party of former President Abdoulaye Wade? Y’en a marre was instrumental in mobilizing the youth vote in particular, in opposition to Wade’s attempt at securing a third term in 2012 when he ran against Macky Sall in the presidential run-off. What has happened to turn former friends into foes, and former foes into friends?

Y’en a marre cannot forgive Macky Sall for going back on his word (wax waxeet in Wolof – a bad habit of Senegalese political leaders according to the creators of the wax-waxeet.com monitoring website): Sall had promised during his campaign that he would reduce the length of presidential terms from seven to five years with immediate effect — to include his first term. However, instead of submitting a bill to revise the constitution accordingly for approval by the National Assembly — where it would likely easily have received the required 3/5 of votes to pass without requiring a referendum — Sall waited four years to consult with the constitutional court, in 2016. The court found that changing the duration of an ongoing presidential term would be against the spirit of the constitution and constitutional practice. Sall therefore declared in February 2016 that he would comply with the finding of the constitutional court and serve the full length of his first mandate. Constitutional revisions adopted a month later do include a provision for the reduced term-length, but it is a change that will only be applicable to his next term.

In addition to breaking a promise, Y’en a marre and opposition parties also accuse President Sall of having instigated the arrest of Khalifa Sall in March of this year on trumped up fraud charges. Khalifa Sall is a likely presidential candidate and strong challenger to Macky Sall in 2019. An attempt to dislodge him from his prominent position as mayor in Dakar by President Sall’s party (though the parties of the two Salls both belong to the ruling coalition) failed in 2014 [see earlier blogpost here].

Since his arrest, Khalifa Sall has joined forces with the PDS, the Rewmi party of former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck and others, to form a new coalition, Manko Taxawu Senegaal (Accord to Watch over Senegal), which will field joint lists for the legislative polls.

The legislative election campaign is getting off the ground. The election outcome will be an early indication of the relative popularity of the two Salls, as the 2019 presidential poll approaches.

Bulgaria – Who got what in Borisov III cabinet?

About one month after the general election held on March 26, a new government formally took office in Bulgaria on May 4. The post-election negotiations were led by Boyko Borisov’s centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), which has emerged once again as the largest party in the fourth consecutive election since 2009. In fact, since the party first competed in a national poll in 2009, GERB and PM Borisov have spent only one year in opposition between May 2013 and October 2014.

As anticipated, a majority coalition was forged between GERB and the United Patriots (UP) alliance, which brings together Bulgaria’s three main players of the far right: the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO), the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), and Ataka. Separately, the three parties have proved instrumental to maintaining both GERB- (in 2009 and 2014) and BSP-led governments (in 2013) in power without directly participating in government. This time around, due to their ability to unite ahead of the 2016 presidential election and support a common candidate, the nationalists are formally represented in cabinet.

Technically, the government has a mere one-seat majority, as the two coalition partners have 122 deputies between themselves in the 240-member National Assembly. Nevertheless, the ruling parties may be able to count on the more or less explicit parliamentary support of Volya, a new anti-establishment party founded by businessman Veselin Mareshki, which won 12 seats in the March election. A first indication in this regard was the investiture vote held on May 4, which the government won by 134 votes to 101, as Volya MPs voted alongside GERB and the United Patriots.

Portfolio allocation

Figure 1 compares the share of legislative seats the two partners contribute to the governing coalition with their portfolio payoffs. Out of 21 posts, GERB retained 17, including the PM, while UP obtained four posts. As kingmakers in the government formation process, the United Patriots were expected to demand a high price for their participation in cabinet. As far as the numerical payoffs are concerned, though, they received one portfolio less than their proportional share of the cabinet prize (if a purely proportional divisor method like Sainte-Laguë or Hare-Niemeyer were used to translate their seat contribution into cabinet posts). That said, removing the temporary portfolio in charge of Bulgaria’s 2018 EU Presidency from GERB’s share of ministerial posts results in perfect seat proportionality in portfolio allocation. Thus, the distribution of ministries may have taken into account the long-term prospects of the governing coalition and the need to underline the government’s pro-EU and pro-NATO stance ahead of the 2018 EU Presidency despite the presence of the Eurosceptic and pro-Russian (as far as Ataka is concerned) United Patriots in government. Moreover, an entire portfolio devoted to the EU Presidency is also consistent with the centrality of EU-related domestic and external policies highlighted in GERB’s 2017electoral manifesto.

Figure 1. Seat shares and portfolio allocation in Borisov III cabinet

The slight underpayment of the United Patriots may also reflect GERB’s dominant position within the party system and the decline in the nationalist vote compared to the 2014 general election. In fact, with the exception of Volya’s entry in parliament, the only parties that gained votes and seats in the 2017 election were the mainstream GERB and BPS, which dominate the right and left side of the political spectrum. Moreover, given the consensus on UP key demands such as increasing public spending and curbing immigration during the campaign, reaching a compromise with the nationalists may have been less of a complex bargain to strike.

In terms of policy areas, the United Patriots received two out of four deputy prime ministerships, along with the defence, economy, and environment portfolios. Krasimir Karakachanov (VMRO), the UP candidate in the 2016 presidential poll, cumulates the deputy prime ministership with the defence portfolio. One of his main priorities is to bring back compulsory military service, despite GERB’s reluctance to commit to anything more than “encouraging” voluntary military service in the governing programme. Valeri Simeonov (NFSB leader), who is deputy PM in charge of economic and demographic policy, has already faced calls for resignation after he downplayed a Nazi salute scandal that led to the resignation of an UP deputy minister. The economy portfolio is occupied by Emil Karanikolov, who was nominated by Ataka, while Neno Dimov, a former deputy environment minister during 1997-2001 who recently described global warming as a fraud, is the new environment minister.

GERB has kept the remaining 17 posts, including two deputy PMs. Most of these positions are occupied by ministers from previous GERB governments. Some of them have returned to the same posts they occupied in November 2016, when the government stepped down. This is the case for Tomislav Donchev (deputy PM), Vladislav Goranov (Minister of Finance), Ivaylo Moskovski (Minister of Transports), Temenuzhka Petkova (Minister of Enery), Nikolina Angelkova (Minister of Tourism) and Krasen Kralev (Minister of Youth and Sports). Others were promoted from the team of previous ministers or from the leadership of state agencies. Overall, the similarity with Boyko Borisov’s previous team has strengthened the expectations that “the status quo won” and that the country will receive “more of the same” while the GERB-UP coalition is in power.

Gender balance

Gender equality is not the strongest feature of PM Borisov’s third cabinet. Women hold only five out of 21 posts. The United Patriots did not nominate any women for their ministries. Most of the prestigious posts controlled by GERB went to men, including the ministries of the Interior, Finance, Labour, Health, Agriculture, Education, and Regional Development. That said, a few exceptions exist. Former justice minister Ekaterina Zakharieva was promoted as deputy PM and assigned the foreign affairs portfolio. She was succeeded at the Ministry of Justice by Tsetska Tsacheva, GERB’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election. Both women had previously held important political roles: the former was President Plevneliev’s Chief of Staff and served as Deputy PM in the two caretaker cabinets appointed during 2013-2014; while the latter served twice as Speaker of the National Assembly while GERB was in power (2009-2013 and 2014-2017). Former women ministers in Borisov’s previous cabinet picked up the other three portfolios in Energy, Tourism, and the temporary ministry in charge of the 2018 EU Presidency. On the whole, while this is a far cry from a parity government, at least women were not exclusively allocated stereotypically “feminine” or low-profile portfolios.

  Figure 2. Women and independent ministers in Bulgarian cabinets (1991-2017).                                                       Source: Cabinet composition data from Database on WHO GOVERNS in Europe; European Journal of Political Research Political Data Yearbook (Bulgaria); Wikipedia (Bulgarian pages)

Figure 2 shows that the current cabinet does not stand out from his predecessors. Since 1991, the percentage of women in Bulgarian cabinets has not exceeded 35%. In fact, it was during PM Borisov’s first term in government that the number of women in government increased from well below 20% to more than one third of cabinet members. This time around, though, women make up less than one quarter of cabinet members. As we can see from Figure 2, a significant number of Bulgarian ministers continue to be recruited from outside the parliament and political parties, partly as a result of enduring distrust in politicians and state institutions.

New president-cabinet relations

The return of GERB and PM Borisov to power is also likely to change the working relations between the head of state and the new executive. As it is known, Bulgaria’s third consecutive snap poll was triggered by the 2016 presidential election, as PM Borisov stepped down after GERB candidate Tsetska Tsacheva was defeated by Rumen Radev, the non-party candidate supported by BSP. Although the presidency is not a particularly important asset for running the government, the prime minister speculated the moment to prevent the Socialist Party from capitalising on their electoral victory in the long run.

Since President Radev, a former air force commander, ran in the election as a non-partisan candidate supported by BPS, the relations with the GERB-led government should not be labelled as cohabitation. That said, the level of conflict between the president and the government can escalate even outside periods of cohabitation. For example, President Plevneliev, who also run for office as a non-partisan candidate supported by GERB, constantly used his constitutional powers to put pressure on the Socialist-backed Oresharski government during 2013-2014.

Like his predecessor, President Radev seems to take a keen interest in electoral reform. In early April, while government formation negotiations were in full swing and the Gerdzhikov caretaker government was still in office, the president was involved in a controversy about the drafting of legislation limiting the voting right of Bulgarians living abroad. The caretaker government had no attributions in setting policy but the scandal intensified when officials from the Ministry of Justice claimed that the proposed amendments to the electoral legislation had been drafted in meetings with the president and his advisers. President Radev did not deny his involvement and argued that despite lacking formal powers of legislative initiative, he sees it as his duty to get involved when issues “particularly important to society and national security” are at stake.

To a certain extent, the voting bill rights episode may reflect the president’s lack of political experience. At the same time, it could also indicate his readiness to clash with political actors if necessary. PM Borisov’s plan to introduce a majority run-off system to elect all members of the National Assembly could provide such a motivation. GERB’s electoral reform proposals are in line with the three-question referendum held in November 2016. While the referendum results were not validated, the turnout was high enough to force the parliament to discuss and vote on the referendum matter. As the party that would have the most to gain from a majoritarian system, GERB is alone in supporting the adoption of the majority runoff rule for all 240 constituencies. All other parties, including the United Patriots coalition partners, are in favour of a mixed electoral system. President Radev argued against a 100% majoritarian vote as well. Thus, cohabitation or not, the GERB-UP coalition and the president/cabinet relations may soon reach the end of their honeymoon.

Paola Rivetti – Iran again? Rouhani’s new challenges

This is a guest post by Paola Rivetti, Lecturer in International Relations at Dublin City University

On Friday 19th May, Iranians residing in the Islamic Republic and abroad confirmed Hassan Rouhani as the president of the Republic. The electoral campaign had been particularly contentious, and since the first TV debate among the candidates, tones had turned harsh. “Iran again” (Iran dobare) is the post-election slogan that Rouhani’s supporters had chosen. However, in office again Rouhani will need to deal with a number of new challenges that will require a new approach. In particular, he will need to navigate the fractures and divisions within the elite in order to make sure that Iran’s position in foreign politics is credible, as the government prepares to deal with significant challenges ranging from the Trump administration and the Syria file, to the fate of the nuclear agreement of 2015. In order to do this, Rouhani will need to reach out to his conservative rivals in the elite, but this will come with a price. What will the president sacrifice in order to maintain stability? And who will pay the price for it?

Background

Iran has been a hybrid-type of presidential republic since 1989. The 1989 reform had the effect of giving a counter-power to the highest office in the Islamic Republic. While, constitutionally, the rahbar or Supreme Leader is more powerful than the president and may count on a religious and political legitimacy, the president has always acted as a competitor to the Leader. As Jason Rezaian wrote, no matters who the president is, “he’ll have a fight with the supreme leader” on the foreign politics, the economy or on issues related to the role of the judiciary in curbing dissent or shutting down the press that dares to criticise the elite in power. Since 1989, this contentious pattern has repeated itself, regardless of the ideological affinity of the Leader and the president.

During Rouhani’s first term in office (2013-2017), the fights between Rouhani and the current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, mostly revolved around the 2015 nuclear agreement. Although it was reached thanks to the support of Khamenei (who has the last word in matters of foreign policy), the deal was criticised by Khamenei himself and other conservative voices for “selling Iran to the West”. This slogan referred to the conditions that Iran had to accept in exchange for going on with the nuclear programme. In particular, the continuation of sanctions and the limitation in missile activities and trade caused an angry reaction on the part of the conservatives and the Revolutionary Guards (the paramilitary apparatus, under the control of the Supreme Leader), who are heavily involved in such military activities.

Khamenei will continue to fight with Rouhani, who received 57.31% of the votes cast. Rouhani’s main rival, Ebrahim Reissi, gathered 38.29% of the preferences. Mostafa Mirsalim, a conservative former Minister of Culture, received 1.16% of the votes, and Hashemi-Taba, a reformist former vice-president, 0.52%. With a turnout of 70%, Rouhani received more than 23 and a half million votes, while Reissi less than 16 million.  Polls had to significantly delay the closing time in order to accommodate all voters who had waited long hours to cast their vote.

Ebrahim Reissi, Rouhani’s main contender, was the rahbar’s favourite candidate and a powerful man himself. He is a former general prosecutor in Iran’s judiciary, and he was involved in the mass executions of Leftists during the 1980s. He also is the guardian of the shrine of Imam Reza in the holy city of Mashhad, to which a powerful bonyad (or economic foundation) is related, called Astan-e Quds Razavi. This foundation is one of the most powerful charities in the Muslim world. Reissi was appointed to that role by the Supreme Leader himself. He is usually referred to as a hard-liner in foreign politics and, socially, a conservative. It is important to keep in mind that all candidates are, to a different extent, insiders and part of the establishment. In fact, they all have to receive permission to run in elections by the Guardian Council, which assesses the suitability of every candidate. Rouhani is not different, and he also has a long history of service to the regime in key positions. He was a parliamentary member, the deputy of the parliament’s spokesperson, and, crucially, he has been the secretary of the Supreme Council of National Security for 16 years, a position that partly explains his diplomatic successes. In fact, the supreme council has taken part in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme since 2002, along with diplomats from Western countries and representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Rouhani was appointed to that post by the former president Hashemi Rasfanjani (1989-1997) and re-confirmed by Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). He however resigned the position when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president (2005-2013). In 2013, Rouhani campaigned presenting himself as the candidate of moderation, calling for a moderate politics in the international as well as in the domestic arenas.

Although all candidates are insiders, and have to be so, differences exist. First of all, the landscape of domestic politics in Iran is highly factionalised and divided, although two main trends can be identified: the conservatives, who have the backing of the Supreme Leader and the security apparatus, and the reformists, who have traditionally enjoyed the support of the semi-private sector, the moderates and the technocratic elite. These groups have however overlapped and crossed paths during the years. For example, the electoral list that backed Rouhani’s government in the parliamentary election in 2012, namely the “Omid” (hope) list, also included staunch conservatives. Ali Larijani, the conservative spokesperson of the parliament, and Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, another well-known conservative, have publicly declared their support for Rouhani and his moderate agenda.

The electoral campaigns that preceded the 2017 election included however elements of conflict and political contention. For instance, diverging economic visions were on display, and different economic recipes for boosting the economy were presented to the electorate. While the conservative candidates resorted to the promise of increasing economic subsidies, Rouhani denounced these promises as unattainable and remained faithful to his purpose of attracting direct foreign investments (DFIs) in Iran and continuing with privatization. The candidates’ approach to foreign politics also presents important differences, with Rouhani emphasising the need for further engagement with the West and Reissi mostly condemning Rouhani’s past policies as subservient to the West. The economic aspect is fundamental here: while Rouhani promotes the presence of foreign capital in the country, to be attracted thanks to a mix of diplomatic engagement and public efforts, Reissi opposes it because he represents the domestic constituencies that benefit from the absence of foreign capital and privatization.

Also in terms of domestic politics, positions were different and the tone and the language used by the candidates varied as the campaign went on. Values such as national sovereignty and independence were emphasised by Reissi and his supporters, while Rouhani and his supporters focused attention on different issues. Beyond the economy, which was present topic in the electoral campaigns of all candidates, issues such as civil rights and the freedom of political prisoners also featured prominently in Rouhani’s campaign. An example is this video, in which the actress Baran Kosari addresses the audience during a rally in favour of Rouhani naming political prisoners, such as Bahareh Hedayat and her husband, and victims of violence such as Sohrab Arabi, a 19 year-old young man who died during the repression of the 2009 protest movement. This movement, known as the “green movement”, emerged in opposition to the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2009. Another video shows Rouhani’s supporters celebrating his victory and chanting the slogan “Atena Daemi must be freed”. Daemi, a young woman, was incarcerated in 2014 for “insulting the Leader”, and is now on hunger strike. Rouhani resonated these calls for freedom, civil and political rights as he also did during his 2013 electoral campaign. According to the journalist Borzou Daraghi, Rouhani seemed to run “against the system he helped create” after the 1979 revolution. However, as Suzanne Maloney underlined, it is very unlikely that Rouhani’s strong criticisms of the system and its record in respecting human rights will be translated into actual policies. In a sense, Rouhani may have tried to play the card of the outsider, along with people such as Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, although in a very different context.

Seeds of a new system?

During the electoral race, two candidates, Eshaq Jahangiri and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, resigned in favour of the two main contenders, respectively Hassan Rouhani and Ebrahim Reissi.

Jahangiri is Rouhani’s former vice-president, while Ghalibarf is the current mayor of Tehran. The two candidatures had a different meaning. While it is common for weaker candidates to stand in order to create momentum for the election and later resign in favour of stronger candidates, as was with the case of Jahagiri, Ghalibaf’s candidacy did not serve that purpose. In fact, it was a real candidacy, at least it was until four days before election day.

The mayor of Tehran has run for the presidency three times now, with little success. However, he has been re-elected by Tehran’s city council twice as mayor, and his mandates (2005-2017) focused on developing Tehran’s civil infrastructures, from building an efficient metro network to rebuilding the road system. The mayor also developed the construction sector to an unprecedented level, according to some, making Tehran a city where living has become almost unbearable. In particular, he has been accused of not doing enough to solve the problem of pollution and other issues deriving from over-population and poor traffic management. However, he demonstrated that he was able to bring huge investments to the capital. It is not surprising, then, that his electorate is also composed of technocratic, wealthy people who benefitted from his work as the mayor of the capital and who may be in favour of integrating Iran in the free market international system.

Ghalibaf’s decision to drop out the presidential race, as Farzan Sabet comments, represented an attempt to unify the conservative vote behind Reissi. The conservative bloc in the parliament and in the institutions of the Islamic Republic has been, over the past years, increasingly factionalised. Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the 2009 crisis and the very violent repression that repressed the “green movement” created multiple fractures within the conservative bloc. Ghalibaf’s decision was then intended to unite the conservatives and make them vote for Reissi with one single voice.

However, it is likely that part of Ghalibaf’s electorate diverted their vote in favour of Rouhani, who has worked in the past years to reach out and consolidate support among the semi-private sector, regardless of possibly different ideological orientations. It is no coincidence that during the first weeks of the electoral campaign, reformists and Rouhani’s supporters called for a “national dialogue” with “moderate conservatives” – a proposal the Supreme Leader labelled as impractical. The attempted goal was to isolate the hard-liners and reinforce the moderates in both the conservative and the reformist camp, to make support for Rouhani stronger and cross-factional.

Rouhani’s re-election, then, strengthens his position vis-à-vis Supreme Leader Khamenei. The rivalry between the two is feeding another debate that has recently haunted the Islamic Republic, namely the possibility of a constitutional reform. Politicians and opinion-makers have suggested that there are too many competing centres of power in the country, making governance arrangements and decision-making somehow dysfunctional. After favouring a type of presidential system over a parliamentary one, the same policy-makers are now suggesting that eliminating the president and establishing a parliamentary system would solve this problem. Here, executive power, in fact, would entirely rely in the hands of the leader and the legislative function would be in the only hands of the parliament. This proposal is supported by Rouhani. It is likely that Rouhani thinks of himself as the next Leader, considering that the incumbent one is old and, according to rumours, seriously ill. The proposal is backed by Khamenei too, who sees only benefits for his position, should the presidency be eliminated. The proposal would also have the benefit of eliminating potentially de-stabilising moments in the politics of the Islamic Republic, such as presidential elections. These elections mobilise Iranian society, empowers it and therefore create opportunities for major disruptions and protests, such as the 2009 “green movement”.

Rouhani’s challenges

Rouhani will need to square a circle, starting with Iran’s foreign policy. US aversion toward Iran (confirmed during Trump’s state visit to Saudi Arabia on May 20th) is not new to the Iranian establishment, but it may now manifest itself differently in the context of the regional, Syrian crisis. As the US and Russia seem to have grown closer on the Syria file, it remains to be seen how this will impact on Iran. In particular, the consequence of this will impact on Iran’s traditional anti-Israel policy in Syria. Not only have Russia and Israel already collaborated in military activities in Syria and have a flourishing weapons trade, but US rapprochement with Russia may strengthen the Moscow-Tel Aviv axis, with an effect on the Moscow-Tehran one.

Despite unfavourable circumstances, Rouhani’s election may re-unite the conservative front. This could happen if Rouhani’s rent distribution fails or if Rouhani’s international policies create major discontent. The question of foreign investments is crucial here. Iran is still a long way from being able to significantly increase the quantity of foreign investments because of a number of factors, among which is the fact that Iran has been under sanctions for decades and has therefore developed a quasi self-sufficient financial system. However, should FDI significantly increase and should Rouhani’s administration fail to distribute rents efficiently, Rouhani may face a significant challenge from powerful sectors of the establishment. Khamenei has made no mystery of the discontent that is mounting, and has invited Rouhani to look for investment within the borders of Iran.

This may jeopardise not only Iran’s international economic policies, but also Iran’s foreign policy. Should discontent with the nuclear deal reach higher levels, it may become difficult for Rouhani’s administration to advance the deal with hostile governments, such as Trump’s, in a consistent and credible way.

Rouhani may also enrage the part of his electorate that backed his candidacy not only to avoid a four-year term of socially conservative policies and tension in the realm of international politics, but also to advance political and civil rights, to free the political prisoners of the “green movement” and to improve the rights of workers. This is not a small part of Rouhani’s electorate. During Rouhani’s first term, respect for human rights did not improve. The nuclear deal and Iran’s integration in the free market economy came at the cost of stabilising the country, namely repressing all potential sources of instability. The further weakening of workers’ rights and the silence on the abuses of the judicial system and the security forces on individuals critical of the regime, have been a characteristic of Rouhani’s mandate. The images and videos coming from Iran of the people who retook to the streets upon the electoral result chanting slogans demanding freedom and justice, suggest that this may turn into a serious challenge – should the government fail to address demands for rights and social justice.

Petra Stykow – Turkmenistan: The 2016 Constitutional Reform

This is a guest post by Prof. Dr. Petra Stykow of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

During the last couple of years, presidents of authoritarian regimes in Central Asia and the Caucasus have been busily engaged in constitutional reforms. Praised as major steps toward the “perfection” and “further democratization” of the political system, such reforms are mostly cosmetic. However, most of the time, from behind the mixture of minimally re-edited phrases and copy-pasted international standards of civic and human rights some important details peer out. Typically, they legalize the president’s stay in office beyond term limits or regulate questions of a looming succession in power. This also holds for the 2016 reform of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkmenistan, one of the most closed countries in the world.

Turkmenistan’s first constitution was embraced in May 1992, being the first new basic law across the territory of the former Soviet Union. It created a system of government that has been qualified as “presidential” in the literature, but was of a very special kind. It perfectly matched the preferences of President Saparmurat Niyazov who had led the Turkmen Soviet Republic as the First Secretary of the Communist Party since 1985. The head of state and chief executive and the Mejlis as “a legislative organ” were but constituent parts of an “ultimate representative organ of popular government,” the “People’s Assembly” (Halk Maslahaty). In addition to the president and the cabinet ministers, the members of the assembly and the top office holders of the court system, this Assembly included representatives of local assemblies and heads of administrative units, and—after 2003—also the leadership of political and social organizations, eventually reaching the impressive number of 2507 persons. It was the Assembly that “convinced” the Turkmenbashi (“Leader of all Turkmens”) in 1999 to accept the presidency for the rest of his life, approved his proposals about laws, such as seven-generations-background checks for aspirants of the public service or the renaming of all days of the week and months of the year[1], lauded the president’s achievements, awarded him medals, etc.[2]

Niyazov suddenly passed away in 2006. A few days later, the People’s Assembly stripped the parliamentary speaker—who was to replace the president according to the constitution—of his immunity (making his arrest possible) and abolished the ban on an acting president to run for the presidency. This cleared the way for Health Minister Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. In 2008, he launched a new constitution, abolishing the People’s Assembly and consolidating the presidency as the lynchpin of the political system. While the president has extensive nonlegislative and legislative powers, making him one of the strongest presidents worldwide,[3] the Mejlis, in turn, is one of the weakest assemblies in the world, barely fulfilling the role of a rubber stamp to the president’s will. A peculiar feature of all editions of the Constitution consists of the lack of an impeachment procedure. Instead, “in case of violation of the Constitution and laws,” the Mejlis may express “no-confidence” in the president by a vote of “at least three-fourth” of the 125 deputies. In this case, a national referendum ultimately decides on whether the president has to quit.

A constitutional amendment to the 2008 Constitution was drafted by a president-led Constitutional commission since May 2014 and subjected to public discussion in March 2016. On 14 September 2016, the reform was unanimously adopted by the advisory Council of Elders and the legislature. After the president’s immediate signature, the Amendment entered into force the same day.[4] It addressed a total of 107 articles, of which 24 were newly added and four extensively revised. Further, a section was introduced that codifies “Economy and Financial System,” based on the “principles of market relations.”

Most changes result from a minor editing of the text. In addition, there are some subtle, rather symbolic amendments. For example, the principle of neutrality in foreign affairs, which is the cornerstone of the country’s foreign policy since 1992, is now enshrined in a separate article (art. 2), after having been pooled with the principles of democracy, legalism and secularism (art. 1) in the previous version. Other amendments are influenced by consultations with the UN, the OSCE, the German aid society GIZ, or have been suggested during the public debate on the Draft Constitution, so at least officials have claimed. Thus, a number of human rights provisions have been adopted. The president became the guarantor of “rights and freedoms of people and citizens” and was granted the right to nominate a candidate for the soon-to-be-established post of a Commissioner for Human Rights.

The ODIHR/OSCE Comments on the 2016 Draft Amendment consists of a long list of recommendations for the adjustment of provisions that do not meet international standards.[5] Sometimes, the final document seems to respond, but this does not necessarily solve the issue in question. A telling example is a clause that can be found in the 1992 and 2008 constitutions as well as in the 2016 Draft. In full agreement with the traditional Soviet understanding, it is stated that “the exercise of rights and freedoms shall be inseparable from the performance by a person and a citizen of their responsibilities toward the society and the state.” In the final version of the 2016 Amendment, this sentence has been eliminated. However, what remains is Article 30 claiming that “the exercise of rights and freedoms must not violate the rights and freedoms of others, as well as the requirements of morality, law, public order, or cause damage to national security.” This preserves wide scope for interpretation.

Other OSCE suggestions about issues such as institutional mechanisms ensuring separation of powers or counter-balancing “the quite extensive presidential powers” have been ignored by the regime—which is no wonder, if we assume that even dictators tend to use constitutions as “operating manuals” for the daily functioning of the regime. An example is the regulation of political pluralism. The 2016 revision of the Constitution introduces an explicit commitment to “political diversity and party-based pluralism,” obliging the state to ensure an “enabling environment for the development of the civil society.” This is mostly “cheap talk,” but it also fits Berdymukhammedov’s engagement in controlled party- and NGO-building, a strategy he shares with much of his colleagues in Eurasia. However, the Constitution restricts the right to form political parties, banning not only violent organizations but also parties “encroaching on the health and morality of the people” and “parties with ethnic or religious attributes.” This clause has neither been welcomed by the OSCE in 2008 nor in 2016 but remains unchanged since 1992.

The huge cosmetic part of the 2016 Reform almost conceals the single most important change. It consists of a small omission concerning presidential tenure in office. While the Turkmenbashi had scrapped the typical post-Soviet re-election restriction—“nobody shall be elected for more than two consecutive terms”—as early as 1999, Berdymukhammedov has now removed the last hurdle to lifetime presidency. Aged 60, he foresightedly lengthened the presidential term from five to seven years and removed the age-70 cap for candidates.

The 2016 reform also tinkers with provisions regulating the question of succession in power. As a measure of precaution against the premature removal by a rival, all versions of the Turkmenistani Constitution prohibit an interim president from running for office. Since 2008, this interim president had to be chosen by the Security Council from the no less than ten deputy chairmen of the cabinet. Now, it is—as it was from 1992 to 2007—the speaker of the Mejlis who temporarily stands in for an ill or dead incumbent. Thus, it seems as if a deputy chairman, even if he competes with nine colleagues, is considered to be more dangerous for a sitting president than the speaker of a toothless assembly. After all, a deputy chairman is responsible for a certain policy, such as Economy and Finance, or Oil and Gas. This grants him access to important resources on which to build power against the incumbent.

Against this background, the newest proposal of the President is worth attention. In his inauguration address on 17 February 2017, Berdymukhammedov who had won his third election against eight government-nominated “competitors” by 97.7 percent of the votes announced a new reform. The Council of Elders, which is not mentioned in the Constitution and consists of 600 people who are not elected but selected, is planned to be granted a status above that of parliament.[6] It shall be entitled to approve the decisions of the assembly and the cabinet before they enter into force.[7] This idea revokes the “People’s Assembly” in the 1992 Constitution. Its realization would deprive the Mejlis of their rubber stamp and further downsize the position of the assembly’s speaker.

Notes

The full text of the 2016 revision of the Constitution of Turkmenistan can be found here: http://www.legislationline.org/documents/section/constitutions/country/51

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaming_of_Turkmen_months_and_days_of_week,_2002

[2] https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-council-elders-berdymukhammedov-parliament/28322910.html

[3] http://presidential-power.com/?page_id=2151

[4] http://www.turkmenistan.ru/en/articles/18145.html

[5] OSCE/ODIHR (2016):  Comments on the Draft Constitution of Turkmenistan, Comments-Nr.: CONST-TKM/288/2016, 21.7.2016

[6] https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-council-elders-berdymukhammedov-parliament/28322910.html

[7] https://rus.azathabar.com/a/28320695.html

Kenya – President Kenyatta faces new challenges as elections loom

The Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has moved to deal with rising food prices as the campaign ahead of the 2017 general election begins in earnest. Having been accused of “dithering” earlier in the year as the price of unga (maize flour) increased by 500 KSh a month to KSh 4,500 for a 90 kg bag, the government moved to import 29,900 tonnes of Maize in order to reduce prices in early May.

President Kenyatta’s actions reflected growing public dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living and the growing challenge from the political opposition as the August 8 general election draws near. Having enjoyed a big lead in the polls for many months, many commentators felt that the Jubilee Party could secure comfortable victory, especially as the main opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance, appeared to be split on whom to select as its running mate. Along with long-time presidential candidate Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi were said to be determined to emerge as the coalition’s flag bearer.

However, ultimately Odinga managed to pull off a double-win: securing the nomination as NASA presidential candidate and persuading his rivals for the position to back him. In turn, the emergence of a more united opposition has generated much-needed momentum for Odinga, leading to claims that he is once again a viable presidential candidate. One of NASA’s campaign slogans, “10 million strong”, seeks to emphasise this point, referencing the potential support base that Odinga can mobilise if all the communities assumed to be allied to the opposition vote for him – though this is far from a forgone conclusion.

While the most reliable opinion polls suggest that Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party continue to enjoy a healthy lead, the fresh energy within NASA, combined with rising food prices, have worried the Jubilee Alliance. In some of the more recent polls, the confirmation of Odinga’s candidacy has significantly strengthened his performance, and as a result he has moved from the 25/26% a few months ago to around 41% today. Having initially aimed for an overwhelming electoral performance of 60%+ in the presidential poll, Jubilee leaders are now concerned that if Odinga continues to gain ground they may struggle to secure the 50% +1 of the vote required for a first round victory.

Given the excitement within NASA, and the concern within the Jubilee Party, Kenya may be set for a closer and more controversial election than seemed likely a short while ago.

Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham

Georgia – Proposed constitutional reforms

Draft amendments to the Constitution of Georgia are currently undergoing nationwide public discussions before being voted on in parliament. Among other significant amendments, the proposed draft foresees moving to a parliamentary form of government with the introduction of indirect presidential elections and changing the electoral system to full proportional representation.

On December 9, 2016 the Parliamentary Chairman, Irakli Kobakhidze, announced the setting up of a constitutional commission tasked with drafting a package of constitutional amendments. The commission would report at the end of April 2017.

Soon after the announcement, Giorgi Margvelashvili, the President of Georgia, boycotted the process and his administration (including the Security Council) refrained from taking part in the commission’s discussions. The administration noted that the format offered by the Parliamentary Chairman raised a lot of question marks.

The ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia party had 23 members in the commission; the United National Movement was represented by 8 members; and the Alliance of Patriots by 2 members. The commission also included one representative from each of the parties in the electoral blocs that failed to clear the 5% thresholdin the last parliamentary elections, but that had garnered at least 3% of votes .

Before boycotting the process, the President was supposed to have three representatives in the commission: the Head of the President’s administration; the President’s parliamentary secretary; and the Secretary of the National Security Council.

The government was represented by the Minister of Justice and the government’s parliamentary secretary. The  commission also included the chairpersons of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court; the heads of the legislative and executive bodies of Adjara and Abkhazian Autonomous Republics; the Georgian Public Defender; the President of the National Bank of Georgia; and the chairperson of the State Audit Office.

Experts and NGOs were included at the Chairman’s invitation.

Despite the broad range of topics that the commission was tasked to discuss, the electoral system, the election of the president, and the definition of marriage generated the most heated debates.

While the Chairman of the Commission aimed to legitimise the process, President Margvelashvili launched a campaign called the “Constitution Belongs to Everyone” and visited a number of towns in different regions of Georgia to discuss the likely amendments before the draft amendments were published on May 1.

Shortly before its final session of the Commission, opposition parties also left the Commission in protest.

Major Draft Amendments

Election of the President

The Georgian Dream-led Constitutional Commission opted for a Parliamentary Republic. In particular, the proposed amendments will abolish the direct election of the president, transferring it to a college of electors composed of 300 MPs, local, and regional government representatives. The scrapping off nearly all the powers of the President was justified by the proposed shift to a parliamentary system.

The college of electors will consist of 150 members of parliament and all members of the Supreme Councils of Adjara and Abkhazia (in-exile). Electors from municipal councils will be nominated by political parties in accordance with quotas assigned “on the basis of the principle of proportional geographic representation and the results of municipal elections.”

The eligibility age for the President of Georgia will increase from 35 to 40. There are changes to residency requirements as well; a potential candidate will have to have lived in Georgia for at least 15 years. He/she, however, is no longer required to have lived in Georgia for the three years before the election.

The president will remain the head of state, the commander-in-chief, and the country’s representative in foreign relations, but will no longer “ensure the functioning of state bodies within the scope of his/her powers granted by the Constitution.” The President will lose the right “to request particular matters to be discussed at the Government session and to participate in the discussion.”

The National Security Council, which “organizes the military development and defense of the country” and is led by the president under the current constitution, will no longer exist. Instead, the draft constitution establishes the National Defense Council, which will function only during martial law to coordinate the work of the constitutional bodies, and will consist of the President, the Prime Minister, Parliamentary Chairman and the Head of the Armed Forces of Georgia.

The proposed indirect election of President was met with the fiercest criticism in Georgian society. In their address to the Venice Commission, local CSOs noted, “the Constitution of a specific country should take into account the local context and experience, and should be responsive to local challenges and needs.” CSOs underlines that Georgia does not have a rich democratic experience, that the political/legal culture of voters is developing, democratic institutions are not strong enough, and there is lack of trust towards public institutions in the country. In this context, CSOs viewed the draft amendments as a step made towards weakening democracy, describing the reforms as “risky and not desirable”.

NDI Opinion Polls 2017

The most recent opinion polls commissioned by NDI confirmed that the citizens of Georgia prefer the direct election of the president (84 %). Furthermore, President Margvelashvili viewed the draft amendment as a personal attack against himself, a non-partisan president, and emphasized this issue during the public discussions of the proposed amendments.

Electoral System

If adopted, Georgia will move to a fully proportional electoral system, replacing the current mixed system, whereby voters elect 73 MPs in majoritarian, single-seat constituencies, while the remaining 77 seats are distributed proportionally in the closed party-list contest with a 5% threshold.

The new constitution will ban the establishment of party blocs ahead of elections, while leaving the 5% threshold intact.

The draft constitution increases the age of eligible candidates from 21 to 25 and sets a ten-year residency requirement in Georgia.

Only parties with members currently in the parliament or those which obtain the signatures of 25000 voters are eligible to participate in parliamentary elections. According to the draft, MPs nominated by one political party can form only one parliamentary faction.

CSOs in Georgia have concerns over the electoral system and, specifically, the allocation of the remaining seats (undistributed mandates). Since the constitutional draft introduces an unlimited bonus for a party that receives the most votes – all undistributed mandates will be allocated a single party. CSOs consider this aspect of the electoral system to be highly unfair and largely undermine the positive gains from the change of the majoritarian system. CSOs believe that the constitution should ensure that the undistributed mandates are allocated proportionally to all parties in the Parliament according to their election results.

Definition of Marriage

The draft constitution introduces the definition of marriage as “the union of a man and a woman.” While the definition of marriage already exists as part of the Civil Code of Georgia, the Georgian Dream party decided to introduce a special provision as part of the constitutional reforms.

CSOs have named the definition of marriage as “a problematic issue”. According to their assessment, this amendment is particularly problematic given widespread homophobia, increasing cases of hate crimes, and the continuous struggle for LGBT groups to exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly. Furthermore, the assessment states that the constitutional prohibition of marriage equality is particularly concerning given that Georgian legislation does not guarantee civil partnerships for same-sex couples. CSOs believe that in line with ECHR practice, Georgia should introduce the legal recognition of same-sex couples and guarantee similar rights as the opposite-sex couples.

The constitutional commission expects the opinion of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional and legal matters, to issue its preliminary conclusion before June in time for parliamentary discussions and the final conclusion of the debate on June 15. However, it is uncertain if the Constitutional Commission will reflect the Venice Commission’s conclusions in the final text that will be voted upon.

Albania – Suppose they had an election and no one ran for office

In this post, I examine the most recent presidential elections in Albania in April this year. Presidential elections are often surrounded by unusual or newsworthy events, but I could not find a lot of incidents where presidential elections were held without a candidate. Yes, that’s right. No candidates were nominated in the first three rounds of the presidential elections in Albania. This proves to be an interesting case for arguments that involve the effective number of presidential candidates. The reasons for the decision to not put forward a nominee are manifold, but reflect the level of political stalemate and conflict in today’s Albania. The circumstances of this election and its four rounds, a brief biography of the new president, as well as the prospect this gives us for the parliamentary elections in June 2017 will be the focus of this post.

Constitutional provisions for the presidential elections in Albania
Albania is a parliamentary system with a president elected by parliament. Candidates are nominated by at least 20 deputies. In the first three rounds a presidential candidate has to gain the support of 3/5 of the members of parliament, i.e. 84 votes out of the 140 seats (Art. 87). The constitution stipulates a maximum of five rounds. Only after three failed rounds does the majority requirement change. The fourth ballot (and the fifth) require only an absolute majority and are held between the two leading candidates from the third round. In case the fifth round fails as well, parliament is dissolved and snap elections take place within 60 days. (Art. 87).

The incumbent
Legally, former President Bujar Nishani could have run for a second term after being the president for the last 5 years. His election in 2012 was, however, a rather surprising event and took place also in the fourth round of the presidential elections. He only became a viable option because his well-known and influential opponents withdrew their candidacies. Already back then some oppositional forces boycotted the presidential elections. In a similar, yet much more forceful move, the oppositional Democratic Party (DP) of Albania – which is Nishani’s party – has also been boycotting parliament since February 2017. Despite calls by the European Union and several European governments, the DP is determined in its course. They demand the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the formation of a caretaker government by all parliamentary parties. This boycott is and was accompanied by street protest, most importantly against the threat of voter fraud in the upcoming elections. During EU-led negotiations, the government made far-reaching promises, but the DP representatives insisted on the resignation of the Prime Minister. With his party boycotting parliament, it was clear that Nishani would not run for a second term.

The new president
In this context, the ruling Socialist Party did not nominate a candidate during the first three rounds of presidential elections. Party representatives declared that they were not “nominating anyone for president to demonstrate their willingness to conduct a dialogue with the opposition [DP, author] over the next president and achieve a consensus with all political forces in the country” (EurAsia Daily 2017). Yet, in the fourth round of the presidential elections, the president/chairman of the Albanian Parliament, Ilir Meta, was finally elected “after Prime Minister Edi Rama and his Socialist Party put their weight behind his candidacy” (Likmeta 2017). Meta will be the seventh president of the second Republic. His long political career was not entirely without controversy. As a longtime member of the Socialist Party, he established his own political group (Socialist Movement for Integration) and later joined forces with the DP in 2009 (Likmeta 2017). However, he switched sides again and supported the Socialist Party under Prime Minister Rama with his movement and was elected president of parliament in 2013.

Meta also faced a slew of allegations of corruption and voter intimidation. In 2011, a video even surfaced in which he discussed bribes over government contracts. He resigned, but  violent protests still broke out and during these protests four people were killed. In the course of these events, the opposing groups tried to achieve their respective goals with a variety of measures. The general prosecutor decided to open an investigation as to whether Meri was guilty. At the same time, then-Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, showed his support for Meta and even started an “independent investigation” accusing his opponents of “trying to overthrow the government (Abrahams 2015, 290). The discussion in the Supreme Court then was not so much about the allegations against Meta as such, but “whether a secretly recorded video could be admitted as evidence” (Filaj-Ballvora 2012). In the end, the Supreme Court declared Meta not guilty, which was in line with a variety of corruption charges against a string of politicians being postponed. It should be added that Meta has denied the accusations and insisted that they were “political in nature” (Likmeta 2017). The process did not hamper Meta’s political career as he became speaker of parliament after the victory of the Socialist under Edi Rama in 2013. Now he is even the new President of the Republic of Albania.

Prospects for the parliamentary elections in June 2017
The election of Meta as the new President will certainly not help to solve the political stalemate between the oppositional DP and the ruling Socialist Party with Rama as Prime Minister. As might have been expected, the DP heavily criticized the election and in particular the Prime Minister for “being a hypocrite for handing the presidency to a man he once accused of being ‘the symbol of everything rotten happening in Albania’” (Koleka 2017). But in this ‘mélange’ the hypocrisy lies on both sides, because it was Sali Berish as DP Prime Minister, who supported the acquittal of Meta in 2012.

Nevertheless, this election will only make the DP and its allies more determined – a decision that was criticized by representatives of the European Union and the United States, who urged them to withdraw their boycott and reach a compromise. But after the election, some DP deputies threatened to boycott both the upcoming parliamentary elections as well as local elections. As David Clark has correctly emphasized, “(a)n election with only one participant would install a government with immense power but no legitimacy, dividing the country and forcing politics on to the street” (Clark 2017). This would make Albania ungovernable and with its key role in the Balkans, this would be a horrifying prospect for the whole region.

Literature:

Abrahams, Fred (2015): Modern Albania. From Dictatorship to Democracy in Europe. New York University Press.
Clark, David (2017): EU cannot ignore Albania’s descent into disorder, in: https://www.ft.com/content/7350d242-36fd-11e7-99bd-13beb0903fa3
EurAsia Daily (2017): Political crisis in Albania: parliamentarians failing to elect president
Подробнее: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2017/04/20/political-crisis-in-albania-parliamentarians-failing-to-elect-president
Deutsche Welle (2017): Ilir Meta ist neuer Präsident Albaniens, in: http://www.dw.com/de/ilir-meta-ist-neuer-pr%C3%A4sident-albaniens/a-38635445
Filaj-Ballvora, Vilma (2012): Acquittal highlights Albania’s ‘culture of impunity’, in: http://www.dw.com/en/acquittal-highlights-albanias-culture-of-impunity/a-15680992
Likmeta, Besa (2017): Albania MPs Elect Speaker Meta as President, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/parliament-speaker-ilir-meta-elected-albania-president-04-28-2017

William Crotty – Donald Trump’s Presidency: Stage One

This is a guest post by William Crotty, editor of Winning the Presidency 2016 (Routledge, 2017)

Introduction: The first 100 days of a new presidency is considered a marking point. In this post, the recently inaugurated president is evaluated in relation to:

  • his (in this case) approach to governing; the quality, background and experience of his appointees to federal office;
  • his substantive initiatives and accomplishments in domestic and international affairs (trade, military actions and relations with other nations);
  • the operational efficiency and professionalism of his administration and its decision-making.

Comparisons are then made with previous administrations and in particular with that of his predecessor.

Donald Trump responded to his 100-day anniversary with one of his many unpredictable outbursts, calling it a false standard of no significance. Then he did his best to provide the media and voters with a sense of a hyper-active presidency, on the move and transformative.

It largely failed. The Trump presidency was criticized on a number of levels from his chaotic White House to his being an uninformed and even ignorant leader, leading an administration with no clear direction or substantive achievements of merit. Nonetheless, Trump, by accident or self-interest, was correct in scoffing at the first 100 days of a presidency as a marking point; it is one that shows little predictive power in determining the final perception of an administration. Still, accepting the conventional standard serves the purpose of providing an early assessment of an administrative ability to adapt to the demands of the world’s most powerful office.

Taken in this context, the evaluations have not been kind. Trump was seen as unprepared for the presidency; ignorant of its working of government; unfamiliar with the history of the country or its relation with other nations; favoring billionaires, military personnel, conspiracy theorists and nationalists in running his administration; an unpredictable and vengeful leader; and autocratic in style and thinking. Government appeared not to interest him and his issue concerns focused mainly on rewarding those of wealth and, through his family, continuing his business interests. As he would say, he never expected the presidency to be as complicated as it was. He considered Washington a “swamp,” as he said in the campaign, and did his best to spend time in Florida golfing and entertaining at his Mar-a-Lago estate, club and golf course. He had even used his property to conduct business fully in the public eye (his meeting with the prime minister of Japan and their reacting to a North Koran threat being one of the more dramatic instances).

The pattern and style of his decision-making and the values and priorities forming these are clear extensions of those found in the campaign. Basically the administration is run exactly like the campaign – it is a one-man operation – and the promises made in the election provide the blueprint for the administration.

A final point before looking at what has and has not been achieved. However Trump may be judged by the media and outsiders, his core supporters continue to back him. Unlike Barack Obama, he has made it a priority to continue the rallies that marked the campaign, which he enjoys, to give his followers his version of events. In two national polls (taken before the firing of the director of the FBI), 97 to 98 percent of Trump voters continue to support him and believe he is doing what he promised to do. However one assesses his actions, the political landscape has been in turmoil since his assuming the office of president.

Appointments: Trump has appointed Wall Street executives to his major economic positions in the administration, all with no government experience. He has appointed high-ranking military officers to defense and national security positions. Beyond these, he has chosen people to lead Cabinet and other agencies who are committed to ending them (Gov. Rick Perry of Texas in the energy department) or want to end their mission (Betsy DeVos heading the education department and wanting to stop funding for public schools, and Scott Pruitt, who has repeatedly sued the EPA, the agency he now heads) and/or who have no knowledge of the department’s mission (Dr. Ben Carson in housing). He has fired but is yet to replace federal prosecutors nationwide. Additionally, hundreds of other government positions have been left open.

Sources of Information: Given his lack of knowledge or experience in understanding government operations, Trump depends heavily on outside sources to keep him informed and up-to-date. He does not trust government agencies and he particularly distrusts the national security agencies and the CIA. Consequently, and given his predilection for conspiracy theories and nationalist commitments in policy matters, he relies on Fox News, a conservative network (he spends a considerable amount of time watching TV), and hard-core nationalist radio programs. Stephen K. Bannon, one of his closest advisors, is a product of such an environment.

Trump relies primarily on himself and his instincts, does not prepare himself for situations and comes across as disorganized, temperamental and unpredictable, qualities he appears to value. Add to this his family, and especially his daughter Ivanka who has an office in the White House, who are called on for advice and to run his business affairs. He also has a large if informal number of corporate executives who meet with him personally or on a semi-regular basis.

Trump’s major issues in the campaign were repealing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”); revising (“reforming”) the tax code to cut rates and further reward the wealthiest; and stopping immigration and deporting undocumented aliens and anyone who has entered the country illegally, regardless of length of residence.

The record:

  • Trump’s major preoccupation during his campaign as well as a major agenda item of the Republican party since it was passed by the Congress was the repeal of Obamacare. He promised a better, more efficient and less expensive replacement that would continue to be inclusive.

It turned out that neither Trump or the Republicans had a plan in mind. House Speaker Paul Ryan along with a handful of House colleagues did put together a bill that would largely end Obamacare, change the tax code to help the wealthy and cripple Medicaid which serves many of the medical needs of the poorest Americans. Trump signed on and promised a “bloodbath” if all Republicans did not vote for it. It fell short of 11 supporters to gain a majority and so was not brought to the House floor. The outcome was considered a disaster for the administration and Democrats claimed that Obamacare was now safe. They were wrong.

The Far Right Freedom/Tea Party Caucus opposition had sunk the bill. They then came up with a more restrictive bill that eliminated more services, cut Medicaid by $800 billion and changed the tax code to move the same amount to the wealthiest of Americans. The bill would deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, a particularly sensitive issue.  Trump and Ryan signed on. It passed by 4 votes. The bill passed a Republican-controlled House in a matter of days and without Congressional Budget Office review of the cost, making a mockery of the legislative process. The Republican Senate indicated it may write its own bill.

The second attempt at repeal (The American Health Care Act) makes changes to the subsidies for those who buy their own healthcare insurance. It includes a provision that states can opt out of some or all of the act’s provisions. Most of the state governments are now in the hands of the Republicans who have argued for the ability to opt-out from the beginning. It has a particular appeal to them and should the final bill keep this option, most states will enforce it, using this as the opportunity to limit or totally deny benefits to their residents.

Trump sent a one-page revision of the tax code to Congress. It would redraw the tax laws, again transferring wealth to the best-off, ending estate and other taxes that affected the richest and lowering the maximum tax a corporation or individual could pay to 15 percent (down from a standard of 35%). It offered minor changes to advantage the working and middle classes. The Congressional Budget Office has yet to calculate the losses in revenue for the government from the tax proposal or for the health care repeal bill passed by the House.

Trump increased arrests and efforts to deport undocumented aliens (a total of 22,000 from January to March, 2017) and attempted to shut down immigration from five Muslim countries. The administration has encountered court efforts to review or halt such actions. Trump responded to the courts’ questioning of his plans by saying he would restructure the federal court system to eliminate such delays in the execution of his orders.

These were Trump’s major initiatives.

In addition:

  • Trump is reviewing and cancelling as promised all Executive Orders issued by his predecessor Barack Obama. These include environmental restrictions on oil, gas and coal production and other (health-related) provisions; efforts to control climate change; limits on pipeline expansion throughout the country including approval of the Dakota Access pipeline and allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed; set-asides of public lands for national parks and recreation; safety guidelines; the Dodd-Frank bill limits on Wall Street; government support for the arts and PBS; and so on. He is attempting to reverse the Clean Power Plan and international agreements on air and water pollution, open national parks and protected waterways to oil drilling, reverse efforts to prohibit oil and coal companies from dumping toxic waste into waterways; and end any restrictions on corporate earnings. Further in this context, he proposes to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, along with related cuts in the budgets of other federal agencies concerned with domestic programs.
  • Trump’s off-hand remarks appeared to reverse the two states objectives for Israel-Palestine and reinstate the two nations approach for China and Taiwan.
  • He imposed tariffs on goods coming into the U.S. such as lumber and dairy products while threatening to withdraw from NATO and canceling the Trans-Pacific Partnership Obama attempted to have passed in his final days in office.
  • Trump appointed and had confirmed in close Senate vote hard-right conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
  • Trump ordered 59 cruise missiles fired into Syria in response, the White House said, to the Syrian government’s use of poison gas on its population.
  • With or without his direct approval, the military dropped the “mother of all bombs” second in impact only to a nuclear bomb and never before used on a reputed ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan.
  • He signed order for constructing a wall along the Mexican border but funding has been left uncertain.

The actions taken have been frantic and mostly unpredictable, a style that Trump likes and one that suits his temperament. In broad terms, the effort is to reduce domestic programs to a minimum; remove all restrictions in the public interest on economic activity; end environmental safeguards; stop immigration; and introduce a contentious and challenging foreign policy to international affairs, a phase that is just developing.

An issue that would not go away is Russia‘s role in the election in promoting Trump’s candidacy and in the number of advisors to Trump’s campaign and nominees for federal office with contacts of various kinds to the Russians. Most of these have been denied. They include the senator (Jeff Sessions of Alabama) chosen as Attorney General who lied on his ties to the Russians in his confirmation hearing and the national security director, former general Michael T. Flynn, who had lied to the Vice President and others about his Russian associations. He was fired by Trump. There have also been such alleged associations between other members of the administration and advisors to Trump’s campaign.

The White House refused to investigate the charges as to date has the Congress and the Justice Department which also has refused to appoint a Special Prosecutor to look into the matter. The FBI says it is investigating such ties but will not give out any information. Critics argue this is what the FBI should have been doing during the campaign.

Shortly after appearing before the Congress and indicating the Russian connections to the Trump campaign and White House appointments and advisors was under investigation, Trump fired the FBI director, James T. Comey. The firing caused a sensation and drew comparisons to Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Presidential historian Richard North Patterson: “… this latest spasm of self-absorbed self-preservation carries the anomalous stamp of Trump’s disordered psyche.

… what is so distinctive and disturbing here is Trump’s naked desire to attack the legal system itself, reducing his presidency to a cage match between our institutions of justice and a man who does not even pretend to represent them.”  (Richard North Patterson, “A President Is Acting Guilty and Unhinged,” Boston Globe, May 11, 2017, p. A14).

Trump’s reaction was to meet with Russian government officials, including that county’s ambassador to the United States, a principal in the controversy, and to prohibit the American press from covering the meeting. The photo of the event to appear in the media was supplied by the Russians. Trump has also said he may stop daily press briefings for the media and limit these to one every two weeks which he himself may lead, rather than his communications staff.

One thing is clear: Trump loves strongmen. He has praised Vladimir Putin of Russia repeatedly. He personally called President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, charged with the mass killings of drug dealers, praised him and invited him to the White House. After having his Secretary of State threaten North Korea with the possibility of military action, he completely changed direction, praising North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un and while warning that “nobody is safe” from North Korea nuclear weapons said he would be “honored” to meet with him. Besides Putin and Duterte, Trump has congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, a former army officer who instigated a ruthless purge of dissidents and Islamists. “. … Trump seems to have a genuine affinity for men of action who brook little dissent.” (Ishaan Tharoor, Today’s Worldview: “Trump’s Invitation to Duterte Is a Sign of the Times,” Washington Post, May 1, 2017.

Donald Trump had begun his post–100 day presidency by:

  • Saying the Civil War (1861-1865) in which 600,000 Americans died was unnecessary. Abraham Lincoln was responsible for it. If Trump’s new hero, populist President Andrew Jackson, was in charge the war would not have taken place. Jackson was a slave holder. The two sides (North and South) should have made a deal, according to the president.
  • Said visitors logs to the White House will no longer be publicly available.
  • Changed May 1st, normally a day to celebrate labor unions, into “loyalty day” intended to honor nationalism, small government and his presidency
  • Announced an increase in military actions in Afghanistan
  • Said the United States government needed “a good shutdown” in the fall to force a partisan confrontation over federal spending
  • Waived all rules on the conflict of interests

There of course is much more but this should give an idea of the administration, how it operates and what it believes important.

Democratic Party Opposition: As for the Democrats, potential presidential candidates for the party’s 2020 nomination are beginning to stir. These include the familiar – Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and possibly Hillary Clinton – and the not-so-well-known- members of Congress, mayors of major cities and governors. Meanwhile, while the congressional House and Senate parties have vigorously contested the Trump presidency, the 2018 congressional elections are coming up, for which the Democratic party has not prepared.

The party was devastated under Barack Obama. He had no interest in it, did little campaigning for candidates, ignored party-building and basically controlled the national party to ensure it offered no opposition to his presidency. In the process, he left the field to the Republicans. The results were the Democrats lost 69 House seats and 13 Senate seats and lost their majority in both houses of the Congress. They also lost just under 1,000 state legislative seats. The party is in its worse shape since 1922 and Democratic governors at their lowest ebb since 1865. To date, it has yet to begin recruiting candidates for the 2018 off-year congressional and state races.

The DNC during Obama’s presidency and under his control was a part-time operation. The then-chair’s one preoccupation was in advancing Hillary Clinton’s pursuit of the presidency. In the words of the Democratic leader of the Senate, the national committee was “useless.” And the neglect took its toll.

Given this, the battle for control of the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee in early 2017 assumed unusual importance. It pitted a progressive Congressman committed to rebuilding the party against a member of the Obama administration, a centrist with no electoral experience, strongly backed by Obama in his last days in the White House. Obama’s candidate was supported by, in addition to Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. His opponent was supported by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, the major labor unions and grassroots Democrats hoping to mobilize those taking part in anti-Trump rallies nationwide. Obama’s candidate won a close race and the national committee has continued to remain essentially dormant while Obama has announced a $400,000 fee for a Wall Street talk. Such talks and his commitment to writing a book on his presidency are his present concerns (book contracts with Barack and Michelle Obama in the range of $60 million have been reported by The Guardian. The biggest problem for the National Democratic Party is not opposing Trump, although it has done little along these lines, but getting out from under Barack Obama’s control.

Conclusion: The 100-day reckoning may be a false standard as claimed. Still a number of things about Trump and his presidency have become clear. First, he is not prepared for the job of president. Second, while he enjoys exercising power he does not like the demands of the presidency, the public and media scrutiny and the criticisms of his behavior and he hates “the swamp,” Washington. Third, he with his family’s assistance will keep their main focus on making money and extending the Trump brand. Fourth, he is determined to destroy what is left of a soft social welfare state in the United States. Fifth, he is committed to increasing the already extensive polarization of wealth in the country, further enriching those at the top of the income pyramid (himself included), making a situation already the worst among advanced democracies that much worse. Sixth, he wants an aggressive, contentious and militaristic defense and foreign policy, the outlines of which are just becoming clear. And finally he is an autocrat determined to do whatever is needed to increase his personal power, testing the limits imposed by a democratic society.

Finally, Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times (May 3, 2017, p. A27) writes: “Has the first 100 days of the presidency made Donald Trump nuts? … You read all of Trump’s 100-day interviews and they are just bizarre.” It is an administration “… bound not by a shared vision but by a shared willingness to overlook Trump’s core ignorance, instability and indecency.”*

The question left is where do we go from here and the answer is likely more of the same.

 

 

*For Trump’s assessment of the first 100 days, see his speech to a rally of supporters in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on April 29, 2017.

(Note: As of May 12, 2017, the WhiteHouse.gov website has the link above “being updated,”
although video of the rally is available from various web sources.)

New publications

Anna Fruhstorfer, ‘Paradoxes of Constitutional Politics in the Post-Soviet Space’, 2017 U. Ill. L. Rev. 767 (2017), pp. 767-790.

Verónica Montecinos (ed.), Women Presidents and Prime Ministers in Post-Transition Democracies’, Palgrave, 2017.

Allison McCulloch and John McGarry (eds.), Power Sharing: Empirical and Normative Challenges, Routledge, 2017.

Benjamin Reilly, ‘An Elephant’s Graveyard? Democracy and Development in East Asia’, Government and Opposition, Volume 52, Issue 1 January 2017, pp. 162-183.

Mathew Y. H. Wong, ‘Presidentialism and Parliamentarism’, in Mathew Y. H. Wong, Comparative Hong Kong Politics: A Guidebook for Students and Researchers, Springer, 2017, pp. 139-154.

Enes Kulenović and Krešimir Petković,, ‘The Croatian Princes: Power, Politics and Vision (1990-2011)’, Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 53, No. 4, 2016, pp. 105-131.

André Borges and Mathieu Turgeon, ‘Presidential coattails in coalitional presidentialism’, Party Politics , First published date: April-06-2017, DOI 10.1177/1354068817702283.

Christopher A Martínez, ‘Presidential survival in South America: Rethinking the role of democracy’, International Political Science Review, Volume: 38 issue: 1, pp. 40-55.

Octavio Amorim Neto, ‘A crise política brasileira de 2015-2016 Diagnóstico, sequelas e profilaxia’ (The 2015-2016 Brazilian political crisis: diagnostic, lessons and prophylaxis), Relações Internacionais  no. 52, 2017. Available at: http://www.scielo.mec.pt/pdf/ri/n52/n52a04.pdf

Special issue, The Five Faces of the President: Leadership, Presidentialism, and Public Policy in Brazil, five articles, Policy Studies, Vol. 38, No. 3, 2017.

Marcus André Melo and Carlos Pereira, ‘The Governance of Infrastructure in Multiparty Presidentialism’, in Kai Wegrich, Genia Kostka, and Gerhard Hammerschmid (eds.), The Governance of Infrastructure, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 225-249.

Jean Blondel, ‘Viewing African Presidencies Concretely and Positively: Six Case-Studies as Examples’, in Philipp Harfst, Ina Kubbe, and Thomas Poguntke (eds.), Parties, Governments and Elites: The Comparative Study of Democracy, Springer, pp. 153-180.

Jessica Fortin-Rittberger, ‘Strong Presidents for Weak States. How Weak State Capacity Fosters Vertically Concentrated Executives’, in Philipp Harfst, Ina Kubbe, and Thomas Poguntke (eds.), Parties, Governments and Elites: The Comparative Study of Democracy, Springer, pp. 205-226.

Titin Purwaningsih and Septi Nur Wijayant, ‘Concurrent Election in Indonesian Politics: Opportunities and Challenges of Political Perspective’, Journal of Asian Review of Public Affairs and Policy, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 26-44, available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.222.99/arpap/2017.09

Gary Schmitt, Joseph M. Bessette, and Andrew E. Busch (eds.), The Imperial Presidency and the Constitution, Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.

Venezuela – Current and Former Latin American Presidents Denounce Recent Events

The situation in Venezuela appears to be deteriorating. Amid daily street protests, a steady stream of fatalities as police clash with protestors, rampant price instability and food shortages, and against a backdrop of a crumbling state, epitomised by rising infant mortality and malaria cases, Nicolás Maduro, the embattled president of Venezuela, has stepped up his confrontation with the opposition controlled legislature.

As I have written recently on this blog, although political machinations denied the opposition the two thirds majority needed to change the constitution, they have nonetheless been a thorn in the side of President Maduro, and at the end of last month, the Venezuelan Supreme Court announced that it would take over and assume the legislative powers of the opposition-dominated Congress. In the government’s battle with Congress, the Supreme Court has proven to be President Maduro’s best ally, striking down a number of opposition initiatives.

This move sent the opposition into overdrive and sparked a wave of street protests and international condemnation. Now, President Maduro has called for a new constitution, and requested that a constitutional assembly, or constituyente, be established in order to transform the institutional structure of the Venezuelan state. President Maduro issued a decree to begin the process of convening such an assembly. This move has sparked even more intense protests and to add to the chaos, President Maduro’s supporters have also taken to the street to defend the call for the assembly.

Given that presidential elections are due to held in December 2018, it seems likely that the purpose of the constitutional assembly would be to prolong or delay this election, and extend the tenure of President Maduro. At the same time, the existence of an alternative legislative body, could undermine the legitimacy and power of the current opposition dominated Congress. A similar tactic was employed by Rafael Correa in 2007.

But the last vestiges of the Venezuelan government’s international legitimacy appear to have ebbed away. Having been suspended from the Mercosur since December, today at a meeting in Buenos Aires, a group of current and former Latin American Presidents denounced what they termed the “descent into hell” of Venezuela. This group included President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, former Uruguayan president, Julio María Sanguinetti, former Chilean president, Ricardo Lagos, former Brazilian president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Spanish prime minister, Felipe González.  They specifically criticised President Maduro’s plans to rewrite the constitution.

Of course, what effect this will have remains to be seen. It doesn’t appear as if President Maduro has very many options. Given the depth of polarization in Venezuela and the anger of the opposition, any chance of a controlled transition seems improbable. In response to increasing opposition, the government has moved towards increasing authoritarianism. For the people of Venezuela, an end to this crisis still seems like a long way away.