Monthly Archives: March 2018

Kenya – President Kenyatta does a deal …

For the past year, Kenya has been on a worrying political trajectory. Following disputed elections in August – which were nullified by the Supreme Court in September – the political system has been on an uneven keel. Having boycotted the “fresh” elections in October, opposition leader Raila Odinga refused to recognise the legitimacy of president Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory that, in the absence of his main rival, was inevitably won in a landslide.

For his part, Kenyatta, having won the repeat poll and sensing that international donors had little appetite to support Odinga’s claims to power, demonstrated no inclination to compromise. Instead, government rhetoric suggested that while the president might be willing to sit down and talk to the opposition about how to achieve development, the 2017 elections, and the quality of Kenyan democracy, was off the table.

This political impasse had begun to generate considerable political instability. Over 100 people died in protests and clashes relating to the election controversy, significantly increasing the political temperature. Moreover, while an opposition ceremony to swear Odinga in as the “People’s President” passed without incident once the government made the decision to remove the security forces from the streets, the aftermath of the inauguration demonstrated that this was not part of a broader process of reconciliation.

Instead, the ruling party quickly moved to criminalise the National Resistance Movement that Odinga had launched to contest Kenyatta’s victory, and deported Miguna Miguna, the controversial opposition leader who had presided over the ceremony. Although these steps were triggered by the inauguration, they were part of a wider pattern of democratic backsliding that has included:

  • Verbal attacks on judges following the nullification of the 8 August election, and continued political pressure on the judiciary to rule in favour of the government.
  • Ignoring court orders relating to the detention and deportation of Miguna Miguna – which the High Court has now ruled was illegal.
  • The further politicization of the media, including threats to journalists writing stories that would embarrass the government and pressure on newspapers to cancel the contracts of critical columnists.
  • Forcing three TV stations– KTN, NTV and Citizen TV – off-air so that they could not cover Odinga’s swearing-in ceremony, and then keeping the broadcasting ban in place for almost a week.

Against this backdrop, a prolonged political crisis appeared to be a genuine risk. Instead, backroom negotiations – in part spurred by the efforts by the international community to negotiate a compromise ahead of the visit of the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – led to an unheralded breakthrough. Following months of bitter disputes, on 9 March 2018 President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga announced that they had made up and were now “brothers”.

However, while the agreement was welcomed by many Kenyans as it promised to give rise to a period of greater political stability and cohesion, it raised as many questions as it answered. Although it is clear what President Kenyatta has gained through the deal, most notably recognition as the country’s legitimate executive and an end to opposition protests, it is unclear exactly what the deal will deliver for Raila Odinga. The agreement that has been circulated is low on details and includes no firm commitments that would bind Kenyatta’s hands when it comes to media freedom, respect for the judiciary, or even electoral reform.

In turn, this has raised questions about whether the deal between Kenyatta and Odinga is based on a compromise about the reforms needed to strengthen Kenyan democracy, or represents a personal deal between the two leaders to work together to protect each other’s political interests. Those close to Kenyatta and Odinga have suggested that the agreement is rooted in their concern for their legacy and desire to avoid conflict. But a more cynical interpretation is possible, namely that one of the main gains the two men have realised by joining forces is to outmanoeuvre rival leaders from their own alliances who hope to replace them as presidential candidates come the next election in 2022.

For Kenyatta, the potential of a longer-term political alliance with Odinga reduces his dependence on two of his potential successors within the Jubilee govermment – Gideon Moi and Willian Ruto. Similarly, the deal benefits Odinga by easing his reliance on Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula – three supposed allies within the National Super Alliance (NASA) who failed to turn up to support his inauguration, prompting widespread rumours that the opposition coalition had fragmented.

As Kenyan political leaders begin to adjust to the latest in a long line of reconfigurations, there is only one thing that can be said for certain: further political realignments are likely, and the parties and alliances that contest the next elections will not be those that competed in the last ones.

Hungary – Legislative vetoes by president Áder: Irrelevant activism?

There is no doubt that Hungarian president Janos Áder is a close ally and supporter of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his illiberal politics. Interestingly, however, he has used and continues to use his legislative veto power with surprising frequency. Overall, this runs counter to existing explanatory approaches and might thereby shed new light on the functioning of Hungary’s illiberal democracy.

Hungarian president Janos Áder – image via wikimedia commons

When Janos Áder was elected president, he promised to depart from the rubber stamp-attitude to legislation exhibited by his co-partisan precedessor Pál Schmitt (who not only failed to use his veto power during his two years in office, but has also publicly declared he would sign every bill the Fidesz majority in parliament passed). Opposition politicians welcomed (albeit cautiously) his declaration that if parliament passed a hundred good bills he would all sign them into law but if parliament passed a hundred bad bills he would use his veto against all of them. Nevertheless, given that the Hungarian president’s veto can be overridden by simple majority (unless the original bill required a higher majority to be passed, e.g. organic law) and presidents are obliged to sign bills that were passed again (even if changes were introduced during the veto/reconsideration process), it was clear that such activism would need to be amplified by use of the personal ties between Áder and his long-time friend Orbán.

Already early on in his first term, Janos Áder seemed to follow through on his promise – in his first year in office alone, he sent 11 bills back to parliament for reconsideration. Even his predecessor Lászlo Sólyom, who found himself in cohabitation with all governments during his five year-term in office and vetoed almost frantically in comparison to his own predecessors, took almost three years to veto as many bills. Although clearly in friendly relations with the government and parliamentary majority, Áder had vetoed 28 bills by the end of his first term last year (only four less than Sólyom who – as mentioned above – was in cohabitation the whole time) and vetoed three more since his re-election.

These number may not be high in comparison to other presidents in the region, particularly those elected by popular vote, yet they present a challenge to established explanations of presidential activism that others and myself have proposed. If presidential activism is primarily determined by the institutional structure (most prominently direct/indirect elections) and the political environment (the partisan composition and strength of parliament and government vis-a-vis the presidency), we should see comparatively fewer vetoes in the case of Janos Áder.

Additional explanatory variables that I found to be important in the case of president Lászlo Sólyom (2005-2010) also do not seem to apply here. For once, there is no personal antipathy between president and prime minister and more than two thirds of bills vetoed were prepared by ministries (i.e. not private members bills which have typically been of lower quality). Furthermore, after the government initially incorporated changes proposed by Áder into bills as part of the review process, all 12 vetoes issued since the 2014 parliamentary elections were overridden. Thus, presidential vetoes are not (or are no longer) an easy way to let the government fix problems with bills that were previously overlooked.

At the same time, Áder’s veto activity does also not quite fit into the pattern (if one can speak of such) of democratic window-dressing in the Polish case. Despite international outcry and serious flaws in bills Áder has not used his veto to stop (at least temporarily) the crackdown on public media, the ‘Lex CEU‘ or legislation that benefitted Fidesz politicians and their associates in other ways. While he used his veto on a number of other bills that were controversially discussed domestically, his opposition appears to be lacking in enthusiasm.

Thus, Áder’s use of presidential vetoes remains somewhat enigmatic. The fact that neither existing explanatory approaches nor the logic of presidential activism visible in other regimes can account for it should prompt a re-examination of how we imagine the functioning of Hungary’s illiberal democracy. Áder’s (ostensibly) irrelevant activism could point towards a further concentration of power in the hands of the prime minister and/or to the fact that his actions are directed towards other constituencies that have yet to be uncovered.

A full list of presidential vetoes in Hungary is available here (in Hungarian).

Armenia – The election of a ceremonial president, but what about the ‘new’ Prime Minister?

On March 2, the Armenian parliament elected the next president of the country. The ‘winner’ (and only candidate) was Dr Armen Sarkissian[1], formerly an academic, Armenian prime minister, and  Armenian ambassador to the UK. However, Dr Sarkissian’s prerogatives will be mostly ceremonial, as the 2015 constitutional reform transferred most of the president’s governing powers to the prime minister. While the current President Serzh Sargsyan has not openly expressed his intention to run as prime minister[2] (to be selected in April), he played a crucial role in the nomination of president-elect Armen Sarkissian, fuelling rumours about him becoming prime minister. This triggered not only unhappiness from the opposition, but also protest rallies.

A new (ceremonial) president

In January, President Serzh Sargsyan asked Armen Sarkissian to stand as president. This was not an obvious choice, as Dr Sarkissian has been living abroad (mostly in the UK) for the past decades, holding first academic fellowships and then diplomatic posts. He is known for being a close friend of Prince Charles, who in 2016 hosted a gala dinner to support “Yerevan My Love”, a charity set up by Sarkissian. Additionally, he has been a senior advisor for companies such as British Petroleum, Alcatel and Telefonia. On occasions, doubts have been raised about the transparency of his business activities.

Sarkissian’s nomination was widely supported by the ruling block. Other than being the candidate of the ruling Republican Party (HHK), Dr Sarkissian was also backed by the junior coalition partner Dashnaktsutyun. Additionally, the Tsarukian’s alliance, which is officially in the opposition, neither openly opposed Armen Sarkissian’s nomination nor proposed an alternative candidate. In brief, the Yelk bloc, which holds 9 out of 105 parliamentary seats, was the only coalition to oppose Sarkissian as the (sole) candidate president[3]. Against this background, it was no surprise when he was elected by a landslide in the first round. He is due to take office on April 9. In the immediate aftermath of his election, Armen Sarkissian expressed gratitude to his predecessor for his support and guidance in the past months, and made clear that his mandate will be in full continuity with Serzh Sargsyan’s work and vision. In Dr Sarkissian’s words: “I am ready to completely devote myself (…) to a cause which is actually also a continuation of the first, second and third of your presidencies.[4]

His election was marked by some controversy over his eligibility, as a dozen leading NGOs suspected that he did not meet the citizenship requirements. As per the 2015 constitution, presidential candidates must have been solely Armenian citizens for the previous six years. While Armen Sarkissian vehemently declared that he has renounced his British citizenship (acquired in 2002) in 2011, some evidence seems to suggest that he did so only in 2014. Furthermore, he never presented any UK-issued formal document about his citizenship status. However, despite the concerns of the opposition and civil society, members of cabinet dismissed these allegations as groundless.

Other than that, the close relationship between the President and President-elect cast some doubts on the legitimacy of the latter. According to the independent Armenian analyst Saro Saroyan, these dynamics are remarkably worrisome: “Will he [Armen Sarkissian] act as a puppet constrained by the lack of legitimacy or as a person with amorphous powers? If the import of such a president to Armenia is to the “credit” of Serzh Sargsyan, there can by default be no other decision in determining the personality of the prime minister. Serzh Sargsyan will be making this decision too”[5]. From this statement, two points can be inferred. The first one concerns the genuine political capital enjoyed by president-elect Armen Sarkissian. The second one is the extraordinary engagement of Serzh Sargsyan in this presidential election, as it seems to confirm his alleged willingness to become premier.

Who wants to be a prime minister?

In 2015, when a constitutional referendum was announced, rumours started to circulate about President Serzh Sargsyan’s political ambitions. As he was serving his second presidential mandate and was barred from seeking election for a third time, it was suspected that transitioning from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system was a way for President Sargsyan to retain his power, in the guise of prime minister. In recent times, such suspicion has been reinforced by the further enhancement of the premier’s prerogatives. For instance, the National Security Service and Police will be reporting directly to the premier. Additionally, the prime minister will reside in Bagramyan 26, which is the current presidential residence, and the presidential staff will be considerably downsized (while the prime minister’s team will be enlarged)[6]. These changes, which add up to the (dramatic) constitutional empowerment of the prime minister’s powers, further reinforced the opposition’s firm belief that Serzh Sargsyan will be nominated by the HHK as the next premier. As observed by analysts and members of the opposition, Serzh Sargsyan “Would not have vested such broad powers in anyone except for himself”.

The HHK party, supported by the junior partner Dashnaktsutyun, enjoys a parliamentary majority solid enough to install any candidate of its choice.  Remarkably, even though President Serzh Sargsyan has not announced his plans yet, senior members of his party (HHK) have indicated that he is the ideal prime minister. Eduard Sharmazanov, the deputy speaker of parliament, said that the HHK party will formally discuss it after April 9, as a final choice is not due to until April 16. However, in his opinion, President Sargsyan would be the most qualified candidate. Similarly, Vahram Baghdasarian, the head of the HHK parliamentary faction, said that Serzh Sargsyan is the most suitable person for the job, also due to the tensions with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. By contrast, the opposition considers the handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as one of the reasons why Serzh Sargsyan should step down. According to Nikol Pashinyan, the head of the Yelk faction, the 4-days-war with Azerbaijan in April 2016 exposed the poor conditions of the Armenian army, which was still equipped with weapons from the 1980s. In spite of this evidence, Sargsyan did not take any concrete action to improve the situation[7].

Last weekend, rallies started to take place in the city centre. As noted by Mr Pashinyan, at this point, only massive grassroots protests can prevent Serzh Sargsyan from becoming prime minister. In Pashinyan’s words: “If the people are decisive, and as many go onto the streets as on March 1, 2008, I guarantee that we will prevent the next reproduction of Sargsyan[8].” In this regard, a newly-formed group called “Front for the State of Armenia”, aims at becoming a key platform for protest and change, uniting both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition. The next rally is already scheduled for March 16.


[1] Some sources transliterate his last name as Sargsyan. However, ‘Sarkissian’ is the most widely used version.

[2] In 2015, as a result of a constitutional referendum, the powers of the President were drastically reduced and, conversely, those of the Prime Minister were dramatically enhanced. Even if President Serzh Sargsyan never gave unequivocal statements about his long-term political ambitions, from the beginning this reform was widely suspected to be a tool to extend his power after his second, and last, presidential mandate. This blog gave extended coverage to this topic, analysing the details of the reformthe processes before the vote and the pertinent debate in 2016 and 2017.

[3] This post, previously published on this blog, deals with the 2017 parliamentary election, explaining in detail which parties and coalitions were elected.

[4] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2018. ‘Armenian president-elect vows to continue incumbent’s policies’, March 3 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[5] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2018. ‘Karabakh issue ‘resolved’, no need in talks with Baku – Armenian pundit’, March 5 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[6] ARMINFO News Agency. 2018. ‘In parallel with the reduction of the powers of the president of the country, his apparatus will be reduced’, March 7 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[7] Ani Mshetsyan. 2018. ‘Nikol Pashinyan: The only thing that can force Serzh Sargsyan to abandon the post of prime minister is the will of the people’. Arminfo News Agency, March 5 (retrieved through LexisNexis).

[8] Ibidem.

Wouter Veenendaal – Suriname’s Desi Bouterse: A Leopard Who Doesn’t Change His Spots?

This is a guest post by Wouter Veenendaal of Leiden University

After the watershed parliamentary elections of 2010, Suriname’s former military dictator Desi Bouterse was installed as the country’s president. While his rise to power in 1980 occurred by means of a military coup, this time Bouterse was democratically elected, receiving the two-thirds parliamentary supermajority required to indirectly elect a president. Upon the termination of his military regime in 1987, when multiparty elections were reintroduced in the small South American country, Bouterse established the National Democratic Party (NDP) to maintain his power base in the democratic system. While the NDP lingered in opposition for most of the subsequent decades, Bouterse gradually constructed a professional political movement that ultimately was able to defeat the traditional Surinamese parties.

As a result of the colonial legacy marked by (forced) migration, Suriname is a profoundly multicultural society, composed of four or five cultural segments, none of which constitutes a majority. Upon the extension of the suffrage in 1948, the first political parties were formed on the basis of ethnic identification and mobilization, with the aim to emancipate, represent, and cater to specific ethnic groups. While the 1980 coup and subsequent military regime aimed to bring an end to ethnic politics, after the return of democracy the old ethnically-based parties reemerged, and won elections in a coalition named New Front. In contrast to the New Front-parties, Bouterse’s NDP was established as an avowedly multi- or pan-ethnic party, claiming to be the only ‘national’ party of Suriname because it seeks to represent all different groups living in the country.

Bouterse’s election to the presidency in 2010 cannot be seen separately from the legal process relating to the so-called December Murders, in which he is the main suspect. During Bouterse’s military regime, on 8 December 1982, fifteen prominent Surinamese men who criticized the dictatorship were murdered by the military. After a lengthy legal investigation by the Surinamese judiciary, in November 2007 – twenty-five years after the crimes were committed – a criminal proceeding against Bouterse and twenty-four other suspects was initiated by Suriname’s military court. According to many observers, this murder trial actually constituted the main motivation for Bouterse to run for president in 2010, anticipating that the presidential office would bring him legal protection and the power to influence the judicial process. Since his election to power in 2010, Bouterse’s NDP has repeatedly attempted to frustrate or bring a halt to the murder trial, most prominently by the adoption of an amnesty law in 2012 and an instruction to the public prosecutor to stop the prosecution in the interest of state security in 2016. Both challenges were dismissed by the military court, which considered these as illegitimate interventions in an ongoing legal process.

Concomitantly to its attempts to undermine the December Murders process, the ruling NDP has in various ways endeavored to weaken the position of Suriname’s judiciary as well as other (semi-) public institutions. High-ranking politicians within the party have argued that unelected judges should not have such wide-ranging powers, and that more mechanisms to control the judiciary should be embedded in the constitution. Moreover, the Surinamese judiciary suffers from a severe lack of government funding, and Bouterse has so far refused to appoint a new President to Suriname’s High Court of Justice. The administration has also sought to challenge the position of the Surinamese media, most recently by the foundation of a well-funded National Information Institute (NII), which officially communicates government information to the public, but largely functions as a propaganda machine that allows politicians to ignore other media outlets. And while corruption has always been a problem in Surinamese politics, under this administration numerous corruption scandals have unfolded and have gone by unpunished. The government’s connections to transnational criminal organizations and drug trafficking networks have in fact led some observers to consider the country as a “criminalized state” in which such groups use the international sovereignty of Suriname as a cover for their criminal activities.

In short, therefore, while Bouterse’s current administration operates under the veneer of a nominally democratic system, its ruling style has been decidedly authoritarian in character, and in several ways disturbingly comparable to the military regime he spearheaded in the 1980s.

France – Emmanuel Macron as the new ‘fast’ president

During the early days of his presidency, Emmanuel Macron was sometimes compared with the classical gods Hercules and Jupiter. The metaphor of Macron as Jupiter was intended to celebrate a return to authority and leadership at the heart of the State, a posture deliberately contrasted with the perceived failings of his three immediate predecessors: Chirac, Sarkozy and Hollande. Is Macron a regal figure? Or a republican monarch? Such labels are the usual metaphors of French Presidents In fact, Macron’s presidential style has a syncretic quality, drawing on practices and symbols of past French and foreign presidents.

There is a conscious and continuing reference to the practices, routines and gestures of his predecessors, with the nine Presidents of the Fifth Republic providing a rich empirical pool for developing a repertoire of presidential action. De Gaulle is the most obvious model, as the General’s return to power in May 1958 was followed by a six month period of governing by decrees (‘ordonnaces’), and calling on high civil servants (rather than politicians) to govern the country. There are many similarities between Macron and the first six months of the Gaullien period, not least in the negation of party politics and the creation of a presidential movement to support the action of the provident individual; in sum, the de Gaulle heritage for Macron signifies in part a leader against parties and the old cleavages. Next, in terms of significance, from President Giscard d’Estaing (1974-81), Macron demonstrates a youthful modernity and calls to reform blocked France that aspires to be governed in the national interest beyond left and right. From President Mitterrand, Macron proclaims a grand European design, eloquently presented in speech to the Sorbonne, following in the steps of Mitterrand over three decades earlier. The counter-models are the two ‘radical-republican’ Presidents Chirac (who held a hazardous referendum on the future of the EU) and Hollande, the deliberate anti-model. Beyond France, the most influential model and source of inspiration is the US President Barack Obama (‘Yes, we can’) and, at a distance once-removed, J-F. Kennedy. There is nothing entirely new under the sun, but Macron’s leadership goes beyond a careful cultivation of – and respect for- selected predecessors and comparators.

More recently, there have certain parallels with Sarkozy (2007-2012). The speed of Macron’s reforms bears some similarities with the early Sarkozy period. I argued elsewhere that in 2007-2012, the personal governing style of ‘speedy Sarko’ combined with a changed set of rules of the presidential game (the quickening rhythm of the quinquennat) to create the fast presidency, an evolution of the traditional presidential office . The Sarkozy presidency was inaugurated with a discourse of rupture –a break with existing political practices and established interests, a skilful political construction that captured the reform theme for the French right. A clearer presidential mandate gave rise to a more explicitly assumed policy leadership. Most of the key reforms of the 2007-2012 were directly associated with Sarkozy; from the reforms to the 35 hour week and flexible working ( 2007), through the detailed interventions in the field of state reform (RGPP, 2007-2012), the universities (2007), the environment (2008), local government (2009-2010) and the pensions reform (2010). The rhythm of the early period could be explained because the incoming President was fully vested with the legitimacy of a decisive electoral victory. The overall evaluation of Sarkozy’s reformist record, tempered by the impact of economic crisis, was rather paradoxical. If Sarkozy’s presidency was a reformist one, almost all of the key reforms introduced in 2007-08 had been modified or abandoned by 2012. The economic crisis of 2008 recast the dice and gradually the memory of the early reform period receded.

Fast forward ten years, and leaving aside the natural bombast involved in comparisons with Greek and Roman gods, the Jupiterian phase of the Macron presidency was intended to give a new sense of purpose to political choices, in the register of transformative political leadership. The Jupiter metaphor allowed Macron to announce clearly the reforms that would be undertaken during the course of the quinquennat, to guide the way. It would be an act as bad faith to accuse Macron of not putting into operation his campaign promises. The Macron presidency has, thus far, revealed itself to be one of the most ambitious and reformist in the history of the Fifth Republic. Around a dozen major fields were opened in the first few months, with clear sequences intended to give meaning to political action throughout the five year period. After a shaky start (the sacking of the chief in staff of the Army, the poor reception of cuts announced across governmental budgets without prior negotiation [and specifically of the housing benefits], the obvious inexperience of several new ministers and members of the governing LREM party), the early months of the presidency followed, fairly clearly, the roadmap announced by the President. The law on the moralisation of French politics forbad the practice of employing family members as staffers, and placed limits on expense claims. The decrees reforming the Labour Code (enhancing firm-level bargaining, limiting severance pay, reforming the operation of trade unions, especially in the smallest firms, simplifying and unifying staff representative committees in the workplace) were intended to modernize France’s system of industrial relations and encourage investment; any analysis of their impact is premature.

The speed and rhythm of the reform programme cast Macron as a new ‘fast President’, announcing multiple reforms in a blitzkrieg designed to destabilize the opposition, rather reminiscent of the early Sarkozy (2007-08) or Blair (1997-98) periods. The 2017-18 reform programme was an ambitious one, and few sectors were absent: the moralization of politics, the reform of labour law, a new internal security law, the abolition of the wealth tax, the changing rules for university entrance, the reform of the unemployment insurance and training regimes, immigration reform, prison reform, civil service reform, the overhaul of school examinations (the Baccalaureate) and even the sacred cow of the special statute for national railway workers.

In both cases, Sarkozy and Macron, a clear presidential mandate was followed by a vigorous programme of social and economic reforms. In both cases, also, an active presidential leadership was framed as the antithesis of an earlier period of stasis; the immobile Chirac, for Sarkozy, or the compromised Hollande, for Macron. In both cases, finally, the speed of reforms was designed to destabilize adversaries and exploit to the maximum the window of opportunity opened by precise concatenations of circumstances.

There are also contrasts, naturally. First, in relation to the strategic use of time. The image of the Duracell president under Sarkozy implied action and energy, rather than deep strategic reflection. Macron can claim to have integrated a more strategic use of time. Reforms have been closely sequenced, designed to underline that the President alone is the ‘timekeeper’ (le maître de l’ horloge). The first six months were an economic sequence, designed to set France on a course of economic reform and competitiveness (standing on the right-leg); the next period was intended to re-balance, to offer a social counterpart to economic reform (standing on the left leg).

More generally, the management of time forms a key part of Macron’s agenda. The strategic dimension of time management can be illustrated with the 2018 budget. The headlines of the 2018 budget concerned the powerful symbolic abolition of the wealth tax, along with the adoption of a 30% ‘flat tax’ to encourage investment in the ‘real’ economy and risk taking. The main novelty, however, was to move towards a five-year budgetary logic. Announcing spending priorities and commitments across the five year period (2018-2022) was intended to modify the meaning of the annual budget cycle, with a view to ensuring fiscal and policy stability over the medium term and encouraging investment. In the case of Macron, an overarching strategic timeframe (the budget, the quinquennat) is coupled with a clever tactical use of time; involving social partners in consultation, floating ideas subsequently to be watered down, and forcing deadlines on negotiations.

Second, in terms of style and method, Sarkozy’s presidency was based on a transgression of the key personal and institutional codes, most notably on a deeply political reading of the office, whereby the political leader dispensed with the discourse of national unity, slated opponents and invited unpopularity in response to detailed interventionism in politics and policy-making. Notwithstanding Macron’s double or triple language, and the tendency to ‘speak the language of the people’ when faced with controversy (see the recent Salon de l’Agriculture), there is more method. The announced reforms have followed a similar pattern: the promise of consultation (but not negotiation) with social partners and other interested parties; a strictly controlled government timetable; the announcement of ambitious targets to be achieved; a stated preference for the procedure of decrees and limited parliamentary oversight, and a strong investment in new instruments of central steering (the creation of a territorial agency for local government, a new training agency etc.).

Thus far, there is little practical opposition to Macron; the veteran left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was forced to admit that Macron had ‘won the first round’ as attempts to mobilise against the reform of the labour code fell flat; the Socialist Party (PS), a shadow of its former self, is engaged in a process of introspection and leadership selection; the National Front (FN), having already suffered a split, is about to engineer a name change in the hope of recapturing its dynamism of the 2012-17 period; the Republicans are reviving somewhat under Laurent Wauquiez, but the inheritor party of the UMP has been deserted by its centrist and centre-right elements and electors; finally, the trade unions are more divided and ineffective than ever. The window of opportunity for reform remains open, but the Sarkozy comparison points to the dangers of managing reform in the medium and long term. The real test of time will be in 2022.

Argentina – Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to Face Trial

On Monday, a federal judge announced that the former President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, would face trial over the alleged cover-up of Iranian involvement in the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building, a Jewish community centre, in Buenos Aires in the 1990s.

Eleven other former officials from the Kirchner government (2007-2015), including former Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, will also face trial and four of the accused have now been detained. The federal judge investigating the alleged cover-up, Claudio Bonadio, requested in December that Congress waive the immunity from prosecution of the former president. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner became a senator on December 10 2017, and Argentine senators are protected from being arrested, although they can be tried. Congress has yet to act.

In Argentina’s worst ever terrorist attack, on July 18th 1994, a bomb placed in the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, killed 85 people and left hundreds wounded. To date, no one has been charged and the perpetrators remain the subject of speculation. In 2006, Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, accused the government of Iran of orchestrating the bombing, and Hezbollah of carrying the actual act out.

Back in January 2014, when Kirchner was still in office, Nisman issued a request that a judge interrogate President Fernández and her Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman. Nisman had prepared a 289-page report, which accused the president and foreign ministry of communicating with the Iranian government via diplomatic back channels and offering to cover-up the involvement of five Iranian suspects in the AMIA bombing in return for a deal which would see Argentine grain exchanged for Iranian oil. Argentina at the time was facing potentially crippling energy shortages. In 2013, Iran and Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding, which established a joint investigation into the bombing, and more significantly, allowed Iranian officials to give evidence in Iran.

Then, in January 2015, somewhat incredibly, on the day before he was due to present his evidence to Congress, Alberto Nisman, despite his supposed ten-man security detail, was found dead in his 13th story apartment. He had been shot in the head with a bullet from a Bersa handgun, which was found lying beside him. Whether his death was murder or suicide became the subject of fevered speculation, but last year, the Argentine police ruled that his death was in fact, murder.

Judge Bonadio has yet to set a date for the trial.

Indonesia – What lies ahead for Presidential Elections 2019?

On 23 February, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) officially nominated President Joko Widodo, popularly known as President Jokowi, as its presidential candidate for the 2019 elections. The 2019 elections will be the first where both legislative and presidential elections are held on the same day since direct elections for the presidency was instituted in 2004. The latest reform follows a Constitutional Court ruling in January 2014, from a challenge to the Presidential Election Law, Law No. 42/2008, that governed the nomination and election of presidential candidates. The Presidential Election Law had stipulated that elections for legislative and presidential elections be held at least three months apart, so that only parties or coalitions that received 25 percent of the national vote or 20 percent of the parliamentary seats are able to field presidential candidates. The Court ruled that this sequential timing was unconstitutional; however, it left the legislature to decide on whether the thresholds for nomination should remain. On July 20, 2017, some 534 of the 560 lawmakers – an estimated 95.4 percent – attended a plenary session to pass the bill to maintain the thresholds. The attendance is testimonial to the significance of the bill: plenary sessions usually see less than half of the representatives of the House present. By the new law, only parties or coalitions with at least 20 percent of the seats in the legislature or 25 percent of the popular vote based on the outcome of the 2014 legislative elections are able to nominate presidential candidates. What lies ahead for the coming 2019 Presidential elections?

The threshold will certainly limit the number of candidates running for elections. So far, only President Jokowi’s candidacy has been formally announced. The President’s candidacy is supported by the National Democratic Party as well as Golkar, if not the other parties of the ruling Awesome Indonesia coalition that include the Hanura Party, the PAN (National Mandate Party), and the PPP (United Development Party). This is a big change from the 2014 elections, when the PDI-P’s surprise failure to garner the support needed to meet the threshold gave it a late start in the political jockeying among parties. Prabowo Subianto of the Gerindra party, the other presidential candidate in the 2014 elections, looks set to run as a candidate again, supported by Gerindra and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and particularly following the recent win by Anies Baswedan – the candidate supported by the Gerindra party-supported– in the Jakarta gubernatorial elections. There is talk of Anies Baswedan running for elections himself, replicating President Jokowi’s strategy back in 2014, although he will clearly need the backing of a number of parties in order to cross that threshold.

An issue that will undoubtedly surface in the presidential elections is religious divisions. Religious-based parties have kept a firm hold on the electorate: indeed, in the 2014 elections, Islamic parties reported better-than-expected results that contradicted expectations of significant setbacks to religion-based parties. Even the PKS (Prosperous Justice Party), which had been caught in a sex-and-corruption scandal, lost only about 1 percent of popular support from the previous election.[1] Religion was also used successfully as a strategy to divide the popular vote in the Jakarta elections: Governor Anies had sought the support of Islamist groups, including militant groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), known for hard-line stances and attacks against minorities, during the campaign. The former and highly popular governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who was running as the incumbent, had his election-bid upended when he was charged, and subsequently convicted, of blasphemy against the Qu’ran. Meanwhile, religiously motivated attacks have been on the rise in Indonesia, prompting the legislature to pass the President’s Perppu to ban organizations that did not support Indonesia’s ideology of Pancasila. That law has been used to disband extremist hard-line Islamist groups, such as the Hizbut Tahrir; however, critics are concerned that the law gives the government the right to disband organizations without due process of law.

As the world’s third largest democracy, and a country with the largest Muslim population in the world, many will undoubtedly be intently watching the local elections in 2018, and general elections in 2019, to see how Indonesia fares amid stalling democratization and even reversals in East and Southeast Asia.


[1] Yap, O. Fiona. 2014. “Indonesia – Preliminary Results of the April 2014 Legislative Elections.” April 11, 2014 <accessed 5 March 2018>

Fabian Burkhardt – The non-campaign of the 2018 presidential election in Russia

Keep Navalny out, programmatic statements to a minimum, and turnout up. If one had to summarize the non-campaign of the 2018 presidential elections from the Kremlin’s vantage point in one sentence, this would probably be it. It will most likely go down in history as the most uninspiring presidential election in Russia’s post-Soviet history. Even President Vladimir Putin’s campaign slogan “A strong president – a strong Russia” had been copy-pasted from Boris Yeltsin’s 1993 referendum campaign. The incumbent is slated to win the elections on 18 March with a landslide and will then embark on his fourth presidential term ending in 2024 which – according to the constitution – would be his last six years in power as president. Vladimir Putin’s anticipated status as a “lame duck” in conjunction with the non-competitive, largely predetermined and non-programmatic nature of the campaign has led many analysts to speculate about the “arrival of a post-Putin Russia.” Nevertheless, elections under authoritarianism are not void of meaning. From a functional perspective, researchers conclude that “the role of Russian elections has evolved from information-gathering and co-optation to primarily signaling the regime’s strength and sporadically dividing and embarrassing the opposition.”[i] And indeed, signaling strength by showing strong turnout and splitting the non-parliamentary opposition seemed to be high on the agenda of the presidential administration.

The setup

The incumbent Vladimir Putin announced he would run again for president on 6 December 2017. This unusually late announcement three months before the election fits the overall impression of Putin’s campaign: The campaign trail and programmatic statements were reduced to a minimum. In fact, only the presidential address to the Federal Assembly on 1 March gave the broader public a glimpse into how Putin views the next six years, a vision analysts called “conservative technocracy”. Among the other seven registered candidates, two are outright spoilers (Sergei Baburin and Maksim Suraikin). Two represent parliamentary “systemic” opposition parties: Vladimir Zhirinovsky for the LDPR and Pavel Grudinin for the Communist Party (CPRF). Zhirinovsky has been a regular at presidential elections since 1991. In 2018, too, he played his role well of a scandalous, anti-Western, far-right scarecrow and clown that makes everyone else look well-behaved and decent. Shortly before his candidacy was announced, Pavel Grudinin himself did not know he would replace the CPRF’s long-term general secretary Gennady Zyuganov. Grudinin is not a party member, but was actively promoted by the leftist former protest leader Sergey Udaltsov during the party primaries. As director of the Lenin-Sovkhoz (sic) he merges both a capitalist and pro-Soviet or even Stalinist world view. As a newcomer his popularity quickly rose to higher single digits in official polls, but state television was quick to launch a smear campaign against him. This lead to speculation that his candidacy had not been agreed with the presidential administration or whether it signified infighting of various groups within the elite. Otherwise, Boris Titov – chairman of the Right Cause party and acting business ombudsman officially accountable to the president – admitted that he does not consider himself as a genuine candidate and sees the campaign rather as an opportunity to follow up on his cause as a business representative by other means. Grigory Yavlinsky, the co-founder and long-term leader of the liberal Yabloko party once more decided to take part in the election after he had not been registered in 2012, but observers describe his campaign as half-hearted at best. Probably the biggest surprise was the candidacy of journalist and socialite Kseniya Sobchak. During the campaign she has tried her best to convince the public that she was not a spoiler launched by the presidential administration although she did admit she had informed Vladimir Putin (who had worked under her father in the St. Petersburg city hall) about her plans. The amount of airtime on state TV she receives attests to claims that she fits the presidential administration’s plans rather well. Overall, it remains to be seen whether she aims to capitalize on the publicity she has received to increase the number of Instagram followers she has or to launch a new political party in the future. On the other hand, she has received praise from human rights defenders for speaking out in favor of some repressed activists like Yury Dmitriev and Oyub Titiev.

Boosting turnout to convey strength

Signaling strength to the elite, opposition and the wider population is among the core functions of authoritarian elections[ii]. Despite Putin’s approval ratings, which have remained above 80% since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, this “approval” for various reasons does not automatically translate into electoral turnout in favor of the incumbent. In general, turnout has been declining across presidential, parliamentary, and gubernatorial elections (Figure 1). Nevertheless, this decline has been least pronounced for presidential elections, therefore a turnout between 65 and 70 percent might still be in the cards.

Given Vladimir Putin’s predominance in Russia’s state media and public sphere in normal times, pushing his person during the election campaign even more could backfire. Quite the contrary, at times observers have had the impression that the presidential administration has tried to restrict Putin’s election-related campaign events and TV reporting.

Overall, two main strategies to boost turnout can be identified. The first is a massive public relations and ads campaign launched by the Central Election Commission to inform citizens about the upcoming election. The official budget of the CEC for public relations amounts to 770 million rubles (13.6 million USD), but reports indicate that many companies voluntarily place information on the upcoming elections. Mobile telecom operators sent SMS text messages, the state services website Gosuslugi emailed users on behalf of the CEC, and companies ranging from the retailer Magnit to gas stations and Burger King placed election-related information on their receipts. Large state companies such as Aeroflot, Sberbank or VTB also placed ads on their websites, celebrities placed paid-for posts on Instagram, and youth TV channel ran clips about the most fashionable event of the spring.

Second, recent research[iii] has demonstrated that voter intimidation and mobilization at the workplace is an important component of elections in Russia. Frye, Reuter, and Szakonyi (2018) report that during the 2012 presidential election campaign “17 per cent of employed respondents experienced intimidation by their employers.” Future research will have to investigate the scale of workplace mobilization during the 2018 elections, but at this point we already have evidence that especially large companies are preparing to do so, such as the Chelyabinsk-based metal producer Mechel or the oil giant Rosneft. It is also crucial to keep in mind that this is as much a bottom-up as a top-down phenomenon. Given the large dominance of the state in the Russian economy, large companies have significant incentives to demonstrate loyalty to the state because they might be treated with sticks such as reprisals in form of oversight bodies or even expropriation, or with carrots such as a preferential treatment with state contracts.

To boycott or not to boycott, and comparative politics

While Sobchak’s campaign started from a mostly apolitical (“Sobchak against all”) slogan to a more political and programmatic platform (For Sobchak), Aleksey Navalny’s bid was political from the very beginning with a strong organizational component. His Foundation for the Fight against Corruption (FBK) managed to sign up more than 700,000 supporters and opened 81 regional headquarters all over Russia. Moreover, especially in the first half of 2017 Navalny managed to stage two comparatively successful protest marches with a strong regional focus in March and June despite increasing pressure from the authorities. In November 2017, for example, he announced that his employees in Moscow and the regions (i.e. not counting volunteers and supporters) had spent more than 2000 hours under arrest and had paid more than 10 million rubles (USD 175,000) in fines. As there is little doubt he would have been able to collect the 300,000 signatures demanded by law, Navalny announced a “voters’ strike” (Zabastovka izbiratelei) after the Central Election Commission rejected his bid to register officially as a candidate on 25 December 2017. Given the resources invested by Navalny, a “boycott” seemed rational, but this automatically pitted him against Sobchak and Yavlinsky. From the perspective of the Kremlin, this constellation was ideal for splitting the opposition with a minimum of effort by the presidential administration itself. What ensued was a rather fierce and at times self-destructive debate by supporters of the various camps about the perils and virtues of electoral boycotts. Electoral mathematicians such as Sergey Shpilkin and Andrei Buzin argued that a boycott that comprised only opposition supporters, but not Putin voters, would only marginally decrease turnout, but inevitably increase Putin’s vote. Notable political scientists such as Grigory Golosov and Aleksandr Kynev support the boycott. Quite interestingly, the debate frequently made reference to boycotts around the world. The most-cited reference was Matthew Frankel’s 2010 paper “Threaten but participate: Why election boycotts are a bad idea”[iv] who argued that boycotts are rarely the correct strategy unless the opposition has widespread public support. But even supporters of the boycott found arguments in the Frankel piece that seemed to underscore their position, therefore cherry-picking among expert opinions and academic writings for political purposes was widespread. The whole debate illuminates blank spots in the reasoning and what the various political actors omitted. First, not much has been written about electoral boycotts in comparative politics, so it seems doubtful whether it is actually possible to draw robust conclusions “from the literature” for the Russian case. Second, Navalny’s ”voters’ strike” counts as a “minor boycott” at best. But comparative research so far has predominantly focused on major boycotts. In the most comprehensive work on boycotts to date, Emily Beaulieau only includes those boycotts in which more than 50% of the opposition takes part[v]. And third, the public debate mostly focused on the depression of turnout to harm Vladimir Putin’s claim to legitimacy, but other crucial aspects are kept quiet about. Staffan Lindberg found that boycotts are often positively correlated with electoral violence[vi]. Moreover, oppositional actors preferred to ignore that boycotts are frequently associated with a post-electoral crackdown by the authoritarian regime, and that the long-term prospects of democratization in the aftermath of boycotts are rather bleak[vii]. Overall, the debate on boycotts was rather superficial, but managed to drive a wedge between various opposition actors.

Election monitoring

Navalny and his team underscored that the election boycott was only one element of his strategy of voters’ strike, other elements include nation-wide protests and election monitoring. In fact, right after Navalny was denied official registration as a candidate he announced that his regional campaign headquarters would be transformed into election monitoring headquarters that would help organize and train the regional independent monitoring on election day. In early March, his website boasted more than 45,000 registered election monitors with an overall aim of 50-70,000 (there will be more than 95,000 polling stations). More crucially, while the debate on a boycott was mostly divisive, the election monitoring initiative seems to have led to some collective action and cooperation, and therefore also to a build-up of trust, social capital and experience among opposition actors. In late January, former Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov, who is largely supportive of Yabloko, reached an agreement with Navalny: Gudkov aimed to cover all of Moscow’s 3500 polling stations with two observers (in early March 5500 had registered on his website), and Gudkov and Navalny would share expertise and training capacities.

While the scale and effect of this monitoring campaign remains to be seen, in the light of recent research this strategy seems to be justified from the opposition’s point of view. Rodion Skovoroda and Tomila Lankina, for instance, show that “reports by independent observers of subnational electoral irregularities could be employed as reasonably reliable indicators of fraud, and could be utilized alongside other data to ascertain the incidence of misconduct in Russia and other settings”[viii] In an another paper on Russian regional politics, Skovoroda and Lankina find that election fraud has the potential to generate protest[ix]. Depending on the degree of electoral fraud and the quality of election monitoring, the signaling effect and potential ensuing protests could actually prove more effective in delegitimizing the elections than the boycott which has been so divisive for opposition actors.

Constitutional politics and presidential power

The presidential campaign has once more highlighted how the expansion of constitutional and subconstitutional presidential powers[x] and the “rule by law” bolsters authoritarianism.

Navalny’s non-registration: On 25 December 2017 the Russian Central Election Commission refused to register Aleksei Navalny as a presidential candidate. In its decision the CEC argued that Navalny did not possess the passive right to be elected president due to his five year suspended criminal conviction in the Kirovles 2 case. The CEC’s point of reference was the federal law “On the elections of the President of the Russian Federation”, which states that persons convicted of severe or very severe crimes cannot be elected. Navalny, for his part, argues that Art. 32 of the Russian constitution only bans those citizens from being elected that are “kept in places of confinement by a court sentence.” Therefore, Russian federal law is more restrictive than the constitution which – as the supreme juridicial force with direct action – in Navalny’s and some notable constitutional lawyers’ reading should therefore trump federal law. Both the Russian Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court declined to review the Navalny case on the merits. Moreover, Navalny filed a second petition with the European Court of Human Rights arguing that the repeated Kirovles 2 decision was handed down with major procedural irregularities. It is expected that the ECHR – just as in its first sentence on Kirovles 1 – will decide in favor of Navalny. In September 2017, the Council of Europe’s Council of Ministers already had appealed to Russia to allow Navalny to stand for elections.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly: Russia’s equivalent of the American State of the Union Address is usually held by the president every year. In 2017, however, Putin failed to deliver the address to the Russian political elite, a first in the post-Soviet Russian history. If the address is regarded as a duty, and not as a prerogative of the president, then Putin’s omission has to be interpreted as a violation of the constitution. In addition, in February the date of the address was postponed several times and finally took place only on 1 March. Due to the close proximity to the elections, the speech was in fact an address of the main presidential candidate, and not the president, to the political elite, and therefore not only dilutes the constitutional meaning of the address, but also even more distorts the electoral playing field in Putin’s favor.

Presidential term limit: Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 for his third term was accompanied by a debate about the meaning of paragraph 3 of Art. 81 of the constitution that “one and the same person may not be elected President of the Russian Federation for more than two terms running [dva sroka podryad]”. Many founding fathers of the constitution argued that this formulation essentially copied and implied the French meaning “two consecutive terms” that would not allow another term, even if the third was not consecutive as in Putin’s case. Kseniya Sobchak reinvigorated this debate by filing a lawsuit with the Supreme Court the aim of which was to achieve a ban of Vladimir Putin running for president in 2018. As expected, the SC confirmed that Vladimir Putin’s registration as a candidate by the CEC was lawful. Nevertheless, both Sobchak’s petition and her speech at the SC as well as her lawyer’s comment on the SC’s justification of its appellate ruling will be useful for posterity to judge Vladimir Putin’s presidency. Sobchak claims that a Constitutional Court ruling from 1998, a SC ruling from 2001 as well as a textbook written by the current chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin clearly underscore that one person cannot occupy the post of the president more than two times. But more interestingly, she also argues that Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin admitted on multiple occasions that they secretly conspired to retain the presidency within their elite group. In Sobchak’s reading, this plot constitutes a usurpation of power: even when Vladimir Putin was prime minister he de facto controlled the presidency and therefore in 2018 he has already held the presidency for four consecutive terms. Needless to say, the SC did not expand on the alleged secret deal. But still her legal reasoning resonates with Alexander Baturo’s work on term limits and continuismo[xi].

These three examples illustrate that talks about a post-Putin Russia appear to be premature at this point. At least the legal and political barriers for extending his rule beyond 2024 are low. More crucial still is what Henry Hale has called “the great power of expectations”[xii]. Vladimir Putin will leave the presidency voluntarily or by force only when a significantly large part of the elite will expect him to be weak. Monitoring and assessing these elite beliefs and expectations will be essential for Vladimir Putin’s fourth – or fifth – term to understand whether it will be his last, or not.


[i] Zavadskaya, M., Grömping, M., & i Coma, F. M. (2017). Electoral Sources of Authoritarian Resilience in Russia: Varieties of Electoral Malpractice, 2007–2016. Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, 25(4), 480.

[ii] Simpser, A. (2013). Why governments and parties manipulate elections: theory, practice, and implications. Cambridge University Press.

[iii] Frye, T., Reuter, O. J., & Szakonyi, D. (2018). Hitting Them with Carrots: Voter Intimidation and Vote Buying In Russia. British Journal of Political Science, 1-25.

[iv] Frankel, M. (2010). “Threaten but participate: Why election boycotts are a bad idea. Brookings Policy Paper, Nr. 19, 1-12.

[v] Beaulieu, E. (2014). Electoral protest and democracy in the developing world. Cambridge University Press.

[vi] Lindberg, S. I. (2006). When Do Opposition Parties Participate? In: Schedler, A. Electoral Authoritarianism. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 149-163.

[vii] Smith, I. O. (2014). Election boycotts and hybrid regime survival. Comparative Political Studies47(5), 743-765.

[viii] Skovoroda, R., & Lankina, T. (2017). Fabricating votes for Putin: new tests of fraud and electoral manipulations from Russia. Post-Soviet Affairs33(2), 100-123.

[ix] Lankina, T., & Skovoroda, R. (2017). Regional protest and electoral fraud: evidence from analysis of new data on Russian protest. East European Politics33(2), 253-274.

[x] Burkhardt, F. (2017). The institutionalization of relative advantage: formal institutions, subconstitutional presidential powers, and the rise of authoritarian politics in Russia, 1994–2012. Post-Soviet Affairs33(6), 472-495.

[xi] See pages 49 to 53 for Baturo’s discussion of the extension of term limits and the Russian case: Baturo, A. (2014). Democracy, dictatorship, and term limits. University of Michigan Press.

[xii] Hale, H. E. (2014). Patronal politics: Eurasian regime dynamics in comparative perspective. Cambridge University Press.

Latvia – President Vējonis uses suspensive veto power for the 11th time

Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. Members of Parliament (MPs) elect the President. The President of Latvia is Raimonds Vējonis, who was elected in July 2015 for a four-year term.

One of the president’s legislative powers is to require the parliament to reconsider a law (suspensive veto power). Within ten days of the adoption of a law by the Saeima, the president can require it be reconsidered. If the Saeima passes the law again without amending it, the President cannot then raise an objection a second time. Should, though, the Saeima, by not less than a two-thirds majority vote, determine a law to be urgent, the President cannot request the reconsideration of a 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 [1].

President Raimonds Vējonis has used his suspensive veto power 11 times since being elected in July 2015. This is from a total of 654 laws and amendments, including laws determined as urgent, that have been proclaimed from July 8, 2015 until March 6, 2018.

In Latvia there is a standard procedure that the president’s request should be returned to parliament within a period of ten days of the adoption of a law by the Saeima. If the President, in accordance with the provisions of Article 71 of the Constitution of Latvia (Satversme), has requested a law be reconsidered, the Saeima at its next sitting, without holding a debate, forwards the President’s reasoned objections to the responsible committee and to other committees and sets the deadline by which proposals may be submitted and the law reconsidered [2]. When the law is being reconsidered, only the objections raised by the President and the proposals related to these objections are considered. When the law has been passed by the Saeima, the President signs it not earlier than the tenth day and not later than the twenty-first day after the law has been adopted.

During the Presidency of Raimonds Vējonis these procedures have been taken into account. Laws have been passed to the responsible commission within 5 to 13 days of the President’s request. In two cases, laws were then reconsidered within 18, 19 days, in four cases within just over a one month, in two cases it took two months, two cases were reconsidered three to four months, and the latest one, requested on February 9, is still in process.

Eleven written and reasoned requests [3] regarded amendments to laws:

  1. Amendments to the Electronic Media Law were prepared by a Saeima commission.  The  Saeima overrode the President’s request.
  2. Amendments to the Immigration Law were prepared by MPs. Amendments were partly accepted by the Saeima.
  3. Amendments to the Marine Code were prepared by the Cabinet of Ministers. The Saeima accepted the President’s request.
  4. Amendments to the Microenterprise Tax Law were prepared by the Cabinet of Ministers. The Saeima accepted the President’s request.
  5. Amendments to the Law “On Land Privatization in Rural Areas” were prepared by a Saeima commission. Amendments were partly accepted by Saeima.
  6. Amendments to the Alcoholic Beverages Circulation Law were prepared by a Saeima commission. The Saeima accepted the President’s request.
  7. Amendments to the Law on Credit Institutions were prepared by the Cabinet of Ministers. The Saeima overrode the President’s request.
  8. Amendments to the Law on State Administration Structure were prepared by the Cabinet of Ministers. The Saeima accepted the President’s request.
  9. Amendments to the Law on Financial Instruments Market were prepared by the Cabinet of Ministers. The Saeima accepted the President’s request.
  10. Amendments to the Law “On Judicial Power” were prepared by a Saeima commission. The Saeima accepted the President’s request.
  11. Amendments to the Public Procurement Law were prepared by a Saeima commission. The Saeima will evaluate the request on April 19, 2018.

This leads to a conclusion of the importance of cooperation between the President and Parliament. The more the president influences decision-making during the legislative process, the less the President needs to use a suspensive veto.


[1] Constitution of Latvia, Satversme. 1922. (with amendments)

[2] Rules of procedure of Saeima. 1994. (with amendments) Article 115.

[3] President’s Raimonds Vējonis written and reasoned requests, 2015–2018.

Nigeria — Bandwagoning, Election Sequencing, and an Executive-Legislative Tug of War

What has happened:

On February 6, Nigeria’s Senate voted in favor of amendments to Nigeria’s Electoral Act, the law which governs key aspects of the manner in which Nigeria’s national elections are conducted. Though the proposed amendments contain a number of interesting provisions, one provision in particular —which relates to the sequencing of Nigeria’s presidential, state, and parliamentary elections —has become a source of controversy.

At the heart of ongoing debate is the fact that the bill approved in the Senate proposes to upturn the order in which elections are held such that elections for members of Nigeria’s National Assembly will now be conducted first while State elections and Presidential polls will subsequently be held.

Nigeria’s electoral management bureau, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has already released its polling time-table which, drawing on precedent, stagger the national elections—with the Presidential election holding first followed by those for the State and National Assembly. If the bill is passed the INEC will therefore be forced to reverse its calendar. The implications of this reordering have been the cause of much speculation and scrutiny given the fact that Nigeria’s next national elections, scheduled for February 2019, are barely a year away.

Moreover, passing these amendments brings the Senate in line with the House of Representatives, Nigeria’s lower chamber of parliament, which unanimously assented to the same amendments in January. Their approval in the Senate thus means that the President Buhari’s signature is the final hurdle in the path for the acceptance of the amendments into law.

What is at stake:

The passage of this amendment in both chambers of Nigeria’s National Assembly sheds light on a number of important developments. Firstly, as has been noted in the Nigerian press, the proposals reveal the National Assembly’s recognition of the importance of the ‘bandwagon effect’ in Nigerian elections. The bandwagon effect is a phenomenon wherein voters cast their ballots in favor of the party they consider the most likely winner of an election. [i] This effect has been particularly pronounced in national elections in Nigeria where elections are staggered, and where it is common for the party which wins the Presidential election, typically held first, to not only win a majority in subsequent State and National Assembly elections but also to win over members of the opposition party who frequently defect to the winning side [ii]. Given President Buhari’s popularity and his likelihood to seek a second term, this is a factor which could have a significant impact on the composition of the next National Assembly. The current National Assembly’s decision to pass this amendment thus appears to signal its desire to at least limit, if not reverse, the influence which the outcome of the next Presidential elections will have on the National Assembly races.

These amendments also signal increasing factionalism in Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). President Buhari is the de facto leader of the APC, which has reportedly endorsed him for a second term. The APC also commands a majority in both the Senate and the House of representatives and is represented in the leadership of both houses. The fact that this bill nonetheless garnered enough APC votes in order to pass in both Houses suggests that APC members in the legislature may no longer see their fate as tied to that of the President. Instead — and perhaps as a third implication of the passage of the amendment — this suggest that members of the legislature are seeking increased independence from the influence and control vested in the executive branch. An increasingly independent legislature would mark a significant development in Nigeria’s Democracy, in which, given its enormous powers, executive influence has typically been all-but-insurmountable.

What happens next:

For precisely the above reasons, it is safe to assume that President Buhari is likely to veto the National Assembly’s proposed amendments. The president will see the upcoming election as an opportunity  to shore up his support in the legislature and to limit the sort of independence which has allowed the National Assembly propose this amendment in the first place. Assenting to the proposed electoral schedule which could rob the president of influence is for this reason certain to be a none-starter.  In the event of a presidential veto, it is also likely that the legislature will seek to override the president, a highly plausible scenario given the bill’s popularity in the National Assembly thus far. What is likely to happen beyond this point is difficult to precisely estimate. However, whichever direction the resolution of this debate ultimately falls will certainly play a significant role in the management and outcome of Nigeria’s upcoming elections.

[i] Morton, R. B., Muller, D., Page, L., & Torgler, B. (2015). Exit polls, turnout, and bandwagon voting: Evidence from a natural experiment. European Economic Review, 77, 65-81.

[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.