Monthly Archives: April 2018

Czech Republic – The President and a protracted government formation process

Although the 2017 parliamentary elections took place some six month ago, the Czech Republic still lacks a fully fledged cabinet. The country is currently run by a partisan caretaker cabinet led by Andrej Babiš, the leader of the largest parliamentary party, ANO (“ANO” means “yes” in Czech). His cabinet, which was appointed in December 2017, failed to receive a vote of confidence in the January 2018 parliamentary vote. In line with the Constitution, President Zeman authorized Babiš’ cabinet to carry out governmental functions until a new cabinet is appointed. At the same time, he gave Mr. Babiš a long time horizon (until the end of June) to form a new cabinet which would enjoy parliamentary confidence. Given the strong presidential powers in the government formation process, President Zeman (along with Andrej Babiš) became a central figure of this process.

As far as the government formation negotiations are concerned, there is a paradox. ANO is a pragmatic centre-oriented populist movement that lacks a clear ideological profile. Instead, it is characterized by bowing both to the right and to the left and flexibly changing its policies. This flexibility gives ANO a great coalition potential. Indeed, ANO has been able to negotiate with almost all parliamentary parties. That said, ANO has failed to win support for its minority cabinet or generate a majority coalition cabinet. This puzzle can be explained by the very fact that Mr. Babiš, the leader and also the de facto owner of the ANO movement (ANO is a prime example of a business-firm party), faces a number challenges, including a police investigation of his business, his past co-operation with the former Communist secret police, and allegations of instructing political journalists of the media he owns. In addition, Andrej Babiš finds himself with a considerable clash of interests, because he is the owner of the Agrofert group, one of the largest business conglomerates in the country, owing various agricultural, food processing, and chemical companies. Agrofert is also the largest beneficiary of various state subsidies. Most parties are willing to co-operate with ANO, if Mr. Babiš stays outside the future cabinet. However, ANO insists that Mr. Babiš is its only candidate for the role of prime minister, which is understandable given the fact that ANO comes close to the ideal of one-man party.

Andrej Babiš can also rely on almost unconditional support from President Miloš Zeman. This pragmatic alliance between Miloš Zeman and Andrej Babiš (including their political styles, policies and rhetoric) brought thousands of people onto the streets of many cities across the Czech Republic in spring 2018. The protesters showed their anger with both figures and also with the rising importance of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), the legal and ideological successor of the former Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. The party has recently increased its influence upon the executive, because it is likely to support Babiš’s future cabinet. The party has not been in government since the 1989 Velvet revolution and no cabinet has so far been reliant on the votes of the Communists. This stable feature of the Czech politics seems to be coming to an end. In symbolic terms, this shift can be illustrated by the fact that Miloš Zeman attended the KSČM party congress in April 2018, whereas his two predecessors in the presidential office, Václav Havel and Václav Klaus, never did so.

The most probable shape of the future cabinet appears to be a minority coalition by ANO and the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), supported by KSČM, which is the option that was also supported by Miloš Zeman. ČSSD is heavily influenced by Miloš Zeman, who was the social democratic PM between 1998 and 2002 and who encouraged the party to join an ANO-led coalition. The party is still badly divided on the issue of joining the coalition with ANO. However, in spring 2018 the party’s congress elected its new chairman and vice-chairmen, who are supportive of co-operation with Mr. Babiš on condition that ČSSD would get four seats in the cabinet plus the Ministry of Interior to keep an eye on “neutral” police investigation related to Babiš’ alleged fraud of a two million euro EU subsidy. ČSSD also insists that if a government member (in fact M. Babiš) is convicted of a crime by a court, he will be obliged to resign from the cabinet. Mr. Babiš eventually accepted the former condition, but he strongly rejects the latter.

Andrej Babiš has also considered a minority ANO cabinet supported not only by KSČM, but also by a radical-right wing populist movement “Freedom and Direct Democracy” (SPD) led by a political entrepreneur Tomio Okamura, whose party has called for a “Czexit” (i.e. Czech Republic’s withdrawal from the EU), has pushed for a Czexit referendum, and has a strong anti-immigration rhetoric, which has made its critics call the movement “fascist”.  However, the idea of the ANO-led cabinet supported by SPD and KSČM was eventually rejected by ANO’s leading figures.

When it comes to the most important events of the second Zeman’s term, one can identify a consistent pattern. He keeps polarizing the Czech society. In his inaugural speech, he harshly attacked Czech quality media, including the Czech television, which is generally considered one of the most reliable sources of information in the Czech Republic and which is modelled on the BBC. Furthermore, Miloš Zeman has kept supporting Russia and Vladimir Putin. This peaked at his speech in the Council of Europe towards the end of his first mandate in October 2017. At that time he said that the annexation of Crimea was a fait accompli and that European countries should look for alternative solutions to the crisis, such as Ukraine getting financial compensation for Crimea from Russia, or free deliveries of crude oil or natural gas. Such a position clearly diverges from the government’s position and displeased Ukraine.

In March 2018 the Novichok nerve agent was used to try to kill former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK. British representatives have accused Russia of this act. Russia denied the allegations and argued that the nerve agent could have been produced in the Czech Republic. Although Prime Minister Babiš dismissed the Russian claim, Miloš Zeman asked the Czech counter-intelligence service to look for the Novichok agent. This led to a couple of Czech parliamentary parties to accuse Zeman of high-treason and of serving the interests of Russia against the interest of the Czech Republic. In relation to the Novichok scandal, a large number of (not only) European countries, including the Czech Republic, expelled Russian diplomats, but Miloš Zeman did not support this move.

Another controversy over Zeman’s foreign policy was also related to Russia. In spring 2018 Zeman lobbied the Minister of Justice for the extradition of Yevgeniy Nikulin to Russia, who had filed for his extradition on the grounds of a petty online theft. The suspected Russian hacker was, however, extradited to the United States, where he was charged with hacking American firms such as LinkedIn and Dropbox. The media speculated that Nikulin might have some details on Russia-sponsored cyber-attacks on the USA. As a reaction, Zeman’s chancellor to the president, Vratislav Mynář, called the minister‘s decision “unlawful”.

President Zeman also supports Chinese political and economic interests in the Czech Republic. Many observers were taken aback by Zeman’s decision to make Ye Jianming,  Chairman and Executive Director of CEFC China Energy Company Limited (a giant Chinese finance conglomerate with alleged links to Chinese secrete services), his official economic advisor in 2015. Although Zeman highly appreciated Chinese investments in the Czech Republic, they remain only marginally important for the Czech economy. Moreover, Ye Jianming was detained by the Chinese authorities. Ye’s detention in China was probably ordered directly by the Chinese president Xi Jinping. In the past, several CEFC’s representatives were accused of bribery and CEFC was criticized for risky investment projects.

Although these events have clearly cast doubt on Miloš Zeman’s foreign policy, he remains highly popular as some 50% of population trust the President. As for his use of presidential powers in the last six months, Miloš Zeman has respected the dominant position of the caretaker government and has not pushed the limits of his competences. There has been almost no conflict between the president and the government. President Zeman still retains the control over the government formation process. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Babiš will be successful in creating a new cabinet. Even if he fails for the second time (i.e. the Chamber of Deputies will not pass a motion of confidence in his cabinet), the power to appoint a new prime minister passes from the president to the Speaker of the Chamber of Depuites, Radek Vondráček, an ANO member.

On defining regime types (I) Including a super-majority clause

In a recent post, I linked to a new time-series, cross-sectional dataset on semi-presidentialism. The dataset provides an annual, cross-national coding of semi-presidential countries since 1900. V2.0 is available here.

The dataset contains two codings of semi-presidentialism. One conforms to – let’s call it – the standard definition. Here, semi-presidentialism is where the constitution provides for a directly (or popularly) elected president and a prime minister and cabinet that are collectively responsible to the legislature. The other adds another clause. Here, semi-presidentialism is where the constitution provides for a directly (or popularly) elected president and a prime minister and cabinet that are collectively responsible to the legislature other than by a super-majority vote. The second coding was added to V1.0 along with codings for countries that conform to – let’s call them – the standard definitions of premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism plus countries that confirm to those definitions with the addition of an equivalent super-majority clause.

Where does the need for a coding that includes a super-majority clause come from? I have been aware for some time that Samuels and Shugart (2010, p. 30, fn 4) excluded countries, such as Madagascar, from their list of semi-presidential regimes because of the introduction in the Constitution at a certain time of a super-majority requirement. In fact, they classed Madagascar as presidential for this reason (e.g. ibid. p. 33 and p. 258). Yet, I don’t remember seeing any definition of semi-presidentialism that explicitly includes this clause. Also, as far as I am aware, it isn’t part of any formal definition of the concept that Samuels and Shugart provide and the equivalent clause isn’t included in their (or Shugart and Carey’s) definition of premier-presidentialism or president-parliamentarism. So, it seems to be post-definitional add-on, or an implicit assumption of the formal definition.

In one sense, I’m indifferent as to whether a super-majority clause should be included as part of the definition of semi-presidentialism, because even if it is included it still allows for the reliable classification of countries. No expert knowledge is needed to determine whether a country should be classed as semi-presidential or not. We just need to apply certain rules to publicly available constitutional information. This reliability is the most important part of the classification process.

Three points, though. First, if it is to be operationalised, then I think the clause should be stated as part of the definition. If it isn’t stated, then for me semi-presidentialism still includes countries with a super-majority requirement. If it is stated, then it obviously excludes them. In other words, we should avoid post-definitional add-ons or implicit definitional assumptions.

Second, I think it is still better to class countries with a super-majority requirement as semi-presidential (or as a sub-category of semi-presidentialism) rather as presidential. After all, the constitution does still allow the legislature to bring down the government, whereas under presidentialism, by definition, it does not. Sure, it might take an extraordinary and almost unimaginable set of circumstances for, say, a two-thirds majority to come together and bring a government down, but constitutionally it could happen. (Think how opposing parties can vote together to end a nominally fixed-term legislature). In other words, whether or not it happens is a matter of politics not the constitution. If we are classing countries on the basis of constitutions, which is the only reliable way of doing so, then surely it is better to think of a country with a super-majority clause as being semi-presidential not presidential? The survival of one part of the executive is still not separate from the legislature.

Third, a super-majority requirement has implications for the classification of parliamentary regimes too. Maybe there are no examples, but what if there was a super-majority clause in a nominally parliamentary regime? For me, this would still make the country with such a clause parliamentary, although we might want to think about classifying the country as a sub-category of parliamentarism. Whatever the choice, I would be wary of classifying that country as presidential.

This is all very nerdy. But why stop there? Next week, I am going to discuss the classificatory implications of introducing other clauses.

Romania – Constitutional Revision May Follow. LGBT Rights under scrutiny

Source: Adevarul.ro / Gay Pride at the Romanian Arch of Triumph. Number of attendees has usually been in the hundreds since the first manifestation of 2004.

In recent years, Romanian political elites and electorate have engaged in a debate over the right of sexual minorities to establish a legally recognized family. This is a tense subject in a country with traditionalist social values. The matter has involved in different ways large parts of the public, the governing coalition, the presidency and the Constitutional Court and is on its way to becoming the subject of a national referendum. It has also been used as a political tool by the governing Social Democrat Party (PSD) and junior coalition partners, the Alliance of Liberal Democrats (ALDE) to pursue a diminished involvement of the president in the organisation of referenda and to substantiate their place as conservatives on the social dimension of ideological positioning. In the present text, I explain the context in which the prospect of ‘same-sex’ marriage has gathered more attention than ever before, some effects it has had on party life and its potential side-effect in diminishing some powers of the president.

3 million citizens and a gay couple

Two contrasting events have challenged Romanians’ social values in the last decade. A gay couple comprised of American and Romanian citizens married in Belgium and requested the recognition of their marital status in Romania together with all the ensuing legal rights. This would include residence rights for the American citizen. The couple started their quest for recognition in 2013 and has still not received a decision from the Romanian authorities. The matter has currently been submitted by the Romanian Constitutional Court to the European Court for Human Rights. An opinion is expected on how to deal with a marriage that is not accepted according to organic law in Romania without breaching the right for free movement on EU territory and the right to family life and privacy of all citizens according to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

During this debate, it has become apparent that the constitutional provision defining a family as being ‘founded on the mutually agreed marriage between husbands’ (Romanian Constitution, Art. 48) is a source for conflicting interpretations on who the husbands could be. Consequently, an NGO named ‘The Coalition for the Family’ gathered 3 million signatures to initiate a referendum to change the understanding of family into ‘mutually agreed marriage between a woman and a man’. In their quest, they had the support of the state wide network of Orthodox churches. This latter initiative was endorsed by 2/3 of the members of the Chamber of Deputies and the governing coalition who announced that a referendum on this issue will be organised in the spring of 2018. Considering the large scope of disapproval for LGBT rights in Romania, chances are that the popular vote will lead to a change of the Constitution. The movement to change the Constitution has now become synonymous with ‘anti- LGBT rights’.

No country for gay (wo)men

From right to left, political elites have been united in their defence of what is now being called ‘the traditional family’, blurring already confused ideological identities even further. PSD chairman, Liviu Dragnea, declared from the initial stages of this debate that his party would back the proposal to change the Constitution. In early April, he also announced that PSD will organise a large march of support for this proposal. Junior coalition partner ALDE is also in support of this change, similar to center – right legislative partners, the Democratic Union of Hungarians In Romania (UDMR). The main opposition party, the National Liberal Party (PNL) declared itself in favour of a restrictive definition of the family. The quest of the ‘Coalition for the Family’ was also endorsed by the parliamentary Popular Movement Party (PMP) as the preferred Christian-Orthodox path to society building.

The smaller opposition party, centre – left newcomers Save Romania Union (USR), went through its own internal struggle on what side to choose. Following a decision not to support the change of constitution – an exclusive choice among parliamentary parties – the USR founding chairman resigned in protest. The Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, had a reserved position on the matter. He declared himself in favour of supporting the rights of all minorities, making more acceptable references to religious and ethnic minorities, thus allowing ambiguous interpretations.

In short, all parliamentary parties, except (most of the) USR, support the elimination of a possible interpretation of the Constitution that marriage between same – sex partners is acceptable. The referendum is a safe bet for the governing coalition and a platform for self-promotion. In the short and medium run, the ‘same-sex marriage’ debate serves to further dilute the identification of an opposition to the current government’s policies. A more progressive stance on this matter has not been actively picked up by any party.(1) No politician seems willing to risk the estrangement of a largely conservative electorate.

Organising referenda, the fast – forward way

To organise the referendum to change the Constitution, decision – makers have to overcome another legalistic hurdle. The current legislative majority passed an amendment to the ‘Referendum Law’ that would allow it to arrange such proceedings without any potential contestation and delays from the presidency.  The Constitution (Art. 150) states that the power to call for referenda lies with the president at the government’s proposal, 1/4 of MPs or 500 000 citizens. However, the current ‘Referendum Law’ calls for an individual new law for every such instance, providing the date and scope of a plebiscite. As do all laws, this would reach the president for promulgation. S/he could then contest it once or send it for revision with the Constitutional Court, thus delaying the process. The amended law would no longer demand a new piece of legislation for the organisation of a referendum, thus circumventing the intervention of the president and expediting the process. The possibility to so change the ‘Referendum Law’ is now being analysed by the Constitutional Court.

Conclusion

PSD chairman Dragnea announced that the ‘referendum on the definition of family’ would be carried under the amended ‘Referendum Law’. Eliminating the president from the organisation of a referendum can be read as a depletion of his institutional leverages of power.  Apart from its immediate effect on delivering a faster resolution to the demands of traditionalists, this change to the law would bring PSD another point in its battle with the president.

All in all, the foci of conservatism will receive long term satisfaction. With this pragmatic move, PSD has underwired its collaboration with the Orthodox Church, while keeping opposition parties in silent approval and the president disarmed.


  1. The small non- parliamentary Green Party is the sole to endorse rights for the LGBT community.

Victor Araújo, Andréa Freitas, and Marcelo Vieira – The partisan logic of government formation in presidential democracies: evidence from Latin America

This is a guest post by Victor Araújo, Andréa Freitas, and Marcelo Vieira. It is based on their article in Revista Ciencia Política and is available here.

In presidential democracies, constitutions empower the head of the executive branch as the main actor responsible for the composition of ministerial portfolios. Once elected, the president has the prerogative to directly appoint the high-level members of the government. The invited parties, in turn, must also decide whether to accept the offer. This decision, similar to the decision in parliamentary multiparty systems, involves costs and benefits. However, there are few studies that examine the reasoning behind parties’ decisions to join coalitions in presidential systems.

In our recent article The Presidential Logic of Government Formation in Latin American Democracies, we argue that the decision over whether to join or reject the government’s coalition is related to the party leaders’ evaluations regarding how much political resources their party will gain from the policies. By analyzing 12 Latin American presidential democracies, we test whether the presence of institutional incentives that allow political parties to influence policies in the legislative arena is related to parties’ decision to join government coalitions.

Theoretically, we assume that decentralization of the legislative decision-making process creates institutional mechanisms for sharing the policy formulation competence among different actors, strengthening the system of legislative commissions and allowing those parties to use this decision arena to change the policies that interest them. Thus, decentralized parliaments tend to empower opposition parties and increase the probability of minority governments.

Considering that state resources are finite and political actors prefer policies closer to their ideal points, parties need to set strategies on how to access resources from the public machine. Therefore, the question that emerges is: In which arenas can parties act to have their preferences considered in policies to be implemented by the government? In democratic contexts, parties have three options:
1. To systematize, vocalize and organize their preferences in deliberative instances of the decision-making process within the legislative branch;

2. To use mechanisms of preference alignment during the formulation process of public policies or;

3. To occupy ministry offices and positions in the structure of the executive power, attempting to aggregate their preferences to the executive’s policy agenda.

If, in contexts such as 1 and 2, a parties’ chances of influencing the policy-making process are reduced, then its incentives pursue option 3 increase. In other words, if a party does not expect to be the formateur party, it is more advantageous to join the government and have the chance to actively participate in the public policy formulation process. Those contexts vary according to the set of political institutions in two dimensions based on the centralization or decentralization score of the legislative power and the executive power. These two dimensions regulate the capacity of each branch to influence the political agenda. That is, to aggregate their preferences into the decision-making process.

Figure 1. Policy aggregation preference arenas and incentives to integrate into government coalitions

Source: Elaborated by the authors

In the first context (I), the area to aggregate preferences according to the two arenas (executive and legislative) is equivalent (L<=>E). In this case, the institutional arrangement gives equal capacity to the executive and legislative branches to influence the decision-making process. In other words, the possibility that parties influence public policies through the process of formulation and control of the implementation of public policies, which occurs both in the legislative arena and in the executive arena, is open. Consequently, the party that expects to be the formateur party of the cabinet in the short and medium run – and other parties that choose to not integrate cabinet -, will have an equivalent executive capacity to influence the agenda. In this context, formed coalitions will be either minimum winning or even minority coalitions, depending on the political/ideological parties that form the legislature.

In the second context (II), there is a non-equivalence relationship in the aggregation of preferences between both arenas of power (E>L). Therefore, the capacity of the legislative branch to aggregate its preferences is reduced by an excessive centralization of decision-making power in the hands of the executive branch and president. In other words, not being a member of the government cabinet means having restricted access to the formulation process of public policies, due to the legislative branch’s reduced capacity to aggregate parties’ preferences. In this context, all parties invited by the president that do not aim, in the short term, to assume the presidency, tend to accept the president’s coalition offer.

The third context (III) describes a situation in which the president has fewer agenda-setting powers and a reduced autonomy to manage resources — positions and budget — as well as a decentralized legislature (L>E). In this context, the capacity of the executive branch to influence the decision-making process is reduced, making it less attractive to legislative parties. In such a context, coalitions will seldom be formed. Because parties can aggregate their preferences in the legislative branch, they will not risk the potential costs of being associated with the government.

The Latin American countries analyzed in our article represent each of the three contexts described above. Chile and Panama are examples of the first context (L<=>E). In those cases, although the executive power has considerable influence over the legislative process, processes in the legislature are decentralized and there is an open space for aggregating preferences in this arena. Colombia and Ecuador can be included in the second context (E>L). In those democracies, the executive has considerable capacity to aggregate preferences in the formation of policy, while there is also a relatively low degree of decentralization of the legislative process. Finally, Costa Rica and Paraguay are included in the third context (L>E). In both countries, the presidency has a reduced prerogative that limits the executive’s ability to dominate legislative agenda. There is also a high degree of decentralization of legislative activity in these cases.

We use information from 12 Latin American Countries, comprising 68 governments and 112 cabinets, formed between 1979 and 2011. We conducted a panel data analysis in which we considered the variation among government’s cabinets both between and within democracies. We tested the impact of the decentralization score of the legislative activity on the probability of parties joining a government’s coalitions in presidential systems.

Our results suggest that the existence of parliaments with greater influence on the legislative process consistently reduces the incentives of parties to join the government. Figure 2 graphically shows the predicted effect of the degree of decentralization on the size of the cabinet. By varying the degree of decentralization and keeping all other variables constant (at their means), we are interested in assessing the expected size of the government’s coalition when we observe different values for legislative decentralization. A basic interpretation of the figure indicates a linear and negative relationship between both decentralization and the proportion of legislative parties within the cabinet. As the variable decentralization increases, the proportion of legislative parties that join the coalition decreases.

Figure 2. Predicting the size of the government coalition according to the decentralization of the legislative process in 12 Latin American Countries

Source: Elaborated by the authors

Therefore, our findings reinforce the idea that offices in the structure of the executive branch are only one path, among others, used by parties to influence the policy decision-making process. Our results suggest that parties adopt a policy-seeking orientation in presidential systems. This does not mean that we assume the unrealistic premise that all parties pursue programmatic goals. Our assumption means that, even if a specific party has clientelistic and patronage aspirations, political and monetary resources are crucial elements to accomplish their objectives, and that the only way to access such resources is through control over policies. There are at least three clear advantages in assuming the premise of policy-seeking behavior of parties:) it considers all dimensions where parties can express their preferences; 2) it takes into consideration the role and preferences expressed by the voters, and; 3) it enables analyses of different aspects of the decision-making process, avoiding simplistic conceptions based on, for example, the idea of patronage.

Authors

Victor Araújo is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP, Brazil) and a Research Associate at Center for Metropolitan Studies.
Email: victor.asaraujo@usp.br Website: http://www.victor-araujo.com

Andréa Freitas is Professor of Political Science at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP, Brazil), and coordinator of the Center for Political Institutions and Elections Studies (CEBRAP, Brazil). Email: amfrei@g.unicamp.br

Marcelo Vieira is Professor of Political Science at the Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo (UFES, Brazil), and coordinator of Comparative Politics Center (CPC, UFES).
Email: marcelo.m.vieira@ufes.br

Cuba – Miguel Díaz-Canel becomes President

As I am writing this, the Cuban President, Raúl Castro, will step down from his post to allow the current vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, to become Cuba’s new president (and the fifth president since the revolution of 1959). This will form the culmination of a meeting of Cuba’s National Assembly, which convened on Wednesday and named Díaz-Canel as the sole candidate to take over from Castro. Significantly, Díaz-Canel will be the first president since 1976 that is not a Castro, and the first president since 1959 that is not considered a figurehead for a Castro-run government.

Raúl Castro, who is now 86, and who took over as president from his brother, Fidel Castro, in 2006, is thought to be stepping aside to ensure the stability of the transition in the midst of a growing economic crisis and increasing dissatisfaction among Cubans, particularly the younger generation. Raúl oversaw a number of liberalizing economic reforms from 2008 on, which expanded Cuba’s private sector, but which also have also increased inequality among Cubans. At the same time, the state productive sector has remained mired in over-employment and productivity problems.

At 57, Díaz-Canel is the first leader since the revolution that is not part of the revolutionary guerilla generation – he did not march down from the Sierra Maestra with Che Guevara or Fidel. In contrast, his political experience mostly stems from the period of economic crisis in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed and stopped purchasing Cuban sugar at preferential rates and subsiding Cuban oil consumption, and he gained a reputation as an able technocrat in Villa Clara province. His support for LGBT rights, his use of an iPad, and his defense of disgruntled blogging teachers, are thought to signal a modernizer but nearly all analysts point to a likely continuation of the status quo, at least in the short to medium term. And if reform does occur, it will be of a gradual nature, given that Díaz-Canel is effectively a hand-picked and trained internal successor.

What is more, this is still far from a break with the past. Raúl Castro will still remain as head of the Communist Party of Cuba, arguably one of the most powerful positions in the country, while the vice-president has been named as Ramiro Valdés, an 85 year old veteran of the revolution who was with Fidel at the famous and symbolic attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953.

In fact, this current period in Cuban history, as Díaz-Canel assumes the presidential office, is analogous in many ways to the period of the 1990s, when he first cut his teeth as a Cuban politician. The economy is faltering and the US embargo, long hailed as a Cold War hangover, is very much back in vogue under the current Trump administration after the liberalizing reforms of the Obama administration. US embassy staff in Havana have been called home amidst allegations of covert sonic attacks on the embassy. The Venezuela government under Hugo Chávez, which had reprised the old Soviet Union role of economic subsidizer and source of cheap oil, is now no longer able to play this role as their own economic and political situation descends into chaos and crisis. All of this, leaves Cuba under significant economic and international pressure.

Díaz-Canel will need to address the economic stagnation, Cuba’s problematic dual currency system, and the debt overhang, much of which has already been restructured by China. In addition, increasing hostility from Miami and the US government will only make the task of stepping out from the Castros’ shadow even more difficult.

Selena Grimaldi – Italy: Will President Mattarella succeed in emerging from the party swamp?

This is a guest post by Selena Grimaldi of the University of Padova.

There is no doubt that President Sergio Mattarella was chosen in order to mark a change from Giorgio Napolitano’s presidency. The first years of his term confirm this idea, in particular his sober leadership style and his self-restraint are in line with the typical President of a parliamentary system who tries to embody the unity of the nation rather than performing an active role in the day to day politics.

The differences with his predecessor are not simply related to their opposite political culture but also to their different visions of the presidential role. In fact, Mattarella has claimed to be the Guardian of the Constitution and an impartial arbiter of the political game, whereas Napolitano asserted his right to intervene to solve problems over party gridlock and meltdown.

This striking difference is recognizable even considering how Napolitano dominated international relations and how deeply he exploited the mass media to communicate his thoughts and vision in comparison to Mattarella. In a very rough attempt to empirically prove this, the number of interviews given by Mattarella and published in the Quirinale webiste from 2015 to 2018 was counted, and it appears to number only seven.

The polls also show that this self-restraint has probably negatively affected the trust people have in the presidential institution. Currently, the President remains broadly trusted by citizens, even though the percentage trusting him decreased from 49% in 2016 to 46% in 2017 according to Demos & Pi. In other words, a President who has been generally silent on most issues seems not to correspond to the citizens’ preferences and probably to the peculiar Italian political circumstances that emerged just before the beginning of Mattarella’s term. That is to say, the critical elections of 2013 that completely changed the dynamics of political competition.

The result of the elections of March 4 confirms that the tripolar competition that first emerged in 2013 is not a contingent but a stable feature of the Italian political system. The only relevant novelty is related to the changing power relations among parties. In particular, in 2013 three parties gained a similar quota of votes; the Democratic Party (PD) (25.4), Forza Italia (21.6) and the Five Star Movement (M5S) (25.6), and both the centre-left coalition and the centre-right coalition could not form a government alone, which pushed them to form a Grand Coalition. In 2018, among these parties, only the Five Star Movement has increased its score, becoming the first party with 32.6% of the votes. The PD is the loser, obtaining a result under 20% of the vote and in the centre-right coalition there has been a reversal of the balance of power, since the League (now without any reference to the North) gained 17.4% of the votes, whereas Forza Italia obtained 13.9% of the vote. Therefore, the final result makes it impossible for both M5S to govern alone, as well as for the centre-right coalition, which gained 37% overall.

In this party gridlock, President Mattarella is expected to act as “the second engine” of the system by finding a solution to government formation and preventing the possibility of new elections. This government formation process is a unique opportunity to understand if Mattarella’s style is simply connected with his personal attitude or if it is indeed a sign of a weak presidency. In other words, if there is a clear departure from the pattern of the Italian Presidents of the so-called Second Republic, who are examples of strong presidents even within a parliamentary context, or if there is a substantial continuity.

In particular, a call for new elections – even if it is unrealistic – would be the most negative result for the President because it would demonstrate his inability to find a political solution, not to mention the fact that with the current electoral rules, a replication of the same political impasse is the most likely outcome. The formation of a political government, namely a coalition government of any type, may prove to the opposition parties that the President is responsible. Or in other words, his capacity as mediator among parties, who themselves remain the real decision-makers. Finally, the formation of a caretaker/technocratic government or a government of the President may prove that Mattarella can impose his will on political parties, making his strength clear.

Six on weeks from the vote, two rounds of consultations have taken place. According to data published by Istituto Cattaneo, since 1994 only 2 governments have required more than 20 days to be formed: Berlusconi I in 1994 and Letta’s government in 2013. Moreover, on only four occasions have 2 rounds of consultations been needed to find an agreement (Dini, D’Alema I, D’Alema II, and Letta) and Letta’s was the only post-electoral government. Besides, it is well known that in pParliamentary systems government formation can require a lot of time, such as in the Netherlands or in Belgium, not to mention the formation of the recent Grosse Koalition in Germany or even certain Italian governments during the so-called First Republic (Cossiga I, Andreotti II, Craxi etc.). However, this is the first time that, even after a second round of consultations, nothing has really changed from the day after the elections.

Briefly, the situation appears to be the following: The Five Star Movement claims the premiership for Luigi Di Maio and has declared that it is open to forming a coalition with either with the PD or The League. Matteo Salvini also claims the premiership, since he represents the largest party in the largest coalition. However, within the right-wing coalition the League and Forza Italia have different preferences with regards the identification of potential allies. The League wants to form a coalition with the M5S, while Forza Italia probably prefers a coalition with the PD, since Silvio Berlusconi’s comment during the traditional press-conference at the Quirinale about the M5S as an anti-democratic and populist force. The challenge is that The League doesn’t seem ready to let go of its traditional allies to form a government with the M5S alone. However, Salvini has proven that he can cooperate with the M5S in the parliamentary arena, especially during the election of the Speakers of the Chambers. Finally, from the very beginning, the PD has declared that it is unavailable as a coalition partner and will remain in the ranks of the opposition. The truth is that, even within the PD, the situation is not so clear. The faction close to the former leader Matteo Renzi strongly supports this position, but other political factions, as well as the radical left, seem to be more open toward the M5S.

As a consequence, Mattarella decided to follow a traditional path confirming his attitude of caution. In other words, he decided to avoid the concrete possibility of a failure by giving a political pre-appointment to a candidate within the League or within the M5S, who would have to find a majority in Parliament by his/her own. Instead, the President has preferred – consistent with tradition – to give an explorative mandate (mandato esplorativo) to the President of the Senate, Maria Elisabetta Casellati (FI). In the next few days, the appointee is going to report to the President if she is able to find a possible majority in Parliament and a possible PM. If this attempt does not succeed, only two alternatives remain: a government of the President or new elections.

The situation is even more complex for Mattarella given he was elected without the support of the two largest parties: the Five Star Movement and The League. And even Silvio Berlusconi’s party cast a blank ballot during the presidential elections. This means that, this time, it may be more difficult for these actors to accept a government of the President.

The open question is: will Mattarella succeed in emerging from the party swamp? Or, can he prove to be a strong President notwithstanding his proverbial discretion?

Alenka Krašovec – Is recent history about to repeat itself in Slovenia? Early elections and new parties

This is a guest post by Professor Alenka Krašovec, Chair of Policy Analysis and Public Administration at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

On the evening of 14 March 2018, PM Miro Cerar announced at a press conference that he would submit his resignation to parliament. He did so just a month before the normal termination of his government’s term and after President Borut Pahor had already consulted with representatives of parliamentary party groups about the date of regular parliamentary elections. Pursuant to Slovenia’s Constitution, the PM’s resignation meant the fall of the government. Consequently, an early election is being held.

In 2011 an early election was also held. This election was won by the List of Zoran Janković – Positive Slovenia. In 2014, another early election was held due to the resignation of PM Alenka Bratušek. This election was won by the Party of Miro Cerar. So, this is now the third early election in a row.

In 2014, PM Alenka Bratušek resigned after her defeat in an internal battle over the party leadership with the party’s founding father Zoran Janković, who wanted to take back the leadership of Positive Slovenia. In 2018, however, PM Cerar resigned for different reasons.

In the press conference on 14 March, PM Cerar explained that what pushed him over the edge was the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the 2017 September referendum on the Law on the Construction and Management of the Second Rail Track of the Divača to Koper Railway Line. This is a big infrastructure project (worth EUR 1 billion) to build a 27 km line designed to speed up freight traffic between the city of Divača and Slovenia’s state-owned Adriatic seaport at Luka Koper. The law was opposed by the civic initiative, Taxpayers Don’t Give Up, led by Vili Kovačič and was supported by the main opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party. Most controversial was the proposed path for the second track as well as its management as proposed by the government.

At the referendum, which was held in September 2017, the law was supported. However, the referendum’s initiator challenged the result before the Supreme Court, arguing it was unfair of the government to use public funds to advocate a particular position (in favour of the law) and that instead it should have presented arguments for and against. The Constitutional Court declared that parts of the Law on Referendum and Popular Initiative as well as the Law on Election and Referendum Campaign were unconstitutional because they allow the government to participate in the campaign using public funds. The Court held a public hearing at which PM Cerar also participated and several hours later it decided to cancel the referendum result and order a new referendum to be held on the same question.

This is the specific context in which PM Cerar resigned. However, the PM and his government were also facing a wave of strikes and protests by public sector workers demanding not only an end to the austerity measures introduced to cure the financial and economic crisis, but a salary increase amid the good economic results. In the press conference, PM Cerar also criticised his coalition partners, claiming that in several cases they had erected obstacles to urgent reforms, in particular the reform of the healthcare system.

Due to the PM’s resignation, President Pahor has become more heavily involved in the political process than usual. In Slovenia, the President does not hold a discretionary right to dissolve parliament, but he is obliged to do so in certain constitutionally-defined instances. One such instance is if the PM resigns. When the PM resigns, the President has the right to propose a candidate for PM. In the second or third round of voting in parliament, a parliamentary party or group of MPs can do the same. However, if no candidate is proposed, the President must dissolve the parliament and set a date for new elections. In 2018, President Pahor immediately announced that he would not propose a candidate for PM. The parties did not propose a candidate either. So, the President called elections for 3 June.

Apart from being the third early election in a row, the 2018 election may see the confirmation of another trend in recent Slovenian politics – the rise of new parties. For more than a decade after the democratic transition, Slovenia was one of the few post-socialist Central and Eastern European countries with a relatively stable party system. This was despite not having very demanding requirements for the establishment of a new party and an electoral system that favoured new parties. Even though new parties were common, none ever received more than 10% of the vote.

In 2011, however, a party that had emerged just before the elections, the List of Zoran Janković – Positive Slovenia, actually won the election with 28.5% of the vote. The story was repeated in 2014, when the Party of Miro Cerar, which again was formed only just prior to the election, won with 34.5% of the vote. What is more, in 2014 Positive Slovenia was unable to pass the electoral threshold.

A new party may again do well in the 2018 election. In the presidential election in autumn 2017, Marjan Šarec – the mayor of a small town close to Ljubljana – seriously challenged the incumbent president, Borut Pahor. Now, Šarec with the support of his local party (Lista Marjana Šarca) may also make a mark at the upcoming parliamentary election. According to the opinion polls, his appeal for a ‘new politics’ has assured him and his party a leading position. In June, we will see whether or not recent history repeats itself in this aspect too.

Montenegro – Milo Đukanović wins the presidential election

“(E)lections are readily perceived as a new beginning. Not so in Montenegro. In the last years the dominant figure in Montenegrin politics was one person: Milo Đukanović. Unlike any other politician in this region, he has remained on the forefront of political decision-making for now 25 years and has switched between being prime minister and president. His political career and his ideological adaptation mirror the development of the country since the end of communist rule.”

This was the introductory sentence to my last blog post about Montenegro in the Fall of 2016 on the occasion of the parliamentary election. It says a lot about the political role of Milo Đukanović that it would be possible to use this section again, only replacing parliamentary elections with presidential ones. Yet, the 1.5 years since the parliamentary election were not as uneventful as this little jab suggests. This blog post will briefly summarize the developments after the 2016 parliamentary elections, present the results of the recent presidential election and provide a forecast of what this might mean for Montenegrin political stability and democratic development.

The aftermath of the 2016 parliamentary elections

After the parliamentary elections that were won by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and its candidate Milo Đukanović[1], the Democratic Front (DF) and other opposition parties declared that they would not recognize the election results due to the pressure on all opposition parties throughout the campaign (in particular, as the coup claims and the arrest of allegedly Serbian paramilitaries arguably influenced the election or at least the turnout). Due to this, Đukanović stepped down as prime minister (yet not as chair of the ruling DPS) and was replaced by Duško Marković. Some analysts argue that Milo got ahead of his intra-party critics, who blame him for the waning power and influence of the DPS. Until recently, the DPS had what Komar and Živković (2016, 793) described as an “image of invincibility”, a phenomenon characterized by a dominant or hegemonic party that gains from “the public perception that it cannot lose any elections”. The fear of losing this image of invincibility and not being able to form a coalition government led to the Đukanović’s retreat.

What seemed to some as the final ouster of a political dinosaur at the forefront of Montenegrin politics for 30 years was nothing more than an embossed tradition. It was actually the third time that Đukanović had used this ‘replacement technique’. In 2006 he announced his retirement from politics, installing Željko Sturanović as his replacement as prime minister. In 2008, after Sturanović resigned – due to health issues – Đukanović came back. Similarly, in 2010, Đukanović installed his long-time supporter Igor Lukšić to become the next prime minister. And again, Milo returned two years later and was elected to a seventh term by the Montenegrin parliament (RFE/RL 2012). There is little doubt that all three were a “political ploy” (Pavlović 2016), although Đukanović also pursued business interests. These business interests make him and his family very rich and the focus of immense criticism, even getting him labeled as Podgorica’s Godfather by international media (Ernst 2016).

Presidential elections 2018

After Đukanović’s retreat in 2016, talk started immediately about him running for president (a position he had already held from 1998 to 2002). He confirmed his candidacy in March 2018. He was unanimously backed by the leadership of his DPS (Reuters 2018), the coalition partner, the Liberal Party (LPCG), as well as a variety of other groups. Similar to the 2016 parliamentary elections campaign, the brief campaign for the presidency was styled as a contest between two opposing directions: Either EU membership and thus an – at least proclaimed – orientation towards the West or closer ties to Russia. Yet, the intensity that was reached during the 2016 campaign where Đukanović painted the dire picture of Montenegro becoming a “Russian Colony”, was not the same (see for reports e.g. Deutsche Welle 2016). It was not possible to confirm similar dramatic statements for the presidential campaign. Even more so, Đukanović moderated his verbal tactics and instead emphasized that he was not running for personal ambition: “(Victory) is more important for Montenegro and its path than to me personally, I am someone who has fulfilled my ambitions in politics,” (McLaughlin 2018).

At the same time, the opposition was not able to agree on a common candidate, yet Mladen Bojanić was supported by a broad group (among them the Democratic Front, Democratic Montenegro, United Reform Action and the Socialist People’s Party) (OSCE 2018) as well as Goran Danilović (a former candidate). A third candidate – Draginja Vuksanović – could also have had a key role. If she had reached close to 10% of the votes, a second round would have become likely.

Roughly one month after announcing his candidacy Đukanović was elected president in the first round with a projected majority of 54 % over the 33% of his main opponent, Mladen Bojanic (CeMI 2018). He was directly elected for a term of 5 years (with a maximum of 2 terms) (Art. 96 Constitution of Montenegro).

Outlook

Milo Đukanović has had a formative influence on the democratic practice, the political process and the development of the society in Montenegro (Banovic 2016). But since stepping down in 2016 as prime minister and installing one of his most important allies, Duško Marković as prime minister, their relation has reportedly soured (Ernst 2018). Đukanović’s impact over key political issues has become more constrained. The presidency is however not a powerful institution – at least constitutionally. Apart from a rather active role in the investiture of a new prime minister, his power and influence are limited. But it is also a fact that as chair of the DSP, Đukanović will be able “to wield considerable power and influence policy through the ranks of his Democratic Socialist party” (The Guardian 2018). It is unclear how the relation between Marković as prime minister and Đukanović as president will play out. In particular, his role in negotiating the EU accession of Montenegro will be of interest. Traditionally, presidents try to influence foreign policy even when they are not powerful in other areas. Đukanović’s main interest was always the orientation towards the West and it can expected that he will be involved in the EU accession negotiations. There is an inevitable conflict with the prime minister looming.

Literature:
Banović, Damir (2016): Montenegro, in: Fruhstorfer, Anna, and Michael Hein (eds): Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, 289-306.

CeMI (2018): Election Results, in: https://twitter.com/CeMI_ME/status/985606974682353664?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.euronews.com%2F2018%2F04%2F16%2Fmilo-djukanovic-wins-montenegro-s-presidential-elections-pollster-cemi&tfw_site=euronews, last accessed April 16, 2018.

Deutsche Welle (2016): Montenegro’s longtime ruler faces ballot test (October 16), in: http://www.dw.com/en/montenegros-longtime-ruler-faces-ballot-test/a-36052927, last accessed October 18, 2016.

Ernst, Andreas (2016) Der Pate von Podgorica, in: https://www.nzz.ch/international/europa/djukanovic-haelt-montenegro-fest-in-der-hand-der-pate-von-podgorica-ld.122532. Last accessed April 16, 2018.

RFE/RL (2012): Djukanovic Gets Seventh Term As Montenegrin Prime Minister, in: https://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-djukanovic/24789724.html, December 5, last accessed April 16, 2018.

Komar, Olivera & Živković, Slaven (2016). Montenegro: A democracy without alternations. East European Politics and Societies, 30(4), 785-804.

McLaughlin, Daniel (2018): East-West relations and mafia violence dominate election in Montenegro, in The Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/east-west-relations-and-mafia-violence-dominate-election-in-montenegro-1.3460842, last accessed April 13, 2018.

OSCE (2016): Montenegro, in: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/montenegro/295511?download=true

OSCE (2018): Interim Report, in: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/montenegro/376573?download=true, last accessed April 14, 2018.

Pavlović, Srđa (2016) Montenegro’s ‘stabilitocracy’: The West’s support of Đukanović is damaging the prospects of democratic change, in: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/12/23/montenegros-stabilitocracy-how-the-wests-support-of-dukanovic-is-damaging-the-prospects-of-democratic-change/, last accessed April 16, 2018.

Reuters (2018): Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro’s long-serving PM, to run for presidency, in: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-montenegro-election/milo-djukanovic-montenegros-long-serving-pm-to-run-for-presidency-idUSKBN1GW1PJ, last accessed April 16, 2018.

The Guardian (2018): Pro-EU politician set to win Montenegro’s presidential election, in: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/15/montenegro-votes-in-first-presidential-election-since-joining-nato, last accessed April 16, 2018.

Note

[1] The DPS won with 41% (36 seats in the 81 seat parliament) (OSCE 2016).

Walt Kilroy – Sierra Leone opts for change

This is a guest post by Walt Kilroy, Associate Director of the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction and lecturer in the School of Law and Government in Dublin City University

A presidential election in Sierra Leone involving an upset for the ruling party, court challenges, and even a delay in holding the vote has nevertheless delivered something generally taken as a sign of a healthy democracy: a peaceful change of leadership in an internationally recognised poll. The outgoing president Ernest Bai Koroma had in fact reached his term limit, after serving two five-year terms. But his hand-picked successor from the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), former finance minister Samura Kamara, was the surprise loser. The country’s new leader, President Julius Maada Bio, comes from the main opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party.

This is in fact the second time since the end of the civil war in the West African country in 2002 that there has been a peaceful transfer of power between the two main parties on the basis of an election. The first round of voting on March 7th showed it was a very close race, with the main candidates receiving 43.4% for Bio compared with Kamara’s 42.7%. A candidate had to receive 55% of the vote to win at the first round. Two new political parties ate into the support base of each of the main parties.

Court intervention

But before the second round could take place, it was held up by a court challenge which has been linked to the ruling APC, alleging electoral irregularities. It is unusual to see such a challenge from a ruling party, which is normally the side accused of interference. The High Court ruled that the second round could go ahead as planned on 27th March, but its decision came just before the vote. So the National Election Commission itself requested the courts to grant a short delay, saying logistical problems meant they needed more time. It went ahead on March 31st, four days after the planned date.

Interestingly, this is the third time in less than year that elections in Africa have been held up or indeed overturned by a court ruling. The second round of the presidential election in neighbouring Liberia was also delayed by a challenge alleging fraud, and last August the Supreme Court in Kenya faced uproar when it annulled the presidential election and ordered that it be held again. The opposition refused to take part in the re-run, and the original winner, Uhuru Kenyatta, was elected once again.

Turnout in Sierra Leone was high: 81% (2.5 m voters), and Bio received 51.8% of the vote. Kamara received 48.2% and did meet Bio to congratulate him but refused to concede. He later launched a further legal challenge to the final result. In accordance with the electoral law, Bio took the oath of office within hours of the final tally being announced, and has proceeded to appoint his cabinet. International monitors were satisfied overall with the poll, although some of the language during the campaign did cause a worry.

There are some interesting parallels. The same pattern of change occurred in neighbouring Liberia a few months before: Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was completing her second and final term in office, and again it was the opposition candidate who won on the second round, after a brief court challenge to the first round from the government side. President George Weah’s past is also unusual, in that he was still better known as a football star rather than a politician. He took office in January.

Previous military rule

President Julius Maada Bio (53) has an interesting past, as a former military junta leader. He briefly led a military coup in 1996, which replaced a previous junta which had seized power some years earlier during the 1991-2002 civil war. He handed over power to a civilian government after a few months. (This track record parallels that of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who took power in a military coup in the 1980s, and many years later defeated an incumbent president to head a civilian government in the 2015 elections). After living in the US for years, Bio returned to Sierra Leone following the war. He has also been studying for a PhD in peace studies at the University of Bradford. He campaigned against corruption and mismanagement, striking a chord with many voters in Sierra Leone.

There were some reports of violence in the run up to both rounds of voting during rallies or confrontations between rival supporters. What is also worrying is that while ethnicity is not openly discussed, support for each of the main parties falls along ethnic lines.

There are plenty of problems to be addressed in the country of six million people, such as desperate poverty and deeply embedded corruption. Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perception Index places it 130 out of 180 countries. The country is still recovering from its war and the Ebola epidemic in 2014-15 which killed more than 4,000 people. The health system was left weakened, with one physician for every 50,000 people. During the outbreak schools were closed, economic life curtailed, and the economy shrank by nearly 20% in one year.

The figures from the Human Development Report (2016) are stark. It is ranks at 179 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. Life expectancy at birth is 51. Infant mortality has improved considerably but 12% of children still do not make it past their fifth birthday. The literacy rate is 48%, and while it is much better among those aged 15-24, there is still a wide gender gap (59% for young women, and 76% for young men).

One thing which may give Bio a break is that he was not elected on an enormous wave of hope, so at least unrealistic expectations (and inevitable disappointment) are not a major factor. However, Sierra Leone has suffered more than its fair share of poor governance (an important factor in creating the conditions for its civil war in 1991). For a country rich in natural resources, and population with a median age of less than 19, real leadership would be welcomed by many ordinary citizens.

Incumbency and elections: the 2019 polls in Botswana and South Africa

On Saturday 31 March, Botswana’s Ian Khama stepped down as the country’s president and a day later Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn in. In a region which has seen two of the continent’s longest running presidencies – Robert Mugabe (37 years) and José Eduardo dos Santos (38 years) – Khama’s decision to respect the country’s term limits and bow out after 10 years was widely applauded. Botswana’s ruling party faces an election in just 18 months, so why would the president step down before the election?

Incumbents win elections in Africa. When a sitting president faces an opposition challenger, the opposition wins just 12% of the time.[1] But when an opposition challenger competes in an open seat election (after the president has stepped down), the opposition’s success rate increases nearly fourfold to 45%.

Incumbents win more often due to the ‘incumbency effect’ – presidents can bend state institutions in their favour, frequently securing positive coverage in the public media, they use patronage and positions to buy loyalty, and they are able to introduce popular (or populist) policies to consolidate the ruling party’s vote base. In many cases, the president is also able to use state resources to campaign in the elections, severely skewing the playing field in their favour.

Khama stepping down 18 months ahead of the polls allows Masisi to increase his chances of being elected in 2019, by accruing the benefits of incumbency and thus perpetuating the survival of the BDP.

Protecting the Party in Botswana

Botswana’s presidential terms are disconnected from the five-year electoral cycle – a trend that began after Ketumile Masire introduced presidential term limits and stepped down for his successor after 18 years as head of state in 1998. Rather than a marker of democratic governance, the uncoupling of the electoral timeline and presidential term limit is a mechanism for ensuring the continued electoral success of the ruling Botswana Democratic party – in power since 1966.

History recalls Masire in a positive light, but his decoupling of the presidential and parliamentary terms was intended for the very purpose that it now serves. In 1997 when he changed the constitution, it was in response to the growing unpopularity of his ‘old guard’ due to serious corruption scandals; and it was done to stave off the threat of an electoral loss in 1999.[2]

Prior to Khama’s 2018 resignation, politics in Botswana appeared eerily reminiscent of the last days of Masire’s rule in the 1990s.[3] Khama’s administration had been accused of growing authoritarian tendencies, corruption and populism at home – though his foreign policy stances were widely celebrated abroad.

After 52 years in power, many Botswanans have begun to tire of the BDP. The party narrowly avoided defeat in the last elections, when they faced a more united opposition. In the 2014 elections Khama’s BDP failed to win an outright majority, garnering just 46.5% of the vote, while opposition parties shared 53.5%. The next 18 months will give Masisi time to consolidate his position within the BDP and take the lead on popular policies to address the corruption, inequality and unemployment that are seen to have increased markedly under Khama.

The South African Comparison

While South Africa’s presidential term depends entirely on parliamentary electoral cycles, the predominance of the ANC – in power since 1994 – allows the party to similarly short-circuit the party’s electoral accountability. The ANC’s constitution provides for just two presidential terms as party leader – a convention that has been respected until now, notwithstanding Thabo Mbeki’s attempt to change it and Jacob Zuma’s intention to install a proxy.

However, the party’s leadership renewal calendar installs a new party leader a little less than 18 months before the country goes to the ballot box. With the removal of Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma, the party has begun a similar (if less formalised) trend to Botswana, by delinking the presidential term from the electoral cycle.

Jacob Zuma – and to a lesser extent, Mbeki – was removed to allow the ANC to revive their waning electoral legitimacy and clean up the party’s image in the wake of damaging scandals.[4] After the party’s bruising loss of major municipalities in the 2016 local government elections and the decline of the ANC’s national tally to just 54%, most pundits predicted that the Zuma-effect would pull the ANC under the 50% threshold in 2019.

The coalitions formed by the opposition to govern in Nelson Mandela Bay, Pretoria and Johannesburg have been seen to presage the need for a national coalition after 2019.[5] The opposition Democratic Alliance was certainly hopeful.[6]

Instead, the removal of Zuma and installation of Cyril Ramaphosa as president led to a wave of positive sentiment – dubbed ‘Ramaphoria’ – which has bolstered the currency, helped stave off a downgrade to ‘junk status’ by Moody’s and left the middle class sleeping a little easier. The ANC hopes to capitalise on their renewed breathing space, and was reportedly considered bringing the 2019 elections forward to outflank the opposition.[7]

Introducing a new president – who is presented as a ‘new broom’ – ahead of an election can help revive the waning fortunes of a dominant party. This (to some degree) has helped reinvigorate the image of Tanzania’s ruling CCM which has been in power since 1962.  Both the ANC and the BDP will be hoping that their pre-emptive moves to renew public confidence will pay off at the ballot box next year. By never running an open-seat election, these parties are likely to maintain their longevity for as long as the public is willing to give the new leader the benefit of the doubt.

[1] Nic Cheeseman, “African Elections as Vehicles for Change,” Journal of Democracy 21, no. 4 (2010): 139–153.

[2] Kenneth Good and Ian Taylor, “Unpacking the ‘Model’: Presidential Succession in Botswana,” in Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics, ed. Roger Southall and Henning Melber (Cape Town: Uppsala: Chicago: HSRC Press; Nordiska Afrikainstitutet; Independent Publishers Group, 2006).

[3] Joel Konopo, “Bad Khama,” August 10, 2017, https://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/features/africa/2017-08-10-ian-khamas-growing-intolerance/; Monageng Mogalakwe and Francis Nyamnjoh, “Botswana at 50: Democratic Deficit, Elite Corruption and Poverty in the Midst of Plenty,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 35, no. 1 (January 2, 2017): 1–14, https://doi.org/10.1080/02589001.2017.1286636.

[4] For example, Mahlatse Mahlase and Lizeka Tandwa, “It’s Not a Matter of If, but When Zuma Goes – NEC Sources,” The M&G Online, January 9, 2018, https://mg.co.za/article/2018-01-09-its-not-a-matter-of-if-but-when-zuma-goes-nec-sources/; Mogomotse Magome, “Graft Charges Make Zuma an Electoral Liability,” IOL, May 2, 2016, https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/graft-charges-make-zuma-an-electoral-liability-2016402.

[5] Marianne Merten, “Analysis: Coalitions No Easy Route Come 2019, as Current Co-Operation Pacts Wobble | Daily Maverick,” The Daily Maverick, October 8, 2017, https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2017-10-08-analysis-coalitions-no-easy-route-come-2019-as-current-co-operation-pacts-wobble/.

[6] “The ANC May Not Be the Government in 2019, Coalitions Are the Future for SA,” Democratic Alliance (blog), December 6, 2017, https://www.da.org.za/2017/12/anc-may-not-government-2019-coalitions-future-sa/.

[7] Sam Mkokeli, “ANC to Discuss Bringing Elections Forward to Capitalise on ‘Ramaphoria,’” Sunday Times, March 25, 2018, https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/business/2018-03-25-anc-to-discuss-bringing-elections-forward-to-capitalise-on-ramaphoria/.