Monthly Archives: June 2017

Kenya – The campaign for the presidency 2017 and what it tells us about the state of politics

The general election campaign is now in full swing. In some ways, it is heavily reminiscent of the 2013 polls: the presidential race will boil down to a contest between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, and the cast of characters supporting each leader looks familiar.

But a closer look at the campaigns reveals a number of important differences to recent elections. Both Odinga and Kenyatta have had to radically change the messages that they use to connect to voters as a result of changing circumstances over the past decade. As a result, both are casting around for a new way to frame their appeals – not always successfully.

So what makes for an effective narrative? And what lessons can the 2017 campaign teach us about the state of Kenyan politics?

Framing the message

One of the most common opinions I have heard when talking about the presidential race with friends and colleagues is that neither side has so far come up with a compelling narrative that resonates with voters. As Karuti Kanyinga has put it, the campaign seems to lack an organizing principle.

Of course, elections are complicated things and can’t be reduced to just one issue. Not only does each party make a large number of promises, but different themes also tend to come to the fore in different places. However, these caveats notwithstanding, political communication tends to be far more effective when a range of appeals are effectively integrated under a common argument that voters can easily understand and identify with.

In 2007, the dividing lines were clear. The Party of National Unity (PNU) represented the establishment and sought to preserve the status quo. By contrast, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) promised far-reaching constitutional reform, including devolution. As a result, debates over majimbo (regional government), and what majimbo would mean, came to dominate the campaign.

This framing was ideal for Odinga, because it enabled him to appeal to a broad variety of voters through a single slogan. His supporters from different communities in various parts of the country did not have to agree on the most important issue for the opposition to address, because the promise of devolution was that each community would be able to elect its own leaders and set its own priorities. Partly as a result, Odinga came as close as he ever has to occupying State House.

Shifting rhetoric

Things had changed radically by 2013. By the time of that election, the 2010 constitution had been introduced and devolution was becoming a reality. This took the wind out of Odinga’s sails: it is almost impossible to effectively campaign on something that has already been delivered. This did not stop the opposition from trying, arguing that the government could not be trusted to effectively implement devolution, but arguments about implementation usually have too many shades of grey to truly excite the electorate.

Partly as a result, it was the recently formed Jubilee Alliance that gained momentum by pushing a message that established a new dividing line within the electorate. Rather than pro- and anti- majimbo camps, the election hinged on how voters felt about the candidature of Kenyatta and William Ruto – the “alliance of the accused” – and their prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.

In this context, UhuRuto cleverly made sovereignty the key organizing principle of their campaign. While the Jubilee Alliance was presented as the defender of Kenyan interests on the world stage, the ICC and “meddling” foreign donors were depicted as neo-colonial imperialists determined to undermine Kenyan sovereignty. Carefully constructing a siege mentality around their Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities, Ruto and Kenyatta hit upon a powerful way to emphasise the dividing line between “them” and “us”.

This narrative was particularly important for Kenyatta because it helped to compensate for some of his potential weaknesses as a candidate. There were two big dangers for the president in the run up to 2013. The first was that his vast wealth would make him vulnerable to an opposition campaign focussing on inequality and land alienation. The second was that he would struggle to mobilize support within his own community following his poor showing in the 2002 election when he was widely viewed to be a puppet of the Moi regime.

Against this backdrop, Kenyatta’s prosecution by the ICC was an electoral boon. In addition to emphasising his claim to be a defender of Kikuyu interests, and so rehabilitating Kenyatta within his own community, the campaign’s focus on sovereignty enabled Jubilee to deflect attention away from more problematic issues.

Hearts and minds

The challenge for both Odinga and Kenyatta in 2017 is that their most effective campaign slogans of the past are no longer relevant. On the one hand, Odinga’s team will sound tired and repetitive if he speaks too much about devolution, especially as it doesn’t seem like the government has any plans to close down the counties. On the other, Kenyatta’s camp can no longer hope to engender a siege mentality because the International Criminal Court proceedings have gone away and international donors have been careful to play a less interventionist role.

President Kenyatta’s team was quick to recognize this, and responded by rotating their campaign through 180 degrees. Whereas Jubilee’s message in 2013 was divisive and confrontational, more recently the government has used its transition from a coalition to a party to push the idea that it is an inclusive party ruling in the interests of all. The main slogans that Jubilee has adopted – Tuko Pamoja, Building a better Kenya, and so on – all reflect this change of focus.

For their part, the Odinga camp have fallen back on classic opposition tropes that are used by parties around the world, emphasising the value of change and the strength of their support base in an attempt to persuade Kenyans that victory is possible. The catchphrases used by leaders of the National Super Alliance (NASA) – Ten Million Strong, Vindi Vichenjanga, and so on – all speak to this theme.

But while both sides have clearly thought long and hard about their messaging, neither has yet hit upon a narrative that resonates beyond their heartlands. Although they will deny it in public, this point is understood by the public relations teams working for Jubilee and NASA – some of whom are starting to worry. Given this, it will not be surprising if the limited penetration of leaders’ slogans inspires a change in the way the campaign is fought over the next month. As the candidates scramble to capture swing voters and make sure that their supporters go to the polls, the amount of money spent on vote buying, and the amount of time devoted to negative campaigning, is likely to increase.

What does this tell us about Kenyan politics?

The struggle of both sides to effectively frame their message tells us something important about Kenyan politics: ideas matter. Why else would the government be spending so much money on hiring foreign consultants to help them get the message right?

Some people will be very resistant to this argument. They will say that Kenyan politics is all about ethnicity and that all you need to be able to do is add up the size of the different communities and you can tell who is going to win. But while this is a popular refrain, it is not – and never has been – entirely true.

Ethnicity is, of course, one of the most significant building blocks of Kenyan politics, but it is not the only one. Even if people are predisposed to support you because of your ethnicity, mobilizing voters is harder if you fail to capture their hearts and minds. As Musalia Mudavadi found to his cost in 2013 when he failed to secure a majority of votes in Luhya areas, ethnicity does not get you very far if you don’t have credibility. Ngala Chome’s analysis of the success of Mike Sonko demonstrates this point well: Sonko lacks “significant ethnic capital” in Nairobi, yet this has not undermined his rise to power.

The electoral fortunes of Kenyatta and Odinga are further evidence of the importance of ideas. Getting the message right helped to turn Uhuru from a political also-ran into the president, while Raila’s most rhetorically effective campaign was the one in which he out-mobilized a sitting president.

It is important to note that this argument should not be taken to imply that politics in Kenya is driven by ideology or that voters spend their time reading party manifestos. Successful messages often resonate precisely because they play on pre-existing stereotypes and tap into the hopes and fears of specific communities. In this sense, the power of political ideas cannot be separated from the underlying reality of ethnic politics, gives them their strength. However, the fact that ideas, messages and identities are deeply intertwined does not mean that the ideas themselves are not important, or that politicians can win elections without them.

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

This piece was first published in the Sunday Nation.

South Korea – The Making … and Unmaking … of the People’s Party

The remarkable electoral success of the People’s Party at the April 2016 general elections –38 seats, beating some of the most optimistic predictions – boded well for a party that was formally launched less than three months earlier, on February 2, 2016. Here is a party that defied expectations of decimation, sometimes from fires set within the party itself. Instead, the party looked set to play a pivotal role in the legislature: with no majority party in the legislature, the People’s Party is well-placed to lend support to the liberal Minjoo legislative plurality or join hands with the rest of the legislative opposition to stonewall, if not defeat, the government’s policies. And, despite his defeat at the presidential polls, Representative Ahn Cheol-soo, cofounder of the People’s Party, looked to be a viable candidate in presidential elections 2021 with his name recognition and experience. However, the latest scandal may bury the party: at a press conference on Jun 26, 2017, the emergency committee of the People’s Party revealed that an audio tape which surfaced on May 5, 2017 – allegedly proving that President Moon Jae-in’s son received special treatment to join the Korea Employment Information Service (KEIS) – was fabricated. People’s Party member and youth committee vice-chair, Lee Yoo-mi, has been arrested under the Public Official Election Act for making and releasing the fake audio tape. Lee has alleged that she was directed to make the tape by senior party members, and the fact that Lee was a former student of Representative Ahn at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology threatens to incriminate the highest ranks of the party. Here, I track the highs and lows of the People’s Party.

The People’s Party was formally launched in February 2016, then-led by Representative Ahn Cheol-soo and Representative Chun Jung-bae, both of whom left the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD). Representative Ahn Cheol-soo, co-chair of the NPAD, left on December 13, 2015, following open disagreements with NPAD’s then-chair, Moon Jae-in. Ahn’s departure ended a troubled relationship with the opposition alliance that officially launched in April 2014, but it also bared open fractures within the alliance that the leadership had ineffectually tried to reconcile. Representative Chun Jung-bae left the NPAD in March, 2015 and successfully won the Gwangju seat as an independent in the April by-elections. 1

Ahn and Chun pooled 20 seats in the legislature to achieve a legislative negotiation bloc for the People’s Party; under Assembly rules, it was entitled to government subsidies and other parliamentary privileges, such as negotiating legislative calendars. However, not long following the official launch, senior party members fought openly over the possibility of merging with the Minjoo Party. Still, the People’s Party managed to smooth over the early difficulties to almost double its share of legislative seats in the general elections.

Soon after the general elections, however, the People’s Party was hit by a campaign kickback scandal: two of its proportionally-elected legislators and a deputy secretary general for the party were alleged to have demanded and received kickbacks from advertisers for the campaign. Both Ahn and Chun stepped down as co-founders to take responsibility; while the scandal may have singed Ahn’s position as leader of the party, it probably helped preserve Ahn’s politically “clean” image. As a result, when Ahn signalled his intention to run for the presidency, his candidacy had good momentum: some polls even showed him leading over Moon Jae-in at one point. Interestingly, the lead over Moon followed the resurfacing of the allegations that Moon’s son received special favours to assume the job with the KEIS.

Moon would go on to win the presidential race subsequently, with Ahn in third place after Liberal Korea Party candidate Hong Joon-pyo. Ahn has kept low since the elections, but is facing calls to respond given his steady drum-beat of nepotism and special favors immediately following the fabricated audio tape. For now, party leaders have disavowed any knowledge of the fabricated tape, and also disclaimed any knowledge that Ahn may have had. Still, with the arrest of Lee and Lee’s insinuation of senior party members’ involvement, the investigation is likely to burrow deep into the party, at the party’s peril.

________

  1. Yap, O. Fiona (2015). “Opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Splits?” http://presidential-power.com/?p=4263, December 16, 2015. <last accessed June 28, 2017>

Russia – The Anti-Tweeter: President Vladimir Putin and the Art of the Interview

Earlier this month, while President Donald Trump was busy avoiding queries from the American press, his Russian counterpart appeared on television in two sets of four-hour interviews. In the first, broadcast live on June 15, Vladimir Putin continued his annual tradition of responding to questions and concerns raised by journalists, members of a studio audience, and several dozen fortunate–and presumably carefully-selected–viewers, this year from Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. Several days later, the leading Russian television network began airing uncut the four-part series of interviews that Putin granted to the American film director, Oliver Stone, interviews conducted from early 2015 to February 2017.

What does this media blitz tell us about Russian–and by extension American–presidential leadership? First, the system of presidential communication in Russia is at once ancient and modern. The cavernous, specially-designed studio for the live call-in show, Direct Line with Vladimir Putin, boasted all the accoutrements of cutting-edge television. Surrounding a central stage with the president and two news anchors were multiple platforms with earnest-looking and identically-dressed young people who worked at computers in front of a massive, interactive map of Russia. In the digital version of the gigantomania inherited from the Soviet era, reporters roaming the studio spoke breathlessly about the millions of phone calls, texts, emails, and video messages pouring in from around the country.

Yet amid all the advanced technology, the specter of supplicants appealing to a single, powerful leader to resolve their personal medical, housing, or education issues was a throwback to an earlier age, when monarchs received plaintive subjects seeking redress. The exercise was not the sort associated with modern democratic states, where well-developed administrative, political, legal, and market institutions exist to provide remedies. Because of the level of inefficiency and corruption in the Russian state, many citizens have felt the need to turn directly to the president to take their problems “under his personal control” [pod lichnym kontrolem]. By doing so on the Direct Line program, Vladimir Putin was able to exhibit empathy and understanding that almost certainly played well in Pskov.

Even more than earlier versions, this year’s Direct Line with Vladimir Putin exposed viewers to pointed criticisms of the president and the Russian political system, apparently as a means of illustrating that Vladimir Putin, who is preparing to contest his fourth presidential election next year, does not live in a bubble. Between the largely benign questions from the anchors, the studio audience, and ordinary citizens, the directors flashed attention-grabbing text messages on the screen, which ranged from the humorous, “Why is this summer so cold?,” to the awkward, “Will there be a new first lady?,” to the politically charged, “All Russia thinks you’ve overstayed your time on the throne.”

Although this last text may have been the harshest critique of the president, there were many other messages that cast Vladimir Putin and his government in an unfavorable light. “Do you realize your own mistakes, and who will correct them?”; “Why are all the issues resolved only after your personal involvement?”; and “Stop throwing money at the army and the arms race.” Given the preference of younger Russians for texts over emails and phone calls, the critical content of many texts may have reflected both the demographic source of the comments as well as a desire by the presidential communications staff to appeal to a youth audience, who would no doubt have found it difficult to stay focused on many of the ponderous, wonkishly-detailed responses provided by the Russian president during the lengthy live broadcast. However we describe Putin’s Russia, the odd combination of adulation and criticism that characterized the Direct Line with Vladimir Putin confirms that the Russian political system differs dramatically from hard authoritarian regimes like Turkmenistan.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two issues that received little attention in Putin’s talkathon were corruption and the political opposition, topics that are closely related in contemporary Russia. The first brief mention of corruption came in a text almost two and a half hours into the program, and shortly thereafter, Putin responded to a young questioner in the studio audience who suggested that corruption had prevented his family from receiving the housing to which it was entitled. The Russian president dealt with the question quickly and almost dismissively, wishing, no doubt, to deflect attention from a subject on which the most prominent leader of the political opposition, Alexei Naval’nyi, had built his reputation.

When asked directly at the end of the program about the political opposition, Putin’s body stiffened and his tone became testier. “I’m willing to meet with anyone who is focused on improving the life of Russians instead of using current difficulties for their own PR,” Putin said. But anyone who “only uses problems to make a name for themselves rather than offering solutions…has no right to speak to those in power.” In effect, the Russian president was dividing the opposition into those willing to cooperate with the regime on its terms and those intent on dismantling the autocratic order that has been under construction since Putin’s accession to power in 2000.

Both the Direct Line with Vladimir Putin and the Putin Interviews of Oliver Stone highlight the stark differences in leadership styles of the Russian and American presidents. For his part, Putin favors lengthy responses that allow him to show off his impressively detailed knowledge of everything from public policy and demography to Russian culture. At one point in Direct Line, Putin recited a poem by Lermontov. The current American president, on the other hand, prefers to interact with the nation through tweets of no more than 140 characters. To be sure, facility with facts and figures comes more easily to a man like Putin, who has spent two-thirds of his life in government service, but one suspects that Putin’s technocratic approach to presidential communication would hold little attraction for Donald Trump even if Trump had spent several years in the presidency.

Where President Trump has been intent on emphasizing his wealth as an indicator of his leadership abilities, Vladimir Putin rejected out of hand suggestions from Oliver Stone that he had amassed a personal fortune. To do otherwise, of course, would have been to admit that he had used the office of the presidency for self-enrichment. When Stone asked President Putin about his children, he was quick to note with pride that his children were not involved in politics or business–two spheres even more tightly entwined in Russia than in the United States. Instead, they were active, in his telling, in education and science, which he was pleased to admit kept them out of public view and, it goes without saying, away from the dangerous intersection of politics and business in Russia. The contrast with the Trump family–and indeed with presidential families in many of the authoritarian regimes on Russia’s borders–could not have been more pronounced.

Oliver Stone’s questions to Putin about Russia’s alleged interference in the American presidential election prompted vigorous denials. Confidently claiming to occupy the moral high ground on this and all other matters, Putin baldly and improbably asserted that “unlike many of our partners [a reference to the US and other Western nations], we never interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries.” In trying to account for the accusations of hacking, he offered up almost playfully an explanation advanced by Donald Trump during the election campaign: it could have easily been someone sitting in bed. Here and elsewhere in the Putin Interviews, the Russian president turned detailed knowledge of the inner workings of American democracy to his advantage.

In a rare moment of real or feigned outrage during the taping with Stone, the Russian president turned the tables on the issue of electoral interference by accusing the United States of enlisting its diplomats as well as friendly NGOs to disrupt elections in the region. Accompanying these accusations were video clips that sought to bolster the Russian case, one of several moments in the film where Stone and his production team revealed their willingness to tilt the scales in Russia’s favor. Even more tellingly, Stone avoided confronting Putin with questions about the most sensitive subjects in recent Russian political history, such as the apartment bombings in late 1999 that created a groundswell of popular support for Russian involvement in the Second Chechen War and Putin’s own rise to the presidency.

It is easy, of course, to accuse Oliver Stone of being a “useful idiot,” the term used in the Soviet era for Westerners who were taken in by the narratives advanced by Moscow. But for all its limitations, the Putin Interviews offers important insights into the mode of thought and communication of a Russian president who has helped to remake his country–and who is already the longest-serving leader of Russia since Stalin. Moreover, the documentary takes the viewer into rarely-seen corners of President Putin’s homes and offices, including the Russian equivalent of the White House Situation Room.

In the end, what is most revealing in Stone’s documentary is Putin’s sense of infallibility, derived from viewing the world through a narrow Russian lens. The resulting “mirror imaging” leads him to adopt a sober, even pessimistic, view of the chances for improvements in US-Russian relations. Although admitting that he preferred Trump over Clinton, he confessed to Stone that little is likely to change under the new administration. Raising the specter of the influence of the Deep State, a concept touted by some frustrated Trump supporters in the United States, President Putin claimed that officials carried over from the Obama Administration had placed roadblocks in the way of the new American president. In Putin’s words, “the power of the bureaucratic apparatus in the US is great,” and so Trump will be stymied by it, just as Obama was during his presidency on issues like closing the base at Guantanamo.

Putin still found reason to hope, however. Echoing the comments of Stalin in 1935, he noted, when asked about the difficulties of getting the foreign ministries and intelligence services of the United States and Russia to work together, that it was merely a “question of [finding the right] personnel” [kadrovoi vopros]. In Russian internal politics, of course, the central “personnel question” is looming ever larger. At the end of the Putin Interviews, Oliver Stone asked the Russian president whether he would run again next year. Putin responded: “I won’t answer the question about 2018. There should be some mystery and intrigue.”

Mali’s controversial constitutional referendum

Mali was scheduled to hold a referendum on constitutional reform on July 9th. On June 21st, two days before the campaign for the referendum was to start, the vote was postponed sine die following widespread demonstrations. What prompted this resistance to, and ultimate postponement of the planned referendum? What is so controversial about this constitutional revision?

The constitutional changes were meant to implement clauses of the Algiers Peace Agreement signed between the Malian government and former rebel groups in 2015, and to correct “deficiencies and shortcomings” in the constitution. One of the important changes was to be the introduction of a Senate, to give an official role to Mali’s traditional leaders.

On June 3, the National Assembly endorsed the proposed constitutional revisions by 111 votes to 35. Opposition parties voted against the reform, arguing that it strengthens presidential powers unduly. Main concerns include the ability for the president to appoint 30 percent of senators as well as the presiding judge of the constitutional court. Also, the president would be able to dismiss the prime minister at will (effectively transforming Mali from a premier-presidential to a president-parliamentary type of semi-presidential regime).

Following the vote, a platform of political opposition members and civil society activists came together in a determined campaign against the referendum, conducting several demonstrations. The largest of these, on June 17, brought thousands of protesters into the streets of Bamako, who also seized the opportunity to accuse the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) of bad governance. With a year left ahead of presidential polls in July 2018 where IBK will stand for reelection, protests appeared to be morphing from opposition against the constitutional reform to a broader indictment of the government. In the face of this resistance, the government bowed to the pressure, at least temporarily, by postponing the referendum.

This is not the first time that constitutional reform in Mali has been aborted at the last moment.[1]  In November 2001, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré called off a referendum scheduled for the following month. Some of the criticisms at the time echo concerns voiced by the opposition to the current revision – notably increased presidential control of the constitutional court (Wing, 457). Also, interestingly, many of the proposed changes this year were included in the constitutional reform effort of former President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) that was cut short by the 2012 coup. In 2012, those changes that faced similar, significant opposition included: the introduction of a Senate whereto the president would be able to appoint a significant number of senators; the president’s ability to appoint the chief justice of the constitutional court;[2] and the president’s power to dismiss the prime minister at will (Wing, 462).

Not surprisingly, among the leading opponents today are some of those who most vocally opposed the same constitutional changes back in 2012, including Tiébilié Dramé, the président of the Party for National Rebirth (Parena), and Mme. Sy Kadiatou Sow who leads the joint civil society-political party movement against the constitutional referendum, “An tè A Bana. Touche pas à ma Constitution” (Don’t touch my constitution). These opponents criticize not just the proposed changes, but also the reform process itself for lacking transparency and not being inclusive – criticisms also advanced in 2012 – and for being ill-advised when segments of the population would be unable to vote due to ongoing insecurity. According to Wing (2015), the controversies surrounding constitutional reform in 2012 contributed to the overthrow of then President ATT by further delegitimizing an already unpopular government.

Taking lessons from the past, the government’s decision to postpone the referendum was probably a wise one. In a context where the central government remains week and lacks the ability to exercise its authority across the entirety of the country, it is all the more important that the constitutional reform process benefits from widespread legitimacy. The challenge is now how to ensure that promises made in the 2015 Peace Agreement are acted upon, should constitutional changes be significantly delayed.

[1] See Susanna Wing’s interesting analysis of past troubled constitutional reform efforts in Mali: Susanna Wing (2015), “ ‘Hands off my constitution’: Constitutional reform and the workings of democracy in Mali, “ in Journal of Modern African Studies, 53, 3, pp. 451-475.

[2] The chief justice of the constitutional court is responsible for proclaiming electoral results; also, the constitutional court is tasked with resolving electoral disputes. The president’s ability to appoint the chief justice of the court is particularly controversial with IBK up for reelection in 2018.

Vanuatu – Nation mourns President Baldwin Lonsdale

The Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu is in mourning following the sudden death of President Baldwin Lonsdale from a suspected heart attack. Baldwin, a clergyman and the highest-ranking chief in Vanuatu’s Banks group of islands, was one of the most widely respected political figures in the country. His state funeral was attended by heads of state from Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. The Vanuatu Daily Post reported that while it was difficult to accurately estimate the number of people who lined the roughly 6-kilometre long route, there has been no similar public gathering in living memory.

Baldwin took over the largely ceremonial role in September 2014 but it was his handling of the 2015 corruption scandal (discussed previously on this blog) that elevated his standing in the eyes of the nation. The unprecedented case saw 15 MPs tried and convicted of bribery. But, when the convictions were handed down, President Lonsdale was out of the country. In his absence, the Speaker of the House – one of those convicted – was Acting Head of State, and used his powers to pardon himself and his co-defendants.

Returning to Vanuatu, a visibly shaken Lonsdale addressed the nation expressing “shame and sorrow” at what had occurred, stated that “no-one is above the law”, and promised to “clean the dirt from my backyard.” He subsequently revoked the pardons – a move that was then appealed, and upheld – and the MPs went to prison. He also dissolved Parliament and called a snap election. The case was a landmark event for Vanuatu. The convictions sent a clear message to political actors that the types of money politics that had been common in the post-independence era were no longer acceptable.

The election of the new President of the Republic of Vanuatu will be held on July 3, 2017. As outlined previously on the blog, the Electoral College that will vote a new President is made up of the 52 Members of Parliament, the Presidents of the Local Government Councils of the six provinces and mayors of the three municipalities of the country.

Panama – Ex-President Ricardo Martinelli Wanted in Panama on Charges of Spying

On Monday, as the current president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, was meeting with President Donald Trump in the White House, the former president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli was fighting his extradition back to Panama in a court in Miami. Martinelli, who was president of Panama from 2009 until 2014, is accused of diverting and embezzling public funds in order to pay for a highly complex and sophisticated wire-tapping arrangement that allowed him to listen in on political opponents. He was arrested last week in Florida, where he has lived as a political refugee since the end of his presidency, claiming that President Juan Carlos Varela has pursued this corruption and spying case against him for political reasons.

Martinelli is accused of diverting approximately US$13.4 million that was set aside for targeted poverty relief, and using this money to instead illegally gain access to the phone calls and emails of 150 major political opponents. Martinilli’s defence in the face of extradition back to Panama is largely predicated on the argument that during his term in office, Martinelli fired the current president, Juan Carlos Varela, as his foreign minister, because it allegedly emerged that Varela was receiving illegal payments from foreign consulates. Varela’s actions, so Martinelli argues, are a type of payback for this.

Although not from the same party (Varela is from the Partido Panameñista and Martenelli is from Cambio Democrático), Varela and Martenelli established a coalition after the 2009 election, which saw Varela assume office as Martenelli’s vice-president and foreign minister. As relations became more acrimonious between the two men, Varela ran for, and won, the presidency in 2014, against the candidate of Cambio Democrático, José Domingo Arias. Shortly after he came to power, Varela launched an inquiry into the alleged illegal spying of former-president Martinelli, who then fled to the US.

Of course, this is not the first time that former president Martinelli, or former Panamanian presidents for that matter, have been embroiled in some form of corruption scandal. I have discussed the fallout from the Lavo Jato corruption scandal before on this blog, which was partly responsible for forcing Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, out of office last year. This scandal centers upon allegations of kickbacks from the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, to former worker party president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), but as the scandal has rumbled on, it has also dragged other Latin American countries into its orbit.

One of these is Panama. Prosecutors have been seeking to detain the sons of Ricardo Martinelli, Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli, both of whom are accused of depositing part of a US$22 million bribe that Odebrecht paid in return for lucrative state contracts in Panama. In fact, current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, has been accused by a former advisor of receiving political donations from Odebrecht.

The US and Panama do have an extradition treaty (although rather an old one) and the US judge will decide Ricardo Martinelli’s fate next week.

Karrin Vasby Anderson – The Female Presidentiality Paradox

This is a guest post by Karrin Vasby Anderson, Professor of Communication Studies at Colorado State University

When Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, he presided over what some have termed the biggest political upset in U.S. history. With the advantage of hindsight, pundits and experts proffered myriad reasons for Clinton’s failure: economic insecurity, white backlash against the first black president, a generalized distrust in government, the dubious, eleventh-hour resurrection of the Clinton email story by the director of the FBI, and, of course, alleged failures of the Clinton campaign. Those who regarded the outcome as a strategic (rather than systemic) failure were quick to point out Clinton’s ostensible liabilities: a long, public career peppered by real and manufactured scandals, her contentious relationship with the press, her underwhelming presence on the stump, and—perhaps most damaging—her status as the quintessential political insider in a year of change.

Cognizant of the electoral mood in September of 2015, Clinton attempted to convince John Dickerson, host of the CBS News program Face the Nation, that her gender made her the outsider, saying, “I cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than the first woman president.” Dickerson demurred, and his response is emblematic of a broader reluctance to acknowledge the ways in which women presidential candidates are unique—and uniquely challenged—in presidential campaign culture. Shortly after Clinton’s defeat, lists of Democratic presidential prospects for 2020 named women such as Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris as early favorites, indicating the widespread belief that gender doesn’t really hamper anyone’s bid for the U.S. presidency.

As a citizen and voter, I’d like to believe that, but as a scholar, I’ve come to another conclusion—not that Clinton was the wrong woman for the presidency in 2016, but that every woman is the wrong woman, and will be until cultural understanding of the presidency changes. Clinton was constrained by what I call the “female presidentiality paradox,” in which any electable woman presidential candidate is simultaneously unelectable in a “change” campaign. The effect is intensified when the change endorsed by electors is a reactionary, rather than a progressive, change. Consequently, although scholars and strategists seek to uncover the rhetorical formula which finally will propel a woman into the office of the U.S. presidency, the more urgent work is targeting the beliefs and behaviors of citizens rather than the strategies of candidates.

Clinton’s loss to Trump was a startling political defeat, but it wasn’t her first. After being the first woman to be the frontrunner for a major-party nomination in 2008, Clinton lost the Democratic presidential nomination to relative political newcomer Barack Obama. She responded by serving as his Secretary of State, a move that bolstered her foreign policy credentials and positioned her for a second presidential run in 2016. Although Clinton corrected many of the shortcomings of her 2008 primary campaign, raised a formidable campaign war chest, secured the support of the Democratic party elite, and was hailed by President Obama as the most qualified candidate ever to run for the office, she nearly came up short again, this time to Bernie Sanders—a dynamic but relatively ineffectual U.S. Senator who was not even a member of the Democratic party. Her victory in the primaries was short-lived, however, vanquished by a candidate who claimed the role of outsider despite his normative race, gender, sexual orientation, and personal wealth. In all three cases, Clinton was positioned as the elite political insider running against agents of change. Her defeats were read by many pundits and journalists not as repudiations of her gender but as a rejection of “politics as usual.”

What that narrative ignores is the paradox facing all female presidential candidates. In an examination of the 2016 Democratic primary, forthcoming in the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs, I theorized the “first-timer/frontrunner double bind,” in which male presidential “first-timers” (such as Trump, Sanders, and Obama) can be viewed as both outsiders and credible leaders. Conversely, female “first-timers” historically have been viewed as pioneers with symbolic appeal rather than political strength. To be taken seriously as presidential candidates, women politicians must amass significant political experience, party support, and campaign funds. Once they do that, their political strength is portrayed as anti-democratic entitlement and their presidential aspirations as a manic desire for power.

The double bind that was a challenge for Clinton to overcome in the 2016 primary became a full-blown paradox during the general election, one that begins to explain why, according to Time, Clinton’s “campaign organization, the data, the polling, all the analytics—none of it worked on Election Day.” I contend that the factors that cast Clinton as a credible presidential candidate simultaneously disqualified her in a “change” campaign. Her electability made her unelectable.

At first glance, this does not seem like a particularly gendered phenomenon, but in the realm of U.S. presidentiality the dynamic is unique to women candidates. Although over ninety percent of U.S. voters report willingness to vote for a (hypothetical) qualified female presidential candidate, only Hillary Clinton has been able to garner a major party nomination, a feat she accomplished only after amassing an unprecedented breadth of political experience. Clinton’s two primary campaigns and one general election defeat illustrate the female presidentiality paradox quite plainly. To demonstrate your electability, you must become that which ultimately will make you unelectable in a “change” campaign: a well-connected political insider with decades of political experience.

In 2016, the effects of the female presidentiality paradox were exacerbated by the type of political change endorsed by the Trump voters. Although Trump’s victory was regarded by many pundits as evidence of the country’s anti-government mood, Trump also functioned as a personification of the reactionary backlash against the nation’s first black president and first female presidential frontrunner. The “change” sought by his supporters was a reinstatement of white, male hegemonic presidentiality rather than further challenge to that centuries-old standard. In that climate, the more credible a woman is as a presidential candidate, the more threatening she is.

Because the female presidentiality paradox will continue to be a feature of campaign culture whenever women launch significant bids for major-party nominations, scholars and strategists should acknowledge its existence and seek to understand its rhetorical dynamics. Clinton’s experiences in two campaign cycles suggest that this paradox is a constraint that cannot be overcome by candidate competence alone, since, for women, electability appears to breed contemp. When asked, as a political communication scholar, what women candidates can do to be received more favorably, I am increasingly convinced that the answer to that question is “Nothing. There is literally nothing that women have not tried in their 100+ year quest for the Oval Office.” The problem lies with the culture rather than with the candidates.

Karrin Vasby Anderson, PhD (@KVAnderson) is Professor of Communication Studies at Colorado State University and co-author of the book Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture. This post contains excerpts from “Every Woman is the Wrong Woman: The Female Presidentiality Paradox,” published in Women’s Studies in Communication and “Presidential Pioneer or Campaign Queen?: Hillary Clinton and the First-Timer/Frontrunner Double Bind,” forthcoming in Rhetoric & Public Affairs.

Thomas Sedelius and Jonas Linde – Democracy and Government Performance: Parliamentarism, Premier-Presidentialism, President-Parliamentarism, and Presidentialism

This is a guest post by Thomas Sedelius, Dalarna University, and Jonas Linde, University of Bergen. It is a summary of their co-authored article that was recently published in Democratization. The full text article is free to download here.

Do semi-presidential regimes perform worse than other regime types? Following the classical argument once raised by Juan J. Linz (1990; 1994) that presidentialism and semi-presidentialism are less conducive to democracy than parliamentarism, a number of studies have empirically analysed the functioning and performance of semi-presidentialism. With the notable exception of Elgie (2011), however, there is a lack of large-N studies where democracy and government performance are actually measured across the two subtypes of semi-presidentialism (premier-presidential and president-parliamentary regimes). Robert Elgie’s systematic and comprehensive study offers several important findings on the performance of two types of semi-presidentialism, but it does so in isolation from parliamentary and presidential regimes. Our study is an attempt to address this gap in the literature.

By using indicators on regime performance and democracy from a dataset containing 173 countries, we examine the performance records of premier-presidential and president-parliamentary regimes in relation to parliamentarism and presidentialism.

Guided by Linz’s argument on the “perils of presidentialism”, and by Matthew S. Shugart and John M. Carey’s (1992) proposition that president-parliamentary regimes are more perilous to democracy than other regime types, we test three basic hypotheses.

H1: Parliamentarism performs better than other regime types in terms of democracy and government performance.

H2: Premier-presidentialism performs better than president-parliamentarism and presidentialism in terms of democracy and government performance.

H3: President-parliamentarism performs on a par with, or worse, than presidentialism in terms of democracy and government performance.

For measuring democracy, we select four frequently used indicators: Freedom House’s index of civil liberties and political rights and Polity IV combined, Polity IV on its own, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy, and the Executive Constraints indicator from Polity IV, which refers to the extent of institutionalized constraints on the decision-making powers of chief executives. For measuring government performance, we use the Government Effectiveness indicator from the Worldwide Governance Indicators, the Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, the Empowerment Rights Index from CIRI Human Rights Data Project, and the Human Development Index from UNDP.

Following a series of descriptive reports, we run some basic multivariate analyses with a conventional set of controls including GDP/capita, population size, ethnic fractionalization, proportional representation, and different world regions.

Overall, our findings do not support the proposition that parliamentarism performs better than all other regime types in terms of democracy and government performance (H1). Rather we observed a pattern where premier-presidentialism performs almost as good – and on some measures even better – as parliamentary regimes. Neither the measures of democracy nor the measures of government performance show significantly better records for parliamentary regimes than for premier-presidential ones. This indicates that a parliamentary constitution with an indirectly elected president does not necessarily go along with better political performance than a premier-presidential one with a popularly elected but weak or medium weak president. Thus, to the extent that we think about semi-presidentialism in terms of premier-presidential regimes, we have reasons to question strong propositions about the “perils of semi-presidentialism”.

However, the picture certainly looks different with regard to president-parliamentary regimes. While premier-presidential regimes are closer to parliamentary regimes, president-parliamentary regimes display performance records more similar to pure presidentialism, and it performs even worse on most indicators (H2, H3). When it comes to the level of democracy, the only regime type to perform significantly worse than the parliamentary one – on four separate measures and with conventional controls – is the president-parliamentary regime type. The differences in terms of government performance are less pronounced. Although there is a tendency of slightly poorer performance by presidential-parliamentary regimes also in terms of government performance, and significantly so on one indicator, our results demonstrate that the type of constitutional system seems to affect democracy more strongly than government performance.

Shugart and Carey’s general recommendation to stay away from the president-parliamentary form of government certainly finds support in our data. In our study, we mostly refrain from making claims about causal mechanisms behind the observed pattern. However, we allow some general comments on the importance of presidential powers in relation to the four regime types. We show how variation in presidential powers follow closely the four regime types – weakest among the parliamentary regimes and strongest among the president-parliamentary regimes. We know that case studies on e.g. post-Soviet countries where the system has shifted from president-parliamentary to premier-presidential constitutions provide additional support to the negative impact of president-parliamentarism on democracy. For instance, Elgie and Moestrup (2016) show that reduced presidential powers and a shift to a more balanced semi-presidential system have been associated with better democracy records in e.g. Armenia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. A general trend among the post-Soviet countries is that the presidents have used their control over the administration to curb the opposition and thereby directing the trajectory of constitutional developments in their own favor. The outcome has been increased power of already powerful presidents – a straight road to the consolidation of autocracy.

Our study is limited to the extent that it draws on cross-sectional data only, and we acknowledge the need for more sophisticated analyses. In addition, the study can make no valid claims of having disentangled endogeneity challenges regarding institutions and political outcomes. Yet, we reveal a general pattern with regard to the four regime types on performance. Based on our findings, we claim that democratic performance is likely to be better with a parliamentary or premier-presidential form of government. If the most positive accounts about semi-presidentialism are relevant, such as executive flexibility, power-sharing, and a uniting president, those are most likely to be identified under the premier-presidential form of government. Our data give no support for general recommendations to avoid dual executives or popularly elected president with limited powers.

Finally, and well in line with more recent scholarship, we argue that discussions about the pros and cons of semi-presidentialism should include the distinction between its sub-categories as well as considering dimensions of presidential power.

References

Elgie, Robert. Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Elgie and Sophia Moestrup (Eds.). Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Linz, Juan J. “The Perils of Presidentialism.” Journal of Democracy 1, no. 1 (1990): 51-69.

Linz, Juan J. “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference?” In: Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela. (Eds.) The Failure of Presidential Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, 3-87.

Shugart, Matthew S. and John M. Carey. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Thomas Sedelius is Associate Professor in Political Science at Dalarna University, Sweden. His research covers semi-presidentialism, political institutions, transition, democratisation, and East European politics. His work on semi-presidentialism has appeared in journals such as Democratization, Government and Opposition, and East European Politics, and also include The Tug-of-War between Presidents and Prime Ministers: Semi-Presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe (Örebro Studies, 2006). Thomas currently leads a research project (2015-2018) financed by the Swedish Research Council on semi-presidentialism and governability in transitional countries.

Jonas Linde is Professor of Political Science at the Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, Norway. His research has dealt with different aspects of political support, perceptions of corruption, quality of government, e-government and post-communist democratization. Linde’s works have been published in journals such as Governance, European Journal of Political Research, International Political Science Review, Political Studies, Government Information Quarterly and Government and Opposition.

France – Honeymoon legislative election returns a huge majority for President Macron. Of course it does!

On Sunday 11th June, the first round of the French legislative election was held. On Sunday 18th the second round took place. Given the results of the previous week, Sunday’s election provided few surprises. There were some notable individual results: Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front national (FN), was elected, even if her party did badly overall; Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the left party, La France Insoumise (LFI), was also returned and his party won enough seats to constitute a group in parliament, giving him speaking time; the former Socialist (PS) prime minister, Manuel Valls, was also returned, though only by a whisker and as a non-aligned candidate, indeed the Socialists had actively campaigned against him; Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who is a high-profile figure from the right-wing Les Républicains (LR) and who had been the victim of an attack in the street while campaigning during the week, an attack that left her unconscious for a while, was defeated. However, the main event was the huge majority won by President Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party. Winning just 28.2% of the votes cast in the first round seven days before, the party ended up with about 300 seats in the 577-seat legislature after the second round. With the support of its MoDem ally, which won about 4.2% of the vote at the first round, President Macron now has the support of over 350 deputies in the legislature. This nice figure from Laurent de Boissieu’s blog neatly captures the many different components of the new French Assembly, but also indicates the huge majority for LREM and MoDem.

How did this happen? After all, before the first round of the presidential campaign, between the two rounds, and immediately after Macron’s victory, there were fears or claims that his party would not win a legislative majority and that he would not be able to govern, dragging France back to the bad old days of the Fourth Republic. Worse still, there were those who thought that he would face a period of cohabitation.

This was not the worry of a few isolated individuals. After the first round of the legislative election, L’Express put up a nice montage of politicians who argued that cohabitation was inevitable. But it wasn’t just politicians. At a certain point, Twitter got in a total fuss about the likelihood of cohabitation, though that’s what Twitter does.

But not everyone was so worried. Matthew Shugart said that the idea there would be a period of cohabitation was “nonsense“. And modesty almost, but not quite, forbids me from noting that we adopted a similar argument here.

What we have witnessed is instructive from a political science point of view. There is a well developed literature on how the legislative party system is shaped by direct presidential elections. (Anyone wanting a copy of the article with the literature review should just e-mail me). To simplify only a little, this work shows that when legislative elections follow shortly after the direct election of a powerful president, they typically return a presidential majority. This is exactly what we saw in France in 2017. For sure, the general argument is probabilistic, not deterministic. But the association is strong. The probability is high. So, the academic work hasn’t just generated something amounting to a reasonable guess that a certain outcome would occur. It suggested that there was a very good chance that Macron would get at least a working majority. In the end, he won the support of a huge majority, bigger than most academics had expected. The literature, though, was basically right. Why?

Well, the academics who have investigated this topic have made their argument on the basis of a statistical relationship, but they have also identified certain causal mechanisms to explain why we should expect honeymoon legislative elections to return a presidential majority. These mechanisms are all very general. They don’t always easily apply to specific countries. That’s all we can expect in large-n studies. However, and at the risk of committing an egregious ecological fallacy, the France 2017 case illustrates how these causal mechanisms can play out under local-level conditions.

We know that presidential elections are often the catalyst for party system realignments. This has been true in France before, but the evidence that this was going to be a realigning election was present even before the presidential election had finished. The election was catastrophic for the PS. It was hopelessly split and faced a strong challenge to its left. Going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a weakened state did not bode well for the PS. The presidential election also generated splits within LR. There were those, like the former prime minister, Alain Juppé, who were willing to work with LREM in a future Assembly, whereas there were others who were not. Going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a divided state did not bode well for LR. The FN was also in trouble. Le Pen did well to get through to the second ballot of the presidential election, but she did not perform as well as expected. The party’s support had been slipping even prior to her disastrous presidential debate with Macron. In the end, she was decisively beaten at the second round. After the election, there were reports that Le Pen was exhausted; the party was demoralised; there were also splits within the FN, even though it had done historically well. So, going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a state did not bode well for the FN either. In other words, presidential elections upend party systems. We saw how this general idea played out specifically in France in 2017.

A similar point applies to abstention rates. We know that abstention rates are higher in honeymoon legislative elections relative to the presidential election. We also know that it is typically the voters of the parties that lost the presidential election who stay at home. So, even when the presidential election does not generate a party system realignment of the sort that we saw in France in 2017, we should still expect the new president’s party to be the biggest beneficiary of the higher abstention rate at the legislative election. Again, this is exactly what happened in France. But it’s what we would expect to have happened.

There was a further element too. Macron’s victory at the presidential victory was bigger than expected. Thus, he had momentum. Once in office, he also had some excellent photo opportunities, meeting European and world leaders, even upstaging Donald Trump in the handshake stakes. There were one or two relatively minor concerns with his government, but by and large he kept his presidential promises in terms of government formation. In other words, presidential elections give the victor the potential to act, well, presidentially. This presidential lustre can rub off on to the president’s party at the legislative election. This is exactly what happened. In other words, like other presidents in a similar context, Macron benefited at the legislative elections from being the newly-elected president.

Of course, there are always local, idiosyncratic conditions. The electoral system clearly exaggerated the gains for LREM. But LREM was particularly well placed to benefit from the system. As a centrist party, it could win the support of right-wing voters who wanted to keep out left-wing candidates in LREM/left second-round duels; it could win the support of left-wing voters who wanted to keep out LR candidates in LREM/LR duels; it could also win the support of pretty much everyone in LREM/FN duels. So, strategically, it was better placed than some parties in equivalent situations. This particularity helped to inflate its majority. Also, Macron was not a long-time incumbent who had just been re-elected. He was a new figure and for some he did generate an enthusiasm for a new form of politics. In France 2017, all these local conditions worked in favour of his party at the legislative election. In other cases, they might not be present, helping to ensure that the relationship between presidential elections and legislative elections is not deterministic.

We are encouraged to talk confidently about our work (that’s Twitter again!), even when we do not always have grounds to be as confident as all that. More than that, we only have to look at opinion polling to see that even in an area where there has been a huge amount of research, where the sample is very large, and where there is competition in the academic market, we can still get things wrong. So, we should be modest about what we claim and certainly what we predict. However, we were on strong grounds to claim that cohabitation was very unlikely in France in 2017. We have an idea about the general processes. The  local conditions were ripe. In short, politicians and Twitter didn’t need to get in such a fuss.

Ramadan (Dani) Ilazi – Kosovo’s snap parliamentary elections shake up the political landscape

This is a guest post by Ramadan (Dani) Ilazi, PhD candidate at Dublin City University

On June 11, Kosovo held early-parliamentary elections, the third since the country declared its independence in 2008. The snap elections were triggered by a vote on a motion of no-confidence in early May against the government of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, who is also the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). The motion was presented by three opposition parties, Nisma (Initiative), AAK (Alliance for Future of Kosovo) and VV-Vetëvendosje (Self-determination) and was supported by the governing coalition partner, PDK (Democratic Party of Kosovo). The failure to pass the Agreement on Border Demarcation with Montenegro, which is also a key condition for visa liberalization for citizens of Kosovo for the EU Schengen zone, is widely attributed as the main cause for the fall of the government. The break-up of the PDK/LDK coalition and support for the motion was justified by Prime Minister Mustafa’s inability to progress on key issues in the European integration process. PM Mustafa and the LDK blasted the PDK’s move as a political manoeuvre designed to create early elections.

Going into the elections, two major coalitions were formed: the first was between the LDK, the AKR (Alliance for New Kosovo) and the newly established political party ALTERNATIVA. The second was between PDK, AAK and Nisma. There were three major candidates for Prime Minister and the elections were largely focused on their CVs and programs: the candidate from the PDK coalition was Mr. Ramush Haradinaj, the candidate from the LDK coalition was Mr. Avdullah Hoti (out-going Minister of Finance), and the candidate from Vetëvendosje was Mr. Albin Kurti. Mr. Haradinaj and Mr. Hoti belong to the centre-right political parties while Mr. Kurti’s was the only candidate from the left party.

Kosovo uses a proportional system. The whole country serves as a one electoral district and there is a 5% threshold. Kosovo also applies an open-list policy, meaning that citizens vote for a party or a coalition of parties and also get to vote for five candidates from the party or coalition list. Kosovo’s Parliament has 120 seats, of which 20 seats are guaranteed for minority communities, while the remainder are distributed according to the percentage of votes the political party or the coalition has won in the elections. According to article 84 of the Constitution of Kosovo, the President of the Republic announces elections for the Parliament of Kosovo and convenes its first meeting. In the election of the government, according to article 95 of the Constitution, the President of the Republic proposes to the Parliament a “candidate for Prime Minister, in consultation with the political party or coalition that has won the majority in the Assembly necessary to establish the Government […] If the proposed composition of the Government does not receive the necessary majority of votes, the President of the Republic of Kosovo appoints another candidate with the same procedure within ten (10) days”

The organization of elections received praise from local and international monitors as free and fair and without any significant incident. Preliminary results from the Kosovo Central Election Commission (CEC) show that the voter turnout was over 40%, and the support for parties/coalitions was as follows: 34% voted for the PDK coalition (around 39 seats); 27% for Vetëvendosje (around 31 seats); and 26% for the LDK (around 30 seats).

These results showed that forming a government will be a challenge. The PDK has the right to try to form the government first. VV and LDK have, until now, fiercely opposed any idea of a coalition with PDK. The PDK-coalition could potentially form a coalition with the 20 members of the minority communities, but what complicates matters is that the Serbian President Vucic has openly spoke against Mr. Haradinaj becoming a Prime Minister, which means the Serbian members of the Kosovo Parliament would most likely refuse to enter into coalition with PDK-coalition provided that Mr. Haradinaj is the candidate for PM. Another potential scenario is that the second party gets a try at forming the government, which would be VV.

Context: winner takes it all  

To better understand the potential that the situation holds for institutional crisis or political stalemate, the 2014 election context is useful. On 7 May 2014 the Kosovo Parliament decided to dissolve itself and the next day the President of Kosovo decreed the early elections in June. The results showed PDK was the winner of the elections, with 30% of the votes, LDK was ranked second with 25%. A day after the election results were announced, other parties from Kosovo political landscape created a post-election coalition, called VLAN, which represented about 55% of the votes and claimed the right to form the government. VLAN refused to discuss any cooperation with PDK.

This situation created a political stalemate that lasted for six months during which time no new government could be formed. It took two decisions from the Constitutional Court of Kosovo to end the gridlock and the one dealing with the competencies of the President is of particular relevance in the context of this article and the blog. According to this decision (Case No. K0103/14) the President “proposes to the Assembly the candidate for Prime Minister nominated by the political party or coalition that has the highest number of seats in the Assembly” and “The President of the Republic does not have the discretion to refuse the appointment of the proposed candidate for Prime Minister”. However “In the event that the proposed candidate for Prime Minister does not receive the necessary votes, the President of the Republic, at his/her discretion […]  appoints another candidate for Prime Minister after consultation with the parties or coalitions […].” This decision gives the President a potentially key role to play in government formation and this role may be important in the formation of the next government.

The Constitutional Court subsequently ruled that the winning party or coalition has the exclusive rights to propose the candidate for the Speaker of Parliament. Following the 2014 elections, these decisions made the implementation of the VLAN coalition impossible and the LDK went on to form a coalition with the PDK, amid high tensions and fierce opposition, including from within the LDK members of Parliament, some of whom refused to vote for their own leader as Prime Minister.

What next?

The incoming government faces some very unpopular decisions, including the ratification of the agreement for the border demarcation with Montenegro (AAK, VV and Nisma strongly opposed this agreement), the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities, which comes from the Brussels dialogue for normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia (VV strongly opposes this), and the beginning of the work and potential arrests from the Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office which can produce a situation that will be very difficult to manage for the next government and could could create instability. More importantly, Kosovo citizens are losing patience and are increasingly becoming frustrated with the lack of results especially when it comes to the European integration process as they remain the only citizens in the Balkans without visa liberalization with the EU Schengen zone. With this in mind the next government needs solid support in the Parliament and credibility and legitimacy in the public’s eyes.

In terms of procedure, political parties are awaiting the certification of results by the Central Election Commission (CEC) and the publication of the list of the next members of Parliament. Following this, the President will convene the first meeting of the Parliament and from that moment on a time timetable for government formation begins. Another election cannot be ruled out.

In conclusion

The election created a political earthquake that will change the political landscape for some time to come. The main change was the increase in support for the Vetëvendosje party, which rose from 13.59% of votes in 2014 elections to 27%. Vetëvendosje is a controversial political party, promoting the unification of Kosovo with Albania and using teargas in the Parliament as a method of protest. But, support for VV, especially from young voters, is a demand for a change and a sign of protest against the political establishment. So, unlike the onion of DW’s Adelheid Feilcke, that relies heavily on Kosovo stereotypes and argues that that nationalism won in the snap election, I believe that the results generally, as well as the votes for individuals candidates, show the potential of Kosovo’s democracy. So the winner, if we need to name one, is civil society.