Marién Durán – ‘Dual Presidentialization and Autocratization: Turkey at a Critical Crossroads

This is a guest post by Marién Durán. It is based on an article that was recently published in Mediterranean Quarterly (2018) 29 (3): 98-116. https://doi.org/10.1215/10474552-7003192.

The article argues that dual presidentialization has accelerated Turkey’s movement toward autocracy in several ways: a greater control over the judicial branch and over public freedoms, in general, and freedom of the press, in particular.

This idea of dual presidentialization, a new concept proposed in this article, is useful for explaining autocratization and its implications. That the system is presidential does not always imply authoritarianism or autocratization; problems arise when a presidential system is designed with no adequate checks and balances or when the country is not a democracy.
What does dual presidentilialization mean in Turkey? It means that there has been a convergence or combination of two forms of presidentialization: legal reforms, and contingent or informal factors. In the first place, the article explores the legal and constitutional reforms that created presidentialization. The second relates to the presidentialization of Turkish politics, with an analysis of both the executive and the electoral and party aspects of the process, in accordance with the analytical framework provided by Thomas Poguntke and Paul Webb (2005). The objective is to explain how the resources of power have increased through both institutional reforms and the informal aspect.

The study of Turkey’s constitutional reforms is key to understanding the importance and impact of the institutional changes increasing the ruler’s power resources. The article analyzes constitutional changes that began with the 1982 constitution of the Third Republic, including the role of the president and the prime minister, the reform of the constitution in 2007 that enabled the direct election of the president of the republic, and the reforms approved in the 2017 referendum that converted Turkey to a presidential system. Both the 1982 constitution, without any adequate check and balances, and its successor in 2007 paved the way for a system in which priority is given to granting greater powers and control to the executive branch. Finally, the reforms approved in the 2017 referendum favor a presidential system without any constraints.

These constitutional reforms in Turkey have been accompanied by a process of presidentialization in which a charismatic figure has a particular and personal style. What does the presidentialization of Turkish mean? In this case, it refers to “the process by which regimes are becoming more presidential in their actual practice without, in most cases, changing their formal structure, that is, their regime-type.” (Poguntke, Webb, 2005). We refer to Poguntke and Webb work, because in the case of Turkey, this process has accompanied Turkish politics for decades, which became more pronounced since 2002 when the AKP came into power. Consequently, independently of any legal and constitutional factors, there have been contingent and structural factors leading toward a more presidential manner of acting, contributing in the end to a change in the form of the state.

Given we have clarified what dual presidentialization is, how has Turkey’s dual presidentialization accelerated the movement towards autocracy? The article analyzes that impact in terms of three key indicators: judicial power, civil liberties in general, and press freedom.
Why these areas specifically? This is because the judiciary and the media are horizontal and vertical checks and balances respectively on executive power. Certain power resources, such as electoral victories, the control of the main institutions and agencies, and the support of the ruling party, have helped President Erdoğan control appointments to the main positions in the judiciary.

Important reforms to the judiciary began in 2010 and continued in 2013 (due to corruption cases in AKP). The philosophy of these changes was to guarantee that there were no judicial decisions that could be negative for the AKP in important trials. Consequently, since 2013 onwards the judiciary has been under considerable pressure from the executive, damaging the separation of power.

Regarding civil liberties, the media and civil society constitute vertical checks and balances that have been eroded significantly in recent years by reforms and by the government’s authoritarian style. The AKP’s majority in parliament has allowed these reforms to be carried out. They also include Erdoğan’s continued leadership and ideology, with his belief in a “pious generation” and the imposition of certain values (including declarations regarding LGBT rights, couple relations, and so forth); as well as the control of the main institutions and media.

Finally, the AKP has continually degraded the freedom of the press since 2002, both in legal and constitutional terms and in the executive aspects of presidentialization. In this latter regard such pressure has been carried out in various forms: by creating communications media outlets close to the party and by placing pressure on the communications media. Pressure on journalists is common and Reporters without Borders lists numerous violations. Some indices such as Freedom House have reduced Turkey from the status of partially free to not free.

In summary, the progressive concentration of institutional power, aided by personal factors, has led to a process of autocratization. Since Erdoğan came to power, he has been able to gather enough resources to erode and virtually destroy certain checks and balances. His absolute control over the AKP, his ideology, the consecutive electoral victories (parliamentary, local, and presidential), his charismatic leadership, the control of the main institutions and state agencies, social networks, and media control have repressed freedom and institutions. In other words, the system has been damaged in terms of the functioning of government, rights, and public liberties.

Gary Murphy – The Irish Presidential Election of October 2018

This is a guest post by Gary Murphy, Professor of Politics in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

The re-election of Michael D. Higgins as President of Ireland has been widely welcomed across the Irish political landscape. His overwhelming victory on the first count with 55.8 per cent of the first preference vote has vindicated the decision of the two main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to support him. The 822,566 first preference votes he received is by some distance the largest number of votes ever secured by a candidate in an Irish presidential election. The turnout in the election was, however, the lowest in Irish presidential history at just 43.3 per cent.

Higgins was first elected in October 2011 for a seven year term from a total of six candidates and has proven to be a very popular president. He has what one might call the common touch. He presided with great dignity over the state’s hundred anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising which heralded the beginning of the move towards Irish independence in 1921, and became the first Irish president to lead an official state visit to Britain in 2014.

For pretty much all of his pre-presidential political life Higgins was a devout exponent of left-wing causes both internationally and domestically. Many were fashionable in certain avant-garde circles but had little wider resonance. His two short spells in Cabinet between January 1993 and June 1997 as Minister for Arts, Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht were the oases around long barren spells in the political wilderness. Even when Labour was in government in the 1970s and 1980s, Higgins was against coalition. Then came the economic crash, the presidential election of 2011 and a political career that had all the signs of petering out to a footnote in Irish history was dramatically resurrected. Higgins’s victory had a type of last man standing quality about it. As his opponents were undone one by one by various foibles the avuncular Higgins was duly elected winning 39.6 per cent of the first preference vote.

In office Higgins has remained true to his beliefs and has made a number of speeches critical of what he sees as the global neoliberal project. He caused some controversy with his encomium on the death of the Cuban leader Fidel Casto in November 2016 where he praised Casto’s record on human rights but this was entirely consistent with his long held views of anti-colonialism and his opposition to American foreign policy. He has, however, been very careful not to overstep the constitutional boundaries of his office and made no specific criticisms of the Irish government’s policies during his seven year term.

Higgins showed a nimble dexterity in getting out of his original promise to only serve one term as President by solemnly declaring that while he did at one stage say that getting through one term was the length of his aspirations he decided he had to run again to build upon the very solid foundations he had laid in office. In that context he used his constitutional prerogative to nominate himself and the major political parties rowed in behind him.

Getting on to the Irish presidential ballot is a rather byzantine affair and is dominated by the political parties. While an incumbent can nominate themselves other candidates must either get the backing of twenty members of the Oireachtas which consists of 160 members of Dáil Eireann (the lower house) and 60 members of Seanad Eireann (the upper house), or four of the country’s 31 city and county councils, most of which are dominated by political parties.

Only one of Ireland’s political parties, Sinn Féin, decided to use their members of the Oireachtas to nominate a presidential candidate. When Mary Lou McDonald took over as Sinn Féin party leader in February 2018 she stated that she would like to see the party contest the election. Even though it had been clear for some time that President Higgins was more than likely going to run again, McDonald was determined that Sinn Féin would put forward their own candidate to challenge the popular incumbent. In mid-September the party duly nominated Liadh Ní Riada, one of its Members of the European Parliament to be its standard bearer in the election.

Most political observers were of the view that Sinn Féin would use the election campaign as a vehicle to accelerate its political momentum in the Republic of Ireland. The widespread perception was that while Sinn Féin could not realistically expect Ní Riada to mount a serious challenge to Higgins it expected to come a strong second and increase the 13.7 per cent of the vote its candidate Martin McGuinness secured in the 2011 contest and the 13.8 per cent of the vote it received in Ireland’s February 2016 general election.

When Eamon de Valera wrote the constitution in 1937 getting the support of four county or city councils for a presidential nomination would have been a gargantuan task given that Ireland was essentially a two party state and the councils were dominated by members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who displayed strict loyalty to their party candidate. But since 1997 when the council route was first used to nominate independent candidates councillors have become somewhat intoxicated by the one real national power they have and 2018 became the third election in a row where independent candidates managed to get on the ballot through this route.

In comparative terms the Irish presidency is essentially a weak office. Presidents have very few constitutional powers of which to avail and so limited are these powers that a president has essentially no room for independent action. Nevertheless the draw of the presidency is such that the presidential elections of 2011 and 2018 have seen numerous candidates attempt to use the council route to get their name on the ballot. In 2011 three candidates were successful by dint of this route and this rose to four in 2018. These were Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, and Seán Gallagher, who had come second to Higgins in 2011. Rather bizarrely, Casey, Duffy and Gallagher had all been part of the popular RTE television programme, Dragons Den, where the so-called dragons decided whether to invest in ideas and businesses pitched to them by putative entrepreneurs. Freeman, by contrast, was a noted campaigner for mental health initiatives and had established one of Ireland’s largest charity organisations, Pieta House.

Gallagher was a late entrant to the campaign and had received some notoriety after having sued RTE over the 2011 campaign. He had held a substantial lead until the last week of that campaign and argued that the state broadcaster’s behaviour in a television debate essentially cost him the election. This suit was not settled until December 2017. By the middle of September all four had received the required amount of nominations from the country councils and a short five week campaign of six candidates began. Four opinion polls held between 16 September 2018 and 16 October 2018 were very consistent and showed Higgins with a massive lead of close to 70 per cent, Gallagher in the low teens and the rest in single figures. The strong Sinn Féin challenge never materialised. Gallagher’s campaign was nowhere near his 2011 showing and the other independents gained no traction with the voters.

This changed dramatically in the last ten days of what had been a relatively dull campaign up to then. There has been various mutterings about supposed lavish expenses being incurred by Higgins but these gained little momentum and it appeared that none of the candidates could offer a persuasive case to unseat the incumbent. Then in a podcast interview with a national news organisation Peter Casey made somewhat incendiary comments about the travelling community wherein he criticised the decision by the Dáil to give formal recognition to Travellers as a distinct ethic group in 2017 and claimed that they were basically camping on other people’s land. He also vociferously criticised many people on social welfare claiming that Ireland had become a welfare-dependent state, with people having a sense of entitlement that had become unaffordable.

Casey was widely criticised by the other candidates and various media commentators but his comments seemed to strike a chord with various parts of the electorate and he continued with these themes in a number of media debates over the last week of the campaign. Casey had never been at more than 2 per cent in any of the polls taken during the campaign but when two exit polls were released after voting had finished on Friday 26 October he was close to 21 per cent. When the votes were counted he had received 342,727 first preferences and 23.3 per cent of the votes. The most likely explanation for the rise in the Casey vote is that it was a protest against the political establishment added with elements of prejudice against marginalised groups. The other challengers all polled in single figures with Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riadh polling a disastrous 6.38 per cent to finish fourth.

Incumbency proved to be a real advantage for Higgins. The electorate were clearly happy with their president who had represented them with distinction abroad and had caused no real controversy at home. Given the constraints of the office it was extremely difficult for the other candidates to offer a persuasive case of why they should replace him. Ultimately in a resounding manner the Irish electorate were quite happy to settle for a repeat of the last seven years of the Higgins presidency safe in the knowledge that the next seven are likely to see a continuation of a safe pair of hands as their head of state.

Mozambique – Facing critical challenges: local elections, peace talks, and emerging security issues

After much speculation, Mozambique held local elections on October 10th, which were the fifth since 1994. These elections were important on several grounds. First, they took place under new legislation for electing local authorities. Second, it was the first time in 10 years that  Renamo was going to compete in local elections, after boycotting the 2013 polls. Third, these elections presented a critical test to the country’s prospects for democratization and peacebuilding. They took place about one month after the signature of a memorandum of understanding on military issues between the incumbent President Filipe Nyusi and the acting leader of Renamo, Ossufo Momade. Therefore, there was some level of uncertainty on whether the formal consensus would endure as the campaign unfolded and after the results were announced. Overall, looking at the political leadership during this period can foreshadow what is to come a year from now, when the general election is expected to take place.

The peace talks   

On August 6th, President Filipe Nyusi addressed the nation to announce that the Mozambican government and Renamo had signed a memorandum of understanding on military issues. The long awaited memorandum represents an important milestone after several months of negotiations and the initial uncertainty on whether the death of Renamo’s leader (Afonso Dhlakama) would compromise the peace negotiations and whether acting leader Ossufo Momade would fulfil the compromises reached hitherto. The memorandum establishes the process of “integrating the officers from Renamo in the FADM and in the Republic of Mozambique Police (PRM)” and “the Renamo armed elements’ DDR process”, as well as clear mechanisms that allow the process to be monitored. More specifically, it creates a Joint Technical Group on DDR (JTGDDR) to ensure that “DDR activities are performed in a timely, effective and efficient manner”.

The signing of the memorandum highlights the relevance of political leadership. President Filipe Nyusi’s willingness to concede on Renamo’s longtime demands, namely the decentralization package and the incorporation of the latter’s men into the country’s armed forces, was crucial for this outcome. Moreover, throughout the negotiation process, he presented himself as committed to attaining consensus and peace.  His words at the announcement of the signature of the memorandum are a clear illustration of this: “we did this by believing that, with patience, tolerance, understanding, a spirit of reconciliation, and a singular dedication to results, Mozambicans can construct peace”. Ossufo Momade, on the other hand, strived to gain legitimacy as a peace negotiator and Renamo’s new “strong man”. Following a decision made by Renamo’s National Political Committee, he went on living in the Gorongosa (as Afonso Dhlakama did in the past), and he was expected to continue the peace negotiations from there. Still, he also alluded to the “good will between the parties” and to Renamo’s commitment to the disarmament process.  However, the holding of local elections, which were the first ones in which Renamo participated in 10 years, relaunched new uncertainties on whether the party would still fulfil the memorandum.

Local Elections

After the approval of new electoral legislation on July 19th, the competing political forces had only a few months to set up their lists of candidates for the October 10th local elections. Parties’ nominations for the country’s 53 municipalities were not consensual across all units. This was the case in the capital, Maputo. Here, Frelimo faced an important setback when Samora Machel Júnior, son of the first Mozambican president, Samora Machel, defected the party to run as an independent mayoral candidate against the party’s endorsed candidate, Eneas Comiche. Renamo, on the other hand, saw its first choice, Venâncio Mondlane, excluded by the National Elections Commission (CNE) and had to replace him with Hermínio Morais. The electoral campaign period had a few episodes of clashes between the opposing parties, and Renamo’s supporters claimed they were victims of intimidation and assault. Voting day was generally calm, although there were some procedural incidents. Overall, the results brought no significant changes: Frelimo elected mayors (the head of the list of the party with the most votes) in 44 municipalities, while Renamo elected 8 and  MDM 1. The results were not accepted by Ossufo Momade, who promised to contest the results. Following a strategy that was often used by the former leader of Renamo Afonso Dhlakama, he stated “We do not want war but we also do not accept any attempt to change the popular will”; moreover he threatened to walk out of talks if the electoral bodies failed to recognize that the local elections had been fraudulent.  So far the appeals submitted by the Renamo (and the MDM) against the election results have been rejected by the courts.

Leadership in times of uncertainty

President Filipe Nyusi has been facing critical tests since he was elected to office in 2014; however, the unfolding of the peace talks with Renamo and his party’s win in the local elections, reinforce his legitimacy and strength as leader. On Renamo’s side, the new leadership has a chance to refashion and strengthen the party if it is to continue to improve electorally. However, there are important challenges ahead. The implementation of the DDR process as delineated in the memorandum remains haunted by uncertainty, and Renamo’s leadership has already threatened to abandon the negotiations, as the party considers the recent local elections illegitimate. Furthermore, the economy is still volatile, and there are new emerging security threats in the country’s northern provinces that have been linked to Islamic terrorismillegal mining activity, and social inequality, which need to be addressed by the presidency. How both parties’ leaderships deal with the challenges they face and keep the peace process on track will be the keys to their success in the upcoming 2019 election.

Cameroon – No Real Surprises, Only Drama in the Presidential Election

It took fifteen days, but on October 22 the Constitutional Council of Cameroon finally declared incumbent Paul Biya the victor of the presidential election with 71% of the vote. Maurice Kamto took second place (14%), while Cabral Libii came in third (6%) and Joshua Osih a surprising fourth (3%). 85-year-old Biya will start yet another seven-year term and mark his 36th year in office. He is the oldest president in Africa, and the second longest ruling chief executive in the world, eclipsed only by Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang (who congratulated Biya on his victory before the results were announced). For many in the Cameroonian opposition, the election was a sham. Turnout in conflict areas was abysmally low at 5% to 10%. This reinforced a sense of malaise and decline that threatens to further destabilize the country.

While there were no surprises, the election was not without some drama. Supposed preliminary results were leaked on social media, and Kamto and Libii stirred controversy when they both claimed victory without any real evidence. Cameroonian national television reported that Transparency International had given the election high marks. This turned out to be a “ghost” observer, and the Cameroonian government never clarified the issue. Opposition parties filed 18 complaints with the newly formed Constitutional Council. But, since petitions had to be filed within 72 hours of the poll and without any official results, they were all unsurprisingly rejected. The government then banned Kamtoand Cabril from holding press conferences, and imposed a lockdown in major urban areas in anticipation of public demonstrations.

This election is a good moment to take a step back and assess what has sustained the Cameroonian regime for so long, despite the utter disillusionment of large swaths of its citizens with the current political reality. The election also revealed some new information about the regime and its opponents, which will reshape political dynamics for the next coming years, especially as the Biya era reaches its ultimate end. What all this means for the future of Cameroon, and especially the brutal conflict in English-speaking areas is unclear, but observers should not conflate the persistence of the Biya era with some sense of political stability. Indeed, if I were to try and read the tealeaves, both the regime and opposition have some critical decisions ahead of them that could spiral Cameroon into even more serious crisis.

Why Biya Won: The Persistence of Electoral Authoritarianism

Biya’s slogan this election, which had a very different connotation in its English translation, La Force de L’Expérience, is actually quite apt. Over three decades of rule, the Biya regime has learned to manage a fractious ruling coalition, to counter political opposition, and skirt large-scale international scrutiny. I think of Cameroon as emblematic of electoral authoritarianism, propped up by the centralized power of the president, the range of patronage positions available to the regime, and a fairly powerful security apparatus.

President Biya’s stronghold is in the South, but he has been able to retain the support of key political elites who otherwise would be his rivals, in particular in northern areas. Without term limits, and with Biya as the coalition kingmaker, there have been few incentives for individuals to challenge him from within. Moreover, those who have done so in the past have found themselves tangled up with law enforcement. I predicted that as long as Biya maintained a sufficiently wide elite coalition, the numbers were just not there for the opposition to win.

Over the past decade Cameroon has also become a much more restrictive place. Presidentially appointed governors and senior district officers (SDOs) use their authority to limit political organization by denying permits for the sake of public order. They have also been able to declare states of emergency and impose curfews on large territories. Since a poorly written anti-terror law passed in 2014, security forces have launched raids and charged individuals in opaque military tribunals. Public demonstrations are often violently dispersed, and dozens of participants randomly arrested and held for lengthy administrative detention.The senior leadership of opposition parties has been arrested, and media outlets are censored for dissemination of false information and slander.

International actors have also played an instrumental role here too. Since the transition to multipartyism, Biya has been able to depend on French fiscal and rhetorical support. Likewise, the French have used their influence with multilateral lenders, who have continued to lend money to Cameroon despite severe fiscal mismanagement and a bloated state sector. Since 2001, the United States has also sought Cameroon’s support on key issues in international forums, and now has 300 soldiers and a drone base in the north. American support for democracy and governance has been tepid, this election included. The lack of international pressure has shielded Cameroon, and importantly has allowed the regime to keep significant fiscal and coercive tools in its toolkit.

What We Learned from This Election

While Biya’s victory seemed written in stone before the election even took place, there are some novel developments worth noting. First, the creation of the Constitutional Council in March 2018 created yet another layer of democratic window dressing. There were plans to create this commission since the constitution was revised in 1996, and the timing of its creation this year is not coincidental. The president appoints all of the council’s eleven members for a six-year and non-renewable term, and the council is the final arbiter of all presidential election related disputes. The government has just announced plans to build a $475,000 mansionfor the commission chair Clement Atangana.

The legal pleas and demonstrations at the Constitutional Council made for some riveting news coverage, but also trapped opposition parties into a quasi-legal process that shielded the regime. Unlike the role of courts in other disputed elections as in Kenya, the Constitutional Council in Cameroon is much less independent. The fact that petitions had to be filed before there were any results meant that opposition parties had very little chance of gaining any actual legal ground. Instead, they were forced to participate in a process that gave the regime the façade of proceduralism. While the opposition received a platform to articulate their grievances, it also neutered some of the rhetorical leverage they sought. If the opposition had broken with the process, they would have been accused of being anti-democratic. But, by participating they angered some of their own supporters who demanded a more radical reaction.

This relates to broader divisions within the opposition that were exposed this election. There was a concerted effort in Anglophone areas to boycott the election, which contributed to the low turnout rates. But, Cameroon’s history of boycotts in 1992 and 1997 has been counterproductive. In the past shunning sham electoral processes only isolated the opposition, and did little to garner wider international focus. In a sense, one of the most pernicious aspects of electoral authoritarian regimes like Cameroon is that it traps opposition parties into participating in quasi-democratic processes despite their substantial flaws. This has widened the gap between the political aspects of the current opposition and it societal base, which appears to be much more committed to a more radical and starker opposition.

New alignments among the opposition were also revealed (see Table 1). Joshua Osih, who was at one point seen as the key opposition figure, performed surprisingly poorly outside of the SDF’s strongholds in North West and South West. But, votes from North West and South West were inconsequential given the atrocious turnout levels. By contrast, Kamto won Littoral region and took 30% of the vote in West Region (his home area). Kamto might have enjoyed a slight bump when Akere Muna dropped out at the last minute and endorsed him. Osih also did not capture the youth vote, which went to Cabral Libii instead. At 38 years old, Libii was the youngest of the candidates, and was referred to as a Cameroonian Emmanuel Macron. Libii is from Francophone Cameroon, and took advantage of a savvy social media campaign to reach a large number of youth voters.

A final noteworthy change this year was the inclusion of a diaspora vote in the presidential election. Cameroonian citizens living abroad could vote at their consulates and embassies, and votes were tallied by region (see Table 2). Notably, the ruling CPDM party has made some significant efforts over the past decade at bolstering its branches abroad, in particular in Washington DC and Paris. However, by the same token diaspora communities have organized real political opposition. There are substantial Anglophone communities who reside in Washington DC and Nigeria. Registration rates were quite low in Asia and the Americas, but approximately 14,000 Cameroonians registered from other African countries. According to these results, diaspora voters in Africa are evenly split between Biya and the opposition.

What this Means for the Future of Cameroon?

Reelecting Biya was an endorsement of the status quo, and provides the regime with some more lead time to figure out solutions for the major issues it faces. First and foremost, does Biya’s continued rein increase or decrease the odds of resolving the Anglophone crisis? Biya’s response so far has been to offer symbolic reconciliation while simultaneously cracking down on the opposition. This has led to mutual escalation that is difficult for any side to back down from. There is a ripe moment here for Biya to take advantage of his new term and launch an internationally supported process that would bring reasonable voices to the negotiating table.

However, it is also difficult to imagine serious negotiation that would end with a settlement acceptable to all parties. As noted above, there is acute disagreement in the Anglophone opposition over whether to even participate in the available channels of politics. Likewise, many of the more moderate voices in civil society have been pushed to accept federalism as a starting point for negotiations. On the other hand, Biya might feel more secure now, and feel like he does not have to negotiate from a position of weakness. A possible, and perhaps more likely outcome, is that both sides will continue to dig their heels in. This would mean a prolonged crisis that further escalates an already devastating situation.

The election also has consequences for the 2019 parliamentary election. Legislative contests are often much more localized, which means that opposition parties have to be able and actually nominate candidates. While Osih only came in 4thplace, the SDF is still the primary opposition party. Both Kamto and Libii do not have robust political organization behind them that can run candidates in multiple districts. Other parties like the UPC and NUDP have largely been coopted by the regime. Issues of participation will persist in this election, especially in Anglophone areas, as will questions of opposition coordination. Only a concerted effort by the major opposition players stands a chance at chipping away at the CPDM’s overwhelming legislative majority.

Finally, another Biya term delays what is perhaps the greatest challenge for the regime – what comes after Biya? It is not impossible that he will run again at age 93 (see Robert Mugabe), but there is a strong likelihood that Biya will either not end his term or will not run again in 2025. In fact, there were rumors prior to this election that Biya would make a dramatic last-minute announcement and step down from power in favor of an appointed successor. The logic was that the timing would preclude any opposition from within, and make the successor an established fact that no one could contest.

Biya has seven years to design an exit strategy, but the problem is that there is no agreed upon process for choosing a successor. The CPDM has never held a credible presidential primary, and given the multi-ethnic and coalitional nature of the regime, many groups feel that it is their turn to helm the ship of state. This is true in the cabinet and in the military and security services as well, where there is fairly strong inter-unit rivalry and jealously. Many incumbents also fear legal retribution if the ruling coalition is reoriented in a new direction. The stakes are very high, which is why the status quo served the regime so well in the past. But, the clock is running out and absent some credible process or system of guarantees, the question of succession in the next few years has the real potential to devolve into conflict.

Table 1 Election Results by Region

Region AD CN EA EN LT NO
P. Biya 79.8% 71.1% 90.4% 89.2% 35.8% 81.6%
M. Kamto 2.6% 15.3% 2.6% 3.5% 38.6% 4.2%
J. Osih 1.9% 2.1% 0.9% 1.0% 9.1% 2.0%
A. Muna 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.3% 0.3% 0.8%
G. Haman 2.9% 0.7% 1.1% 1.8% 0.9% 2.9%
C. Libii 11.3% 9.7% 3.8% 2.8% 12.8% 5.8%
S. Matomba 0.6% 0.4% 0.4% 0.6% 0.7% 1.1%
N. Njoya 0.3% 0.3% 0.2% 0.4% 0.8% 0.5%
F. Ndifor 0.6% 0.4% 0.3% 0.5% 1.2% 1.1%
Reg. Voters 433,873 1,155,161 322,376 1,135,942 935,531 671,611
Voters 242,259 677.987 203,865 921,311 512,516 368,454
Inv. Ballots 3,848 5,374 2,314 17,122 5,089 11,078
Turnout 55.9% 58.7% 63.2% 72.3% 54.8% 54.9%
NW SO SW WE TOTAL
P. Biya 81.8% 92.9% 77.7% 48.2% 71.3%
M. Kamto 3.6% 2.2% 3.5% 30.6% 14.2%
J. Osih 10.4% 1.0% 12.7% 5.2% 3.4%
A. Muna 0.8% 0.0% 0.8% 0.5% 0.4%
G. Haman 0.4% 0.2% 0.6% 2.5% 1.6%
C. Libii 1.2% 2.8% 1.7% 1.4% 6.3%
S. Matomba 0.3% 0.1% 0.6% 0.4% 0.6%
N. Njoya 0.4% 0.5% 0.7% 10.4% 1.7%
F. Ndifor 1.2% 0.3% 1.7% 0.8% 0.7%
Reg. Voters 627, 068 266,194 374,227 726,351 6,667,754
Voters 33,582 196,369 59,647 465,079 3,590,681
Inv. Ballots 271 1,182 667 5,566 52,716
Turnout 5.4% 73.8% 15.9% 64.0% 53.9%

Note: AD=Adamoua, CN=Center, EA=Eastern, EN=Extreme North, LT=Littoral, NO=North, NW=North West, SO=South, SW=South West, WE=West; Source: CRTV

 

Table 2 Diaspora Election Results

Asia Americas Africa Europe Diaspora Total
Paul Biya 71.9% 83.9% 49.2% 52.0% 50.0%
Maurice Kamto 8.0% 8.5% 33.3% 31.0% 31.8%
Joshua Oshi 1.0% 1.5% 3.7% 1.9% 3.3%
Akere Muna 1.0% 0.0% 0.3% 0.1% 0.3%
Garga Haman 3.8% 0.0% 0.6% 0.2% 0.6%
Cabral Libii 10.0% 4.6% 9.5% 14.4% 10.3%
Serge E Matomba 1.7% 0.8% 0.6% 0.2% 0.6%
Ndam Njoya 1.3% 0.0% 2.0% 0.2% 1.6%
F. Ndifor 1.4% 0.8% 0.9% 0.0% 0.7%
Reg. Voters 899 178 14,314 Unknown
Voters 305 134 7,339 Unknown
Inv. Ballots 6 4 178 Unknown
Turnout 33.4% 75.3% 51.3% 38.8%

Note: Source: CRTV

 

New publications

Gianluca Passarelli (ed.), The Presidentialisation of Political Parties in the Western Balkans, Springer 2019.

Sibel Oktay, ‘Clarity of responsibility and foreign policy performance voting’, European Journal of Political Research, Volume 57, Issue3, August 2018, pp. 587-614.

Shannon Bow O’Brien, Why Presidential Speech Locations Matter: Analyzing Speechmaking from Truman to Obama, Palgrave, 2018.

Henry E. Hale, ‘Timing is everything: a quantitative study of presidentialist regime dynamics in Eurasia, 1992–2016’, Post-Soviet Affairs, 34:5, 267-281, 2018. DOI 10.1080/1060586X.2018.1500094.

Martin Gross and Marc Debus, ‘Gaining new insights by going local: determinants of coalition formation in mixed democratic polities’, Public Choice (2018) 174: 61. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-017-0489-x

Grigorii V. Golosov (2018) The five shades of grey: party systems and authoritarian institutions in post-Soviet Central Asian states, Central Asian Survey, DOI: 10.1080/02634937.2018.1500442

Karel Kouba andTomáš Došek, ‘Fragmentation of presidential elections and governability crises in Latin America: a curvilinear relationship?’, Democratization, 25:7, 2018, pp.1270-1290, DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2018.1462797

Marcus Mietzner, ‘From Autocracy to Coalitional Presidentialism: The Post-Authoritarian Transformation of Indonesia’s Presidency’, Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, 2018.

Marcus Mietzner, ‘The Indonesian Armed Forces, Coalitional Presidentialism, and Democratization’, in Robert W. Hefner (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Indonesia, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, London and New York, pp. 140-150, 2018.

Daniel Jatoba and Bruno Theodoro Luciano, ‘The Deposition of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo and its repercussions in South American regional organizations’, Brazilian Political Sci. Rev., vol. 12, no. 1, 2018. Available from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1981-38212018000100204&lng=en&nrm=iso.

Tom Ginsburg, ‘Constitutional Knowledge’, KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge 2, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 15-29, https://doi.org/10.1086/696296.

Marién Durán, ‘Dual Presidentialization and Autocratization: Turkey at a Critical Crossroads’, Mediterranean Quarterly (2018) 29 (3): 98-116. https://doi.org/10.1215/10474552-7003192

Hasret Dikici Bilgin and Emre Erdoğan, ‘Obscurities of a Referendum Foretold: The 2017 Constitutional Amendments in Turkey’, Review of Middle East Studies, 52(1), 29-42, 2018. doi:10.1017/rms.2018.9

Vitaliy Lytvyn, ‘The Stages of Installation and Institutional, Procedural, Political and Behavioral Attributes of Semi-Presidentialism in Poland and Ukraine: Comparative Analysis’, available at: http://studium.kutno.pl/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Studium_nr_8_2017.pdf#page=16

Łukasz Jakubiak, ‘The parliamentary genesis of the French semi‐presidentialism against the background of the process of presidentialisation of the Fifth Republic’, available at: http://www.akademicka.pl/ebooks/free/c014d812cbe20ee2770441d837aaedf6.pdf#page=205.

Exploring the Twilight Zone: An account of Mexican politics after the election

A couple of weeks ago at the University of Oxford, when asked for his opinion on the recently elected Mexican government, Luis Almagro, Secretary General to the Organization of American States, said that assessing an administration that has yet to take office would be irresponsible. Since I am not the head of a key international and regional organization, in my second entry to the Presidential Power blog —my first as a regular contributor— I will risk offering an irresponsible but yet informed account of the events that have shaped the Mexican political landscape over the past few months.

For those who have not followed the Mexican scene closely —and even for those who have— it might come as a surprise that even after more than three months of election day, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is still president-elect. With five more weeks until he is sworn in, many in Mexico can closely relate to Vladimir and Estragon from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. An overview of Mexican media outlets reveals that public sentiment is split: On the one hand, there are those who say that throughout this waiting period nothing of significance has happened and those who would argue that there have been substantial changes. On the other hand, there is also no consensus on how best to assess either of the two previously described scenarios.

To help you explore the Mexican twilight zone, in what follows I will first address the most salient issues across 5 different arenas: economy, security, domestic politics, international relations and social policy. In the second section, I succinctly explore the upcoming challenges for AMLO and list a few things to look out for in the next couple of months. Lastly, I briefly conclude by reflecting on Enrique Peña Nieto’s (EPN) epilogue.

A Quick Recap by Arena

  1. The Economy — AMLO and his team have placed three key topics on the economic agenda: a) Mexico City’s airport, b) the Tren Maya project and c) Revenue and Wages. Interestingly enough, the two big-scale infrastructure projects will be decided by two separate (semi-formal) referenda. Income-wise, on the one hand, the new government announced that taxes will not be raised, and on the other hand, AMLO agreed to increase to the minimum wage with COPARMEX and CCE—the two largest patronal organizations. That is, come December 1st , the government’s budget is unlikely to significantly increase and Mexican workers are now expecting a long overdue pay raise.
  2. Security — As with the previous arena, López Obrador along with the next Secretary of the Interior, Olga Sánchez Cordero, have outlined at least three items for the security agenda: a) Legalizing marihuana, b) the Foros de Pacificación and the c) continued militarization of police forces. While the MORENA plurality in Congress awaits the results of the Foros in order to take further steps in terms of public safety, most surprisingly, after meeting with military officials, AMLO announced that for now, the armed forces will continue to police key areas of the country and that ultimately, Mexico needs a Guardia Civil.
  3. Domestic Politics — This is perhaps the most complex arena given the sheer amount of relevant matters raised by MORENA’s victorious candidate. While he tours the country in order to thank voters, AMLO has a) continued to announce the appointment of (future) cabinet members, b) met with several governors who, appalled by the president’s popular support, have quickly found their (lost since 2000) political discipline. The president-elect has also announced c) austerity measures, d) the reallocation of ministries, and has said that he will e) cancel EPN’s education reform while f) leaving the one regulating the energy sector
  4. International Relations — Two issues stand out regarding the international sphere. The first one being the fact that after the elections, a) members of AMLO’s team were included in the negotiation rounds of the free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. With support from the new administration, it is highly unlikely then that Mexico will ask for further/significant changes to the agreement. Divergence, however, characterized the second more recent and salient issue, in which, b) on the one hand, EPN used state forces in an attempt to block the Caravana Migrante and on the other hand, López Obrador declared that once he is sworn in, there will be employment for citizens and migrants alike.
  5. Social Policy — In the face of restricted public resources and the promise not to raise taxes, AMLO has announced a redesign and a restructured budget for social programs. While transfers for young and elderly people have been repeatedly advertised, it is still unclear what the incoming government will do, for example, in terms of health (IMSS, ISSSTE and Seguro Popular) and pensions. The expectation is that progressively redistributive policies along with the increase in wages allow Mexico to overcome its alarming levels of poverty and inequality.

What now? Challenges and Expectations

For Andres Manuel, the most excruciating challenge comes exactly from the expectations he has generated. In a recent poll, AMLO’s approval rating reached an outstanding 71%. The survey also revealed, as Figure 1 shows, that around 74% of Mexicans believe that once he is in office, complex topics such as corruption, security, health and poverty will improve. It seems that anything but exceptional is bound to disappoint. The Tabasqueño’s leadership and charisma will surely be put to the test.I have elsewhere talked about the challenge of transforming MORENA into a somewhat disciplined and coherent party. Recent quarrels between fellow Congressmen and the disagreements between MORENA’s leadership and some of the party’s governors, show that achieving internal cohesion is definitely one pending task of the organization.

A lot has been said at rallies and public plazas, but in the midst of le passage à l’acte, there are two vital pieces of legislation to look out for: 1) The (probably) new Ley Orgánica de la Administración Pública Federal (LOAPF) and 2) the Presupuesto de Egresos de la Federación (PEF). The former will define the architecture of the federal administration and shape the responsibilities of the bureaucracy, the latter will set the ‘production possibility frontier’ for the incoming administration. Together, these documents will reveal the true priorities of AMLO’s government and are highly likely to be heavily discussed in the first few months of 2019.

Concluding Remarks…

I hope that a) I have not been so irresponsible in presenting this brief account of the Mexican political scenario, b) that I have not left out key topics or issues and c) that you find that the points that were raised are actually well documented. As a close to my second entry, I would like to highlight that for the past several months —some would say even a year— current president Peña Nieto has been missing in action.

In spite of presenting his last annual Informe and talking at the United Nations, EPN has been unable to set the agenda. When he does manage to make headlines is because he either took a selfie with a phone covered with an AMLO-supporting case or even more damming, when he’s criticized for being Trump’s attack dog in the southern border. Now a lame duck, I can imagine that EPN, as many Mexicans, can’t wait for his show to be over.

Estonia – Will Kersti Kaljulaid become more political?

It has been a little more than two years since Kersti Kaljulaid was elected as Estonia’s fourth president since the end of the Soviet occupation. While her election was in many ways remarkable – both parliament and the electoral college failed on five occasions to elect a successor for Toomas Hendrik Ilves, triggering a minor constitutional crisis and a reform of the electoral system – she has been considerably less visible in day-to-day politics than her predecessors. As the next parliamentary elections draw closer, it is not clear whether she will choose to pursue a similar (or even more) apolitical stance or show at least some political preferences.

President Kersti Kaljulaid speaking at the opening of the Estonian parliament, 10 September 2018 / image via president.ee © Erik Peinar

During her first year in office, Kaljulaid remained largely passive – she refrained from playing an active part in the formation of the government shortly after her election and shied away from more controversial issues. The latter also applies to her second year: Kaljulaid (successfully) continued to play the role of global ambassador for “E-stonia” (Estonia as a world leader in digital services) and – together with her Baltic colleagues – repeatedly raised the issue of the region’s national security vis-a-vis Russian aggression with Western (NATO) partners. On the other hand, she failed to follow up on some more critical remarks from her first speech at the opening of parliament in September 2017 in actions or (further) words. For instance, she stressed that ethnic Russian residents of the country were just as Estonian as the ethnic Estonian population. However, the only notable initiative in addressing this issue seems to have been a one-month relocation of her office to Narva (a city dominated by the ethnic Russian population).

During the most controversial political discussion in Estonian politics during the last year, she remained remarkedly quiet. In May 2017 (apparently authorised by a resolution dating back to the year 2000), the government launched a consultation to find the most suitable location for a large pulp mill near Tartu (the country’s second largest city). However, the plans were opposed by a great number of environmental NGOs and local resident groups. Eventually, the government decided the shelve the plans in June this year. Thereby, Kaljulaid failed to comment on the debate apart from a few of vacuous remarks.

Kaljulaid once again used her speech at the opening of parliament in September this year to express concerns over some government reforms. In particular, this concerned a potential privatisation of health insurance provision and further reduction in the welfare state. However, given last year’s track record, it is unclear whether this will result in any attempts to influence policy or to actively avert a change in the status quo. It is likewise doubtful whether Kaljulaid’s comments can be interpreted as cues to political parties with regard to the upcoming parliamentary elections in March 2019. Over the last months, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) – a national-conservative party that entered parliament for the first time in 2015 – has gained strongly in opinion polls and may emerge as the second largest party.

The Estonian president has two attempts to nominate a candidate for prime minister after elections and can thus have a decisive influence on government formation – especially as electoral results do not always allow the largest party to form a coalition (in about a quarter of governments formed since 1992, the prime minister was not from the largest party). Therefore, we should closely monitor Kaljulaid’s behaviour and statements in the run-up to the parliamentary election. She is unlikely to be as outspoken about her coalition preferences or dislike of particular candidate as her predecessor was in 2010, yet it may still help us to understand how she will work with the next government and whether she will become more active in the future.

Institutions and Political Leadership in the Age of ‘Post-truth Politics’

This post is about institutions and political leadership. There are two elements to this topic – institutions and leadership – but typically only one of them gets any attention – institutions. Here, I want to say something about both elements, beginning with leadership.

What is political leadership? How should political leadership be defined? What is the ontology of political leadership? What does political leadership look like? How do we observe it? What behaviour constitutes leadership. What is behavioural political leadership?

There was a great deal of discussion in the 1970s and 1980s about how best to define political leadership and there was no consensus answer. Currently, we have no agreed scientific definition. The question is whether we do not have such a definition either because as a political science profession we have all decided that there is no definition of behavioural leadership to be found, or because we have chosen not to look for one.

However, recent work by scholars such as Cas Mudde on populism has shown us that the definition of difficult concepts can be made clearer. We may wish to revisit the debate about the definition of political leadership in this light.

For example, if we define political leadership to include a normative component such as the idea that leadership as an essentially positive behaviour – along the lines of James MacGregor Burns – then leadership can only be a force for democratic good. From this perspective, behaviour that weakens democracy – by Orbán, Trump, Salvini, etc. – is, by definition, not an act of leadership, no matter how popular the behaviour and the people who are engaging in the behaviour may be. In other words, perhaps people such as Orbán and Trump are not really behaving as leaders. Perhaps they are not really exercising political leadership. We can only make such statements, though, if we have a working definition of the concept that can provide a scientific basis for making them.

The absence of a definition of political leadership is a problem. There is now a genuine public and academic interest in the concept of political leadership. Yet, as academics, we have ignored the concept for many years. This means either that our work can safely be ignored because we do not have the scientific grounds on which to make any expert statements about the concept, or, worse, that we when make professional, expert, or academic statements about the exercise of political leadership in public, our work can be classed as mere opinion, as ideologically motivated comment, as fake news. This is because there is no science of political leadership.

So, if we want to make statements about whether the behaviour of x or y leader constitutes the exercise of leadership, whether they are exercising good or bad leadership, etc, then we need some conception of leadership, some definition of the concept that is clearer than we currently possess.

The study of institutions and political leadership is bound up with this discussion.

In the absence of a consensus scientific definition of behavioural political leadership, as academics we have come to use the terms leader and leadership in a certain way. We have come to understand a political leader as anyone who holds a position of high political office – presidents, PMs, etc. Equally, we have come to understand political leadership merely as the actions of those people, whatever those actions might be, whatever their behaviour might be, however good or bad, right or wrong, they might be. The exercise of behavioural political leadership is not a specific, defined sub-set of the type of behaviour that presidents, PMs, etc engage in, it is any and all of their behaviour.

We are perhaps missing something by thinking of leadership in this way, yet we gain something too. We lose the ability to make a Burns-like statement that someone such as Orbán or Trump is not really behaving as a leader. However, we gain the ability, first, to clearly identify the set of people – the leaders – that we are studying – presidents, PMs, etc. – and, second, we gain the ability to focus on any and all outcomes that we might happen to be interested in. That is to say, if leadership is not sub-set of the type of behaviour that presidents, PMs, etc engage in, but any and all of their behaviour, then we have the potential to study anything they do and say that we are studying leadership.

The study of institutions is central to this positional way of thinking about political leadership. When political leaders are merely institutional office holders, then the study of political leadership is necessarily bound up with institutions in that regard. When leadership outcomes are any and all outcomes that we might happen to be interested in, then the study of political leadership is necessarily bound up with the institutional context in which leaders operate. To the extent that we assume different institutions shape behaviour in different ways, then thinking about leaders as mere office holders and leadership as merely the actions of office holders gives us the potential not only to focus on institutions and study empirically why leadership outcomes vary from one place to another, but also to make recommendations about what sorts of institutional changes might be made to generate better leadership outcomes.

Thinking about leaders and leadership in this way, I want to make three empirical points about leadership and institutions.

First, we have concentrated too much of our attention on leadership in the context of headline regime-level institutions – presidentialism vs parliamentarism. True, we can say with some assurance certain things about regime-level institutions. Samuels and Shugart have identified some discrete regime-level institutional effects. For example, in parliamentary systems leaders lose office for party political reasons more often than leaders in semi-presidential and presidential systems. However, in other areas we need to be much more circumspect. In relation to democracy as an outcome, the debate about institutional effects is much more unresolved than many people believe. The empirical results about the relative merits of presidentialism and parliamentarism for democracy are sensitive to case selection, time period, model specification, etc. We have to acknowledge that many factors affect democratisation. Institutions are only one.

Second, this does not mean that institutions do not matter. However, we need to move beyond the study of headline regime-level institutions and look at how individual institutions combine to generate leadership outcomes. Institutions can combine to open up space for individual leaders to govern in a personalised way. They can also close down that space if they are designed appropriately. Indeed, institutions in parliamentary and semi-presidential regimes can combine in similar ways to generate similar leadership outcomes, opening up or closing down space equally.

For example, a Hungarian-style parliamentary system with an electoral system that encourages a coherent single-party majority that supports the PM creates the potential for personalised PM leadership. Equally, a French-style semi-presidential system with an electoral system that encourages a coherent single-party majority that supports the president creates the potential for personalised presidential leadership. The Samuels and Shugart thesis still applies. In Hungary the party could still bring down the PM whereas in France the party in parliament cannot bring down the president. Typically, though, the institutional design of both countries has opened up the space for both the Hungarian PM and the French president to govern in a personalised manner.

What allows the French and Hungarian systems to be so personalised is not the regime-level structures. It is the combination of the type of electoral system, the process of judicial appointments, the rules governing the organisation of political parties, the constitutional powers of the president and PM, and plenty of other institutional features too. In other words, the space that is opened up or closed off to top-level leaders is a function of the combination of many discrete institutional features. When we study institutions and political leadership, we need to look at the combination of these discrete institutional features, rather than merely the headline regime.

Third, this means that we also need to study these discrete institutional features in themselves. If we are worried about how leaders can abuse institutional features, then we need to look at all institutions and how they can be abused by leaders who want to engage in personalised leadership. For example, what is the power of a president to dismiss a constitutional court justice, or to prevent a PM from dismissing a constitutional court justice? This is far from a top-level, regime-defining institutional feature, but it can be an essential element of whether there is democratic backsliding in a country or not. We know from work on democratic backsliding that would-be authoritarian leaders will use any institutional feature to try to get what they want. We have to be mindful of how any institution can be used and abused. We have to be mindful of how any of those discrete institutional features can combine with each other to create a potentially difficult situation for democracy. We have to move away from the study of just presidentialism or parliamentarism and think about institutional features more generally.

To go back to the beginning, it is important to realise that there are two elements to the study of institutions and political leadership – institutions and leadership. What this means is that when we study institutions and political leadership, we have to do two things. We have to study institutions. We have to study how the effects of institutions. We have to study how those effects can be used and abused. We have to think about institutional reform and how we can generate better leadership outcomes. But we also have to think about the concept of political leadership itself, or at the very least we have to think about whether we want to think about the concept of political leadership. What behaviour constitutes political leadership? If we have an answer to that question, then we can start to explore which institutions correlate with behavioural political leadership. This would certainly be a step forward in the study of institutions and political leadership.

This is a revised version of a presentation that was given on 27 September 2018 to the German Political Science Association conference at the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. The theme of the roundtable was Political Leadership in the Age of “Post-truth Politics” – Potentials and Risks?”.

France – Is President Macron losing the plot?

Is President Macron losing the plot? He had every reason to celebrate the first anniversary of his election as French President in May 2018. At that stage, his poll rankings were consistently better than those of his two immediate predecessors, Hollande and Sarkozy. Since then, however, things have not gone according to plan. In July 2018, the Benalla affair undermined, by association, the claim to ethical integrity and cast unwelcome light on the operation of Macron’s Elysée. After a highly mediatized summer break – peppered with minor controversies that are germane to the ‘peopleisation’ of the presidential office, such as Brigitte Macron’s ordering of a new swimming pool at the Bregançon residence – things began to disconnect in earnest. The lingering presence of the Benalla scandal competed with presidential hesitations, and ministerial resignations to disrupt the carefully-laid plans of the ‘disruptive President’ ( On Macron as a ‘disruptive president’, see Helen Drake’s blog in Political Quartely, 14th September 2018 ‘ Is France having a moment? Emmanuel Macron and the politics of disruption http://www.pqblog.org.uk/2018/09/is-france-having-moment-emmanuel-macron.html).

The Benalla scandal broke in mid-July 2018, when videos of Alexandre Benalla, one of President Macron’s key security advisors, were published by Le Monde, allegedly showing him roughing up a couple of protestors during the 1 May 2018 demonstrations in Paris. The scandal involved, inter alia, the then Interior Minister (Gérard Collomb), the Chief of the Paris Police force (Michel Delpuech), the Head of Macron’s own office (Patrick Stzroda) and some would argue Macron himself. It cast light on the malfunctioning of the security services under Macron and the willingness of his advisors to take the law into their own hands. The scandal was interpreted in the press as highly informative of Macron’s leadership style, based on the primacy of a network of personal loyalties, developed in the main during the 2017 presidential campaign, to the exclusion of professional and political influences from outside the inner circle. One immediate casualty of the Benalla scandal was the postponement of the constitutional reform initially announced for the summer of 2018.

While the Benalla scandal continues to disseminate its own form of poison (in the form of the Senate’s Committee of Inquiry, convoking leading figure to testify, including Benalla himself) Macron’s authority has been undermined by hesitations, resignations and diminishing popularity.

One of Macron’s core claims of the first year in office was to be the maitre des horloges, the timekeeper. President Macron has paid close attention to controlling the agenda and dictating the rhythm, of events. This capacity to control time has been called into question on several occasions since the end of the summer. The claim to exercise decisive, vertical leadership was challenged by the apparent hesitations over whether to go ahead with a ‘pay as you go’ system of withholding taxation at source. Planned during the Hollande presidency, this measure had been postponed for one year by Macron. After ten days or so of apparent hesitation by the President, Prime Minister Philippe confirmed in a televised interview in September that this measure would indeed be implemented. This episode might be interpreted as Macron making sure that the President is seen to be making the final decision (and of ensuring that the Finance ministry respect presidential orders), but the public effect was to cast doubt upon the firm, vertical leadership that had characterized the first year in office.

The sense of drift was aggravated by the October 2018 government re-shuffle, forced on a reluctant Macron by the resignation of Gérard Collomb, Interior minister, former mayor of Lyon and one of Macron’s earliest political sponsors. Coming on the heels of that of Nicolas Hulot, the charismatic Environment minister – who complained of losing out on most policy arbitrations – the Collomb resignation carried a body blow to Macron’s claim to control the rhythm and style of politics. In both cases, the resignations were made public via the media, at times of major inconvenience for the incumbent government. Hulot resigned shortly after President Macron had refused his resignation. Collomb began by making clear his preference to return to Lyon and compete for the townhall after the 2019 European elections, an unsustainable position that provoked public and private criticism and political controversy within the microcosm sometimes known as la Macronie. Collomb was one of the few politicians confident enough to ‘tell the truth’ in relation to Macron himself, accusing the President of ‘hubris’ in an interview published while he was still Interior minister.

Whether deliberately designed to damage Macron or not, Collomb’s resignation added to the sense of drift. The time taken to name a new government – in reality, just over ten days – was modest in relation to Belgian, Spanish, German or Italian examples, but seemed inordinately long to commentators of France’s permanent news programmes, as well as a press that has become surprisingly (excessively?) hostile to Macron. The long drawn out ministerial re-shuffle occasioned by Collomb’s resignation (on 4th October, only resolved with the announcement of the modified Philip 2 government on 16th October) ended with the predictable nomination of Macron loyalist Christophe Castaner as the new Interior Minister and minor movements elsewhere (the resignations of Francoise Nyssen as Culture Minister, for example). While those close to the Prime Minister insisted that the loyalty of Edouard Philipppe to Macron was not in question – that there was ‘not even the beginning of the cigarette paper between him and Macron’, in the celebrated expression – the time taken to create the new government might be interpreted in part as revealing a struggle for influence between the centre-Right around Philippe (pushing for the nomination of Gerard Darminin as Interior minister) and the Elysée, determined to retain as much control as possible over the process. The result was one of the longest episodes of reshuffle in the history of the Fifth Republic for an uncertain result.

At any rate, the polls continue to provide worrying reading for Macron: the Journal du Dimanche of 14th October suggested that Edouard Philippe might be emerging as a more trusted and popular politician than Macron himself. Such lèse-majesté challenges the unwritten rule that the Prime Minister must not overshadow the President in terms of popularity and might sow the seeds of presidential revenge. Finally, Macron’s personal style- whereby the injunction to ‘ tell the truth often takes the form of brutal one-liners – has blurred the cohesion of the political message. Thus, the impact of the publication of well-received health and anti-poverty plans was lessened by presidential phrases on the ‘mad amount of money’ spent on welfare and on the ‘easy’ availability of employment.

Emmanuel Macron is turning to the European level to ease his worries. The French President continues to benefit from considerable prestige in Brussels and elsewhere. His attempt to construct the forthcoming European election contest as one between progressives and conservatives is a way of attempting to Europeanize the successful recipe of the 2017 presidential elections in France. But such an enterprise is fraught with dangers, in Europe as well as in France. Experience suggests that European elections are second order elections fought on domestic issues (though they can have first order consequences). It is far from certain that electors will be willing to follow Macron in terms of advocating a ‘progressive’ Europe. Early polls suggest that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement national (RN – formerly the Front national, FN) will be a formidable rival in 2019, possibly retaining its position as the first French party. Politicizing the European elections might prove counter-productive.

Macron can rely on two solid underlying reasons for optimism. First, is there really a political alternative? The France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Melenchon is embroiled with party funding scandals, as is Marine le Pen and the RN. The Socialists have just suffered a further split, as a group of left-wing senators and deputies around Senator Marie-Noelle Lienneman and Deputy Emmanuel Maurel has broken off to form a new party. The Republicans (les Républicains) are deeply divided on the leadership of Laurent Wauquiez. The RN is staging somewhat of a recovery, but memories of Marine Le Pen’s catastrophic performance in the debate with Macron in between the two rounds remain vivid. Second, the institutions of the Fifth Republic continue to provide a powerful base upon which to ensure a form of presidential ascendancy.

Cyprus – A crisis of institutions and the need for checks and balances

Cyprus is a comparatively young democracy with just 58 years of independent life. In this period both political and state institutions have struggled to find their place and a balance between them due to the political unrest before 1974 that culminated in the Greek-junta-led coup and the Turkish invasion that followed. Since then, the Republic of Cyprus (RoC), although operating without the Turkish Cypriots, it has developed a rather resilient cluster of state and political institutions that seemed to work relatively efficiently.

However, the economic crisis and the changes affected after the 2013 bail-in revealed a number of shortcomings in their operation and the relations between them. These limitations and inefficiencies touch upon several aspects of their functioning; for example, issues of institutional culture, practices of clientelism that run through them, insufficient structures to cope with change and new challenges, relations between them, etc. All these have created several nests of tension between them. Moreover, the overall context within which politics take place in Cyprus in recent years has made it extremely difficult for institutional politics to continue performing as they did, i.e., unquestioned by the people and the media.

People are very suspicious of politicians and political institutions in particular. Levels of trust in political parties, the government, the president and the parliament to name but a few are constantly very low. Other independent institutions such as the Attorney General, the Governor of the Central Bank and the General Auditor were until recently untouched by the criticism that swept the entire political system. These institutions were seen as bedrocks against inefficient, unreliable and often corrupt politicians and government officials, something like an oasis in a desert of inefficiencies, bad practices and corruption.

However, this is changing. All the above-mentioned independent institutions are now caught in the wider crisis of legitimation. Independent institutions and more precisely the persons holding the offices, are now viewed as part of a wider political game with their own personal agendas, much like the politicians. To be fair, this perception is not unrelated to the fact that some of these independent officials clashed with other entrenched interests and institutions (e.g., part of the media, the civil service, the President of the Republic himself, etc.). This has made them a target for their practices from the media, politicians and government officials. It has also revealed that they could also have an agenda of their own since the control they exercise is sometimes seen as selective.

Despite the fact that the motives behind the attacks against independent institutions might not be entirely noble in nature they do point to an existing problem: most of these institutions operate in an environment almost free of any type of control. This state of affairs is largely due to the fact that independent institutions derive their authority directly from the constitution which does not provide for effective mechanisms of accountability and control. Once they are appointed there are no effective checks and balances to their authority.

However, there are public voices now calling for some degree of control and accountability for independent institutions. These voices became louder in recent months as Cypriot society witnessed a number of conflicts between the various institutions and on various grounds revealing the lack of checks and balances between them. This has created a sense of a generalized institutional crisis. For some analysts this institutional crisis is the outcome of the personal characteristics of the people holding the offices who vie for personal attention and a political career. However, a deeper look reveals structural inefficiencies, institutional shortcomings and a lack of a proper institutional culture of self and also mutual control. Whatever the reasons though, recent polls indicate that society has lost faith in the workings of our entire institutional detting which seems unable to respond the multifaceted challenges facing Cyprus in the aftermath of the economic crisis and the need to find a solution to the persisting Cyprus problem. The sense of a generalized crisis is also the result of a chronic impunity of those who brought the country on the verge of economic destruction.

At the same time Cyprus faces an international outcry because of its questionable practice of providing Cypriot (and therefore EU) citizenship to wealthy people from countries outside the EU. This ‘citizenship industry’ not only brings Cyprus at the knife’s edge of foreign auditing authorities and international institutions but it is also seen by many Cypriots as a way for the political and economic elite to profit whereas the majority of the people faces a harsh time in their personal lives.

All the above bring to the fore important issues of institutional and also political nature the most important of which is the need to develop an efficient system of checks and balances for all institutions and between institutions which is now lacking; this will allow them to work efficiently and restore the lost confidence of society in them.