Monthly Archives: September 2017

Bolivia – Ruling Party Still Presses for Change in Term Limits

The issue of term limits for President Evo Morales and his left-leaning governing party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), still remains on the table. The MAS party has submitted a claim to the Plurinational Constitutional Court that the current constitution, and the articles specific to term limits, are violating the political rights of the president by limiting the constitutional right of all Bolivians to “participate freely in the formation, exercise and control of political power“. In short, their argument contends that the constitutional provisions on term limits are, in fact, unconstitutional. They wish the Court to overturn the relevant articles and allow Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019.

This is not a minor political battle. Morales is already Latin America’s longest-serving president currently in office, having previously won elections in 2006, 2009 and 2014. The Bolivian Constitution, the current version of which was adopted in 2009, states that presidents are only entitled to two consecutive terms in office. On this basis, Morales’ opponents challenged his right to run in the last election in October 2014. Morales was first elected in 2006, before being re-elected again in 2009 and as such, his opponents claimed he has already held two consecutive terms, and so was constitutionally barred from running again. The Supreme Court disagreed. In 2013, they ruled that his first term in office was not applicable in this instance as it occurred before the new constitution when the two-term limit came into effect.

But this not stopped Morales seeking a fourth consecutive term. In February 2016, Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo attempted to change the country’s term limits via a popular referendum, which would have allowed him to run again in 2019. Despite high levels of popularity throughout his terms, coupled with growth rates of nearly 7 per cent per annum, he was dogged by a corruption scandal involving a former relationship from 2005 with Gabriela Zapata and her relationship with a Chinese construction firm, CAMC. During the campaign, Morales’ opponents accused him of influence peddling and corruption, allegations that were thought to severely dampen enthusiasm for his proposed constitutional reform. As a consequence, Morales’ proposed reform was rejected by 51.3 per cent of the electorate (with a turnout of nearly 85 per cent).

But Morales and the MAS, despite initially claiming that they would respect the results of the referendum have not left things at that. Morales publicly announced his intention to seek a fourth term after the referendum and just before Christmas, the MAS named Morales as its candidate for the 2019 elections.

What makes the current strategy of the MAS all the more interesting is the fact that elections for the juridical positions on the Plurinational Constitutional Court will be held this coming December. It is expected that candidates will be pressed by the media and the public, about their position on the proposal of the MAS. One thing is for sure: we have not heard the last about term limits in Bolivia.

Senegal – Implications of the July legislative election results for 2019

President Macky Sall’s coalition was the big winner of the July 30 legislative elections in Senegal, taking 125 of 165 seats in the country’s unicameral national assembly. This significant win was the result of a divided opposition, the country’s electoral system, and a determined campaign by the ruling coalition already eyeing the 2019 presidential poll where Sall will stand for reelection. “We aren’t talking any longer about July 30, but of 2019,” said Prime Minister Mahammad Boun Abdallah Dionne at a campaign rally in July.

Among Senegal’s 6.2 million voters, 54% turned out to vote, up from 37% in the 2012 legislative polls, a testament to the perceived higher stakes of these elections compared to five years ago. The campaign was tense, at times violent. Uncharacteristically for Senegal, administrative challenges marred the vote: delays in the distribution of biometric voter cards and confusion around voter lists prevented hundreds of Senegalese from casting their ballot.

The number of seats was this year increased to 165 from 150, to give room for 15 seats for the Senegalese diaspora that for the first time will have direct representation. The gender parity quota helped women win 42% of seats. The final results validated by the Constitutional Court after it threw out opposition electoral complaints are as follows:

Table. 1. Distribution of seats following July 30 legislative elections:

Coalitions/parties                                                                                                                            Seats

Benno Bokk Yaakaar – “Together for the same hope” (Pres. Sall) 125
Wattu Senegaal – “Winning Coalition” (former Pres. Wade)  19
Manko Taxawu Senegaal – “Accord to watch over Senegal” (Khalifa Sall)   7
Parti pour l’unité et le rassemblement (PUR) – (Prof. Issa Sall)   3
Kaddu Askanwi – “Patriotic Convergence Coalition” (Abdulaye Balde)   2
9 other parties/coalitions with 1 seat each   9
TOTAL 165

Source: IPU

Senegal’s electoral system, using a mix of party block vote (105 seats) and proportional representation (60 seats), greatly benefited the ruling coalition that won 75.8% of the seats with only 49.5% of the votes. This disproportionate win of seats was facilitated by the last minute weakening of the coalition around the mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall (no family relation to President Sall).

With former President Abdoulaye Wade returning to Senegal from France to head a separate opposition list – Wattu Senegaal – opposition votes split between two major coalitions, making it possible for the ruling Benno Book Yaakaar (BBY) coalition to win key constituencies, including Dakar, with just a relative majority of votes. Ironically, after being instrumental in hindering a wider opposition coalition, Wade is not going to take up his seat in parliament – he only ran to benefit his party.

The loss of Dakar was a particularly heavy blow for Khalifa Sall, the mayor of Dakar, currently awaiting trial for what his supporters say are trumped up fraud charges. They accuse President Sall of trying to sideline one of his potentially strongest competitors for the presidency in 2019 [see earlier blog post here]. Khalifa Sall campaigned successfully from his prison cell to win a seat in the new legislature, though his coalition overall fared poorly, winning less than 5% of seats.

Wade’s comeback likely reduced the overall number of seats going to the opposition, given the electoral system, but strengthened the relative position of his own party, the PDS (Parti Démocratique Sénégalais). Strengthening the PDS – which had 12 seats in the last legislature – is a means for former President Wade to “pave the way for his son” Karim Wade to run for the presidency in 2019, according to political analyst Ali Ndiaye. Karim, who was a powerful minister in his father’s government, was last year pardoned by President Macky Sall after serving half of a three-year prison sentence for corruption and has since been living abroad.

The legislative election victory was particularly significant for Macky Sall as the polls were widely seen as a referendum on his first five years in office and as the first round for the 2019 presidential election. While the win was noteworthy by most accounts, BBY nevertheless saw its majority slightly reduced in terms of percentage of seats – from 119/150 (79.3%) to 125/165 (75.8%) – and more importantly in terms of percentage of votes – from 53% to 49.5%. This is not surprising, given that most members of the Manku Taxawu Senegaal list were part of BBY in 2012. It means, however, that short of half of voters voted for the ruling coalition. Even if both Karim and Khalifa run in two years, given the two-round presidential election system 2019 is not a given win for Macky Sall.

Turkey – A drastic transformation into a hyper-presidential, competitive authoritarian state

According to President Erdoğan, last year’s coup attempt by Fetö (an organisation led by a clerk called Fettullah Gülen who previously was closely allied to the president Erdoğan) was a blessing from God. This statement may sound like an odd claim since the President’s life was also said to be targeted on the night of July 15, 2016. However, sadly it is true that it gave Erdoğan an opportunity to declare a state of emergency, pass 28 decrees with the force of law reorganising many institutions without being bound by the constitution, and that violated many human rights conventions that Turkey has ratified such as the ECHR.

Many of these emergency decrees passed by the government are not even related to the cause of the crisis, even though under the constitution the subject of an emergency decree has to be limited to the cause of the given emergency. Despite their apparent violation of many articles of the constitution, and the ECHR, the constitutional court, two members of which were dismissed from their posts a year ago as a result of one of those decrees, refused to examine the constitutionality of the decrees, waiving its previous jurisdiction stating that the emergency decrees are limited to matter related only to the cause of emergency, and that they may be applied only during an emergency.

The Constitutional Court’s free pass merely reflects the country’s current repressive climate created by the emergency laws. These decrees reregulated public institutions including the National Intelligence Service, the army, local municipalities, and served to dismissed== more than 103000 public servants, university lecturers, appointed trustees replacing elected mayors and other local authorities (mostly pro-Kurdish HDP’s). They enforced new policies at full speed in the light of the AKP’s Islamist political beliefs, such as changing school system to promote religious schools as tools of transformation into a more Islamic country, closing down more than 150 media outlets, 1000 associations and foundations, and seizing private companies worth more than 10 billion dollars. But the most crucial change is the reorganisation of the judiciary, the ministry of justice and criminal enforcement. Currently, more than 4300 judges have been dismissed for being related to the Fetö organisation, some based on their previous decisions. Any judge who passes a judgement contradicting the President’s goals will be accused of being a member of Fetö, and can be easily dismissed since the president has a full control of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, which are appointed by him and the majority of the members of the Grand National Assembly which the AKP controls.

Since the coup attempt, more than 50.000 people and 166 journalists have been imprisoned as a result of the government’s crack-down operations. This has created a serious climate of fear and intimidation reflected in the number of people who are seeking asylum. In this climate one important change has also been made; the constitutional reform package introducing a hyper-presidential system was adopted by the AKP and its partner, the MHP, and was approved in a referendum in April that was neither free nor fair. Despite the huge advantages that the government forces enjoyed, their proposal was accepted by the margin of only one percent and with the help of the High Election Council, which ignored Law number 298, article 101 which openly states that unsealed ballot paper are invalid, thus accepting an unknown number of invalid votes that otherwise would not have been counted. The High Election Council’s decision was taken after the actual counting had started. This sparked a reaction that the counting was also not fair. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe’s observers criticized the referendum process for not living up to the democratic standards, including the counting procedure. The main opposition party, the CHP, also claimed that “no votes” were in fact in the majority and that unsealed ballot papers were fakes, filing a case before the European Court of Human Rights. The case is still pending.

This summary of events tells only the final part of Turkey’s transformation from parliamentary democracy into hyper-presidential autocracy within a decade under AKP rule.

President Erdoğan is free from any checks and balances. He enjoys full control of every state institution and most of the media. Due to the state of emergency, constitutional guarantees of basic rights are currently suspended, giving the president the opportunity to transform a formerly parliamentary democracy into an hyper-presidential system (changing laws to fit the new regime such as election law, parliamentary rules and procedures, laws of political parties etc) which will be fully in force in 2019 after the elections to be held then.

Cyprus – Electoral politics and the 2018 presidential elections

The inglorious conclusion of the discussions for finding a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem between the leaders of the two Cypriot communities last July and despite the personal involvement of the UN Secretary General has set the context for the campaign for the forthcoming presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus (RoC). The first round of the elections is scheduled for 28 January 2018 and if a second round is needed this will take place on 4 February. Interestingly, the elections were brought forward by two weeks because they overlapped with one of the most popular public feasts in Cyprus, probably the most popular, the carnival, and amidst fears for increased abstention because of that.

Four candidates have already announced their candidacy and it is expected that at least two more will join them: the current right-wing president N. Anastasiades, former president of the right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY), who is supported by DISY (30.69%); N. Papadopoulos leader of the Democratic Party-DIKO (14.49%), who is supported also by the social democrats EDEK (6.18%) and the Solidarity Movement (5.24%), while the Greens (4.82%) are also expected to support him; S. Malas supported by the left-wing AKEL (25.67%), the former governing party; and G. Lillikas president of the Citizens Alliance (6.01%). The extreme-right ELAM (3.71%) is also expected to place an independent candidacy, whereas the press reports that the Rector of the University of Cyprus is also considering running in the elections appealing to the non-partisan voters and those that systematically abstain and who comprise a large section of those entitled to vote.

As already explained in previous posts, the presidential system of Cyprus requires alliances between the parties to win election. These alliances have been shifting constantly. Although three of the four candidates (except Papadopoulos) also ran in the 2013 elections, in these elections the pattern and dynamics of alliances have shifted once again. In 2013, President Anastasiades was supported by two other parties beyond his own party DISY (DIKO and the right-wing European Party) which have now plead allegiance to N. Papadopoulos; G. Lillikas was supported back in 2013 by EDEK which is now supporting Papadopoulos and a large part of DIKO voters that disagreed with their party’s endorsement of Anastasiades at the time, whereas Malas is again supported by AKEL as in 2013. In 2013 the left-wing AKEL and Malas were in a very disadvantageous position having to defend a government that the people believed was the worst in the history of the Republic. Anastasiades, in 2013, was seen as the leader that could both solve the Cyprus problem and more importantly lead Cyprus out of the economic crisis.

These elections will be contested on two major issues – the Cyprus problem and the economy – around each of which conflicting narratives are presented by the candidates and their supporting parties. After falling back on the agenda for the first time in the electoral history of Cyprus, the Cyprus problem is expected to dominate political discussions once again. A resurfacing of the 2004 cleavage between pro-solutionists and the more hard-liners seems to have resurfaced in the last few months, with citizens, the press and political parties once again taking sides in hotly contested public debates.

The current president N. Anastasiades is considered the favorite to win reelection. However, he finds himself in the middle of crossfire. Anastasiades is targeted both by the pro-solution camp and the more hard-liners. The former accuse the president of missing a great opportunity to reach a solution to the long-standing ethnic conflict because he was already thinking about the elections ahead and because he knew that the more nationalistic part of his party’s electorate and the entire populace would never endorse a solution that provided for power-sharing with the Turkish Cypriots. The more hard-liners accuse the President of completely yielding to the demands of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots and that the only reason an agreement was not reached was because Turkey wanted even more.

The prominence of the Cypriot problem, however, does not mean that the economy will play no part; on the contrary. While Cyprus’s economy is now more stable than in 2013, unemployment is still high, many people are in need of public allowances and the conditions in the labour market have worsened for the working class. Two opposing narratives are already developing. The government and DISY support that the idea that the economy is now entering a phase of stability and growth, whereas the opposition parties and candidates accuse the government of numerous scandals, favouritism towards the big capital and ephemeral growth.

The most crucial aspect of this election campaign concerns the degree to which parties and candidates will succeed in convincing their supporters to go to the polls. As recent elections indicate, a process of dealignment is taking place whereby the electorate is now more suspicious of parties and more volatile than ever before; a quicksand!

Finland – Niinistö the clear favourite to win the presidential elections

The first round of presidential elections in Finland is set for 28 January, and the likelihood of the incumbent Sauli Niinistö getting re-elected is very high indeed. According to the latest survey conducted earlier this month by Helsingin Sanomat, the leading national daily, 68 % would vote for Niinistö. This suggests that Niinistö has a good chance of winning the election already in the first round, something that has not happened since the move to direct elections in 1988 / 1994.

Contextual factors have clearly favoured Niinistö. The war in Ukraine and the overall aggressive foreign policy of Russia have increased tensions in the area, with these circumstances facilitating presidential activism. Bilateral ties with Russia have become more important, with Niinistö’s high-profile meetings with Putin receiving extensive media coverage. The current cabinet, led by prime minister Juha Sipilä, has also concentrated on its big projects in domestic politics, particularly the reorganization of social and health services, with the government seemingly happy to allow Niinistö to lead foreign and security policy – or at least relations with non-EU countries. Niinistö has consistently reminded the voters that we are living in unstable and turbulent times, and whether the use of such discourse is strategic or not, the heightened tensions have indeed highlighted the role of the president. Here one needs to remember that Finns are used to seeing the president as the guarantor of national security or even survival, a role associated especially with Urho Kekkonen who ruled the country for a quarter of a century between 1956 and 1981.

Elected in 2012 as the candidate of the National Coalition, the conservative party that he chaired from 1994 to 2001, Niinistö announced in May that he would seek re-election as an independent candidate. The move came out of the blue, with Niinistö simply stating that the president represents the entire nation instead of any specific political party. Independent candidates are obviously common, for example in several Central and Eastern European countries, but Niinistö’s decision nonetheless came as a big surprise, not least to his old party who is now without a candidate of its own. The National Coalition nonetheless indicated that it would endorse Niinistö’s campaign.

The constitutional prerogatives of the president are limited to co-leading foreign and security policy with the government and to being the head of the armed forces, but it looks certain that the campaign will also focus on domestic issues. This would probably not hurt Laura Huhtasaari, the colourful candidate of the Finns Party known for her outspoken nationalist and anti-immigration views. Her party effectively split into two in June after the party congress had elected MEP Jussi Halla-aho as the new party leader. Halla-aho, who has been convicted in court for hate speech, and the new party leadership looks set to take the party economically further to the right whilst engaging in hard-line attacks on immigration and multiculturalism. Huhtasaari will no doubt try to steer the debate in that direction. In the survey her support was just 3 %.

Immediately following the election of Halla-aho, Timo Soini, who had chaired the Finns Party since 1997 and had been the key to the phenomenal rise of the party, drew his own conclusions and the more moderate or populist wing of the party left the Finns and established a new parliamentary group of their own, the Blue Reform. This enabled Soini and his colleagues to remain in the government, but the future of the group looks very uncertain at the moment. The Blue Reform is yet to nominate a presidential candidate.

Of the other candidates, Pekka Haavisto of the Green League lost to Niinistö in the second round of the 2012 elections. A calm, analytical man with a strong background in UN and EU duties, the former environment minister came second in the Helsingin Sanomat survey with 13 % of the vote. Haavisto will no doubt appeal again to the more liberal, urban, green-left younger voters. This simultaneously undermines the prospects of MEP Merja Kyllönen, the candidate of the Left Alliance, whose support in the survey was 2 %. The Social Democrats in turn had clear difficulties in finding a good candidate, with Tuula Haatainen in the end nominated in early September. Her support was also extremely low, 3 %.

Moving to the centre-right parties, the candidate of the Centre is Matti Vanhanen, who served as the prime minister from 2003 to 2010. In the survey he garnered 2 % support. The candidate of the Swedish People’s Party is another MEP, Nils Torvalds. The Christian Democrats decided to support Niinistö instead of fielding their own candidate.

The popularity and media visibility of Niinistö raises serious problems for the other candidates. According to the public Niinistö has without a doubt performed well, particularly in foreign and security policy where his actions seem beyond criticism. This implies that at least some of the candidates have an incentive to steer the debate into policy areas not falling under the jurisdiction of the president. This would surely not be a good thing, especially as a large section of the population probably does not understand the division of competences between the government and the president.

Uganda – Tension rising over push to scrap presidential age limits

NRM MPs last week unveiled a private member’s bill aimed at removing presidential age limits from the Constitution.

Already in power for over 30 years, President Museveni will be 77 by the 2021 elections, making him too old to run for re-election, the constitutional limit being 75.

The age limit question has dominated political debate in Uganda sine the 2016 elections, with NRM leaders considering various options for how and when (not whether) to amend the constitution.

With the private member’s bill now due to be tabled in Parliament, the battle lines have finally been drawn. MPs—and the security forces—are now moving into position.

What is in the bill

Article 102(b) of the 1995 Constitution currently states that a presidential candidate must be between the ages of 35 and 75 to contest.

The private member’s bill proposes to replace this with the simple provision that any registered voter can run for the presidency.

Some proponents of the bill have argued that scrapping the lower as well as upper age limit is a progressive move, creating room for Uganda’s youth to aspire to the presidency as well. On those grounds, various youth groups, such as Kick Age Limits out of the Constitution, are being mobilised to help popularise the amendment.

The bill also proposes several additional amendments, including one to increase the amount of time permitted when filing presidential election petitions and extending the deadline by which the Supreme Court must reach a decision.

Supporters of the bill point to these proposed changes as evidence that they are not only concerned with the age limit, and Museveni’s so-called “life presidency”. Rather, they claim to be responding in good faith to Supreme Court’s recommendations following Mbabazi’s petition of the 2016 presidential results.

Mixing regressive amendments with seemingly more forward-looking ones is a long-standing NRM strategy, as in 2005, the decision to scrap presidential term limits was softened by the move to reintroduce multiparty politics.

Overwhelming support

The Bill, prepared in secret, was revealed at an informal gathering of NRM MPs, at least one of whom rose in protest after learning what the meeting was about.

The group backing the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill included both backbench MPs and several Cabinet ministers.

A small number of NRM MPs have since denounced the legislation and proposed an alternative private motion urging government to constitute a Constitutional Review Commission.

The Cabinet, however, went ahead and endorsed the original private member’s bill. An overwhelming 287 NRM MPs then voted to support the legislation at a formal party caucus meeting. Only six MPs dissented

In total, the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill is estimated to command the support of over 300 MPs in Parliament, which to pass needs the backing of two-thirds of the House or 298 MPs.

Why a private member’s bill

The Ugandan Parliament has a long history of passing controversial and highly significant private member’s bills.

The current move is nevertheless noteworthy.

Previous legislation, such as the Administration of Parliament Bill (1997) and Budget Bill (2000), both of which aimed to strengthen the legislature, met with strong opposition from Government.

Not all past private member’s bills had “progressive” aims. But until the age limit issue came up, they were not generally used as a tool by the executive to push its agenda.

The decision of NRM leaders to opt now for a private member’s bill is indicative of two related trends.

First, the constitutional review process has become increasingly piecemeal and informal.

The 1995 Constitution was adopted following several years of nation-wide consultations, a careful drafting process by a constitutional commission, and 18 months of debate by the elected Constituent Assembly. The new Constitution was then held up as evidence that Uganda had turned a page in its troubled history, that it was moving towards a consolidated democracy.

Since then, the Constitution has been gradually weakened, most notably with the 2005 scrapping of presidential term limits. All constitutional amendments up to now nevertheless came from Government and followed some pretence of a constitutional review process.

This time, though, Ministers were frank in stating that their chief concern was to push through the changes as quickly as possible. “If you don’t bring this amendment early enough to allow damage control and explanations, it will be difficult”, advised the NRM Chief Whip at a parliamentary caucus meeting on Wednesday.

Discussing what it meant to amend the supreme law of the land, another Minister declared that Article 102(b) on age limits was “disorganized” and that the aim was to “organize” it.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that critical MPs have suggested people start referring to the Constitution of Uganda as “the Constitution of NRM and Museveni”.

The informal approach to constitutional amendments aside, the second reason for the use of a private member’s bill relates to Museveni’s dependence on the NRM parliamentary caucus as a support base.

It was an MP who, at a parliamentary caucus retreat in 2014, got down on her knees to move a motion endorsing Museveni as the sole presidential candidate for the 2016 polls. This came amidst rumours that then Prime Minister Mbabazi was planning to run against him. NRM MPs were later sent to mobilise in support of the sole candidacy motion, each receiving Shs300,000 per constituency meeting.

NRM legislators do resist the President at times, a recent example being their rejection (at least for now) of a proposed constitutional amendment on land. But when it comes to defending Museveni’s presidency, they fall into line. A mix of ambition and patronage can also turn what were independent MPs into loyal cadres.

The MP tasked with tabling the age limit bill in Parliament, one Raphael Magyezi, is a case in point. After first being elected to Parliament in 2011, Magyezi was identified with a small group of “rebel” NRM MPs who, among other things, denounced Museveni’s long stay in power. He later turned, though, and lost his independent reputation.

The choice of Magyezi to table the age limit bill is also interesting in that it may help sway the one person who could pose an obstacle, the sometimes-independent Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. Magyezi was the chairman of the special taskforce that Kadaga assembled to spearhead her hard-fought campaign for re-election as Speaker.

While it is unlikely that Kadaga would interfere with the age limit amendment, having a strong supporter as the face of the bill certainly can’t hurt as a precautionary measure.

Where to from here

The plan was to table the bill in Parliament yesterday.

This coincided with a security crackdown in Kampala and in some regional towns. Police raided NGO offices, the Kampala Mayor was arrested along with journalists, the headquarters of two opposition parties were sealed off, groups of protesters across the capital city were shot at with rubber bullets and teargas, their leaders were arrested, a police helicopter circled the city centre, Parliament was surrounded by police and soldiers, and some oppositional MPs were reportedly blocked by police from entering the building.

The US Embassy in Kampala issued a statement expressing concern “that recent arrests and raids stifle the Ugandan people’s right to free expression.” Government spokesperson Ofwondo Opondo later responded that government “wont’ take unqualified lectures from foreign agents.”

The tension in the streets did not stop MPs from attending Parliament. They packed the Chamber, an unusual event given that House debates often go ahead without quorum. One anti-age limit MP showed up in a yellow VW Bug and dressed from leather shoes to baseball cap in the same official NRM colour. An opposition MP, meanwhile, came in a red track suit, declaring that if the constitution could be changed, she could change her dress code.

The debate was a non-starter, though, after Deputy Speaker Oulanyah failed to secure order in the House amidst loud whistling and singing of the national anthem by opposition MPs. He eventually adjourned Parliament till next week, giving him time to consult with Speaker Kadaga on the way forward.

While it is unclear exactly how events will unfold, Parliament will likely soon enact the age limit bill. The real question is what happens after that.

Many Ugandans on social media yesterday likened the general drift of President Museveni’s regime with the administration of former President Milton Obote in the 1960s. One MP recalled the “constitutional trickery” that took place in 1966 and culminated with the adoption of the “pigeon-hole” constitution, so called because MPs found it ready-drafted in their mail while the parliamentary building was surrounded by armed soldiers.

Certainly, Museveni’s own one-time assertion that he would break with the past, letting “people of presidential calibre and capacity” take over, has not aged well. Some of his most ardent supporters have also abandoned all pretences, warning, “They should know that we are the party in power, we have the support of the maggye [army], you cannot tell us Togikwatako [don’t touch it, article 102(b)].”

There is clearly cause for concern not only about next week’s parliamentary session but, more fundamentally, about what a post-Museveni Uganda might look like. The pre-Museveni period does not offer much positive inspiration, but with no clear succession plan and a strong—but factionally divided—security force, it is understandable that people are looking to Uganda’s history to make sense of its current path.

How Do Minority Presidents Manage Multiparty Coalitions?

This is a blog post by Svitlana Chernykh based on her recent article with Paul Chaisty published in Political Research Quarterly (Online First). The full article can be found here.

Although the concept of coalitional presidentialism is not new, until recently, the question of how presidents form and manage their coalitions has been explored primarily in the context of Latin American presidential democracies. However, we know little about how and whether these theories travel outside Latin America. In “How Do Minority Presidents Manage Multiparty Coalitions? Identifying and Analyzing the Payoffs to Coalition Parties in Presidential Systems” we use original quantitative and qualitative data to analyse how minority presidents manage their multiparty coalitions to achieve legislative support in Ukraine.

Why Ukraine? With few exceptions, the country has been governed by multiparty cabinet coalitions since 1996 and thus offers rich macro-level data. Ukraine is also a difficult case with which to test institutional hypotheses. Many scholars of Ukrainian politics have questioned the applicability of notions of coalitional behavior to the country and have suggested that coalitional solutions to the problems of limited legislative support are difficult to operate in the Ukrainian context. Finally, presidential coalitions in Ukraine frequently contain cabinet parties as well as parties that do not have cabinet representation. This allowed us to explore the non-cabinet strategies that presidents used to manage the support of coalition parties.

Portfolio Allocation and Cabinet Coalition Discipline in Ukraine

In the first part of the paper, we test a now well-established hypothesis in Latin American literature that cabinet portfolio payoffs to coalition allies raise the level of legislative support for presidents. Our dependent variable is coalition discipline. It is measured as the percentage of legislators belonging to cabinet parties who voted in favour of bills introduced by the executive branch. Our main independent variable is the level of cabinet coalescence or the level of fairness in the distribution of cabinet posts among coalition members [1].

We find that cabinet coalescence has a positive and statistically significant effect on cabinet coalition discipline in Ukraine. To put it in substantive terms, an increase in cabinet coalescence by 10 percent increases cabinet coalition discipline by 2.4 percent. Thus, the dynamics of coalitional presidentialism in Ukraine are similar to those that we find in Latin America. The presidents who compose their cabinets more proportionally can expect a higher degree of satisfaction from allied parties and thus higher levels of discipline.

Managing Parties Outside of the Cabinet 

However, Ukrainian presidents also rely on the support of parties that do not receive portfolio payoffs. As the figure below shows, the number of non-cabinet coalition parties is significant in the Ukrainian case. In fact, the inclusion of non-cabinet parties was crucial in giving each president minimum winning majorities or near majorities.

Figure 1. The number of Ukrainian parties in cabinet and floor coalitions, 1996–2011.

 

How did the presidents in Ukraine secure their support? What were the motivations behind these parties’ decision to join the coalitions? To answer these questions, we interviewed 50 legislators, of whom 60 per cent were members of the coalition in 2012. We designed an interview sample and a number of structured and semi-structured questions to help us explore whether the perceived benefits of coalition membership differed significantly between members of coalition parties that had and did not have cabinet representation.

As figures 2 and 3 show, that the motivation to support the president differed between coalition parties that were members of the cabinet and those that were not. Non-cabinet coalition parties were significantly likely to identify extra-cabinet strategies such as patronage, budget payoffs, and informal favours when asked about strategies that the president used to form the coalition (figure2).

Figure 2. Percentage of non-cabinet and cabinet coalition party members who identified the importance of extra- cabinet benefits (patronage, budget resources, and informal favours) in the formation of coalitions.

We find a similar pattern when analysing the responses to a structural question, which asked legislators to choose the first and second most important reason why a political party would decide to join a presidential coalition from a list of options (figire 3). Members of the cabinet party were significantly more likely to identify policy influence and cabinet positions than the members of non-cabinet parties within the floor coalition. In contract, members of non-cabinet parties were more likely to mention budget influence and especially the informal exchange of favours than members of cabinet parties.

Figure 3. Percentage of non-cabinet and cabinet coalition party members who selected as the first or second most important reason why a political party might choose to join a presidential coalition.

Therefore, on the one hand, the Ukraine case validates extant analysis on the effects of cabinet management on legislative behaviour. This suggests that coalitional presidentialism is not simply a unique Latin American phenomenon and gives us good reasons to expect similar dynamics in other regions of the world. Given the increasing preponderance of minority presidents in new democracies, this presents the opportunity to compare a diverse range of presidential cases across other parts of Europe as well as other regions including Africa and Asia.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian case also highlights the multivariate nature of the strategies that presidents deploy to maintain their legislative support. This adds a new dimension to the extant literature, which has mainly focused on the tools deployed by presidents at the cabinet level. By distinguishing between cabinet and floor coalitions, it is possible to identify parties that are motivated to join presidential coalitions by reasons other than cabinet portfolios. This finding highlights the need to consider the entire “toolbox” of resources that presidents can use to maintain their coalitional support [2]. 

 

[1] Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2002. “Presidential Cabinets, Electoral Cycles, and Coalition Discipline in Brazil”, in: Scott Morgenstern and Benito Nacif (eds), Legislative Politics in Latin America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 48–78.

[2] Chaisty, Paul, Nic Cheeseman, and Timothy J. Power. 2014. “Rethinking the ‘Presidentialism Debate’: Coalitional Politics in Cross-Regional Perspective.” Democratization 21: 72–94.

Lee Savage – How do president’s influence coalition bargaining in semi-presidential systems?

This is a guest post by Lee Savage in the Department of European & International Studies at King’s College London. It is based on his article in European Journal of Political Research.

Presidents in semi-presidential systems usually have a constitutionally prescribed role in the government formation process. Often, this is limited to the ability to appoint either a formateur or candidate for prime minister who will then go on to form a cabinet which must maintain the confidence of the legislature. In some countries, such as Bulgaria and Ireland, even the power to appoint a prime minister is limited by constitutional requirements to select the leader of the largest party in the legislature.

Even though the constitution may define a limited role for presidents role in government formation, they can still exert influence over the cabinet that eventually takes office. Previous research has shown that presidents can influence the composition of the cabinet by increasing the proportion of non-partisan ministers that are appointed. In some circumstances, presidents can also increase the likelihood of a cabinet leaving office prematurely. In new research, I have shown how presidents influence the coalition formation process itself by decreasing the duration of bargaining negotiations.

The duration of the government formation process can have significant consequences for a state. For example, the 541-day bargaining process experienced by Belgium between 2010 and 2011 resulted in the legislature’s failure to pass a budget which, in turn, led to an official rebuke from the European Commission. However, it is notable that there are few examples of protracted coalition bargaining processes in semi-presidential systems. But is this a result of presidential influence, and if so, then how is this influence exerted when cabinet formation is usually the preserve of the legislature in semi-presidential democracies? I argue that the influence of presidents on the duration of coalition bargaining is a result of first, the extent of their constitutional powers and second, their partisanship.

Presidential powers and coalition bargaining

The constitutionally-mandated powers of the president increase their legitimacy to intervene in the government formation process. More powerful presidents are seen as possessing greater legitimacy to act in the eyes of other actors in the process, specifically, the legislative parties. This legitimacy to act decreases the duration of the coalition bargaining process by reducing its complexity. More powerful presidents place implicit limits on the range of governing proposals that are acceptable to all politically relevant actors in the process. Presidents with stronger non-legislative powers, such as the power to appoint the prime minister, dissolve the cabinet, or dissolve the assembly can intervene directly in the process of government formation. The legislative parties will seek to propose a cabinet that is more acceptable to the president and reduce the likelihood that they will use their dissolution powers.

Presidents with stronger legislative powers also reduce the complexity of the bargaining process. Presidents are co-executive actors in semi-presidential systems and will govern alongside the cabinet as both try to satisfy the policy preferences of their voters. Rationally foresighted parties in the legislature will understand this and seek to limit their proposed cabinets to the set that can govern in relative harmony with the president. If a cabinet is appointed that has a completely divergent legislative agenda from that of the president then it increases the likelihood of conflict between the president and the legislature. Presidents can use their powers of veto or delay to disrupt the government legislation, or generally act to impede the cabinet’s legislative agenda as was the case during the period of cohabitation in France between 1986 and 1988.

In sum, when presidents have greater powers the range of potential governments is reduced to the set that will be more likely to be stable and are able to implement its legislative agenda. The chart below shows the effect that presidential powers have on the likelihood that coalition bargaining will end on a given day. At low levels of presidential powers (those that receive a score of 2 on the Shugart-Carey index) the likelihood of coalition bargaining ending sooner is increased by around 50 percentage points in semi-presidential systems. However, when presidents are more powerful (those that receive a score of 8) the likelihood of government formation ending sooner is increased by 120 percentage points.

Simulated marginal effect of semi-presidentialism on the hazard of coalition bargaining ending, conditional on presidential powers.

Note: Results are taken from model three of Table 1. Graph is based on 1,000 simulations.

Presidential partisanship and coalition bargaining

Some studies of semi-presidentialism, particularly those that examine cabinet composition, begin from the premise that the president has both a mandate and preferences that diverge from those of their party. This is apparent in those studies which view the appointment of non-partisan ministers to the cabinet as an indicator of presidential influence. Others have argued that presidents have large incentives to act in a more partisan manner. Party organisations provide campaigning support for presidential candidates and presidents that have a base of support in the legislature are more likely to be able to fulfil the policy preferences of their voters. In some instances, it has been argued that legislative parties in semi-presidential systems have become ‘presidentialised’ with the presidential candidate able to set the agenda for the party as a whole. Following the presidentialisation logic, it can be argued that the president will be more likely to see a cabinet proposal that includes their party as more acceptable than one that doesn’t. Other rationally foresighted parties in the legislature will also concede that such a proposal is more sustainable if it avoids a period of unstable cohabitation.

The complexity of coalition bargaining will therefore be lower when the president’s party holds a stronger bargaining position in the legislature. When the president’s party is a member of a greater proportion of minimal winning coalitions the range of governing proposals that are acceptable to all politically relevant actors is more easily identifiable. Therefore, when the president’s party holds a stronger bargaining position, the duration of coalition bargaining will be reduced.

Simulated marginal effect of semi-presidentialism on the hazard of coalition bargaining ending, conditional on the bargaining power of the president’s party.

Note: Results are taken from model three of Table 1. Graph is based on 1,000 simulations

 

The chart above shows the effect of semi-presidentialism on the duration of coalition bargaining, conditional on the bargaining power of the president’s party which is measured by the Shapley-Shubik Index (the SSI indicates the proportion of minimal winning coalitions in the legislature to which the president’s party is pivotal). As is clear from the chart, the likelihood of coalition bargaining ending sooner rather than later increases along with the bargaining power of the president’s party. To give an example of this relationship, in Poland, the first government to form after the inauguration of the SLD president, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, was an SLD-PSL coalition that took just 12 days to negotiate in 1996. The SLD’s bargaining power was 0.41 on the SSI at the time, meaning that it was a pivotal player in around 41 percent of possible coalitions. Following the 1997 general election, the SLDs bargaining power was reduced to 0.22 and government formation lasted 40 days resulting in the formation of an AWS-UW coalition.

Implications

The results of my research point to the systemic influence of semi-presidentialism on the duration of coalition bargaining. Presidents with greater powers can wield more influence over cabinet formation and other parties in the system adjust their own behaviour and expectations to account for presidential preferences. A further implication of the study is that presidential partisanship matters. Contrary to some studies which assume presidents are almost non-partisan actors, the results presented here indicate that presidents have an interest in seeing their parties succeed and are willing to act to facilitate their success.

Joel C. Moses – President Putin and the 2017 Russian Gubernatorial Elections

This is a guest post by Joel C. Moses, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Iowa State University (jmoses@iastate.edu, jcmoses23@gmail.com)

Elections for 16 Russian governors in the 85 regions of the country were contested on September 10, 2017. They were held in conjunction with nationwide local and regional elections that have taken place annually on the second Sunday of September since 2014.  In 2017, 6,000 races including the 16 for governor would affect 46 million voters, approximately half  the  entire Russian electorate, with 42 political parties registered to participate in one or more of  these races.

President Putin’s ruling political party, United Russia (UR), through its direct association with Putin has a huge monopoly advantage from financial contributions and national media exposure over the three other national parliamentary opposition parties.[i]  With UR winning almost three-fourths of all votes cast nationally in previous annual local-regional September elections, the 16 UR incumbent governors in 2017 counted on mobilizing an ensured turnout of support from the party’s base. The UR political base included state employees pressured to vote as an implicit requirement for their jobs  along with pensioners, students, and military oftentimes compliantly bussed en masse to precincts.

The remaining electorate has lacked equivalent motivation to vote. Many potential voters would only just have returned to work distracted from any campaigning on their August summer holidays or dacha gardening. They would be forced to choose between United Russia and an array of non-competitive party candidates on the ballot intended only to dilute the effect of any anti-UR votes. Low voting turnout in elections has reflected a certain political resignation among many Russian voters outside the UR base that their votes really don’t  matter. Their feeling was that results already were predetermined and if necessary fraudulently reported by regional election commissions to certify victories by the UR candidates.

President Putin suspended all gubernatorial elections in 2005-2011. When they were restored under a 2012 amended federal law, they included a new federally mandated requirement for all regions termed the “municipal filter.” Only candidates with notarized signatures from a minimal percentage of  local municipal deputies and chief executives in their regions from an equivalent minimal percentage of regional locales qualify to be balloted as gubernatorial candidates.

Like governors the previous five years, the 2017 incumbent governors took advantage of this  municipal filter in their regions to disqualify any real competition in Sverdlovsk, Buryatiya, and Sevastopol. They persuaded the overwhelmingly majority UR local deputies not to sign for potentially strong challengers or influenced regional election commissions appointed by the same governors to disallow allegedly invalid signatures. Even pro-Kremlin Russian analysts two weeks before September 10 conceded that only two of the 16 races were even very slightly competitive as a consequence of the municipal filter.[ii]  Russian gubernatorial elections since 2012 have been decided less by outright vote fraud at the polls on the day of the election than the limited choice on the ballot other than incumbents predetermined by the municipal filter  weeks  before the voting itself.

Gubernatorial elections are won by an absolute majority. If no candidate has an absolute majority, the top two finishers in the first round compete to decide the winner in a run-off held two weeks later on Sunday in September. Based on past results since 2012, the prospects for the 16 incumbent governors in 2017 appeared to be very good. A  total 7 gubernatorial elections had   been held annually since 2012. In all 71 races through 2016, the winning incumbent was the official UR nominee 67 times. Their winning margin averaged close to 75% with some achieving victories by 85-95% over all their opponents. The UR-nominated incumbent failed to win the election just once in the only gubernatorial run-off election since 2012 – Irkutsk with the Communist Party candidate winning an upset victory in 2015. The three other non-UR incumbents in Kirov and  Orel in 2014 and Smolensk in 2015 were in effect endorsed by President Putin with United Russia not contesting the races with their own candidates. Five additional UR incumbent governors nominated by Putin also were chosen unanimously by their regional parliaments in 2013 and 2014.[iii]

The 16 governors were slated to run for five-year terms with the allowance to serve not more  than two  terms in the same region since elections were restored in 2012. Yet the 16 scheduled races on September 10 were at least an uncertain political challenge for both the national government and  the incumbent governors. For the national government, Putin’s Russia in the first decade of the century riding high on soaring revenue from oil and gas exports is not Putin’s Russia over the past four years in economic recession with rising unemployment and inflation, drastically falling export earnings, depleted hard-currency reserves, a declining ruble exchange rate, and Western economic sanctions against Putin’s Ukraine aggression. All Russian  governors have been tasked to formulate economic crisis policies resolving the regional effects  of  the country’s national  recession. Adding to the challenge of the economic crisis is rampant official corruption throughout Russia with revenue and resources diverted into bribery, kickbacks, and embezzlement.

To burnish his anti-corruption image, President Putin has used governors as convenient scapegoats for mishandling their own economic situations actually stemming from his own national policy failures. Under provisions of the 2012 amended law on gubernatorial elections, President Putin has the constitutional authority at any time to depose governors for a range of  reasons including his “lack of confidence” in their ability. He has arbitrarily deposed even governors who may just have been elected a previous year. The governors in these 16 regions were appointed by Putin as the acting heads of  their  regions for 2017 under a presidentially granted right to run for election to their offices in the next scheduled September nationwide election.

In his third presidential term since 2012, Putin had replaced 2 of the 85 regions with allegedly incorruptible “outsider” (varyag) governors without any prior association or careers in their regions. Four of the 21 deposed governors  in Komi and Sakhalin in 2015, Kirov in 2016, and  Udmurtiya in 2017 were actually arrested and jailed on charges of bribery and embezzlement.  The problem for governors arises when still in their five-year terms or just appointed acting heads they run for the office. Governors hope by winning a direct election to bank a five-year  mandate with President Putin and their own population before economic conditions get even worse. Like their predecessors, election was the option by the 16 governors in 2017.

For Putin, the 2017 gubernatorial elections had an even more direct personal significance as political theatre. It would be the last nationwide election before the 2018 presidential election.  September 10 was important to have a relatively high voter turnout in regions and a  non-controversial outcome without widespread allegations of dishonest campaigning, election rules violations, and vote fraud by the incumbent governors. A marred election nationally would diminish the legitimacy for Putin’s own subsequent run for a fourth term as president in 2018.  The staged goal for September 10, 2017 was an enthusiastic public endorsement for Putin’s own presidential re-election on March 18, 2018. The election of the 16 whom Putin had appointed acting governors in 2017 was as much a referendum on himself for his 4th term.

Incumbent governors among recently appointed outsiders were less likely to win without dishonest campaigning, election violations, and fraud. More than their predecessors, the 16 faced uncertain campaigns in the few months between their appointments as acting heads by Putin and electoral success in September. Putin had appointed seven the new governors  of  their regions for the first time just from February to April of 2017. They were distrusted by the regional economic-political elites, unfamiliar with the particular nuances of campaigning in their newly assigned regions, and unknown by voters before their appointments. All 16 would have preferred only moderate turnout with a disproportionate UR political base voting and potentially anti-incumbent voters not showing up at the precincts on September 10.

Adding to their liabilities, many of the 16  were technocrats without any prior political experience or elected offices.[iv] They did not debate their opponents in public forums or on regional television over July and August. All 16 campaigned essentially as a public relations outreach of their office as governor. They traveled around their regions issuing policy statements before prearranged audiences to showcase themselves through their internet websites and regional media. Most UR incumbent governors since 2012 had won easily by their close Putin association enhanced since 2014 by the patriotic euphoria in Russia from Putin’s  annexation  of Crimea. The unpredictable factor for the 16 in the run-up to the election on September 10 was  the reaction of voters to the now almost four-year national economic recession.

Despite the uncertainties for the 16 governors and Putin, the results a week ago on September 10 must have seemed reassuring for both.[v] The political base of United Russia held firm for the election. All 16 incumbent governors won with an average victory margin almost exactly the same as governors since 2012 at 74.36%, ranging from 60-64% in four regions to 80-88% in six. The seven new governors just appointed in 2017 were not  disadvantaged with an even higher average victory margin of 77.92%, five between 78 and 88%, and only two marginally competitive at 61 and 68%. The new governor of Marii El just appointed by Putin on April 7 won by a 88% margin over his opponents with a reported 44% of the eligible voters in the region participating.

The election may have fallen short of President Putin’s goal of a large enthusiastic voter turnout as his referendum for 2018. Yet participation in these 16 regions at least was respectably equivalent to past September elections, averaging 39.83% of all their registered voters and only slightly less at 36.42% for the regions headed by his seven newly appointed 2017 governors.  Allegations of rule violations and vote fraud usually require a couple of weeks after an election to be filed with the Central Election Commission and courts, but early reports suggest that a fewer number of complaints will be submitted  than after past elections. As predicted beforehand by analysts in the Russian media, September 10 was a “quiet” election without any major controversies.

Putin soon will announce his intention to run again for president with his national public approval still at 80% or higher despite the economic recession. In retrospect, the election of the 16 incumbent governors only reaffirmed Putin’s seemingly unassailable political authority throughout Russia for his fourth term as president in 2018-24. Putin in Act 4 successfully previewed September 10, 2017.

Notes

[i] Communist Party of  the  Russian Federation, Liberal Democratic Party of  Russia, and A Just Russia.

[ii] Irina Nagornykh, “Munitsipal’nyi  fil’tr slishkom malo propuskaet,” Kommersant, 28 August 2017, at https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3395829.

[iii] Under a 2013 federal amendment, regional parliaments are   allowed to suspend their gubernatorial elections and choose their governor from three candidates nominated by President Putin.  On September 10, the incumbent UR appointed governor of  Adygeya was chosen unanimously under the same provision by its regional parliament.

[iv] Carolina De Stefano, “Kremlin-Governor Relations in the Run-Up to the 2018 Presidential Elections,” Russian Analytical Digest, No. 201 (18 April 2017), pp. 2-6.

[v] Calculations for the final election results and voter turnout are based on totals for each of  the  16 regions compiled by Ivan Sinergiev and Andrei Pertsev, “Gubernatorskie vybory: kto bol’she,” Kommersant, 14 September 2017, at https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3408129.

Armenia – The others and Russia: Walking the complementarity tightrope

In the last months, Armenia has been remarkably active in developing and enhancing its international ties. However, Russia has not stopped keeping in check its “small brother”. Armenia’s sudden withdrawal from NATO’s Agile Spirit exercise in Georgia is illustrative of the pressures and challenges it faces. Rather than being confined to the foreign policy realm, these developments have some domestic implications.

Over the summer, Armenia was working towards the strengthening of the relationship with a plurality of actors. Such diplomatic activism can be interpreted as being in line with its main foreign policy guideline, namely complementarity. That means cultivating ties with as many international partners as possible, within the leeway consented by Russia. Concerning the relationship with the EU, Yerevan and Brussels are expected to sign the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), whose details were finalized in March. Both Piotr Switalski, the head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, and the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, are confident about a successful outcome. In the words of Mr Sargsyan: “We have no reason to not sign that document”. A similar statement was also made by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian. Other than interacting with the EU, Armenian officials had discussions with their Iranian counterparts about the implementation of a free-trade zone. Additionally, Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan and the Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov pledged to reinforce their bilateral ties. These developments, and some prior diplomatic moves, have domestic implications. Thus, they can be understood as being linked to the September 2016 Government reshuffle, and to the need to promote foreign investments and sustainable developmen[1].

Focusing on the relationship with the EU, CEPA can be interpreted as the last episode of a complex interaction. In addition to being an upgrade in bilateral relations, the signature of CEPA is relevant since at the last minute, in September 2013, Armenia withdrew from the Association Agreement (AA) talks with Brussels and announced instead its decision to join the Russian-led Eurasian Union. Even though most analysts suspect this U-turn to be the result of Kremlin pressure, Armenian political elites have never publicly admitted that this was the case. For instance, in recent times President Sargsyan denied any such external interference, saying that: “We negotiated with both the EEU and the EU, since initially both sides said that one does not interfere with one another. But, what should we do when the European Union said that it hinders?”[2] In other words, it was hinted that the EU, rather than Armenia, suddenly departed from what had been previously agreed. However, in spite of this official rhetoric, the influence of Russia seems clear[3].

The withdrawal from the Association Agreement shows that Russia can be an unpredictable and capricious “big brother”. Thus, while there should be no objection to signing CEPA[4], the Kremlin still keeps a close eye on its South Caucasian ally. In this regard, notwithstanding the diplomatic activism of the past months, the last-minute withdrawal from the NATO’s Agile Spirit exercise in Georgia, which took place between September 3 and September 11 was remarkable.

Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). However, the country has been developing ties with NATO, as per the Individual Partnership Action Plan and the Partnership for Peace program. Within this framework, some Armenian troops took part in NATO’s peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo[5]. Aware of the possible tensions and misunderstandings arising from this situation, Armenian cadres often specified that cooperation with NATO neither interfered with the CSTO’s commitments nor involved any future plan of membership. For instance, during an interview in July 2017, President Sargsyan ruled out any ambition to join NATO[6].However, in spite of these precautions, the withdrawal from the NATO drill seems indicative of some misunderstanding between Moscow and Yerevan.

Armenian policymakers said that their participation was never confirmed. Notably, Armenian Deputy Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov also remarked that, notwithstanding cooperation with NATO, CSTO plays a crucial role for the security of Armenia[7]. However, that does not mean cutting ties with NATO. In this regard, presidential spokesperson Vladimir Akopyan stated that missing the military exercise did not prelude a reconsideration of the relationship with NATO (i.e. cooperation without membership)[8]. It must be added that it is not the first episode of this kind. In 2009 Armenia, after confirming its involvement in a NATO exercise, also pulled out at the last moment[9].

Despite the aforementioned declarations, some doubts are in order. Georgi Kajarava, the Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman, said that this decision was highly unexpected[10]. Even more explicitly, the Armenian expert Ruben Mehrabyan bluntly said that: “A simple comparison of realities that have taken shape in the region and Armenian-Russian relations simply rule out any theories for the exception of Russia resorting to brazen blackmail and the Armenian leadership back-pedalling.” Mr Mehrabyan also ruled out that the withdrawal of Armenia could be attributed to the participation of Azerbaijan. First, Baku announced its involvement at the very last minute. Second, both Armenia and Azerbaijan participated in games organized and hosted by Russia[11].

The hypotheses about Russian pressure= are reinforced by an analysis of the Russian press. The pro-government newspaper “Pravda” used the expression “common sense prevailed” when commenting on Armenia’s sudden refusal to participate in the NATO drill. In the same article, which also hinted at the unhappiness of Russia with the cooperation between NATO and Armenia, it was plainly stated that: “We would also like to remind our Armenian friends that it was Vladimir Putin (not Angela Merkel) who stopped the offensive of Azerbaijani troops in Nagorno-Karabakh in April [2016][12]”.

While these dynamics relate to the international sphere, they are also relevant to the understanding of domestic developments, first and foremost the future of Serzh Sargsyan[13]. As reported in this blog, Mr Sargsyan declared that in the future he would like to be involved in security affairs. However, he prudently refrained from commenting on the NATO issue. Due to the constitutional reform of 2015[14], Mr Sargsyan could extend his position in power by becoming premier. Given that, his silence could be interpreted as a way to avoid tensions with a crucial partner.

In addition to this prudence in international affairs, an analysis of domestic dynamics also seems to confirm the unwillingness of Mr Sargsyan to quietly retire. While he refrains from declarations about his future, Galust Sahakian, a deputy chairman of President Sargsyan’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), declared that the President should stay in power after the end of his second presidential mandate (i.e. should become Prime Minister), since no other leader could take up such a responsibility.

In conclusion, Armenia needs to find a balance between its desire for investments and modernization, and its need for not displeasing Russia. Turning to the current leadership, prudent decisions seem connected to their permanence in power.

Notes

[1] Refer to Erik Davtyan’s analysis for more insight on Armenia recent diplomatic moves and their implications.

[2] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Kiesler: European Union is ready to sign agreement on extended and comprehensive partnership with Armenia”, September 12 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[3] This author conducted expert interviews in Armenia in Summer 2015 and Summer 2015. All her respondents agreed on Russia having strongly influenced that decision. For further insights, refer to: Loda, C. (2016, May). Perception of the EU in Armenia: A View from the Government and Society. In Caucasus, the EU and Russia-Triangular Cooperation?. Nomos Nomos. Pp 131-152.

[4] BMI Research. 2017. “New EU Deal No Game Changer”, Armenia Country Risk Report, October 1 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[5] Thai News Service. 2017. “Armenia: Armenian presidential spokesman comments on relations with NATO”, September 8 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[6] Thai News Service. 2017. “Armenia: Armenian presidential spokesman comments on relations with NATO”, September 8 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[7] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2017. “Programme summary of Armenian Public TV news 1700 gmt 4 Sep 17”, September 5 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[8] ITAR-TASS. 2017. “Armenian presidential spokesman says no plans to review relations with NATO”, September 07 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[9] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Dashnaktsakan: Armenia is an independent state, and can independently decide in which exercises to take part, and in which there is no”, September 04 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[10] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Armenia to participate in the training “Combat Commonwealth 2017” within the framework of the CIS against the backdrop of refusal to participate in NATO exercises”, September 4 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[11] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2017. “Pundit: Armenia misses US-led drills due to Russia’s “brazen blackmail””, September 6 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[12] Stepushova, Lyubov. 2017. “Russia tells Armenia where to sit”, Pravda.Ru, September 7, http://www.pravdareport.com/world/ussr/07-09-2017/138617-armenia-0/.

[13] BMI Research. 2017. “New EU Deal No Game Changer”, Armenia Country Risk Report, October 1 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[14] In 2015, a constitutional referendum reduced the powers of the President and enhanced those of the Prime Minister. Considering the political implications of this change, it has been observed that it would enable President Sargsyan, who is serving his second and last presidential mandate, to extend his permanence in power by becoming Premier. This blog extensively covered this topic, focusing on the details of the reform, the campaign before the vote and the relevant debate in 2016 and 2017.