Monthly Archives: October 2017

Ketil Fred Hansen – Chad’s President Déby was perfectly safe a year ago: Not so today

This is a guest post by Ketil Fred Hansen, IGIS, University of Stavanger (ketil.f.hansen@uis.no)

Chad’s President, Idriss Déby Itno, is perfectly safe and no-one can challenge his position, I would have argued a year ago. Déby won his fifth presidential election on 10 April 2016 with 60% of the votes, five times more than his closest competitor Saleh Kebzabo (12,8 %). To strengthen the political opposition, the leaders of 31 political parties founded a new coalition “Front de l’Opposition Nouvelle pour l’Alternance et le Changement” (FONAC), on 26 July 2016, selecting Kebzabo as front-runner. However, many Chadians questioned FONAC’s real commitment to alternation. The opposition party leaders were accused of taking personal advantage of their position rather than being actually interested in political change. In fact, very few opposition parties had ever altered their own leader. Thus, both President Déby and the leaders of the opposition shared the same longevity in their functions to the frustration of younger generations.

These frustrated younger generations organized regular rallies in Ndjamena during 2016. Protests against the regime started when “untouchables”, sons of high-ranking civil servants and ministers, gang-raped a 17 year-old schoolgirl in February 2016. The protests gained force as Déby prepared for his fifth presidential re-election in April 2016, and continued when President Déby introduced his “austerity measures” on 31 August. In fact, 2016 was the year of social protest in Chad.

Still, I would have argued that president Déby was perfectly safe and at the height of his power at the end of 2016. Why?

Both the US and France saw President Déby as one of their closest collaborators in the fight against Boko Haram and other terror threats in the Sahel. N’Djamena was the home of France’s Operation Barkham, containing some 3500 troops, at least 3 drones, 20 helicopters and more than 200 armored vehicles. Chad was also the home of the American Special Forces anti-terror training Operation Flintstone in February 2017, as it had been in 2015. Since the close-to-successful coup d’état in February 2008, Déby had re-equipped and re-organized his army, significantly increasing military expenditure from an already high level. In 2013, the Chadian army gained international acclaim after its rapid deployment and brave operational courage against the Islamist insurgents in Mali. Indeed, by 2016 Chad held one of the best-equipped and best-trained armies in Africa. One of Déby’s sons, Mahamat Idriss Déby, headed the presidential guard that contained at least as many well-equipped and well-trained soldiers as the regular army. A year ago, then, neither civilian protests nor any military threat from inside (mutiny) or outside (insurgents), seemed possible.

In addition, President Déby enjoyed a high standing among his peers in Africa. He chaired the the regional G5 Sahel group and was elected Chairman of the African Union for 2016. As a sign of respect and importance, 14 African heads of state were present in N’Djamena when Déby was sworn in as president on 8 August 2016. However, his African peers were not the only ones to count on him. Germany ‘s Chancellor Angela Merkel invited President Déby to Berlin in October last year, promising Chad close to 9 million Euro in humanitarian aid. President Hollande received Déby numerous times in Paris to discuss both military collaboration and humanitarian aid.

No wonder, then, that I would have said that president Déby was perfectly safe a year ago. Not so today.

Several signs can be interpreted as a weakening of Déby’s power grip during 2017.

In January, France granted Hinda Déby, Déby’s favorite wife and Chad’s first lady, and their 5 children French nationality. Why, this sudden demand for French nationality? Rumors about President Déby’s untreatable cancer flourishes in the Chadian capital. Speculations about who would take power in the case of Déby’s death rocketed in N’Djamena, without anyone being able to give a clear answer. Together with Chad’s post-independence history of continuous power struggles, the uncertainty surrounding a presidential power transfer leads to thoughts of a new civil war.

Increasing activities of Chadian rebel movements in Southern Libya/Northern Chad also indicate that Déby’s position is fading. The Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT) headed by the 53 year-old-always-rebel Mahamat Mahdi Ali, contains some 1500 armed civilians under training. Other Chadian military movements, one headed by former minister now rebel-leader General Mahamat Nouri and another headed by one of President Déby’s nephews, Qatar-based Timan Erdimi, are also training in the same region. The formal closing of the frontier between Chad and Libya, undertaken sometimes by Libya, sometimes by Chad, has not stopped the rebels’ movements. Islamic State, apparently, backs Chadian rebel movements with money and weapons. Believing that Qatar also funds the rebels, on 23 August 2017 President Déby ordered the Qatari embassy in N’Djamena to close down and staff to leave Chad within ten days. A few weeks later, on 24 September, US President Trump included Chad on the list of terror states, banning the arrival of all Chadians on US soil from 1 October. While Chad is, officially, still a US partner in the fight against terror in the Sahel, Washington no longer has confidence in Chadian intelligence. Neither the quality of the information from Chad nor the sincerity of the collaboration are judged satisfactory by the US. Incomprehensible to most Chadians, both among the opposition and Déby’s entourage, the US travel ban has caused rage in N’Djamena; how come Chad, an acclaimed terror fighter, can be punished so severely by its prime benefactor? Both France and the G5 Sahel were puzzled with the US decision. Officially, no one understands the US travel ban. However, one may speculate that the US intelligence has reason to believe the rumors circulating in N’Djamena: President Déby secretly supports Boko Haram because when Boko Haram is still strong and frightening, Déby can act as an acclaimed fighter of terror and only then does the international community need him and will support him diplomatically, militarily and monetarily. No Boko Haram would mean no president Déby, according to these rumors.

Yet, Boko Haram is still active and the rebels in the north not strong enough to pose a serious threat to Déby alone. For the US and the EU, Chad and president Déby represent a stable spot in the midst of a troubled region. Déby has skilfully managed to stay in power for 27 years already. As long as his personal health is good enough and as long as the West needs him in the fight against terror, Déby will stay president in Chad. However, the day when either of these is no longer the case, Chad will turn into a nightmare of violent power struggles.

Brazil – President Temer Continues to Battle Corruption Charges

Michel Temer continues to fight the corruption allegations that have dominated his short presidency. On Tuesday, a report presented to the Constitution and Justice Committee (CCJ) by Bonifacio de Andrada (PSDB-MG), a Temer ally, urged the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies to reject the latest criminal charges against President Temer, and two members of his cabinet, Eliseu Padilha, the Chief of Staff, and Moreira Franco, the General Secretary.

Temer is accused of obstruction of justice an racketeering by the federal prosecutor as part of the Lavo Jato scandal that has engulfed the Brazilian political class. This latest charge has emerged as a result of a set of tapes that was given to prosecutors by two brothers, Joesley and Wesley Batista, who are in control of the gigantic Brazilian meat packing firm, JBS. As part of a larger plea deal involving allegations of bribery and corruption, the Batista brothers released these tapes to the federal prosecutor, on which we can allegedly hear President Temer approving continued cash payments by the Batista brothers to the former Speaker of the House, Eduardo Cunha, in return for his silence. As part of their testimony, the Batistas also allege that President Temer received millions of dollars over the last seven years in order to fund his electoral campaigns. Temer and his party are accused of receiving nearly US$190 million in return for political favors.

The Brazilian lower house now have to vote on these accusations. They will do this towards the end of October. For the investigation to continue, 342 out of 513 members of congress must vote in support of the allegations. If the Chamber reject the charges, then the investigation is frozen until Temer leaves office. If the charges are accepted, then Temer will be suspended and his case will be heard in the Senate, under the direction of the Supreme Court. In fact, this is the second time that the Chamber will have voted on charges levelled against Temer. In August, by 263 votes versus 227, they rejected a different allegation of corruption presented by federal prosecutors.

The wider Lavo Jato corruption scandal centers upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in addition to other construction companies, in return for a whole gamut of favors. In fact, Odebrecht has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

The scandal has also dragged other Latin American executives into its orbit and has included allegations of corruption involving the former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), the sons of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and in Argentina, members of Mauricio Macri’s centre-right organization have been accused of ties with Odebrecht, and in the case of Gustavo Arribas, of accepting a direct bribe from the firm. In the Dominican Republic, the Brazilian firm admitted that it payed US$92 million in bribes to Dominican government officials to secure large and lucrative infrastructure projects.

Michel Temer has a lot on his plate. He has been trying to push through crucial legislation relating to pensions and the retirement age in Brazil, but this scandal has dominated the political scene. Temer is now the most unpopular president ever in Brazil. According to a recent Ibope poll, only 3 per cent of the population consider his government good, or very good. Indeed, 77 per cent consider his government bad or terrible. One thing is for sure – the Lavo Jato will continue to dominate Brazilian politics for the foreseeable future.

 

Estonia – After one year in office president Kersti Kaljulaid still needs to make her mark

On 3 October 2016, Kersti Kaljulaid was elected the first female president of Estonia. Following  the failure of both the Riigikogu (parliament) and the Valimiskogu (electoral college) to agree on a successor to Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2006-2016), Kaljulaid was elected as the all-party compromise candidate when the election returned to parliament. Kaljulaid follows a three very different different presidents who – despite being consecutively less active politically – all left their mark relatively early on in their term. Since taking the oath of office on 10 October 2016, Kaljulaid has remained largely in the background. So far, she has mainly followed in the footsteps of her predecessor, yet her recent speech at the opening of parliament could be the first step in carving out an independent profile.

Official portrait of president Kersti Kaljulaid | image via president.ee

Given the circumstances of her nomination, Kaljulaid was relatively unkown to the public when she was elected. The (comparatively rare) Estonian opinion polls showed only a very moderate increase in public trust during the first months in office (48% in October 2016 to 66% in April 2017), staying behind the popularity of her predecessor and hitherto least trusted among Estonia’s president Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Contrary to her predecessors, Kaljulaid was not a professional politician before taking office. As a former Estonian Auditor at the European Court of Auditors and one-time economic adviser to the Prime Minister, she nevertheless possess some relevant, albeit limited political experience.

To date, Kaljulaid has only had few opportunities to prove herself in her new role, yet likely the most important occured only a month after her inauguration. After a no-confidence motion forced Prime Minister Taavi Roivas to resign, the government of Reform Party, Isaama and Res Publica, and the Social Democrats collapsed, paving the way for a government led by the Centre Party. President Ilves had still publicly declared his mistrust in then party leader and Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar and the party – despite often finishing first or second in parliamentary elections – had long ostracised by its competitors due to its sympathies with the ethnic Russian population and Russia’s leadership, Kaljulaid invited all parties for consultations, yet was not involved in the actual negotiations for a new coalition. Although Estonian presidents only have little control over the government formation process and appoint those governments that emerge from parliamentary arithmetic, previous presidents still had some indirect influence on the nomination of individual ministers. Kaljulaid seems to have remained entirely passive and merely accepted the new coalition, although some friction was foreseeable early on (e.g. on the introduction of popular presidential elections – the project forced by the Centre party was however shelved indefinitely in January this year).

A second opportunity for came in December 2016, when Kaljulaid signed off amendments to a number tax laws despite protest by the opposition and a number of large interest groups, which not only criticised the contents of the law but also the procedure in which in had been passed (that did not allow full participation by the opposition). Kaljulaid defended her decision stating that she did not have the power to challenge individual paragraphs of the amendments [the Estonian president only has a block veto] and that these would better be checked by the Chancellor of Justice. This highlights a major difference to her predecessor Ilves; while Ilves too mainly relied on the Chancellor of Justice to ensure the constitutionality of legislation and generally remained uninvolved in the content of legislation, he did in fact veto bills because the correct procedure had been violated and liaised with lawmakers through his staff to pre-emptively tackle potential problems of constitutionality. Kaljulaid however vetoed a law on the so-called sugar tax that would have introduced an – arguably unconstitutional – exception for a Tallink Group cruise liners

Since then, Kaljulaid only rarely voiced her opinion and remained very cautious in public statements. The problem with finding her voice and handling situations such as the tax law amendments might also lie in the turnover of staff in the presidential administration that followed her inauguration. Since the mid-1990s, key staff in the Estonian presidential office has been remarkably stable, thus preserving institutional memory and contacts. Kaljulaid managed her first international visits without any hiccups and largely followed in the footsteps of predecessor Ilves in promoting Estonia as a leader in digital technologies, yet her other public statements have otherwise been criticised as too vague or missing the mark.

In this context, her recent speech at the opening of parliament appears to be a promising exception and potential attempt to carve out an independent profile. In particular, she highlighted the responsibilities of politicians towards the public and the need for political parties to make their finances transparent (a veiled criticism of the Centre party that has been at the centre of a number of allegations and investigations over the past year). Furthermore and most strikingly, Kaljulaid explained “that being proud of being an Estonian cannot be monopolised by anyone” and that “[t]here is no blue, black and white gene pool”. Thereby, she addressed on the of the most long-standing issues in Estonian politics and society – how to deal with the ethnic Russian minority (about 25% of the population are ethnic Russians, many of which hold Russian but not Estonian citizenship).

Both issues would lend themselves well to establishing Kaljulaid as a moral leader – they are timely and relevant, yet general enough to develop over the course of her term in office. Furthermore and perhaps more importantly, both are largely within the remit of the role of the presidency as it has developed over the last 25 years. Kaljulaid will be able to launch some concrete initiatives (first president Meri for instance instituted a roundtable on minorities) which can bear fruit merely by raising public awareness rather than through the use of her (limited) formal powers.

Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part I: Progress and Possibility in the Philippines

Talks of constitutional reforms appear to be sweeping across the presidential and semi-presidential systems in East Asia: the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. Constitutions capture the principles – some say, the most sacred principles – around which institutions, legislation, rules, and processes of a country are built.[1] Constitutional reforms, then, are generally significant and painstaking undertakings, often requiring supermajorities in the legislature or the electorate or both to ratify. And, this may be rightfully so: if they are to amend or revise principles that underpin the political, economic, and social structures of a country, the process should not be based on changeable and changing attitudes. Given the significance, the concomitant grip of constitutional reforms across several of the East Asian with a president as head or co-head of government is interesting, if not curious. What level of public support is there for these reforms? And, how likely are these reforms to pass?

President Duterte entered office in the Philippines with a pledge to adopt constitutional reforms to change the country’s unitary system into a federalism, with some powers devolved to the local governments for a more responsive government. Constitutional revisions have been proposed under previous governments: for instance, under President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, talks of constitutional revisions to repeal the term-limited, single, six-year non-re-electable presidential term-of-office surfaced towards the end of the popular executive, while former President Arroyo pushed hard for a change to a unicameral parliamentary system following an impeachment effort against the President for possible electoral irregularities in the 2004 presidential elections.[2] A marked difference between this constitutional reform effort and its predecessors is: President Duterte is hugely popular; as a contrast, President Arroyo was pre-empting protests and demonstrations as she pushed for her reforms.

Does this mean that there is wide public support for the federalist revision? That is less clear: on the one hand, the President was elected into office with federalism as one of his platform promises; on the other hand, Duterte was elected into office with a plurality of 36.7 percent of the total votes cast.[3] Polls report economic progress remains a key concern among survey respondents, so that a key consideration for public support is likely whether federalism will address economic development as promised.

How likely is the constitutional reform to pass? The Constitution provides for revisions in one of three ways: through a vote of three-fourths of the members of Congress; a constitutional convention; or direct petition by the people of at least 12 percent of the total registered voters, and of which every legislative district has three percent signatories. All revisions must then be ratified by a majority of the votes cast between 60 and 90 days of the approval of the amendment. In these processes, President Duterte seems largely unfettered: in particular, he enjoys the support of a super-majority in the legislature, and has high trust ratings that have only recently fallen. Even the Supreme Court has refused to limit the President’s martial law powers in Mindanao. Indeed, President Duterte has already moved to a constitutional assembly so that lawmakers will draft and approve the changes, rather than use a constitutional convention. The constitutional assembly is expected to convene after the national budget for 2017 is passed; the Speaker of the House anticipates that the amendments may be finalized by the end of 2017. If the amendments remain limited to the federalist structure, this is one constitutional revision effort that may fly.

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[1] Strauss, David. 2010. The Living Constitution. New York: Oxford University Press

[2] Hedman, Eva-Lotta. 2006. “The Philippines in 2005: Old Dynamics, New Conjuncture.” Asian Survey vol 46 no 1: 187-193

[3] Election Guide, International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Washington, D.C.

Haiti – An abrupt end to a brief presidential honeymoon

Since his inauguration, 8 months ago, as the constitutional President of Haiti, Jovenel Moise has had a relatively peaceful honeymoon period. The natural sense of wait-and-see that comes with a new administration and the additional “help” of tropical storms and hurricanes contributed to some months of political calm. But, since the beginning of July an apparently harmless string of protests for an increase in the minimum wage has led to many actors taking off the gloves. Now daily protests including some very violent ones have become routine in the streets in Port-au-Prince.

Jovenel Moise began his mandate as a very active president. Fulfilling the campaign pledge to act primarily in the interests of the peasants, he proposed initiatives such as the electrification of localities in the countryside or and the boosting of farm production. These actions have contributed to a relatively well regarded president in the provinces, but with less to show to the residents of the cities. With frequent visits to and many projects in rural areas, Jovenel has converted himself into an omnipresent President. In the process, he has entirely eclipsed his Primer Minister and the government. Litle is known about the government and, if it was not for some corruption scandals that have been revealed by the press, many ministers would have gone unnoticed. With full control over parliament (the president’s party controls both chambers) the president operates as the de facto head of the government, negotiating directly with the legislators.

The reality of a president who operates without any check from the legislative branch is playing for now at least in his favor. For the first time since 1986, a president was able to obtain the ratification of his first choice as Prime Minister. Also, for the first time in many years, he was able to present a budget and have it approved on time. But, in an unstable political context as is usually the case in Haiti, this situation can be harmful in the long run for Jovenel Moise. If the opposition succeeds in convincing the public that the government is ineffective, then since the president is seen as the main actor of the government, the departure of the Prime Minister will not be perceived as a genuine solution to the problem. The practice of using the Prime Minister as a scapegoat to deflect political pressure from the president will be less likely.

With the violent protests that have been under way lately, the opposition has begun to test the popularity of the government. Unsurprisingly, the movement began in Port-au-Prince, in the slum cities where the president is less active. The pretext was the publication by the president of the budget for the next fiscal year. The protesters argue that the spending plans do not tackle the social conditions of the country and that they do not allocate enough resources to important areas as health care, education and judicial system. In this context, parliament also approved a scandalous increase in its allocation, a 74% increase compared to the previous fiscal exercise (102% for deputies and, the senate 55%).

There is no doubt that the budget does not address the many difficulties that the country is facing. But, it also evident that the protests can’t be explain solely by the shortcomings of the budget. The protests should be read as the new opening of the political drama. After last year’s elections that Jovenel and his PHTK won without appeal, the opposition needed desperately an opportunity to become relevant. The budget gives them that opportunity. How the situation evolves will depend on the capacity of the government to deactivate the mobilization of other sectors that are hoping to extract some concessions from the government and on the ability of the opposition to convince others of the inefficacy of the government.

Papua New Guinea – The Prospects of Presidentialism

The 2017 Papua New Guinea general election threw the complexities and challenges of democracy in the country into stark relief. Papua New Guinea’s elections are purportedly the most expensive per capita in the world; it is estimated that the 2012 election cost $US63 per voter, compared to a global average of $US5 per voter. The 2017 election was marred by widespread issues with the electoral roll, violent clashes, and long delays in counting for some seats. After polling wraps, ‘the election after the election’ begins; in a fragmented party system with a high number of independent MPs, governing coalitions are typically made up of large and often unwieldy numbers of parties. Ultimately, Peter O’Neill’s ‘grand coalition’ – made up of members of his People’s National Congress Party as well as various minor parties and independent MPs – managed to secure 60 votes to re-elect him Prime Minister. This contributes to a system which Ron May describes as “disorderly democracy”, and Jeffrey Steeves has called (in the Solomon Islands context) “unbounded politics”.

Papua New Guinea has a Westminster parliamentary system, inherited after independence from Australia in 1975. Westminster systems are common in the Pacific Islands region; of the 18 Pacific Islands Forum states (including Australia and New Zealand), half have Westminster systems, with presidential (or hybrid presidential) more common in the northern Pacific where the US influence is more apparent. The merits of Westminster systems in the Pacific – and specifically Papua New Guinea – have been debated at length. Westminster parliamentary traditions and Melanesian political cultures are seen by some scholars as incompatible: the combative nature of Westminster politics at odds with Melanesian traditions of consensus; the lack of a left-right political cleavage creating a fragmented party system and reducing the accountability function of a strong opposition; and geographically based political constituencies entrenching ethnic and cultural divides. Reform attempts, most notably the Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPAC), have largely focused on strengthening the party system and reducing the frequency of changes of government, to limited effect. It has been argued by May that Papua New Guinea’s weak and fragmented party system, previously the cause of frequent government turnover, has now facilitated the rise of ‘executive government’, in which the executive exercises near-absolute power in the absence of both a strong parliamentary opposition and stringent accountability measures.

A presidential system for Papua New Guinea has been proposed in the past, notably by Governor of the National Capital District and leader of the Social Democratic Party, Powes Parkop. A presidential system has already been adopted at sub-national level in Papua New Guinea, in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, where a president is directly elected for five-year terms. Creating an executive branch separate to the legislative branch would distinguish national-level policy-making from the district-level service delivery function that current Papua New Guinea MPs tend to prioritise (and for good reason, as it is crucial to their chances of re-election). Furthermore, presidential elections would in theory focus on national policy over local interests, the former oft-cited as missing from parliamentary elections. The PNC-led government has already proven itself committed to decentralisation, and in a context with more provincial autonomy a presidential system could prove to be a national unifier. Yet a presidential system would of course not solve the issue of executive dominance as identified by May and others, and indeed has the potential to exacerbate it.

So is a presidential system the answer? A change to a presidential system would not be a panacea to Papua New Guinea’s political challenges, and could potentially give rise to other problems. Yet, in a discussion on Papua New Guinea’s political future, it is a question worth asking. The Pacific region provides potential models for political reform, including Kiribati’s hybrid system in which a directly elected president is still subject to votes of no confidence by the legislature (but a successful vote of no confidence automatically dissolves the House, creating a disincentive to overuse). As other aspects of constitutional reform, including around decentralisation and guaranteed women’s political representation, have already been raised by the Papua New Guinea government, there is potential space for debate on the structure of the political system itself.

South Africa – President Zuma, low on allies but not out of ideas

In just ten weeks, South Africa’s long-ruling African National Congress (ANC) will head to an elective congress to install a new party president who will be the party’s national presidential candidate in 2019. Struggling under the weight of compounding corruption scandals and a battle for control of all sectors of the state, President Jacob Zuma has pinned his fortunes to the candidacy of his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former AU Commission Chair. Recently, Zuma (narrowly) survived his seventh parliamentary vote of no confidence, and is facing growing internal criticism by party heavyweights and the fracturing of the long-standing tri-partite alliance between the ANC and labour federation COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP). As a result, Zuma is frequently portrayed as being on the back foot.

His current woes don’t originate in the (potentially soon reinstated) 783 corruption charges that he was facing prior to his presidency, nor the furore over the state financing of upgrades to his personal home, but from a trove of over 300 000 emails leaked to investigative journalism outfit, amaBhungane. These leaks detail the way in which Zuma’s friends and business associates – the controversial Gupta family – have used their political connections to act as gate keepers for dozens of state contracts, possibly amassing as much as R100 billion and shifting it offshore to accounts in Dubai and India. The leaked emails also suggest that, should Zuma’s succession plans come unstuck, he may be looking to relocate to Dubai. These emails helped to bring down London PR firm Bell Pottinger, as well as the South African leadership of auditing firm KPMG and software giant SAP, while many of the Zuma faction’s key acolytes at state-owned enterprises appear to be falling under the axe as reports of their financial crimes surface.

But don’t count Jacob Zuma out just yet. Zuma is a master tactician – he was allegedly the reigning chess champion on Robben Island – and a securocrat whose closest allies are in the intelligence community. As a result, he appears to always be one step ahead of his detractors. Through his appointments to various key cabinet and government posts, Zuma has managed to avoid prosecution over the old graft charges and dodge any serious investigations over the current allegations of corruption that have tainted his legacy. The office of the Public Protector – previously staffed by a corruption-busting lawyer – has been undermined by the selection of an apparent Zuma ally, while the head of the national prosecuting authority seems to be missing in action.

Ahead of the upcoming party and national elections – which will likely determine the fate of Zuma and his family – the president and his faction are trying to secure a win for Dlamini-Zuma. Bell Pottinger had apparently been asked to manage her campaign, but the campaign would only be successful on the back of sustained media coverage. A key Zuma ally who was responsible for ensuring positive coverage at the national broadcaster was removed in 2017, and the president has prevaricated on appointing a fresh and more independent board, chosen by parliament. Zuma has even gone so far as to have personal meetings with key SABC figures, potentially undermining the independence of the public broadcaster. The SABC is critical to the electoral fortunes of the ANC, and controlling the national broadcaster would help the Zuma faction to control the messaging ahead of the congress and national polls. As the ANC appears to follow the liberation party trend of moving from an urban-based to a rurally-based party, it will become increasingly important to be able to reach rural voters using the national broadcaster’s vernacular-language radio stations which have a listenership of over 37.6 million citizens – twice the number of people who voted in the 2014 elections.

In order to control the election outcomes and ensure continued flows of patronage, it is critical that the presidency be able to bend the country’s financial policy and budget to his own ends. Reports that the presidency is trying to capture the Treasury are not new. Such reports were buttressed by the removal of technocrat Finance Ministers Nhlanhla Nene in 2015 and Pravin Gordhan in 2017, and their replacement by unknown or inexperienced finance ministers. New reports have now surfaced that the new finance minister, a Zuma ally and Gupta-associate, has established a parallel administration at the National Treasury, side-lining key technocrats and delaying important investigations into maladministration and corruption. In September, Cabinet announced that the budgeting process for the 2018/19 financial year would be ‘overseen’ by the Presidency – raising further concerns that the president would then have greater control over financial allocations.

This is important as the President – and his preferred candidate – have been promising voters ‘radical economic transformation’ in order to shore up the party’s waning electoral fortunes and defuse the negative effects of Zuma’s numerous corruption scandals. This promised new policy is amorphous, swinging between being defined as the conditions to bring about a more egalitarian, inclusive economy and something approaching radical, racialized empowerment in productive sectors of the economy. Increased control over the 2018/2019 budget would allow the presidency to put into action some of the policies within this framework that, the faction hopes, would help the ANC carry the next national election.

But Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma don’t have the congress sewn up just yet. There is increasing pushback from within the ANC, and key figures have come out vocally in support of Dlamini-Zuma’s strongest opponent – Cyril Ramaphosa. The battle has quietly – and sometimes not-so-quietly – been raging at the provincial ANC congresses, with each faction battling it out to have their supporters elected and thus to control which voting delegates are sent to the December congress. There has also been significant inflation of reported numbers in the party’s provincial membership, as the number of members that a province has determines how many votes they are allocated at the congress. The greatest disparities have been found in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) – this province already has the greatest number of ANC members and thus delegates at the elective congress, making it a key succession battleground.

As Zuma’s support in other regions wanes, his faction is increasingly reliant on controlling the party’s structures in this king-maker province. The province has experienced increased levels of violence during periods of increased intra-party competition as around the 2016 municipal elections when more than a dozen council candidates were killed in the months before the polls. These killings have continued as the presidential succession race has heated up. In September the High Court nullified the election of a pro-Zuma ANC leadership in KZN, but a likely decision to appeal the ruling will probably leave the pro-Zuma leadership in place ahead of December. As for the other provinces with pro-Zuma administrations, Zuma’s support appears to be on somewhat shakier ground, making the battle for KZN a critical one.

When it comes to Cyril Ramaphosa’s candidacy, it appears that the Zuma faction is willing to play dirty. In September, apparently-leaked emails to a local newspaper appeared to imply that Ramaphosa was embroiled in a web of adulterous relationships but the ANC heavyweight has refuted most of the claims, arguing that it was Zuma’s allies in the intelligence services who had hacked his emails in a concerted political smear campaign. Journalists from the Independent – which is owned by a pro-ANC businessman – have hinted that yet another big Ramaphosa story is on the horizon. The race is likely to get very ugly ahead of December, and many a political skeleton will probably fall out of the proverbial closet. But just which way the December congress will go, is still very much up for debate.

Latvia – The President’s legislative initiative on granting citizenship to new-borns is rejected by the Saeima

Latvia is a parliamentary republic with a 100-member unicameral parliament (Saeima), which is elected under a proportional system for a four-year period.

The Saeima elects the President by a secret ballot. To be elected, candidates must win at least fifty-one votes. The President serves for a term of four years and is limited to two consecutive terms. A presidential candidate must be a citizen of Latvia and must be at least forty years old. A person with dual citizenship may not be elected President. The functions of the President are determined by the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia.

The main role of the President is to promote the prosperity of Latvia and its inhabitants.

The President is the Head of State, nominating the Prime Minister, representing Latvia internationally, appointing the diplomatic representatives of Latvia, and receiving foreign representatives to Latvia. The President has the right to convene, to preside over extraordinary meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers, and to determine the agenda of such meetings.

The Head of State is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

In the event that the President is sick, on vacation or resigns from office, the Chairperson of the Saeima assumes the duties of the President.

The current President of the Republic of Latvia is H.E. Mr Raimonds Vējonis. The President took office on July 8, 2015. President Vējonis used to be a member of the Green Party, which is part of the Union of Greens and Farmers. The President has suspended his party membership.

Legislative Power

One of the most powerful functions of the President is the right to initiate legislation, proclaim or veto laws passed by the Saeima and grant clemency. The President proclaims bills passed by the Saeima no earlier than the tenth day after the bill has been adopted and no later than the twenty-first day. A law comes into force fourteen days after its proclamation unless a different term has been specified in the law. The President may use the suspended veto power within ten days of the adoption of a law by the Saeima by means of a written and reasoned request to the Chairperson of the Saeima, requiring the law to be reconsidered. If the Saeima overrides the law, the President then may not raise objections a second time. The President has the right to suspend the proclamation of a law for a period of two months if so requested by not less than one-third of the members of the Saeima. This right may be exercised by the President, or by one-third of the members of the Saeima, within ten days of the adoption of the law by the Saeima. The law thus suspended shall be put to a national referendum if so requested by not less than one-tenth of the electorate. If no such request is received during the two-month period, the law shall then be proclaimed after the expiration of such period. A national referendum shall not take place, however, if the Saeima again votes on the law and not less than three-quarters of all members of the Saeima vote for the adoption of the law. Should the Saeima, by not less than a two-thirds majority vote, determine a law to be urgent, the President may not use suspended veto rights and request reconsideration of such law, it may not be submitted to national referendum, and the adopted law shall be proclaimed no later than the third day after the President has received it.

The President is not politically responsible[1]. The President can propose the dissolution of the Saeima. Following this proposal, a national referendum shall be held. In such case, the President shall determine the agenda of the Saeima. However, if in the referendum more than half of the votes are cast against the dissolution of the Saeima, then the President shall be deemed to be removed from office.

The President’s legislative initiative on granting citizenship to new-borns

In this post, I would like to focus on a latest legislative initiative and political leadership of the President to grant citizenship to all new-borns in Latvia regardless of whether their parents are ‘non-citizens’.

In November 2016, the President initiated the idea, which received a cautious reaction from parties in the coalition government. For a year the President, using a form of network governance, discussed the issue with experts, representatives of different groups in politics and society, such as the Ombudsman, the Ministry of Interior, marketing and public opinion research centres, and academics.

The President’s decision is based on the fact, that granting non-citizens status to new-borns is an inheritance left by the former USSR and should not be maintained for more than 25 years after the restoration of independence. The President emphasizes that Latvia is a modern and democratic European country which needs to do everything to strengthen and consolidate its people. In mid-September the President submitted the legislative initiative to the Saeima, stating that it is a symbolic step which weakens the cleavage between different groups of Latvian society. The President points out that this regulation would apply to approximately 50 to 80 new-borns a year and that in 2016 non-citizen status was granted to 52 children. According to the data from the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, up to October 2017 non-citizen status had been granted to 30 children. According to the report of Arnis Kaktiņš, the executive director of public opinion centre SKDS, in May 76% of the public support the idea that children from non-citizens born in Latvia would automatically become citizens of Latvia at the time of their birth unless the parents of the child chose the citizenship of another country. The draft law complies with Latvia’s international commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. If the parents fail to ensure the right on behalf of their children, it should be done by the state.

However, due to the coalition agreement, and after the cursory debates with two speakers at the end of September, the Saeima rejected the President’s proposal. A total of 39 of the 100 members of the Saeima voted to move the proposal forward, 38 voted against and 14 chose to abstain. The opposition supported the initiative, but it was not sufficient to move the legislative process forward, which requires support from half of the Saeima.

The President expressed the hope that the Saeima’s vote would only postpone the decision for a while and that there will be another opportunity to vote on the topic in the future.

Reference:

[1] Dišlers K. Latvijas valsts varas orgāni un viņu funkcijas. Rīga: TNA, 2004., page 137.

New publications

Special issue of French Politics on the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections in France, Volume 15, Issue 3, September 2017, with contributions from Yves Mény, Catherine Achin and Sandrine Lévêque, Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan, Florent Gougou and Simon Persico, Jocelyn Evans and Gilles Ivaldi, Cristina Bucur, and Florent Gougou and Nicolas Sauger. See http://www.palgrave.com/gp/journal/41253/volumes-issues/latest-issue

Martin Carrier, Executive Politics in Semi-presidential European Regimes, 2016, Lexington Books: Lanham, MA.

Manuel Alcántara, Jean Blondel, and Jean-Louis Thiébault (eds.), Presidents and Democracy in Latin America, Routledge, 2017.

Miguel Carreras, ‘Presidential Institutions and Electoral Participation in Concurrent Elections in Latin America’, Political Studies, Online First, DOI 10.1177/0032321717723502.

Michael Novak, Choosing presidents: Symbols of political leadership, 2nd ed., Routledge, 2017.

Joel Moses, ‘Political Rivalry and Conflict in Putin’s Russia’, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 69, No. 6, August 2017, pp. 961–988.

Linda L. Fowler, Bryan W. Marshall, ‘Veto-Proof Majorities, Legislative Procedures, and Presidential Decisions, 1981–2008’, Political Research Quarterly, Volume 70, Issue 2, June 2017, pp. 348-362.

Virgílio Afonso da Silva, ‘Book Review: Making Brazil Work: Checking the President in a Multiparty System’, International Journal of Constitutional Law, (2017) 15 (2): 519.

Carlos Pereira, Mariana Batista, Sérgio Praça, and Felix Lopez, ‘ Watchdogs in Our Midst: How Presidents Monitor Coalitions in Brazil’s Multiparty Presidential Regime’, Latin American Politics and Society, Volume 59, Issue 3, Fall 2017, pp. 27–47.

Leonardo Avritzer, ‘The Rousseff impeachment and the crisis of democracy in Brazil’, Critical Policy Studies, Online First,

Direnç Kanol and George Pirishis, ‘The role of voters’ economic evaluations in February 2013 presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus’, Comparative European Politics, vol. 15, no. 4, June 2017, pp. 518-532.

Jörg Michael Dostal, ‘ South Korean Presidential Politics Turns Liberal: Transformative Change or Business as Usual?’, Political Quarterly, Volume 88, Issue 3, July–September 2017, pp. 480–491.

Loammi Wolf, ‘The Removal from Office of a President: Reflections on Section 89 of the Constitution’ South African Law Journal, Vol. 134, Issue 1 (2017), pp. 1-33.

Mohammad Bashir Mobasher, ‘Electoral Choices, Ethnic Accommodations, and the Consolidation of Coalitions: Critiquing the Runoff Clause of the Afghan Constitution’ Washington International Law Journal, Vol. 26, Issue 3 (June 2017), pp. 413-462.

Talitha Espiritu, Passionate Revolutions: The Media and the Rise and Fall of the Marcos Regime, 2017, Ohio University Press.

Ana L. Mallen and Maria Pilar García-Guadilla, Venezuela’s Polarized Politics: The Paradox of Direct Democracy Under Chávez, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2017.

Georgia – Constitutional reform: From semi-presidentialism to parliamentarism

More than 20 years since the adoption of the constitution of Georgia, governments are still thinking about constitutional reform. Typically, authorities have done so as a way of strengthening their powers.

Thorough constitutional reform has already been carried out twice. First, fundamental changes were adopted in 2004 after the Rose Revolution. A semi-presidential model was introduced, but in fact, it was a super-presidential system where the president’s powers were further strengthened by the presidential majority in parliament. Second, in 2010 the direct election of the president was maintained, but the powers of the president were significantly weakened, bringing Georgia closer to the parliamentary model. President Saakashvili, who was term-limited, wanted to remain in the power as prime minister, and this constitutional amendment was designed to serve this purpose. However, Saakashvili’s party lost the 2012 parliamentary elections and an electoral coalition of six parties led by Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili came to power. After a year of tense cohabitation, power was fully transferred to the Georgian Dream coalition after the 2013 presidential election.

Today, Georgia faces a third major constitutional revision. Prior to the 2012 election, the Georgian Dream coalition promised to amend the constitution and move to a parliamentary system. Not all parties in the coalition shared this opinion at the time, but in 2016 the coalition was dissolved in the run up to the parliamentary elections. At the 2016 election, Georgian Dream participated independently, winning 48.67% of the proportional vote and 44 seats in the legislature, and 70 of the 73 seats in the majoritarian constituencies. So, with less than 50% of the vote, the party won a super majority in the parliament. To change the constitution, a party currently needs more than 115 of the 150 seats in the legislature.

On December 15, 2016, parliament created the State Constitutional Commission to revise the constitution[1]. The main goal of the Commission was to draw up the draft law on the revision of the Constitution of Georgia[2]. On April 22, 2017, the State Constitutional Commission adopted the Draft of Revision of the Constitution.[3]

The State Constitutional Commission comprised 72 members, including representatives of both the parliamentary majority and the minority, constitutional bodies, experts, NGOs, and representatives of political parties who received at least 3% of the vote in the last parliamentary elections. The ruling party held a majority on the commission. The presidential administration refused to work with the Commission, because in the president’s opinion, the procedure for setting up the Commission lacked political legitimacy and was not based on a wide consensus.[4]

Two days before the vote on the constitutional draft, the opposition parties left the Commission. Fifteen opposition parties announced that the ruling majority had not considered any of their proposals and accsued the ruling party of amending the constitution to suit themselves. The Commission’s work was criticized and was not supported by the Public Defender’s Office and representatives of leading NGOs. The ruling party commented that the Commission’s legitimacy was not endangered by the boycott of the opposition, as the people would legitimize the draft constitution during public hearings. Although the constitution of Georgia does not require the adoption of the constitution by a referendum, public discussions are important, but previous practice shows that such discussions are not very effective.

As to the transparency of the Commission, it should be noted that no social networks were used in the process. In terms of inclusiveness, it was almost the same process as when the United National Movement had previously used its constitutional majority to adopt constitutional amendments without considering the opposition’s opinions. It should also be noted that these fundamental constitutional amendments were prepared within a period of only 3 months. No international experts were invited to be part of the process of preparing the amendments. The president of the Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, said during his visit to Georgia in 2013 that a good Constitution should be based on the widest consensus possible between all the political parties and society.[5]

On May 8, 2017, the draft of the constitutional amendments was submitted to the Venice Commission. Georgian Dream expected to receive a positive report. The government announced that it would not accept any constitutional amendments which were negatively evaluated by the Venice Commission and would unconditionally share all the legal recommendations expressed by the Commission. In fact, the ruling party did accept some of the Venice Commission’s recommendations, but the issue of introducing a fully proportional electoral system for the 2020 parliamentary election was not accepted.

As noted above, the main goal of the reform is to introduce a parliamentary republic. The commonly heard argument of those behind the reform is that parliamentarism is more democratic, that it better represents the interests of the people, and that it is present in a majority of European countries. However, there are no clear reasons to suggest either that presidential or semi-presidential systems are less democratic or that they do not fit the situation in Georgia. The main issue for both the Commission and the ruling party is the ending of direct presidential elections.

According to the draft, the president of Georgia will be elected by an electoral college without a debate for a 5-year term. The Electoral College will comprise 300 members, including all Members of Parliament and all members of Supreme Councils of the Autonomous Republics of Abkhazia and Adjara. The other members will be named by political parties from representatives of local councils. It must be noted that the ruling party has a majority In the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara and in local government. These governments do not have independent financial and economic means and are completely depended on government support. Georgia does not have a decentralised territorial state structure and the country still operates like the Soviet system. Governors (representatives of executive) in the regions are appointed by the executive[6]. They are loyal to the parliamentary majority.

The majority of citizens and political parties do not favour the cancellation of direct presidential elections. Significant parts of society consider the direct election of the president as a way of exercising their voice and as the only mechanism for balancing the executive[7].

According to the draft constitution, the president’s powers will also be restricted. The president will carry out a number of powers in agreement with the government or at the government’s proposal. The ruling party thinks that the president should not be an active, charismatic leader and should be more of an experienced academic person. The President cannot be a member of a party and the age of candidates will be increased from 35 to 40. The National Security Council will be abolished and a Council of Defense will be created, which will operate only during martial law. The National Security Council was the subject of controversy between the presidency and the government after the 2012 parliamentary elections. The Prime Minister did not attend Security Council meetings convened by the President. Later, Parliament adopted a special law on the State Security and Crisis Management Council and created such a council in the executive. According to the draft constitution, the President of Georgia will remain the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, but he will appoint and dismiss the Head of the Military Forces on the recommendation of the Government.

One of the significant issues of this constitutional reform is an electoral system which has become a source of disagreement between the ruling party, the opposition and the President of Georgia. The opposition demanded a fully proportional parliamentary election during last elections. At the start of the work of Constitutional Commission, the ruling party suported this proposal, but then proposed a 5 percent threshold with undistributed votes below the threshold being allocated to the winning party. At the same time, the draft banned electoral blocs. With weak party structures and financial resources, the opposition fear that the election process will not be equal, given they will have to compete against the Georgian Dream, which is backed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. The percentage of undistributed votes could range from 20% to 60%, meaning that the first-place party is likely to receive a bonus of 30 or more seats in parliament. It seems that after abolition of the majoritarian system, the ruling party still hopes to create a majority in the parliament using these amendments. This is indisputably an unfair electoral system and will most likely create a strong one-party majority in the future.

The amendments relating to the electoral system were strongly criticized by international organizations, Georgian NGOs and the Venice Commission. The Venice Commission noted that “The replacement of the current proportional/majoritarian election system by a proportional election system is, without doubt, a positive step forward aiming at increasing pluralism in Parliament. However, this positive step forward is limited by three mechanisms: the 5% threshold rule in legislative elections is maintained; the undistributed votes below the 5% threshold are allocated to the winning party and, electoral coalitions (party blocks) are abolished. While the 5% threshold is perfectly in line with European standards and does not as such expose itself to criticism, taken together, these three mechanisms limit the effects of the proportional system to the detriment of smaller parties and pluralism and deviate from the principles of fair representation and electoral equality to a larger extent than seems justified by the need to ensure stability”.[8]

Parliament adopted the constitutional amendments at its second reading in an extraordinary session on June 23. Only the Georgian Dream supported them. The President, the opposition and the NGO sector called on the ruling party to resume the dialogue on constitutional change, sending their remarks to the Venice Commission. On September 26, 2017, Parliament approved the amendments to the Constitution at the third reading supported by 117 votes, while 2 MPs voted against.

The amendments will come into force after the 2018 presidential election. In 2018 the president will be directly elected for a six-year term. The proportional electoral system will begin in 2024, while the 2020 elections will still be held under the existing mixed electoral system and with a one-time 3% election barrier. Thus, the reform process ended with the rejection of a fully proportional electoral system for 2020 parliamentary election, which was the main demand of the opposition political parties.

On the second day after the final adoption of the constitutional amendments in parliament, the speaker of the parliament suggested that the president use his veto power in relation to the bonus system and the abolition of electoral blocs. This is the first that the parliamentary majority has asked to the president to veto constitutional amendments. It must be noted that parliamentary majority did not consider these changes during earlier stages of the parliamentary process, despite strong criticism from all political groups, president and international organizations.

The amendment of the electoral system is the cornerstone of this constitutional refom. The Georgian experience shows that a mixed electoral system has returned a strong single party majority in parliament since the adoption of constitution in 1995. Keeping the mixed system for the 2020 parliamentary election could be considered a strategic goal of the ruling party in its attempt to maintain power. Allowing party blocks and reducing the election threshold to 3% was a last-minute change in the face of strong criticism from the international and domestic community. Nonetheless, the Venice commission noted that the postponement of the adoption of a proportional election system to October 2024 is both highly regrettable and a major obstacle to reaching consensus.[9] The ruling party announced that they could not make any fundamental changes to the constitution during its third hearing and that a new draft of the constitutional amendment will be initiated during next parliamentary session. The Venice Commission noted that they expect this step not only to be considered, but immediately adopted.[10]

The draft also changed the constitutional amendment rules. The amendments will be adopted by a two-thirds rather than a three-quarters majority in Parliament. Although amendments will be submitted to the President after their adoption by Parliament, if they are supported by three-quarters of the total number of MPs the president will not have the right to veto them. According the Georgian constitution and legislation, the constitutional court of Georgia is not entitled to consider the constitutionality of constitutional amendments.

In conclusion, it should be noted that there are some positive aspects to the draft constitution. These relate to government formation and accountability, human rights and freedoms, and other technical changes, but the most important aspects are the mechanisms for the democratic functioning of power. Without a democratic political system, any improvements will be a fiction. The constitutional reform confirmed the perils of a single party holding supermajority powers. The unilateral adoption of such important amendments is a threat to the long-term democratic development of the country. No matter how good some of them may be, an acknowledgement of the Georgian context is very important. The draft will most likely establish a one-party majority without the necessary checks and balances.

Notes

[1]  The Resolution of the Parliament of Georgia on Creation of the State Constitutional Commission and Approval of the Charter of the State Constitutional Commission http://constitution.parliament.ge/en-54

[2] The Charter of the State Constitutional Commission, http://constitution.parliament.ge/en-52

[3] The State Constitutional Commission supported the Draft of Revision of the Constitution, http://constitution.parliament.ge/en-88

[4] President’s Administration Boycotts Planned Constitutional Reform Commission, Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 12 Dec.’16 http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=29687

[5] Gianni Buquicchio – Constitution Should not be the Result of Consensus between the Party or Current Majority, http://www.interpressnews.ge/en/politicss/44180-gianni-buquicchio–constitution-should-not-be-the-result-of-consensus-between-the-party-or-current-majority.html?ar=A

[6] Constitution of Georgia, 24 August 1995 https://matsne.gov.ge/en/document/view/30346

[7] Political Ratings and Public Attitudes in IRI-commissioned Poll, Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 5 Apr.’17, http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=29995

[8] CDL-AD(2017)013-e Georgia – Opinion on the draft revised Constitution, http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2017)013-e

[9] Draft opinion on the draft Constitution of Georgia as adopted in the second reading in June 2017, Strasbourg, 22 September 2017, Opinion 876 / 2017, CDL-PI(2017)006, http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-PI(2017)006-e

[10] Draft opinion on the draft Constitution of Georgia as adopted in the second reading in June 2017, Strasbourg, 22 September 2017, Opinion 876 / 2017, CDL-PI(2017)006, http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-PI(2017)006-e