Monthly Archives: December 2017

New publications

Robert Elgie, Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Robert Elgie, ‘The election of Emmanuel Macron and the new French party system: a return to the éternel marais?’, Modern & Contemporary France, pp. 1-15, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09639489.2017.1408062.

Tapio Raunio and Thomas Sedelius, ‘Shifting Power-Centres of Semi-Presidentialism: Exploring Executive Coordination in Lithuania’, Government and Opposition, pp. 1-24, 2017 doi:10.1017/gov.2017.31.

António Costa Pinto and Paulo José Canelas Rapaz (eds.), Presidentes e (Semi)Presidencialismo nas Democracias Contemporâneas, Lisbon, ICS, 2017.

Rui Graça Feijó, ‘Perilous semi-presidentialism? On the democratic performance of Timor-Leste government system’, Contemporary Politics, Online first, available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/Ah3Y2e6RJFCwnbA4BRze/full

Special issue on Perilous Presidentialism in Southeast Asia; Guest Editors: Mark Thompson and Marco Bünte. Contemporary Politics, Papers available Online first at: http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showAxaArticles?journalCode=ccpo20.

Jung-Hsiang Tsai, ‘The Triangular Relationship between the President, Prime Minister, and Parliament in Semi-presidentialism: Analyzing Taiwan and Poland’, Soochow Journal of Political Science, Vol. 35, Iss. 2, (2017): 1-71.

Nicholas Allen, ‘Great Expectations: The Job at the Top and the People who do it’, The Political Quarterly. doi:10.1111/1467-923X.12447.

Farida Jalalzai, ‘Women Heads of State and Government’, in Amy C. Alexander, Catherine Bolzendahl and Farida Jalalzai (eds.), Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Across the Globe, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Aidan Smith, Gender, Heteronormativity, and the American Presidency’, London: Routledge, 2018.

Special issue on Protest and Legitimacy: Emerging Dilemmas in Putin’s Third Term, Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, Volume 25, Number 3, Summer 2017.

Marcelo Camerlo and Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo (eds.), Government Formation and Minister Turnover in Presidential Cabinets: Comparative Analysis in the Americas, Routledge, 2018.

Michael Gallagher, ‘The Oireachtas: President and Parliament’, Politics in the Republic of Ireland, 6th Edition, Routledge, 2018.

João Carvalho, ‘Mainstream Party Strategies Towards Extreme Right Parties: The French 2007 and 2012 Presidential Elections’, Government and Opposition, pp. 1-22, 2017, doi:10.1017/gov.2017.25

Sidney M. Milkis and John Warren York, ‘Barack Obama, Organizing for Action, and Executive-Centered Partisanship’, Studies in American Political Development, 31(1), 1-23. doi:10.1017/S0898588X17000037.

Pål Kolstø and Helge Blakkisrud, ‘Regime Development and Patron–Client Relations: The 2016 Transnistrian Presidential Elections and the “Russia Factor”’, Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, Volume 25, Number 4, Fall 2017, pp. 503-528.

Aidan Smith – The Bully and the Backlash: Donald Trump’s Effective Use of Masculinity Politics

This is a guest post by Aidan Smith. It is based on her book, Gender, Heteronormativity, and the American Presidency, that will soon be published by Routledge.

As a scholar of gender and American presidential politics, the most recent election cycle brought increased attention to my work. Mostly in passing in the early days of 2016, friends and colleagues would ask me if  Donald Trump,  celebrity blowhard and beauty pageant entrepreneur, actually had a chance at the Oval Office. When I told them that I expected that he would win,  I was met with incredulous looks and sometimes outright disdain. How could such an obvious racist and misogynist defeat a qualified woman candidate with high name recognition? Most dismissed my prediction as a symptom of long-entrenched feminist cynicism, a set of politics that could not imagine a happy ending to Hillary Clinton’s narrative of hard-earned opportunity.  But my skepticism was borne out. When faced with the choice between an experienced female candidate with developed policy positions or a political novice  with a history of bankruptcy and explicit racist and misogynist behavior, the nation chose as its leader the person with the most unassailable normative masculine performance.

Trump’s rise, and the concurrent visibility of white nationalist rhetoric, seems a direct response to the policy decisions of the Obama administration. During the eight years of the first black president’s tenure, women, gays and lesbians, and others from marginalized communities saw their status as full citizens become more established. Each of these changes threatened the heteronormative masculine privilege so long entrenched in domestic policy. Beginning with the first piece of legislation that Obama passed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the administration did not shy away from pushing an agenda that challenged traditional gender norms. This laundry list of policy change included the Office of Civil Rights’ work to make visible the epidemic of sexual assault on campus, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the end of the exclusion of transgender people from military service,  and the mandate that public bathrooms and other facilities be made accessible to individuals of all gender identities. Further, the Obama administration did more than challenge gender norms; it also secured greater opportunity and visibility for people of color.  Moves like support of the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for those who immigrated illegally as children, Obama’s comments on the Trayvon Martin case and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the decision to deny permits for the Dakota Access pipeline, which supported the indigenous protestors at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, allowed the voices of marginalized communities to became part of the fabric of the administration’s domestic policy decisions.

In 2016, Trump created a campaign that laid the groundwork for gender and racial politics long before the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape or his remarks about Megyn Kelly’s menstruation.  Trump weaponized  masculinity not just as a tool to bludgeon his general election opponent, he also deployed it against his rivals in the primaries.  The campaign began in earnest in March 2015, when Senator Ted Cruz of Texas announced his candidacy. Seventeen candidates emerged, making it the largest field for a political party in American history.  In June of that year, Trump announced his candidacy on a promise to prevent Mexican rapists from entering the country. [i]

Looking back, it’s not hard to see a rhetoric of competitive masculinity. From comparisons of whose wife was most attractive, to accusations of lagging “stamina”, candidates suffered blows intended to feminize them or make them subordinate to Trump. An exchange between Trump and Senator Marco Rubio prompted the almost unbelievable headline on CNN.com: “Donald Trump Defends Size of His Penis”[ii] How was a reality-television star billionaire from New York City able to convince working class voters from the heartland that he was the solution to their social and economic ills? By leveraging familiar tropes of masculine supremacy.

Mass media pounced on Trump’s sexist degradation of his opponents during the election season, positioning his candidacy as a threat to the body politic. Some used a term usually unheard outside of the gender studies classroom: a New York Times think piece considered “Donald Trump’s Toxic Masculinity”[iii] while The New Republic urged readers “Don’t Let Trump’s Toxic Masculinity Overshadow Hillary’s Historic Achievement.”[iv]  Yet this alleged toxicity did not poison Trump’s candidacy; instead, it served to fortify it, giving voice to an underclass that attributed its failures to the rise of others previously kept in their place by systems designed to uphold the status quo of white male supremacy. The presence of a female frontrunner set the stage for the victory of a candidate that stoked the anger of a self-perceived underclass and embodied the backlash of a portion of the electorate that felt marginalized by the rise of a set of progressive feminist policies enacted by the first African American president.

Trump’s response to the “Access Hollywood “ maelstrom reflected the long held approach to male entitlement: the remarks were merely “locker room talk,” protected and appropriate within a homosocial space away from the contaminating presence of women who would respond negatively to their objectification and potential sexual assault. This “boys will be boys” approach dovetails with long-held conservative critiques of political correctness: remarks that articulate a worldview entrenched in white male supremacy are curtailed to avoid criticism, but are generally thought to be held by everyone. Trump’s defense posits that men just don’t share these thoughts and feelings because they wish to avoid negative reactions.  He not only dismisses the remarks as trivial because they were made among men, but rejects them as peripheral to a decision about whether or not he should serve as president. “Let’s be honest, we’re living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today,” Trump said in his videotaped apology. [v] This direct appeal implicates the audience as holding the same views about the consideration of women’s role: a voter in the “real world” (which excludes women who don’t affirm normative gender roles, or at the least marginalizes their role as full citizens) being “honest” knows that the marginalization of women is not a “real issue.” In the “real world”, women understand their natural place in the gendered hierarchy of importance, and socially constructed “political correctness” disrupts this natural hierarchy.

The Trump campaign successfully leveraged tropes of dominant masculinity to secure an electoral victory that relied on support from both male and female voters invested in traditional masculinist rhetoric anchored in white supremacy. Importantly, 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. His victory seemingly symbolizes an American desire from both white men and women to retrieve explicitly masculine superiority over women and ethnic and gender minorities. And nothing about Trump’s style has changed. School yard taunts that surfaced in the campaign carried through to the administration, as seen in  his jibes at North Korea’s dictator (whom he called Little Rocket Man at the  U.N. General Assembly), asking “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” or through allusions to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s provision of sexual favors for campaign contributions. [vi]

Backlash to this toxic masculinity has taken over the culture wars, from the widespread condemnation across industries of serial sexual harassers to an increase in women candidates for local and national office.  Some say that these shifts are a direct reaction to Trump’s gender politics. However, Trump is simply a symptom of the illness, not the disease itself.   The president secured almost 63 million votes, from both men and women who did not find his gendered bullying disqualifying. In fact, for many it harkened back to that mythical America of yore when the nation was great, when roles were clearly defined, and women and minorities knew their place. It will take more than the cover of Time Magazine or the resignations of powerful leaders to erase the reality that Trump’s message resonated with many voters, and it’s difficult to imagine a shift in this narrative trajectory as we head into the next election cycle.

Notes

[i] “Here’s Donald Trump’s Presidential Announcement Speech,” TIME, June 16, 2015.

[ii] Gregory Krieg, “Donald Trump Defends Size of His Penis,” CNN, March 4, 2016, http://edition.cnn. com/2016/03/03/politics/donald- trump-small-hands-marco-rubio/.

[iii] Jared Yates Sexton, “Donald Trump’s Toxic Masculinity,” The New York Times, October 13, 2016.

[iv] Jeet Heer, Jeet, Don’t Let Trump’s Toxic Masculinity Overshadow Hillary’s Historic Achievement,” New Republic, October 14, 2016.

[v] “Transcript of Donald Trump’s Videotaped Apology,” The New York Times, October 8, 2016.

[vi] Twitter, @realdonaldtrump, Novcmber 11, 2017, https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/929511061954297857; Twitter: @realdonaldtrump, December 12, 2017, https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/940567812053053441

Huang-Ting Yan – Comparing the democratic performance of semi-presidential regimes in the post-communist region: Omnipotent presidents and media control

This is a guest post by Huang-Ting Yan of the University of Essex. It is based on a  recent article in Communist and Post-Communist Studies.

Since countries in the post-communist region have adopted semi-presidentialism as a constitutional design, their democratic performance has varied. Stable democracies have persisted in most countries in Central and Eastern Europe, but Eurasian countries appear to be transitioning into an enduring dictatorship. Why does democratic performance vary across semi-presidential regimes in the post-communist region?

A comprehensive review of the existing literature shows two major theoretical interpretations. The first is constitutional heterogeneity. Semi-presidentialism is divided into premier-presidentialism and presidential-parliamentarism. Of these, premier-presidentialism functions better than presidential-parliamentarism because control over the government is clearly assigned to the parliament. Put another way, a premier-presidential country is less likely to suffer from the situation under which both the president and parliament claim constitutional legitimacy to control the government (i.e. the use of extra constitutional power to solve a political stalemate). Further, presidential-parliamentarism endangers a democracy because over-concentration of power by the president marginalises the prime minister and the parliament. In such situations, the system of checks and balances is insufficient for limiting the exercise of presidential power.

The second interpretation zeroes in on political circumstances despite an unreached agreement. For example, a president politically at odds with a prime minister exacerbates the risk of democratic collapse in countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This political stand-off does not have a significant effect on regime survival when more countries are added into the analysis. It is also theoretically plausible that when neither the president nor the prime minister—not any party or coalition—enjoys a substantive majority in the legislature, executive/legislative deadlock paves the way for democratic failure. Empirical analyses, however, cannot confirm this theoretical expectation.

This article supports the concept that a constitutionally powerful president impedes democratic development but argues regarding whether a president effectively exercising power granted by the constitution is dependent on political circumstances. First, under the cohabitation, a president’s influence decreases because the prime minister from the other party or coalition—who holds most seats in the parliament—will scrutinise a president’s actions. A president also finds it difficult to employ constitutional power when he/she is from the same camp as a premier, though the president faces an oppositional majority in the parliament. Further, a president is not immune from a coalition partner’s restrictions on either personnel appointments or policy making if a coalition government forms. Finally, imposing preferred policies is much more difficult for a president without the certain support of parties in a hung parliament. By contrast, a president that coexists with a co-partisan prime minister leading a single-party majority government often enjoys parliamentary support. This situation acts in his/her best interest. This research, therefore, argues that a constitutionally powerful president supported by a single-party majority cabinet leads to poor democratic performance.

What is the causal pathway behind a powerful president buttressed by a single-party majority cabinet towards poor democratic performance? For autocrats in electoral authoritarian regimes—to which all post-communist semi-presidential dictatorships belong—, how to prevent a divided opposition from coalescing in elections is a key to maintaining durable dictatorial rule. Media freedom plays an important role. Media facilitate power struggles that emerge between the authoritarian camp and the opposition by shaping public discourse and providing a collaborative forum for opposition voices. Media freedom also permits recruitment and mobilisation of the public to participate in public actions, which empower inefficient collective actions against dictators and promote democratisation. For the reasons outlined above, media control is necessary for a dictator or powerful president whose party holds most seats in the parliament and who probably enacts media-related laws without hindrance, using them to discourage oppositional mobilisation through the free media. The result in such cases is defeat that gradually nibbles away at the opposition in the next several elections. This paper, therefore, argues that the causal pathway from a constitutionally powerful president to poor democratic performance is buttressed by a single-party majority cabinet and a higher level of media control.

Using a quantitative analysis and comparative case studies of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, this paper verifies the convergent pathway from powerful presidents’ media control to poor democratic performance. As for the quantitative analysis, this research found —compared with other types of cabinets—that a constitutionally powerful president combined with a single-party majority cabinet decreased democratic performance, and media control mediated the partial effect of this type of combination on poor democratic performance.

In terms of comparing the two cases, a similar pathway to poor democratic performance was identified. First, Presidents Heydar Aliyev (Azerbaijan) and Nursultan Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan) monopolised the process of drafting the constitution and chose the presidential-parliamentary system, which granted them more power. Second, the ruling parties, the New Azerbaijan Party and Nur Otan, respectively established and led to the division and marginalisation of the opposition by employing executive resources. Thus, they swept elections. Third, an over-concentration of power by the president, in which the combination of presidential-parliamentarism with a single-party majority cabinet resulted, increased a president’s room to act peremptorily. As a result, stricter control over the media, which aimed to impede the opposition from disseminating information detrimental to the incumbent and organising through communication tools, decreased the opposition’s probability of replacing existing institutions in elections, facilitating the emergence of a closed polity.

In conclusion, this research verified that a constitutionally powerful president coupled with a single-party majority cabinet puts democratic performance at risk through media control. The implication is that an appropriate strategy for improving democracies in the post-communist region should focus on two dimensions: constitutional design and political circumstances. Further, media control, the author strongly believes, is not the only reason to account for internal causal mechanisms, so future research should identify more common explanatory factors that mediate the relationship between an omnipotent president and poor democratic performance. Finally, in addition to cabinet types which relate to parliamentary support for the executive, it is also important to take the president’s role in the party into consideration. That is, presidents without power to control elites of their parties are less likely to exercise power in their interest even if granted considerable power by the constitution and buttressed by a single-party-majority cabinet.

Manuel Alcantara, Jean Blondel and Jean-Louis Thiébault – The influence of the presidential system on the character of Latin American democracy

This is a guest post by Manuel Alcantara, Jean Blondel and Jean-Louis Thiébault. It is based on their recent book, Presidents and Democracy in Latin America, London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

The aim of this book is to study the effect of the presidential form of government on democracy in Latin America. The adoption of the presidential system, specifically the personality type of those who have occupied the presidential office, the leadership style of those presidents, and the type of government they have led, helps to explain the consolidation of democracy there.

In this study, six countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) were chosen. They were chosen because they have successfully completed the process of democratic consolidation. Within each of the six countries, two presidents were chosen, reflecting broad trends in the political and electoral life of these countries. The goal was to select presidents belonging to one of the key political ‘families’ of the country, grouped under the banner of a political party, or who were representative of two particular approaches to the same problem in the same political family. These presidents were in office in the 1990s or the first decade of the 21st century. Some were liberal or conservative, left-wing or right-wing populists, socialists or social democrats, leaders of a political party or ‘outsiders,’ members of parliament or technocrats. They are:

  • Carlos Menem (July 1989-December 1999) and Nestor Kirchner (May 2003-December 2007) for Argentina.
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso (January 1995-December 2002) and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (January 2003-December 2010) for Brazil.
  • Patricio Aylwin (March 1990-March 1994) and Ricardo Lagos (March 2000-March 2006) for Chile.
  • Cesar Gaviria (September 1994-September 2004) and Alvaro Uribe (August 2002-August 2010) for Colombia.
  • Ernesto Zedillo (December 1994-November 2000) and Felipe Calderon (December 2006-December 2012) for Mexico.
  • Alan García (July 1985-July 1990 and July 2006 to July 2011) and Alberto Fujimori (July 1990-November 2000) for Peru.

In practice, these presidents were all center-right or center-left leaders. They were not members of the military, dictators, or revolutionaries. Right-wing populist presidents (Menem, Fujimori and Uribe) were chosen based on the idea that populists can be either on the right or on the left. However, García and Kirchner were chosen as moderate populists, claiming to be an Aprist and a Peronist respectively; both represent different periods. These choices make it possible to analyze processes in a consolidated democracy, but not in military regimes or in dominant party systems.

From the 1930s to the 1980s, these Latin American countries had a long period of instability. Argentina wavered between three types of political regimes: military dictatorship, a populist-corporatist regime, and restrictive democracy. From 1930 to the reestablishment of liberal democracy in 1983, there were six major military coups (1930, 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966 and 1976). There were eighteen presidents, and all those elected were overthrown except one, Peron, who died less than a year after his election. Governments in Peru have been more unstable than in any other South American country. Between 1945 and 1992, Peru’s government was civilian and constitutional almost 60 percent of the time, and a military regime 40 percent of the time. There were nearly two decades of military rule in Brazil and Chile. A military coup overthrew President Goulart in 1964 and began the longest period of authoritarian rule in Brazil’s history. With the collapse of democracy in September 1973, Chile was abruptly transformed from an open and participatory political system into a repressive and authoritarian one. General Pinochet was selected as the junta’s president by virtue of his position as leader of the oldest military branch. Unlike many of its continental neighbors, Colombia has avoided military rule, but there was intense violence between members of the two major parties in the late 1940s and 1950s, known as « la violenca » (the violence). A coalition government resulted from party negotiations. From 1958 to 1974, all governments in Colombia consisted of a bipartisan coalition. The main factors commonly associated with good prospects for democracy have long persisted in Mexico without producing full democracy.

Presidential regimes in Latin America are now a success, despite the pessimistic comments directed at this form of government. There are indeed manifest reasons why the Latin American presidential government should be considered a success. Latin American countries have overcome the fundamental dangers to which they were exposed. Although difficulties continue in a number of countries, presidential government in the region is no longer interrupted as it so frequently was in the past. Democratic development also mean that the number of countries regularly holding free and fair elections has increased. Executive governments are often elected by voters mobilized by clientelistic ties or by a candidate’s personality, rather than programmatic, appeal, all in the context of weak parties that are, moreover, rejected by citizens. The presidential elections of Zedillo in 1994 and Calderon in 2006 were intricate and controversial. Both involved critical moments of acute social tension and political instability that produced distinctive results.

Latin American governments have been influenced by the adoption of the presidential system. They set up institutions drawn largely from the US constitutional model. But Latin American presidents represent another type of executive. In the United States, there is a president, but there is no government. Latin America has a large number of presidential regimes characterised by a high degree of consistency and similarity. They constitute a type of intermediary regime, comprising many elements of presidential regimes, but with some of the features of parliamentary systems with coalition governments so as to ensure a majority in congress. For almost twenty years, Brazil has been considered an extraordinary case of « coalition presidentialism ». This explains why the president’s leadership is important and has an impact on the nature of government. The Brazilian party system is highly fragmented. Dealing with loosely disciplined parties is thus a major problem for presidents because it makes the formation of stable congressional majorities much harder to achieve due to the excessive number of party factions. But there were also the broad multi-party coalition governments seen in Chile. Presidents of these countries have demonstrated leadership skills, arising from a good political performance and cohesive majority coalitions that support them: Aylwin and Lagos in Chile, Cardoso in Brazil. It is impossible to explain the stability of these coalitions without referring to the various mechanisms of coalition management and to presidential leadership. Most importantly, these three presidents facilitated the transition to democracy following the failure of authoritarian regimes in Chile and Brazil. They did not have the same authority as Lula, but they showed great skills of conciliation and moderation during the difficult transition period, namely the restoration and the consolidation of the democratic regime in Chile and Brazil.

This explains why the presidential leadership is important and has an impact on the nature of government. The key feature of the popular election of the president has been the inherent tendency of Latin American countries to emphasize the role of personalities in political life. Latin American political regimes have been markedly affected by patronage and clientelism; with the extension of the right to vote, elections were deeply influenced by these practices. The impact of personalities on the political life of Latin American countries has continued to this day, but it is less substantial. There is a decline in the extent to which Latin American presidentialism is personalized compared to the extent it had been previously. In the past personalization undoubtedly rendered presidential rule more chaotic and less rule-based. The fact that, on the whole, presidencies have tended to follow previously adopted rules during the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first century has surely resulted in the personalization of presidents being been less marked than in the past. Whereas presidents often enjoy high levels of popularity, these levels vary from president to president as well as over time in the case of each president. One president exhibited exceptional leadership boosted by his personal dominance: Lula. His performance was strengthened by the fact that he had an interesting experience as founder and president of the Workers’ Party. He is often regarded as one of the most popular politicians in the history of Brazil, boasting approval ratings over 80 percent and, at the time of his mandate, one of the most popular in the world.

A new type of personalised populism emerged with the appearance of formulas promoting demobilization and anti-political behavior. Fujimori in Peru, Menem in Argentina, and Uribe in Colombia. These three presidents have adopted a more or less authoritarian manner, being hostile to or even repressing the opposition. They used exceptional means, such as a state of emergency or government by decree, to implement their economic and social policies, as well as the fight against armed rebellions and drug trafficking. However, these exceptional means did not enable them to achieve the expected results. Their presidency was characterized by an authoritarianism and corruption. The populism of Carlos S. Menem in Argentina was strengthened by the political machine of the historic Justicialita Party. Carlos Menem governed within the framework of « peronism » and enjoyed remarkable popular support. Menem’s economic policy involved profound structural reforms, including the privatisation of public enterprises, economic deregulation and the opening up of the economy to foreign trade and investment. This policy created the conditions for monetary stability and remained in force after Menem left office in 1999 and until the crisis of December 2001. However, the policies of the Menem era led to a deepening of social inequality and a rise in unemployment. However he was considered a true peronist. He was the main player in the political regime, with a negative view of parliament and the judiciary. Menem’s leadership has been labelled neopopulist and delegative due to the continuous use of unilateral measures and emergency legislation. It was of a different nature to the populism of Fujimori in Peru. Fujimori sought to distance his government from politics, disdaining the social and/or political mobilization that could have been mounted through some movement or party. Fujimori outlined a strategy in which criticism of the traditional parties was a part of his discourse. He decided to confront the political class instead of building bridges with it. Instead, he expressly renounced such mobilizations, and depoliticized all the other political bodies. Uribe presented himself as the saviour of a Colombia that seemed to be on the brink of destruction. He portrayed himself as a messiah who would redeem Colombia of all its evils and built a strategy around certain core components. He adopted a radical discourse against armed groups and proposed resolving the internal conflict through war and the subjugation of guerrillas. He withdrew from the Liberal Party, to which he had belonged throughout his political life. He spoke out against the parties and the political class despite having belonged to both and adhering to their norms and rules throughout his political career.

Some presidents demonstrated weaker leadership skills (Kirchner in Argentine, Gaviria in Colombia, Zedillo and Calderon in Mexico). They came to power without holding important positions in the governments headed by their predecessors. They have become second-rate candidates, indirectly because of events that have upset or disrupted the appointment of the first office holder. They have never been able to exercise strong authority, muddling through in the face of significant obstacles and divisions.

The fact that the presidential system had become ‘established’ in Latin America by the second half of the 20th century does not mean that these countries have not suffered serious problems. In the 1990s, democracy spread across the region, even if Colombia, Brazil and Mexico experienced marked political violence, the state being unable to maintain order and public security. What is clear is that, in the context of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil in particular, one very serious problem was identified: violence, and this problem affected the regular development of the presidential system in these three countries. The amount of violence that has affected Colombia has been huge, to the extent that it is surprising that the regular conduct of the electoral process has not been prevented from taking place. The policies of the two Colombian presidents, Gaviria and Uribe, were fundamentally different, the first having pursued the ‘war effort’ against the rebels, whereas the second attempted (unsuccessfully) to find a peaceful solution: his successor was able to make substantial progress in that direction, however. In Colombia it has thus been possible, rather surprisingly, to maintain the main electoral rules of the liberal democratic process, although, at least in a substantial part of the country, confrontation has taken in effect the form of a civil war.

In recent decades, presidential elections have taken place regularly in Latin America. Certainly, some presidents have been more popular than others. Some have been unable to conclude their terms. Others have gradually learned to adjust to the particularities of the institutional system. Overall, though, the presidential form of government has gradually begun to function smoothly. The fact that presidents have tended to follow democratic rules has resulted from the presence of patterns of parliamentary presidentialism. In spite of serious problems (political violence, corruption), the emergence of these tools (coalitional presidentialism, the (de-) institutionalization of party systems, the internal organization of the executive branch) must be seen as having constituted the key institutional development of democracy in Latin America.

Nigeria – Buhari’s second term ambitions, the Atiku challenge, and the limits of incumbency

President Muhammadu Buhari will, in all likelihood, seek a second term in office. For starters, this is a prospect that is buttressed by much political tradition and precedent; no Nigerian president who lived through a first term has ever walked away from the possibility of a second (at least not willingly).[i] But the president’s desire to retain his office has also been implied by more recent events. Among these are the fact that next year’s budget, which Buhari proposed in November, promises to be Nigeria’s biggest ever, an expansion in spending which analysts have interpreted as designed to shore up his government’s reputation in advance of the 2019 polls.[ii] Along with this has come his de facto endorsement by the state governor’s forum, easily the most influential elite caucused within Buhari’s All Progressive’s Congress (APC) party. With this decisive announcement already secured, an official declaration of Buhari’s intention to contest is almost a formality.

However, taking all of this to mean that Buhari’s second term bid will be a cakewalk would be imprudent. Least of all because a general election is likely to pit him against easily his toughest opponent on Nigeria’s current political stage; namely Alhaji Atiku Abubaker.

There are a number of important details to bear in mind which hint at why Alhaji Atiku might represent a most formidable challenger. Foremost is the fact that he is (in)famously wealthy. This is an especially meaningful quality in a context wherein electoral races are increasingly becoming prohibitively expensive. But aside from (though not unrelated to) his wealth, he has also been a regular fixture on Nigeria’s political stage having both served as Nigeria’s second elected vice-president from 1999 – 2007 and unsuccessfully run for president on three separate occasions (1992, 2007, and 2011).

Atiku’s ubiquity in Nigerian politics has certainly come with its costs. His proximity to an unpopular Nigerian state over such an extended period of time has tainted his reputation and raised numerous question marks about the propriety of his wealth. Critics also point to his having frequently switched party allegiances or, in Nigerian parlance, ‘decamped’ (most recently last month) as evidence of his being conniving or dishonest.

However, his supporters parry accusations of his dishonesty by pointing out that most Nigerian politicians have, at one point or another, decamped and that party switching has effectively become a norm of political behavior in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, as Nigerian academics have also argued.[ii] Moreover, Atiku’s continuity in Nigerian politics –even if in the form of unsuccessful presidential bids– has allowed him to reinforce a strong base of supporters over time. This formula was put to fruitful use by none other than Buhari himself who, identically, also lost three presidential elections before his victory in 2015 suggesting, perhaps, that in Nigeria’s presidential politics, the fourth time might be the charm.

Atiku has also recently thrown his support behind a number of issues, which are backed by growing constituencies. Of note among these is his fervent support for constitutional reforms to restructure Nigeria’s federal system and allow for a more widely accepted balance between central and local governments. Proponents of these reforms include both national civil society and communities in the oil producing regions of Nigeria, both of which could be important electoral constituencies. Atiku has also recently come out in favor of #EndSARS, a protest movement which has been aimed at disbanding an unpopular police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and which has largely taken place on Twitter. Weighing-in in favor of proponents of #EndSARS, has shown Atiku to be responsive to the public outcry of a young urban constituency which is increasingly recognized to be an influential ally of opposition candidates in African elections [iii].

But beyond (and perhaps more important than) these personal traits however, there are also important structural factors that make Atiku’s possible bid against Buhari a distinctly viable one. Chief among these factors is the peculiar matter of zoning. Zoning refers to an informal arrangement amongst Nigeria’s political parties which requires that after a president from either the northern or southern half (or ‘zone’) of the country has served two consecutive terms in office, his successor must come from the opposite ‘zone’. This issue partially accounted for northern support in 2015 for Buhari against the re-election bid of former president Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner who, having completed the term of his successor who died in office, was widely castigated by northern politicians for seeking to stay in office beyond the ‘turn’ of his zone. [iv]

The fact that the presidency will remain zoned to the north in the upcoming election means that Atiku will face much less of a challenge from other presidential hopefuls from the south who might otherwise have made threatening incursions into the race. Additionally, Buhari’s heavy handed response to militancy in Nigeria’s oil delta and to the pro-Biafran successions movement in the past two years have not won him very many new supporters in the south, a region which already voted heavily against him in 2015. Taken together, these factors will mean that, in a race against Atiku, Buhari will face a viable challenger in his core base in the north while fighting an uphill battle in much of the south (particularly the south east) where, given Buhari’s unpopularity, Atiku might be deemed a much more palatable choice. An assessment of the above factors, as well as the fact that no similarly viable northern challenger has emerged in the opposition People’s Democratic Party, probably account for Atiku’s decision to jump ship from the APC to the PDP late last month.

In Nigeria’s immediate context, these factors raise the possibility that the 2019 general election could be a hotly contested race that pits two former allies against each other. Politics, of course, makes strange bedfellows but there is no reason to expect that such cohabitation will endure through thick and thin. In more general terms however, the forgoing analyses has also brought to the fore some of the challenges which sometimes make the fact of being an incumbent a double edged sword in increasingly competitive electoral contexts.

[i] Siollun, M. (2009). Oil, politics and violence: Nigeria’s military coup culture (1966-1976). Algora Publishing.

[ii] Omilusi, O., P. (2015). “The Nuances and Nuisances of Party Defection in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.” International Journal of Multidisciplinary Academic Research, Vol. 3, No. 4.

[iii] Resnick, D. (2012). Opposition parties and the urban poor in African democracies. Comparative Political Studies, 45(11), 1351-1378.

[iv] Owen, Olly, and Zainab Usman. “Briefing: Why Goodluck Jonathan lost the Nigerian presidential election of 2015.” African Affairs 114.456 (2015): 455-471.

Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part III: Progress and Possibility in South Korea

Talks of constitutional reforms are 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?

In previous instalments, I discussed the level of public support in the Philippines and Taiwan for constitutional reform.[2] In this article, I examine the level of public support for reforms in South Korea. Article 130 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, enacted in the 1987 Constitution, which is sometimes referred to as the 1987 constitutional amendments, stipulates that constitutional revisions require two-thirds support of the total members of the National Assembly; once approved, the revisions must be submitted to the Korean electorate for approval in a referendum within 30 days. Constitutional revisions are passed if approved by a majority of more than 50 percent of eligible voters.

Calls for Constitutional revisions have ebbed and flowed in the country since the 1987 Constitution was adopted. This partly reflects the dissatisfaction among the leading political candidates and parties at the outcome of a single term, five-year non-reelectable presidential system with legislators elected every four years: although the Constitution was passed by an overwhelming 93.3 percent of the turnout, the constitutional committee constituted in 1986 to recommend changes ended in deadlock and the discussion was suspended before resuming again in July 1987 to create a document within an accelerated time frame. The frequent revival of the possibility of constitutional revisions also reflects dissatisfaction with the effect of the term-limited president and unmatched terms on executive-legislature relations and policymaking in the medium- and long-term.

Former President Park Geun-hye’s tenure illustrates these policy effects and executive-legislature tensions in practice. For instance, prior to the 2016 general elections, the executive-leader – in the tradition of presidentialized parties in South Korea – refused to cede the nomination process to the party in order to maintain her personal agenda rather than shift focus away to the party’s agenda.[3] It may be probably surprising to learn that she – together with the other presidential candidates – made a multiparty pledge during the 2012 campaign to reform the nomination process. She also stonewalled her party on the issue of constitutional reforms, which she had also pledged to change on the campaign trail, citing the need to tackle urgent or pressing tasks such as economic recovery for the country over longer-term considerations such as constitutional reforms. These tensions and conflicts between the executive and her party in the legislature that were often resolved in favour of the executive served to undermine party-development and institutionalization.

President Park’s impeachment has flung open the door for constitutional changes: immediately following the Constitutional Court’s ruling in support of her  impeachment, three parties in the legislature tried to bring constitutional reforms for the presidential election in May. The tight timeline doomed that discussion, but current President Moon Jae-in has maintained a commitment to actualize reforms: the President has set a timeline for constitutional reforms to be brought up for referendum by the next local elections in June 2018. The good news is that public surveys and polls of the legislature report high support for constitutional revisions: almost 69 percent of the public and 94 percent of the legislature are in favour of changes. Less clear is what reforms will be adopted. Nevertheless, given the commitment of the president, support from the legislature, and public support, there is reason to believe that constitutional changes will be adopted in Korea before the next presidential election.

____________________

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

[2] Yap, O. Fiona. 2017. “Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part I: Progress and Possibility in the Philippines.”  “Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part 2: Progress and Possibility in Taiwan.

[3] Elgie, Robert. 2011. “Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Semi-Presidentialism: Bringing Parties Back In.” Government and Opposition vol 46 no 2: 392-408; D. J. Samuels and M. S. Shugart. 2010. Presidents, Parties, Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ludger Helms – Resources, constraints, and the mystery of presidential performance

This is a guest post by Ludger Helms, Professor of Political Science and Chair of Comparative Politics at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. It is the expanded summary of an article that has just been published in Politics. The full article is ungated and can be accessed free of charge.

As observers of presidential power and leadership we have a vested interest in understanding what makes presidents successful leaders, and what may limit and undermine presidential performance. One of the most basic and popular positions to be encountered in the international literature on presidential power and leadership is that the president’s status and performance depends largely on the number and substance of the resources that he or she commands. Resources are usually considered to include in particular a wealth of institutional and political items (such as the powers of office, the availability of administrative and political support staff, large and stable majorities, or a fresh electoral mandate).

Arguably the greatest advantage of resource-oriented approaches, compared to classic personalist or institutionalist understandings of presidential power and leadership, is that they are keen to avoid both reductionism and determinism, and leave ample room for agency. That is, presidents are not already efficient and successful performers if they command a decent set of resources, but only if they are able to use them adroitly. Still, the dominant assumption of most authors in the field clearly seems to be that the more institutional and political resources are available to a president, the more successful he or she is likely to be.

This may seem plausible, even compelling. And yet, this is not what political reality in many presidential (and other) regimes would appear to correspond to. The presidency of Donald Trump is just the most obvious recent example of a newly elected president whose party controls both the executive and the legislative branch, but who nevertheless conspicuously failed to make any major move for about the first 11 months in power (until the passage of the major tax cut bill early in  December 2017). In terms of job approval, Trump soon became the most unpopular president in the history of political polling. Other examples of presidents who appeared to have what it takes to perform successfully, and still failed spectacularly, can be found. Just think of President François Hollande of France who succeeded what had by then been the Fifth Republic’s most unpopular president, and was the first Socialist president facing a National Assembly and Senate controlled by the Socialist Party. Later on, following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris of November 2015, he was even fitted with special emergency powers, which seemed set to honour the unspoken promise of crises as welcome opportunities and power boosters for political chief executives. And yet, Hollande ended up as clearly one of the Fifth Republic’s weakest presidents ever, and the only one as yet who did not even dare to seek re-election when his first term drew to a close.

What may seem an arbitrary glance at the larger picture of presidential leadership and performance is actually substantiated by more systematic assessments of the political status and fate of presidents in different regimes. For example, a recent empirical study on US presidents found that ‘presidents are considered stronger under divided as opposed to unified government’, and ‘divided government presidents are more popular than unified government ones’ (Cohen 2015, p. 81). In the same vein, those French presidents that had to perform under the strongly power-restricting state of ‘cohabitation’ (the French counterpart to American ‘divided government’) overall had better re-election records than many presidents commanding a sizeable majority. And while this forum is dedicated to presidential politics, it still seems worth noting that these patterns are not confined to the family of presidential or semi-presidential democracies: Indeed, many prime ministers in parliamentary democracies heading particularly cumbersome coalition governments, widely believed to make prime ministers weak and vulnerable, have enjoyed higher job approval scores than their counterparts in more power-concentrating environments.

How can this be explained? One key to this would appear to be expectations: Presidents commanding an impressive arsenal of institutional and political resources are likely to raise high expectations among the public, which will then play an independent role in shaping presidential performance, or more precisely in influencing the perceived performance of presidents. Ultimately, in politics as elsewhere, virtually all performance is perceived performance, and perceptions tend to be strongly shaped by previous expectations.

A second possible source of this apparent paradox could be the presidents themselves:  Exceptionally resource-rich presidents may tend towards complacency which may undermine the seriousness of their efforts to provide effective problem-solving and leadership, and will eventually be reflected in unfavourable assessments of their performance. Alternatively, they may make full and unconditional use of their resources, possibly resorting to overly aggressive and ruthless leadership styles, in a desperate attempt to meet the towering expectations they face, which is equally unlikely to find the approval and support of the wider public.

Are less resource-rich leaders, after all, better off than their structurally better situated counterparts? As highlighted above, there is some evidence suggesting that, in fact, ‘less can be more’. In order to fully capture this phenomenon, it is useful to remind ourselves that in mainstream political research resources and constraints are widely considered to mark two opposite and complementary phenomena. Understood this way, leaders having few resources at their disposal could, alternatively, be characterized as leaders facing strong constraints. Strictly speaking, of course, even resource-rich leaders may face strong constraints, and leaders facing few obvious constraints may still have limited resources, but the main thrust of the argument is that, other things being equal, resources make leaders powerful, while constraints limit and weaken them.

Rethinking the observations about presidential and prime ministerial performance made above, I suggest to develop an alternative understanding of constraints, and to think of constraints as potential ‘negative resources’. The term ‘negative resource’ seeks to highlight the hidden potential of an apparent constraint. A ‘negative resource’ is a constraint successfully transformed into a positive source that may benefit the status and performance of a political leader. This possible transformation is the result of a complex process which involves in particular a leader’s skills, yet also a wealth of highly contingent contextual factors and, not least, the perception of that leader by others. Again, expectations, in this case modest expectations, would appear to explain much of the support and success that constrained leaders may have. As empirical studies suggest, citizens prefer politicians who set a low expectation and exceed it to those who promise much, and then fail to deliver (Malhotra and Margalit 2014: 1014). But it’s not all about subjective expectations and promises kept: Providing effective leadership from a resource-poor position and in power-dispersing environments marks, by any standard, a more difficult task and greater achievement than simply pulling the levers of power in strongly power-concentrating regimes, and thus deserves to be valued more highly.

More recently, this realization has come to be acknowledged also in normative reflections about leadership in contemporary politics. For most contemporary scholars of political leadership, strong leaders and leadership are two things of the past, not only dated but outright dangerous to any form of genuine democratic governance. Collaborative leadership, shared leadership, and other related concepts are widely seen to mark superior alternative approaches for political leadership in the twenty-first century.

To be sure, all this may seem to amount to a major paradox marking the challenges of presidential leadership, and political leadership more generally, in a new ‘anti-political age’. However, it is important to note that the basic phenomenon is not new at all. In fact, at least since the Philadelphia Convention ambitions have been made ‘to promote ‘leadership’ while constraining ‘leaders’’ (Rhodes and ‘t Hart 2014: 2). It just seems to have taken another quarter of a millennium, witnessing some great successes and many more disastrous failures of political leadership, to truly bring out the deeper truth in this.

References

Cohen, Jeffrey E. (2015) Presidential Leadership in Public Opinion: Causes and Consequences. Cambridge University Press.

Malhotra, N and Margalit Y (2014) Expectation setting and retrospective voting. The Journal of Politics 76:4, 1000-1016.

Rhodes, R.A.W. and Paul ‘t Hart (2014) Puzzles of Political Leadership. In: R.A.W. Rhodes and Paul t’Hart, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Political Leadership, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-21.

Marijke Breuning and John Ishiyama – Rebels-Turned-President and Cabinet Stability

This is a guest post by Marijke Breuning and John Ishiyama. It is based on the article by John Ishiyama, Marijke Breuning, and Michael Widmeier, ‘Organising to rule: structure, agent and presidential management styles in Africa’, that was recently published in Democratization. The article is now available ungated and free to download until the end of February.

Former rebel leaders who become presidents are significantly less likely to make major changes to their cabinet than other presidents. We show this in our study of the impact of presidents’ professional backgrounds on how they manage their cabinet.

Why would former rebels be less likely to replace their cabinet ministers or move them to different posts? We argue that presidents who were former rebel leaders will be less likely to make changes to their cabinets, because their experiences as rebel leaders predispose them to maintaining a team of ministers whom they know and trust.

There has been surprising little attention paid to the impact of presidents’ professional backgrounds on how they constitute and manage their cabinets. Our study begins to fill that gap, examining 98 individual presidential administrations from 36 countries in Africa with presidential or semi-presidential systems, for the period 1990-2009. We included only those presidents who had served at least one complete year in office.

We focus on Africa, because there has been a strong focus on the personality of the president, perhaps due to the neo-patrimonial nature of the state in the continent. However, there has not been much attention paid to presidential management style and its impact on cabinet stability in Africa. Yet, cabinet stability, as well as political and ethnic inclusivity, may be important keys to the durability of a regime – something that is especially relevant for post-conflict societies.

We argue that, after becoming president, the previous experience as a rebel leader is not erased, but instead has an impact on the style of leadership. Rebel leaders have been said to be motivated by both greed and grievance, but often they also have a transcendental goal that motivates followers. They may seek a fundamental change in the political status quo, an end to colonialism, a social revolution, or the creation a new state. All of these objectives require a great deal of persuasion. After all, the potential cost of being a rebel is death.

Hence, rebel leaders need to overcome great odds to entice others to follow them. The result is often a tight-knit group of comrades with strong solidarity. We expect that this revolutionary camaraderie carries over into the former rebel leader’s executive administration.

We find that this is indeed the case, at least in Africa: presidents who are former rebel leaders are significantly less likely than other presidents to engage in major cabinet changes. We found that, on average, the likelihood of major cabinet turnover was 34% when a former rebel was president, whereas the likelihood of major cabinet turnover was 57% for all other presidents. This is shown graphically in Figure 1. This finding supports the idea that rebel commanders, after they become president, seek to maintain solidarity and stability in cabinets – and are more likely to do so than other presidents.

Figure 1: Presidents who were former rebel leaders are less likely to engage in major cabinet turnover (with 95% confidence intervals)

Do these stable cabinets of former rebel leaders differ from those of other leaders on other dimensions as well? We investigated whether former rebel leaders and other presidents differ in the political and ethnic inclusivity of their cabinets. We also sought to establish whether it makes a difference if the leader came to power through regular (e.g. elections or other legally sanctioned processes) or irregular means (such as coups, rebellions, or mass protests).

We found that former rebels leaders are not different from other presidents in terms of the partisan inclusivity of their cabinets. Instead, the political inclusivity of the cabinet was lessened by greater fractionalization of the legislature, as well as the dominance of the president’s party in the legislature. The more dominant the president’s party, the more politically homogeneous and, hence, less inclusive the cabinet.

There is a significant difference, however, between former rebel leaders and other presidents in terms of the inclusion of various ethnic groups in their cabinets. This finding can perhaps be explained by the nature of many African rebellions. Insurrections are often fueled by ethnic grievances and, once in power, a former rebel leader will seek to include only members of his or her own ethnic group. This is consistent with the desire to work only with subordinates the leader knows well and trusts.

Interestingly, presidents who came to power via irregular means (such as coups, rebellions, or mass protests) were more likely to engage in major cabinet turnovers during their presidencies than those who had come to power via regular means (such as elections and other legally sanctioned processes). This may suggest that presidents who come to power under conditions of political crisis have greater uncertainty about their political allies, and this may result in greater turnover in the cabinet. This is not a surprising result: turnover is higher for presidents who ascend to power via coups, rebellion or protest, because they seek to purge the cabinet of holdovers from the previous administration.

Our findings support the notion that the characteristics the president as agent, here operationalized as the leader’s previous experiences, have a powerful effect on his or her managerial behavior. We theorized that rebel leaders are more likely to be transformative leaders, who value transcendental political goals and group solidarity. This translates into greater cabinet stability, but also into less inclusivity (at least in ethnic terms).

In sum, the characteristics of the president as a political agent – and particularly his or her professional background – warrant far more attention than they have thus far received.

Marijke Breuning is Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. She can be reached at Marijke.Breuning@unt.edu

John Ishiyama is University Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. He can be reached at John.Ishiyama@unt.edu

Rui Graça Feijó – Timor-Leste: is Díli on (Political) Fire Again?

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

Almost nine months after the election of the fourth President of the Republic, the first to be won by a President affiliated to a political party (FRETILIN) and to benefit from a pre-first round major party coalition, and four and a half months after FRETILIN narrowly won the legislative elections (by a mere thousand votes over Xanana Gusmão’s CNRT, both winning just under 30% of the vote), Timor-Leste does not yet have a fully invested government and political tensions are running higher than at any point since the crisis of 2006.

The coalition between FRETILIN and CNRT to elect Lu Olo on the first round of the presidential election was unprecedented in a country that was more used to seeing first ballots contested by partisan and “independent” candidates alike and to seeing informal agreements being made for the run-off poll. However, the coalition was a natural consequence of political developments that marked the previous electoral cycle.

Having won a plurality in 2012, Xanana returned as PM supported by his allies who had won seats in parliament. Immediately he started working towards a new political solution that would encompass the historical party FRETILIN, around which a “cordon sanitaire” had been erected after the 2006 crisis. The state budgets for 2013 and 2014 were approved unanimously and FRETILIN’s leader was offered a significant position as head of a Special Region. Allegedly supported by President Taur Matan Ruak (aka TMR), the converging paths of the parliamentary parties were hailed by a senior minister as the “replacement of belligerent democracy by consensus democracy” (Agio Pereira). In early 2015 Xanana stepped aside for the formation of a “Government of National Inclusion”. This was headed by Rui Maria de Araújo, a former “independent” minister and member of the Council of State, who had since joined the ranks of FRETILIN, a party that was “offered” several other key ministers in the government “in their individual and technical capacities”, without formally signing an agreement (instead, it maintained the status of “opposition” party without giving this any substantial meaning).[i]

The policies of the “Government of National Inclusion”, however, came under severe criticism from President TMR, who declined to seek a second term in office, created his own political party (PLP – Partido da Libertação do Povo), and fought the legislative elections, obtaining about 12% of the vote and 8 seats in parliament. The four parties that had supported the government ran campaigns that failed to criticise ongoing strategic decisions and it was expected that the basic the government formula would be maintained after the polls. In the end, one of those parties failed to pass the 4% threshold and won no seats, while PLP and another young party – KHUNTO – secured their presence in parliament.

Immediately after the results were announced, FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri claimed the premiership for his party (and actually, for himself), thus substantially altering the conditions under which the previous government had been negotiated. Both TMR and Xanana said that they would serve in the opposition and that neither would take their seats in parliament. They also pledged, rather vaguely, to follow a “constructive opposition” and “not to obstruct” the functioning of government.

As he summoned the three leaders to a joint meeting, President Lu Olo must have felt rather insecure, given that the consultations that he was constitutionally obliged to make had been attended by second-line figures from the parties. He failed to convince TMR and Xanana to accept Alkatiri’s terms – or to convince Alkatiri to accept theirs. But a door was open for Alkatiri: to secure an agreement with a junior party in the previous government (PD, 7 seats) and the newcomer KHUNTO (5 seats).

President Lu Olo appointed Alkatiri as prime minister, that is, designated him as a formateur. Early conversations suggested Alkatiri would be successful – and in this context, the three parties joined forces to elect the Speaker of the House. But KHUNTO did not accept the deal it was being proposed and withdrew from the negotiations. Alkatiri could only present President Lu Olo with a minority government formed by FRETILIN and PD.

President Lu Olo took the bold initiative of accepting Alkatiri’s proposal, and formalized the appointment of the very first minority government in Timor-Leste’s history (16 September). Alkatiri tried to minimize the risks for his government by inviting respected “independent” figures (such as former PM and President, Ramos-Horta) and prominent members of the opposition parties (such as Xanana’s right hand man, Agio Pereira) to be “State Ministers”.

The Timorese Constitution facilitates the possibility of minority governments. It stipulates that within a month of being sworn in, the government must present its program to the House – which it did on 16 October. Then the House has three days for debate, at the end of which the government will be invested unless the opposition tables a rejection motion or it feels the political (not constitutional) need to present a confidence motion. If the confidence motion fails, the government falls immediately. If the rejection motion is passed (as it actually was on October 19 by 35 votes to 30), then the government must present a second program.

At this stage we enter a realm of indefiniteness. There is no explicit mention in the constitution, but it is assumed in other countries with similar mechanisms that a government only assumes full and not merely caretaker functions once it has been invested in the House. Also, the Timorese Constitution does not clearly provide a deadline for the second program to be presented – but it is implicit that it should not be longer than the first one.

By December 7, a month and a half have elapsed without the government submitting the second program to the House – and Alkatiri has repeated that he does not feel obliged to do so before the end of the year, or even in the new year. Instead, he has acted as if invested with full powers, submitting to the House a proposal to “rectify” the current budget – something that clearly goes beyond the powers of a caretaker government. All those attitudes have infuriated the opposition.

The opposition has moved closer together, and have signed a formal alliance in order to replace the current government. As Xanana has been involved in overseas activities (officially related to the negotiations with Australia, but actually going far beyond those) and has not set foot in Dili for three months, the agreement was signed in Singapore. Following the acceptance of the budget correction bill for debate by the Speaker, the opposition tabled a motion that the Speaker refuses to put to a plenary vote. The opposition has since been boycotting the parliamentary committee on budget and finances, meaning that it cannot function for lack of a quorum. The opposition parties also tabled another motion to reject the government, which – if approved – would bring it down at once. The Speaker has so far refused to put this item on the agenda. Eve before the Speaker took these decisions, the three parties filed for his destitution – and again the Speaker has not yet set a date to discuss and vote on this proposal.

Meanwhile, the political rhetoric has grown increasingly inflammatory. FRETILIN accuses the opposition of staging a coup (even though they are only using the constitutional and parliamentary powers at their disposal), and Alkatiri fumed that “if they dance in the House, we shall dance on the streets”. The current minister for defence and security (who controls both the army and the police) said that: “If disturbances break out on the streets of Dili, the MPs from the opposition benches must take care of the issue”. On the opposition side, the rhetoric has matched the government’s, with accusations of “unconstitutionality” (namely in the delays regarding the submission of the second draft of the government’s program) and unlawful usurpation of power (both against the government and the speaker).

Sooner or later, either the government’s program or the opposition’s motion of rejection will be brought before MPs. As the situation stands today, it is likely that Alkatiri’s executive will not survive, even with the support and complacency of President Lu Olo. If so, then the president has a few alternatives.

First, he will have to decide whether or not to dissolve parliament – a move which he can only make after January 22 due to constitutional restrictions that protect a parliament from being dissolved in the first six months following an election. FRETILIN and its junior party clearly prefer this solution, hoping they will increase their share of the vote. Elections would be held in late March, and a new government installed not before late April. No state budget would be approved in the meantime – a serious issue in a fragile country. However, a new and little credited development has emerged: a number of small parties that all fell below the 4% threshold have made an alliance which, on the evidence of the last elections, would give them 6 or more seats – mainly at the expense of the larger parties, making it even more difficult for a FRETILIN-led government to emerge. The opposition, for its part, would prefer President Lu Olo to respect the current parliament and find a solution. For many, the obvious one would be for him to nominate some figures from the ranks of those parties in order to form a majority government backed by CNRT, PLP and KHUNTO.

But President Lu Olo could choose otherwise – and he might have a chance of success. He has the option of asking Alkatiri to re-initiate negotiations with the opposition (a highly unlikely solution given that tensions are running very high at the moment and the prime minister has shown his weakness as a negotiator by claiming the premiership for himself even before conversations had started). Alternatively, he could appoint a formateur tasked with finding a mutually agreeable solution for the outgoing government and the opposition. Someone such as Rui Maria de Araujo, the prime minister for the last two and a half years, Ramos-Horta, who still commands some respect, or even TMR – a move that could perhaps be coupled with the replacement of the Speaker of the House so that all key positions were not in the hands of a single party – could try to reshape a “Government of National Inclusion”. What seems quite clear is that Timor-Leste is not ready for a minority government, even if it is backed by a partisan president.

Previously in the history of independent Timor-Leste, tensions have run high. That was the case in 2006 during the crisis that led to the resignation of the prime minister, in 2007 after the legislative elections, and again in 2008 after the attempted murder of President Ramos-Horta. The existence of non-partisan presidents has been one important element in fostering détente and promoting dialogue, not least because – as the present crisis amply reveals – most political parties are fragile extensions of people with strong personal ambitions. Figures with individual prestige – a feature that in Timor-Leste is still associated with the role performed during the Resistance to Indonesian occupation, as shown by an opinion poll taken before the presidential election – rather than partisan leaders (as party competition still evokes the civil war of 1975), have ample room for intervention in the political arena.

Timor-Leste decided that the time was ripe for a new kind of presidency. However President Lu Olo seems to have been overtaken by the mounting tension, unable to distance himself and the presidency from siding with one faction. He is a player in the most severe political crisis in the country since 2006 – not the moderator or referee who might be able to foster dialogue. His reading of the situation indicates that he supports FRETILIN’s stance, and he rejects the claims of any “irregular functioning of the political institutions”. However, he risks ending up as a “lame duck”. The miracle that could save him in the short term would be the establishment of a new “Government of National Inclusion”. It is up to him to decide.

Alkatiri once told me in an interview that “political exclusion generates conflicts”[ii]. One wonders whether he recalls what he said in the light of FRETILIN’s decision to occupy the three most senior positions of the Timorese state under his leadership, a state that is built on principles of power sharing.

Notes

[i] On the formation of this government, see my “The Long and Winding Road: a brief history of the idea of ‘Government of National Inclusion’ and its current implications”, ANU SSGM Discussion Paper 2016/3

[ii] Mari Alkatiri, “A exclusão política gera conflitos” in R.G.Feijó (ed) O Semi-presidencialismo Timorense. Coimbra, CES/Almedina, 2014

Honduras – Disputed Presidential Election Result

On November 26, Honduras went to the polls to elect a new president. The main contenders were Juan Orlando Hernández, the incumbent President of Honduras, from the conservative and right-leaning Partido Nacional, and Salvador Nasrilla, a former sports journalist, commonly known as Mr. Television from the Alianza de Oposición contra la Dictadura, a coalition that encompasses the left-leaning party of Manuel Zeleya, the former Honduran president ousted in a coup in 2009, and his wife, Xiomara Castro, Libertad y Refundación, and the centre-left, Partido Innovación y Unidad.

According to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) in Honduras, on the day after the election, it looked as if Nasrilla was going to claim victory. With 57 per cent of the votes counted, Nasrilla had managed to gain 45 per cent of the vote, giving him a clear five point lead over Hernández. Following this update, the count then seemed to slow dramatically, if not completely stop and after a somewhat suspicious hiatus, counting resumed and as of today,  according to the TSE, Hernández leads the race with 42.98 per cent of the vote compared to 41.38 per cent for Nasrilla. No official winner has yet been declared.

Unsurprisingly, the opposition claim that the government is trying to steal the election. Nasrilla and his coalition have called for a complete vote recount and if the TSE refuses to do this, then Nasrilla has proposed a second round run-off between him and Hernández. There is currently no provision in Honduras’ constitution to allow for a second round run-off (presidential elections are first past the past).

Hernández came to power following the December 2013 elections, which saw him defeat the left-leaning wife, Xiomara Castro, of former president, Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup in 2009 by pro-military conservative factions. Hernández and his party were accused of embezzling over US$90 million from the state social security agency, which was then used to fund Hernández’s victory in the 2013 election, as part of a larger scandal involving the state agency, El Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS), which provides one in every eight Hondurans with healthcare, that has seen over US$200 million embezzled from its coffers over the last few years. These allegations gave rise to protests in Tegucigalpa calling for his resignation. Hernández has also been criticized for being overly authoritarian but despite all of this, he has remained popular, with recent polls from September suggesting an approval rating of 56 per cent.

While president, Hernández also managed to introduce a new constitutional amendment, allowing for consecutive presidential election, the very same proposal that resulted in the removal of Zelaya, a coup that Hernández supported. Since 2013, a third party, Partido Libertad y Refundación, the party of Xiomara Castro, has held a third of the seats in the house, challenging the traditional conservative and oligarchic two-party system.

A victory for Nasrilla would completely upend the status quo.

This is not the first time that Honduars has been mired in allegations of electoral fraud. In the 2013 election, Xiomara Castro, after initially claiming victory, contested the result. This time, it seems that supporters of the left will not allow this victory to remain unchallenged. There have been hundreds of protests, in which three people have died so far, forcing the government to implement a night time curfew. The police force in Honduras have now announced that they will not leave their barracks until the political crisis has been resolved and while the TSE have agreed to a partial recount, whatever happens, it is clear that this controversy is far from over.