Kenya – President Kenyatta and the succession dilemma

President Uhuru Kenyatta cannot go anywhere these days without being asked about who he would like to be his successor. Although he is only a year in to his second term, the Kenyan media is full of stories of rifts within his government as rival leaders jockey for position. To some extent this is nothing new. Ever since Kenyatta and William Ruto – the current Deputy President – entered into the negotiations in the late 2000s that would lead to the formation of the Jubilee Alliance, commentators have been predicting the breakdown of their relationship.

However, in recent weeks this speculation has reached fever pitch. On 4 July, the Jubilee vice chairman, David Murathe, became the latest in a long line of Kenyatta allies to bemoan the fact that Ruto has effectively started campaigning for the next election, even though it is still three years away, complaining that:

“When you go to an area and all you speak about is 2022, it is upsetting some of us because it will distract the President from achieving his promises to Kenyans.”

True to form, though, the president has been keeping his cards very close to his chest.

When Kenyatta and Ruto joined forces in the wake of the Kenya crisis – the flawed election of 2007 and its aftermath – it was widely interpreted as a marriage of convenience. Under threat of prosecution by the International Criminal Court for the part that they played in the post-election violence, the two leaders worked together to protect themselves and their allies. One part of this strategy was to block domestic prosecutions on a range of issues including corruption. Another was to secure power in the 2013 general elections by forming a common political vehicle, and then to use their control of the state to effectively undermine the ICC investigation.

Unsurprisingly, the underpinning logic of the Jubilee Alliance led many to question its longevity. The poor relations between Kenyatta’s Kikuyu community and Ruto’s Kalenjin community – which were involved in some of the worst ethnic clashes of 2008 – meant that the Alliance has always rested on shaky foundations. Without always saying so in public, a number of prominent Kenyatta allies have made it clear that they see the relationship with Ruto as a necessary evil rather than a binding promise. Not only do they blame the Kalenjin leader for bringing the country to the brink of civil war in 2007/8, but they do not believe that he is the right kind of leader from the right kind of background to rule the country. The cleavage between the Ruto and Kenyatta camps is therefore rooted in both ethnicity and class.

Given this, and country’s history of short-lived and fractious coalitions, there were good grounds to think that the two men would go their separate ways once the threat of the ICC receded. Taken together, these considerations led to a constant stream of speculation that at some point or another Ruto’s critics within the Kenyatta camp would try to throw the Deputy President “under the bus”.

What these forecasts tended to overlook were the personal and strategic motivations that bound Ruto and Kenyatta together. On the one hand, Kenyatta depended on Ruto and his United Republican Party (URP) to maintain a majority in the legislature and control over a majority of county governments. On the other hand, Kenyatta is known to be loyal to those close to him – sometimes to a fault – and the two men have a long history, having worked together closely on Kenyatta’s unsuccessful presidential campaign as the candidate of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) in 2002.

As a result, the UhuRuto project has proved to be much more stable than many people predicted. Not only did the two men manage to sustain their relationship into the 2017 general elections, but the Jubilee Alliance was turned from a loose coalition into a more streamlined and efficient political party. During the campaign, Kenyatta’s rallies even celebrated Ruto as the party’s next presidential candidate.

But now that the succession race has moved in to top gear, that glue that has so far held the two leaders together has started to break down.

There are three main drivers of this.

First, Ruto is determined to make good on Kenyatta’s pledge to facilitate his rise to the presidency in return for his support in 2013 and 2017. With less resources than those who seek to block his way, he has set out to make up for his disadvantage by pushing his supporters into party positions where they can look out for his interests and raise funds for his campaign. In turn, this has generated greater tensions around cabinet appointments and other positions, whose distribution is viewed not through the lens of the public good but the balance of power heading into the next campaign.

Second, Kenyatta has expanded his options in a way that has made Ruto more vulnerable. By bringing on board Gideon Moi – son of second president Daniel arap Moi – ahead of the 2017 elections, and subsequently making peace with the country’s most prominent opposition leader, Raila Odinga, in the wake of the poll dispute, Kenyatta has created a route through which the Kikuyu clique within Jubilee could win the election without Ruto. Most obviously, while ethnicity does not completely determine political behaviour in Kenya, a combination of the Kikuyu (Kenyatta), Luo (Odinga) and Kalenjin (Moi) communities would represent a powerful voting bloc, especially if it could retain support in parts of the country like the former North-Eastern province.

Unsurprisingly, this has unsettled the Deputy President. At present, Kenyatta’s government still relies on Ruto to deliver support at the legislative and county levels. But this imperative reduces exponentially as the country gets closer to the 2021 election: at the point when the legislative agenda grinds to a halt ahead of the next campaign it will not just be the president that is a lame duck. Following the collapse of the ICC cases, the longer into the parliamentary term we get the more Ruto’s future within Jubilee will depend on Kenyatta’s good will.

Third, the combination of Ruto’s personal ambition and his greater insecurity has led the Deputy President to go into overdrive, criss-crossing the country in a bid to shore up his support in some places and to form new alliances in others. Such open campaigning so far ahead of the next polls has angered the Kenyatta camp, who argue that it has distracted attention from the business of running the government and establishing the president’s legacy. According to Murathe, “The fight against corruption, law and order, discipline and uniting will be the President’s legacy. He is determined and no noise from any quarter will stop or derail him. Watch this space.”

Of course, Murathe’s statement only tells half the story. In reality, Ruto’s rivals within the government are more concerned about his energy, focus, and organizational, acumen than the Kenyatta’s policy agenda. The threat of losing access to power is a much more serious than losing the fight against corruption, which is only being waged in a half-hearted manner in any case.

That said, there is some evidence that Kenyatta himself is genuinely annoyed. Having rarely commented on the consistent sniping between the members of the two camps, the president recently appeared to criticise Ruto when he quipped disparagingly about the Deputy President’s kutangatanga (“roaming”). Given that power is so much more weighty than policy in Kenyan political considerations, there are two plausible interpretations of this. The first is that the president has taken it as a personal sleight that Ruto did not heed his request to desist campaigning, and wanted this to be known. The second is that Kenyatta plans to withdraw his support from Ruto’s bid for the presidency, and does not want him to be able to use his position to secure an advantage over others.

However, as has been so often the case over the last few years, Kenyatta has not said enough for anybody to be able to fully read his intentions one way or another.

So what happens next?

Unsurprisingly, the Ruto camp has not taken the criticism of their man lying down. Why should Ruto not campaign, they argue, given that he has effectively already been endorsed as the party’s candidate? Why would his efforts not be celebrated by others unless members of the party were lying when they said that they would back his political ambitions in 2022? For example, Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata has argued that building support for Ruto is only fulfilling Kenyatta’s own pledge, and has suggested that criticisms of the Deputy President by the likes of Murathe are motivated by sectional, rather than national considerations:

“We have ethnic nationalists and people who are exclusionary in their viewpoints. They may want certain hegemony to be maintained and I think I foresee a situation where some people want to perpetuate a certain supremacy, which is not good”.

It is possible that this war of words will continue to escalate until a point where the cold war within the government becomes so hot that the government falls apart. One development that could trigger this process is the president’s anti-corruption drive, which some Ruto supporters have argued is deliberately being used to disadvantage the Deputy President’s allies, weakening his grip in the party. If the flow of funds dries up, Ruto will become increasingly desperate, and that could provoke a more open confrontation.

A second option is that the current feud rumbles on without a clear resolution until the next election, rendering parts of the government dysfunctional, and leading to a final implosion on the eve of the next campaign. Given that Jubilee would struggle to command authority in its current form without Ruto, this seems more likely. It would also fit with what we know about the president. If Kenyatta’s history is anything to go by, he is unlikely to throw a close colleague under the bus a long time before he needs to. A much more sensible option, and one that fits better with his sense of loyalty, would be to continue to pledge his support to Ruto personally while doing little to further the Deputy President’s campaign and allowing his allies in the party to direct their funding to rival Jubilee candidates.

The third option, of course, is that the president stays true to his word and not only publicly endorses Ruto but also cajoles his allies into backing him. In this context, the main question that would need to be answered would be whether or not Kenyatta has the personal authority to persuade some of the country’s most powerful individuals to do something that they don’t want to do, and which many believe is not in their interests. The balance of probabilities suggests that now that relations between the Kenyatta and Ruto camps have deteriorated to such a great extent, a small proportion of leaders and voters in Central Province may follow their leader, but many more will not. Should that comes to pass, the political system is unlikely to quickly coalesce into the two broad coalitions that have characterised the last few elections, and Kenya will be on course for one of most complex and intriguing polls that it has ever held.

Latvia – How should the President be elected?

In Latvia, the President is elected by Parliament in a secret ballot. Members of Parliament have no obligation to reveal which candidate they support. Article 36 of the Constitution of Latvia states: “The President of the Republic of Latvia shall be elected by secret ballot by a majority of not less than 51 members of the Parliament”.

Over the past few years, there have been discussions initiated both by State presidents, the media, and society about the election process for the State president. Should the president continue to be elected by a secret ballot or an open ballot in parliament, or should the president be directly elected?

Currently, the vote on the President is the only secret vote in the Parliament. All other votes – on laws, the election of officials, such as the Speaker of the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the judges of the Supreme Court and the judges of the Constitutional Court, the State Auditor, the President of the Bank of Latvia, the Chairman of the Central Election Commission and other officials – are open.

The current President of Latvia, Raimonds Vejonis, was elected on June 3, 2015, in a secret ballot with 55 votes “FOR” and 42 votes “AGAINST”. At that time Vejonis stated that he was ready to support the direct election of the President.

In June 2017 President Vejonis suggested that President should be elected by a popular vote and invited the Parliament to amend the Constitution accordingly. He urged MPs to ensure that the 2019 Presidential election would be held by popular vote.

The idea for a direct Presidential election has been discussed for some time. Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority of the 100 elected parliamentarians.

At the same time, 11,483 people have signed the public initiative portal Manabalss.lv (my voice) to change the way the State president is elected. The proposal is to reword Article 36 of the Constitution in the following way: “The President of the Republic of Latvia shall be elected by open vote with no less than 51 majority of the Parliament members”. The idea is that the Presidential elections in Latvia would be more open and transparent, that voters could find out how their elected members voted and who is responsible for the result.

MPs of the Unity, National Alliance and Harmony parties, support the initiative, while MPs from the Greens and Farmers Union and Latvia From the Heart are against.

From February 2015 until April 2017 there was a working group in Parliament looking at the possible extension of the mandate of the President and the evaluation of the election procedure. Composed of a single representative from each party in Parliament, the main conclusion of this working group is that the current procedure for the election of the President should be changed. The President of Latvia should be elected by the people of Latvia in direct, general, equal and secret elections.

On June 12, most of the members of Parliaments’ Legal Commission (5 votes “FOR”, 3 votes “AGAINST”) supported the amendments to the Constitution proposed by the opposition party, the Association of the Regions of Latvia, which stipulates an open ballot for the election of the President by parliament. The representatives from the Unity and the National Alliance “For All Latvia” – “Fatherland and Freedom” / LNNK, supported the amendments, while most of the members of the Green and Farmers’ Union did not vote.

On June 20, President Vejonis said, in effect, that an open ballot was not open enough. The President pointed out that, even before an open vote, political parties agree on how they will vote, and it is not possible for each MP to express an individual opinion, because of party loyalty.

The debate is ongoing and this will be followed up in future posts.

Claudia Generoso de Almeida and Benja Satula – Only one man for two jobs: the leadership transition in Angola

This is a guest post by Claudia Generoso de Almeida – Researcher at the Center for International Studies of the University Institute of Lisbon (CEI-IUL) – and Benja Satula – Law Professor and Coordinator of the Center for Research in Law at the
Catholic University of Angola (UCAN)

Since the legislative elections on 23 August 2017, Angola has been experiencing a new political era. Power transferred from the incumbent President José Eduardo dos Santos (JES), the second-longest serving president in Africa, to Joao Lourenço (JLO), the former defense minister.

For the first time since independence, the two sources of power – the presidency and the MPLA party – are not controlled by the same person, as JES still holds the ruling party leadership. This watershed moment in the country’s political history has stimulated the debate on the so-called dual power (poder bicéfalo) and on the cohabitation of these two strong men. However, this “two strong men” situation will not last long. JES will no longer be the MPLA leader after the party’s Extraordinary Congress, which is already scheduled for September of this year. The process of leadership transition in Angola shows us the puzzling relationship between strong presidents and strong parties in presidential and dominant party systems in Africa.

Angola’s two sources of power: the party and the presidency

Angola is ruled by the MPLA, a former liberation movement which has been shaping the political trajectory of this oil-rich country since its independence in 1975. The MPLA was able to consolidate its hegemonic power with “uncompromising mastery” and with a close symbiosis between the party and the state, despite the long civil war (1975-1991; 1993-2002).[1] Today, the country has a dominant party system, as the MPLA has won every election since the end of civil war in 2002 with more than 60% of the votes.[2]

The country not only has historically dominant party, but also a president with reinforced powers. Until 2017, the two leaderships (party and presidency) have only known two names: Agostinho Neto and, after his death in 1979, JES. The end of the war through MPLA’s military victory combined with an economic boom based on oil prices allowed JES to create a parallel neopatrimonial state gravitating around his presidency and Sonangol, the state-own oil company. This gave the president the power to control and distribute state resources and revenues to his entourage, in particular his family members. Nevertheless, this Big Manruler still needed the party to ensure and strengthen his power, which happened in 2010.

The presidential power boost: the 2010 constitution

 On 21 January 2010 the National Assembly, which was dominated by the MPLA,[3] passed – with the boycott of the main opposition party (UNITA) and subject to severe criticisms – a new constitution, which extended the president’s formal powers. Angola no longer has a semi-presidential system, but rather a presidential one. The president is now not only the head of state and the commander-in-chief of the Angolan Armed Forces, but also the head of the executive, as the post of prime minister was abolished.[4]Moreover, this constitution allowed JES to legally remain head of state until 2022.

One of the great changes within this constitution is that the president is no longer directly elected. Instead, the person that heads the list of the party or coalition of parties that receives the most votes in the general election will automatically become president.[5]Although the president “controls everything“, there is one very important detail to keep in mind: the president depends on the support of the majority party which selects him as the head of the party list, and consequently owes obedience to the party and to the party’s leader. In short, the party leadership is very important to the state leadership.

The presidency plus the party:  the superpower formula or the only way to govern?

Under the current MPLA statutes, the party has a great influence on the executive. In fact, it is the party that establishes and is responsible for guiding and monitoring the government programme.[6] Also, the composition of the president’s executive team and the appointment to other positions in the state administration need the endorsement of the party’s Political Bureau, which is chaired by the party’s president.[7]

As the MPLA has itself acknowledged, the party is experiencing an unprecedented and historic moment: a leadership transition while the current party president is still alive. According to some anonymous sources, this transition has been anything but smooth: 1) JLO was not JES’ first choice as a successor[8], 2) JES attempted to revert to the MPLA candidates’ list for the 2017 elections, 3) JES was almost absent during JLO’s electoral campaign, 4) JES’ last acts of governance, in particular to control the security sector[9], 5) JES tried to interfere with the composition of the new executive team and with the appointment of provincial governors by the new president, and finally 6)  JES intended to postpone the Extraordinary Congress to April 2019 to supposedly supervise the preparation of the local elections, which caused discomfort within the party.

All of these aspects consolidated the fear of a dual power (Bicefalia), which would hamper JLO’s governance, and there was a need to remove JES from the party presidency as soon as possible in order to reconfigure the party chessboard in favor of the new president and to empower his capacity of action. However, this removal has been helped by JES’ own promise and with the MPLA’s insistence that the president keep his word. In March 2016, JES publicly announced his intention to leave active political life in 2018. This announcement was made during a period of a severe economic crisis, low popularity levels of both the president and the MPLA, and with a president who was distant from the party.

Surprisingly, JLO, as the new MPLA head-of-list candidate for the 2017 elections, was enthusiastically received by the population, especially thanks to his speeches against corruption. This enthusiasm increased as soon as the new president started to govern. Indeed, the so-called JLO “bulldozer” made a great deal of changes in several strategic areas, affecting JES’ close circle.[10]

“The September Spring”, but still a dangerous hegemonic logic of power

The leadership transition started with the 2017 elections and will culminate in September of this year with the consecration of the MPLA Vice President JLO as the new MPLA president during the VI Extraordinary Congress, as announced on the 25th of May at the end of the 2nd Extraordinary Session of the MPLA Central Committee. In this Extraordinary Congress, there will be no competition, only a leadership succession.

However, this unique moment in the political history of Angola shows us the primacy of a dangerous hegemonic logic of power – only one man for two jobs (presidency and party) – and the lack of checks and balances. Contrary to several cases such as in the ANC (South Africa), in the MPLA as well in the FRELIMO (Mozambique), the leadership transition started first at the state level and then culminated at the party level. This reminds us of the importance of controlling the dominant party, which in turn has a symbiotic relationship with the state.

The “September Spring” is awaited with great expectations by both MPLA militants and Angolan society: will it constitute a real change, or will it be the same old thing? Will JLO restore semi-presidentialism and/or promote intraparty democracy? Well, for now, JLO seems to need the power that is provided by the state and party leaderships to govern with minimum constraints for two mandates and leave a legacy.

Notes

[1]See Christine Messiant, 2007, “The Mutation of Hegemonic Domination: Multiparty Politics without Democracy,” in Angola, the Weight of History, edited by Patrick Chabal and Nuno Vidal, 93-123, London: Hurst, and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, 2015, Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola since the civil war, London: Hurst.

[2]2008, 2012, and 2017 elections.

[3]The MPLA had 191 of a total of 220 parliamentary seats.

[4]Art. 108 of the constitution. The president also appoints the judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and the Court Audit (art. 119).

[5]Art. 109 of the constitution.

[6]Art. 86 (3) (k) of the MPLA statutes (2017).

[7]Art. 86 (3) (b) of the MPLA statutes (2017).

[8] JLO was the MPLA’s general secretary between 1998 and 2003, and he was removed from office due to his public declarations on JES’ announcement in 2001 of his non re-election to the presidency in the second multiparty elections. JLO then declared that JES should keep his word and leave power voluntarily.

[9]The presidential decree of 11 September 2018 determined on that same date the beginning of the term of office of the commander general of the National Police and the chief of intelligence service and military security until 2025.

[10]In Angola’s central bank; in the diamond sector (Endiama); in the oil sector, removing JES’ daughter Isabel dos Santos from presidency of the state oil company Sonangol; in the police and security sector, replacing the chiefof police and the headof the intelligence service; and in the media sector (TPA, RNA, Edições Novembro, and Angop), putting end to the contracts with Semba Comunicação, a company whose partners are both sons of José Eduardo dos Santos. Also, José Filomeno dos Santos, JES’ son who has been head of the national sovereign wealth fund since 2013, is accused of the looting of US $500 million from Angola’s central bank.

Indonesia – If all politics is local, then 2018 elections suggest a tight race in 2019

Indonesia held local elections on June 27, 2018, for 17 governors, 39 mayors and 115 regents. Official results are expected to be released by July 9, 2018. Quick count results show that candidates with the support of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) have edged out the competition; however, these are not robust successes. In particular, while the results show that candidates supported by or who support President Jokowi taking three of the four most populous regions in the country, some of the victories are narrow and carry caveats. These results suggest a conservative turn that could spell a stiff 2019 electoral competition for President Jokowi as he tries to win a second term. The following details the contests in these four populous regions in the country: West, East and Central Java, and North Sumatra.

West Java elected former mayor Bandung governor Ridwan Kamil, over former army general Sudrajat, supported by Gerindra, and West Java Vice Governor and veteran actor Deddy Mizwar, supported by Golkar. The PDI-P supported candidate, TB Hasanuddin, was trounced in that contest. Ridwan Kamil is a reformist candidate supported by the Islamic parties of the United Development Party (PPP), and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), as well as NasDem and Hanura. PPP and Hanura have endorsed President Jokowi as presidential candidate, but not the PKS; meanwhile, Ridwan himself has  voiced support for President Jokowi. That support takes the sting out of the PDI-P loss; however, it also underscores the ring of religion in elections.

Incumbent Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, supported by PDI-P, is predicted to win over former Energy and Mineral Resources minister Sudirman Said, who is supported by Gerindra. While the win hands a victory to President Jokowi, quick count results also show a narrower-than-predicted win over Sudirman: Sudirman won around 40 percent of the votes in the province, quadrupling predictions of 6-8 percent going into the race.

In Eastern Java, former social affairs minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa, who has pledged support for President Jokowi, looks set to take the seat over her opponent, Saifullah Yusuf.

Voters in North Sumatra appear to have chosen retired army general Edy Rahmayadi, who is backed by Gerindra, over former Jakarta governor Djarot Syaiful Hidayat, who is backed by the PDI-P and its coalition. That race is reminiscent of the themes of religious and conservative intolerance in the Jakarta elections in 2017,[1] with doctored photos of Djarot served a pig’s head at a banquet. Edy’s win, then, underlines the continued threat and hold of religious or conservative intolerance in electoral races.

______________

[1] Yap, O. Fiona. 2017. “Indonesia – The Jakarta Gubernatorial Election, Politics, and the 2019 Presidential Elections.” Presidential Power, https://presidential-power.com/?p=6369 April 27, 2017 <last accessed July 2, 2018>

Race, Economics and Identity: Explaining Donald Trump’s 2016 Victory

Why did Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election? In the 20 months since his surprise victory, scholars have taken a deep dive into election-related data seeking answers. Although a full consensus has yet to emerge, they have zeroed in on two likely explanations: race and economics. (While not necessarily mutually exclusive, they are often presented as such.) The case for race is typically based in part on surveys showing that Trump voters score high on measures of “racial resentment,” an index based on responses to a series of questions regarding respondents’ views toward school desegregation, the fair treatment of blacks in employment, the federal government’s role in assisting blacks, and affirmative action in employment and education. The goal of these and similar surveyed-based indices is to identify underlying racial biases that respondents might otherwise be reluctant to reveal. According to scholars utilizing these measures, the higher racial resentment scores among Trump’s supporters is evidence that his victory reflected his ability to stoke latent racial animus among white voters, particularly those in the lower socioeconomic strata.

Not all scholars buy the race-based explanation for Trump’s victory. Morris Fiorina, in his analysis of race, class and identity in the 2016 elections, points out that white support for the Democratic presidential candidate declined from 2012 and 2016. This, he says, raises the perplexing question of “how racism would lead millions of whites who voted for and approved a black president to desert a white Democrat.” One answer is that the “racial resentment” index is not actually identifying racial bias, but instead is tapping into a strain of conservative ideology that opposes race-based policies. In an innovative attempt to discern what racial resentment scores are actually measuring, Riley Carney and Ryan Enos substitute groups other than African-Americans into the racial resentment questions. They find that conservatives’ responses to these questions do not appreciably change when other groups are referenced. Based on these findings, they suggest that, at least for conservatives, racial resentment scores are not measuring racial bias against any particular group so much as a more general belief in a “just world” in which, ideally, one is rewarded for working hard and playing by the rules.

Survey questions, and the racial indices constructed from them, are useful methods of gauging underlying sentiments that respondents might otherwise be reluctant to express. But, in addition to the questions of interpretation cited above, these surveys limit respondents to answering a specific set of questions that may not fully capture the range of sentiments behind their voting behavior. To get around these limits, I conducted a series of open-ended conversations with several dozen Trump supporters at four of his campaign rallies during the 2016 presidential campaign. Their responses provide additional insight into the motivation of Trump voters.
A recurring theme in these conversations was a belief among Trump supporters that, through no fault of their own, they were living in a world in which working hard was no longer a guarantee of success. Citing issues like trade and immigration, they told me that the rules of the game by which they were raised no longer insured a level playing field. These responses are consistent with the “just world” thesis advanced by Carney and Enos in their experimental studies.

However, this does not preclude a racial component to Trump’s support. Even if his voters were not motivated by racial animus, they may still have harbored a shared racial identity rooted in the belief that, as a group, they were adversely affected by what they saw as a rigged political and economic system. It is true that Trump voters were not economically any worse off than were supporters of other candidates. However, in the interviews I conducted, I was struck by how often his supporters talked not about their own economic status, but instead about their fears for their children’s futures. As one Trump supporter in New Hampshire explained to me, “These people still believe in the American Dream about getting ahead, but they think it is slipping away from us.” Similarly, many respondents described their support for Trump as a response to the economic downturn they saw in their communities, rather than in their own home.

These comments are consistent with studies showing a correlation between Trump’s support and the impact of trade on jobs, disparities in health across communities and, particularly in the Midwest where Trump made surprising gains, an unstable housing market. Even though Trump’s supporters might be comparatively well off, they often lived in places where they observed economic hardship that disproportionately affected those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

For his part, Trump proved very effective at validating this perspective. After hearing journalists and political elites routinely describe them as xenophobic, misogynistic and racist, his supporters seemed gratified that Trump recognized their views as a valid response to decades of stagnant wages, lost jobs, and declining hope for the future against the backdrop of a political system that seemed to ignore their concerns. At last, his supporters told me, someone is actually listening to what we are saying, rather than trying to castigate our hidden motives. In short, Trump gave voice to a significant portion of the electorate that felt their concerns were not being addressed by the political establishment.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton ran a campaign that by historical standards, was unusually focused on attacking her opponent’s fitness for office, as opposed to addressing the socioeconomic conditions that concerned many of Trump’s supporters. Even without her ill-fated description of half of Trump’s supporters as belonging in a “basket of deplorables” characterized by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” views, one can understand why her campaign strategy may have cued a different voting calculus among some white voters than did Obama’s more economically-focused 2012 campaign against Mitt Romney.

Why did Trump defy predictions to win the 2016 presidential campaign? Analysts continue to sift through the data and, while it is likely they will not fully agree on a single answer, the evidence to date is consistent with the idea that Trump’s message resonated with the concerns of lower- and middle-income white voters in key states who viewed the political system as increasingly unresponsive to their interests. While there was undoubtedly a racial component to Trump’s support, it appears predicated less on racial animus against other groups and more on a shared sense that on key issues, the rules of the game were increasingly stacked against them. By attacking the characteristics of the candidate who spoke to their interests, to say nothing of their motives for supporting him, Clinton may have inadvertently contributed to that group solidarity, thus fueling an erosion of support among many white voters who backed Obama in 2012.

Paraguay – President Horacio Cartes Offers Resignation and then Withdraws it

At the end of May, President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay formally submitted his resignation to Congress. This was to enable him to take a seat in the country’s senate. His term was due to officially end in August, but given that incoming senators are to be sworn in on June 30 and the Constitution prohibits officials holding two offices simultaneously, his resignation from the presidency would allow him to assume his senate seat.

On Tuesday however, President Cartes announced that he was withdrawing his resignation. Successive attempts to try and get Congress to accept his resignation were stymied by opposition parties, including the left-leaning alliance led by the former President, Fernando Lugo, together with members of his own Colorado Party. The opposition of these legislators prevented the senate achieving a quorum and so Cartes’ resignation remained formally unapproved.

Paraguayan presidents are limited to one five-year term, but the Constitution allows for former presidents to become senators for life. These are relatively toothless positions however, whereby former presidents are allowed to express their opinion in the senate, but they have no vote or no real capacity for political leadership. Cartes therefore, and with the backing of the Constitutional Court, ran for a full senate seat in the recent elections on April 22nd, which he duly won. An attempt last year by Cartes to reform the Constitution to allow for the extension of the current provision on term limits ultimately ended in failure amidst popular opposition and public demonstrations.

Accession to a full, elected senate seat, as opposed to the largely ceremonial seat he is constitutionally entitled to, would also afford Cartes the complete set of rights and prerogatives available to senators. This includes immunity from prosecution, which some have suggested is the major impetus behind Cartes’ eagerness to leave the presidency and assume a senate seat.

Before he became president, Cartes built up a family empire spanning businesses involved in banking, tobacco, the drinks industry and even soccer. But during his presidency, WikiLeaks published a 2010 US State Department cable alleging that Cartes was the head of a criminal operation involving drug trafficking and money laundering. In 1986, Cartes spent sixty days in jail as a result of an investigation into currency fraud.

The general assumption is that once the term-limited Cartes leaves the presidential office, he will face criminal charges relating to his business activities. Hence the resistance of the opposition and some members of his party to his proposed resignation.

Cartes is not alone in seeking immunity from prosecution in the sanctuary of a senate seat. Most famously, Augusto Pinochet became a senator for life with immunity from prosecution in Chile following his defeat in the 1988 referendum. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is also facing prosecution over the alleged cover-up of Iranian involvement in the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building, a Jewish community centre, in Buenos Aires in the 1990s, but is currently protected by her position as a senator. And given the current legal woes of former Peruvian presidents, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Ollanta Humala, and Alejandro Toledo, in the wake of the Odebrecht affair, I have no doubt they would welcome the protection a senate seat (with immunity) might bring.

Germany – President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the unofficial foreign minister

After more than seven years as Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier stepped down from his cabinet post to become the country’s 12th Federal President in early 2017. Despite his new role and the limited prerogatives of the office, Steinmeier remains the most prominent voice in German foreign policy – almost as if he had never left the foreign ministry.

German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier | © German Presidential Office / Henning Schacht 2018

The constitutionally prescribed role of the German president is generally limited to representative functions, although it affords office-holders with some leeway in times of crisis. The representative function extends to foreign affairs and as head of state the president signs international treaties on behalf of the German Federal Republic. Nevertheless, contrary to other countries the president does not take part in substantive foreign policy decision or represent the country at intergovernmental meetings.

Steinmeier was elected by the outgoing ‘grand coalition’ of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats in early 2017 and it can arguably be credited to his exceptionally strong leadership that parties renewed their coalition following the autumn 2017 legislative elections (in particular, persuading the Social Democratic leadership to make themselves available as junior coalition partner once again). Already shortly after his inauguration, Steinmeier harshly criticised developments surrounding the Central European University in Hungary during his speech to the European Parliament and his criticism of the far-right Alternative for Germany has likely been noted internationally. He furthermore made no efforts to retract or soften any statements he had made during his ministerial tenure (most prominently his assessment of U.S.-president Donald Trump as a hate preacher and danger to democracy).

Having just conceded his post as party leader and designated Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, his immediate successor in the foreign ministry – vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel – had a more difficult start and only slowly came into his own. However, Gabriel already lost his post less than a year later in the cabinet reconfiguration following the renewal of the grand coalition. His successor, former minister of justice Heiko Maas, has only formally been in office since March this year and is still trying to make his mark. His open criticism of Vladimir Putin’s re-election and arguments in favour of ongoing sanctions as well as his opposition to tariffs introduced by the U.S. against car imports were widely noted. Nevertheless, he still lacks the reputation and gravitas that enabled Steinmeier to assert German interests on the European and international level.

In contrast, president Steinmeier has been able to maintain a much more influential voice in Germany’s foreign policy. During his recent state visit to the United States (notably yet unsurprisingly lacking an invitation to visit the White House), although once again largely representative in character and not an event that would usually make the front pages of any newspaper, he articulated more clearly than ever his vision of Germany as a leader in promoting democracy and becoming an antipole to the politics of the current U.S. administration.

However, the reason Steinmeier has been able to maintain such a vocal role in Germany foreign policy is not merely the result of his own strength and political opportunity. Appearances by the president are closely coordinated with the Chancellor’s office and the the foreign ministry (a few years ago, government MPs even sought to find legal means to ‘muzzle’ the president with regard to foreign policy). Thus, at least partly Steinmeier is taking an active role because he is allowed to do so. Yet at the same time, the Federal government is currently caught up in discussions about refugee policy (any European solutions are regarded as remit of the Chancellor, so that the foreign ministry does not play a role here) and the respective conflict between Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. Coalition parties (including Steinmeier’s own Social Democrats) may thus also benefit from Steinmeier’s activism in foreign policy given that they currently lack the resources to set the tone in this area and the president has not majorly deviated from their preferences. Yet, the more the president is afforded freedom, the more difficult it will be to rein him in once government priorities change. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has already set a precedent through his active involvement in government formation; he may set one in the formulation of German foreign policy as well.

Turkey’s new presidential system enters into force with Erdoğan’s election win

Turkey held a snap election on 24th June. This was the first time that concurrent presidential and assembly elections were held. The constitutional amendments installing a presidential system enter into force with this election. President Erdoğan was re-elected as president at the first round with 52 percent of the votes. He becomes the first president of the new political system. His party, the AKP (Adalet Ve Kalkınma Partisi/ Justice and Development Party),  won 42 percent of the vote and its partner, the MHP (the Nationalist Movement Party),11%. It’s highly likely that there will be a conservative/nationalist coalition formed by the AKP and the MHP.

Elections were held under the continuing state of emergency since the coup attempt in 2016. One of the major political actors, Selehattin Demirtaş, the leader of the Kurdish HDP (Halkın Demokrasi Partisi/ Peoples’ Democracy Party) has been in prison for political speeches he made. There were regular assaults and violent attacks on opposition parties even on the election day and threats of internal war by supporters of the ruling AKP. The ruling party also used state facilities, had financial support, and controlled state and private media to ensure greater coverage for themselves and block opposition candidates’ appearances, creating immense electoral inequalities.

The AKP and the MHP formed an alliance called “Cumhur/Public” and supported Erdoğan. At the beginning of the campaign period, it appeared as if President Erdoğan had two particular targets. One was to prevent the IYIP (İyi Parti/the Good Party), from taking centre-right votes from the AKP. The other one was to push pro-Kurdish HDP under the ten percent threshold by portraying the party supported by nearly six million people as the supporter of terrorism. If he could  do so, the AKP would win the HDP’s seats, as it was the second party in the regions where the HDP is strong.

However opposition parties, especially the left wing CHP (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi/the Republican Peoples Party) and its candidate Muharrem İnce, challenged this strategy by visiting Demirtaş in prison, promising recognition of the right of Kurds to be educated in their mother tongue, and abolishing the state of emergency. The HDP asked for strategic help from left wing voters to reach the threshold and in return promised to support the runner-up opposition candidate in the second round of presidential race. Even though the opposition parties failed to capture the assembly majority, the HDP did passed the infamous 10 percent national threshold and won 67 MPs in the 600-person Assembly.

Despite the great unfairness they faced, the opposition put up a credible struggle to change Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. The opposition alliance, “Millet/the Nation”, which was formed by the CHP, the IYIP, the SP (Saadet Partisi/the Happiness Party), and the DP (Demokrat Parti/ the Democratic Party) agreed on a transition period during which a new constitution for a parliamentary democracy would be drafted. They all ran their own candidates in the first round of the presidential election, but agreed to support whoever won through to the second round. They also affirmed their intention to form a coalition government to democratise the country and tackle the serious economic problems. The HDP declared its support for a new democratic = constitution recognising certain minority rights, too. Their received 47 percent in the presidential race and 46 per cent in the assembly election.

The country will now embark upon a new Turkish type of presidential system with almost no outside checks and balances. President Erdoğan created a highly politicized judiciary after the coup attempt, removing nearly 5,000 judges and appointing politically loyal supporters. The army was also restructured. Now, all state institutions will be redesigned around the presidential office. President Erdoğan controls almost all media (state and private) and the private sector. It appears that the MHP’s supporters are willing to receive some of the benefits of state patronage (1) by forming a coalition.

In short, Turkey’s competitive authoritarian regime is getting consolidated under a patronal hyper-presidential system despite nearly half of the nation’s will for true democracy.

Notes:

1. H. Hale, Patronal Politics Eurasian Regime Dynamics in Comparative Perspective, Cambridge Uni Press, 2015, p. 9-10

Tunisia – Sliding back towards presidential authoritarianism?

From its independence to the January 2011 uprising, presidentialism in Tunisia was synonymous with dictatorship. Indeed, former presidents Bourguiba and Ben Ali had both concentrated power in their own hands, with the legislative and judiciary branches acting as extensions of this power. In the aftermath of the January 2011 revolution, the interim government and later the elected constitutional assembly opted for a semi-presidential system. Indeed, nearly all political parties agreed that such a system was essential to decentralize executive power in order to prevent the return of an authoritarian presidentialism. However, in the last few years, the current President, Hafedh Caïd Essebsi, has been arguing that a lack of centralized executive power is preventing Tunisia from progressing both in its political reforms and its economic development. Could this be an early sign that Tunisia is slipping back into a form of authoritarianism?

Presidential authoritarianism: Bourguiba and Ben Ali

After years of civil unrest and guerilla warfare, Tunisia gained its independence from France in 1956. Habib Bourguiba, a member of the nationalist New Constitutional Liberal Party (commonly known as Neo Destour), became prime minister following elections held in the last days of the French protectorate. Bourguiba quickly enacted measures to solidify his position. After setting up special courts to prosecute former collaborationists and his enemies in the nationalist movement, Bourguiba maneuvered to oust the Bey and head of state, Muhammad VIII al-Amin by pressuring the national assembly into declaring a republic and then assumed the title of president. During Bourguiba’s rule, dissent was stifled. Bourguiba stressed that Tunisian democracy was to be an expression of national unity. Opposition parties were barely tolerated and Tunisia’s bicameral legislative body, comprised only of Neo Destour members, was but a rubber stamp parliament. Indeed, after serving three five-year terms as president, Bourguiba was named “president for life” by this parliament in 1975. Bourguiba’s presidency ceased only when, in 1987, prime minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali summoned a group of medical professionals who officially declared the ailing president mentally and physically incapable of exercising his duties

As the Tunisian constitution stipulated that the prime minister would succeed the president in the case of the latter’s death or severe illness, Ben Ali replaced Bourguiba as president of Tunisia following what was to be called the 1987 “medical coup”. Initially, Ben Ali cultivated the image of a political reformer keen on introducing a more representative democracy in the nation. Indeed, his political rhetoric relied on terms such as democracy, further economic integration with Europe, as well as individual freedoms and rights. Seemingly in order to prove his good will in these matters, in 1988 Ben Ali introduced a constitutional amendment abolishing the lifelong presidency and capping term limits to two five year mandates. However, as the years went by, it became clear that Ben Ali was only interested in democracy as a façade. Indeed, while a few seats were set aside for opposition parties in parliament, Neo Destour members constituted its vast majority. Further constitutional amendments only confirmed the authoritarian nature of Ben Ali’s regime: in 1997, a third term was added to the previous two-term presidential limit; and in 2002, term limits were abolished altogether, ushering in a de facto return of the lifelong presidency.

The January 2011 revolution and the Essebsi presidency

In January 2011, Tunisians went to the streets demanding freedom, dignity and equality. Moreover, one of the protesters’ staunchest demands was the departure of Ben Ali from the presidency. After a few weeks of public unrest, Ben Ali fled the country with his family, being granted political asylum in Saudi Arabia. A new interim government was established, with former Prime Minister Muhammad Ghannushi becoming pro tempore president. The neo Destour party was formally dissolved. One day after being appointed president, Ghannushi resigned and was succeeded by Fouad Mebazaa. The interim government quickly announced elections for a constituent assembly, which were held in October. The constituent assembly later announced, in December, that during the transition period, which was to end when Tunisia had a new constitution, Moncef Marzouki was to succeed Mebazaa as president.

The new constitution of Tunisia of 2014 limits the mandate of a president to two five-year terms and imposes checks from the legislative, judiciary and part of the executive branches on the office of the presidency. Indeed, under the new system, the direction of the government is explicitly assigned to the Prime Minister, who is responsible before the legislative branch. The first president to be elected under the new constitution is the incumbent, Beji Caid Essebsi (sworn in in December 2014), with Mehdi Jomaa as Prime Minister. It soon became apparent, however, that Essebsi had a view of the presidency that was closer to that of Bourguiba. Nowadays, despite the strong presence of the islamist Ennahdha party in parliament and their apparent commitment to upholding the gains of the 2014 constitution, Essebsi is busy building a personality cult and has repeatedly complained to the press of the inadequacies of the 2014 constitution. Indeed, in a 2016 interview with the national daily La Presse, Essebsi laid out his plan to eventually amend the constitution to disentangle the “interwoven powers” of the executive branch in order to concentrate them in the office of the presidency. A major factor in government inefficiency, he added, was the “independent constitutional bodies”, that is, the independent agencies mandated by the constitution to monitor elections and combat corruption. Moreover, Essebsi, following the example of Bourguiba, has extended the powers of the presidency. On one hand, he has begun acting as an arbitrator in legislative affairs, making the Prime minister a simple instrument through which presidential prescriptions are applied; on the other hand, he has yet to set up the Constitutional Court, which was supposed to have been operational by January 2015.

Conclusion

Tunisia’s new constitution was designed to prevent the return of authoritarian presidentialism. However, “the strength of a constitution depends on the political determination to breathe life into the letter and the spirit of it”1. With the Tunisian economy still weak seven years after the 2011 revolution, many Tunisians understandably feel that further political and economic reforms are urgently needed. If these are not undertaken soon, there is a definite chance that the electorate, in desperation, will agree with president Essebsi that the current constitutionalist regime needs to be overhauled to bolster the powers of the presidency.

Notes

  1. Thierry Brésillon (2017). Tunisia: towards the restoration of personal power [online at orientxxi.info]

The author would like to thank Alessandra Bonci for her advice on writing this blog post.

A Fragmented Center-Left: Challenges for Chile’s Political Opposition

A time of changes

For some observers, Chile’s political landscape might not have changed that much in recent years. Since 2006, Michelle Bachelet and Sebastián Piñera have taken turns to rule the country. However, the 2017 general election brought a series of changes that have important political implications beyond who sits in La Moneda, i.e., Congress’s partisan composition.

The 2017 elections were the first under the new proportional representation voting system (although the former binomial system, a PR in theory, actually prevented small parties from having legislative representation). This long-awaited reform made the elections more competitive and, above all, transformed the composition of Congress. In fact, many emblematic politicians that had occupied legislative seats since 1990 lost re-election last year. Furthermore, the share of legislative seats now held by members of non-traditional parties, those outside of the two traditional electoral coalitions, grew almost five times, from 3% to 17%.

That is, the Nueva Mayoría, the center-left coalition that in 2013 replaced the Concertación(1990-2013), and Chile Vamos, the right-wing alliance led by Piñera, are not alone in Congress for the first time since democracy was restored.This is because Frente Amplio (FA) won a considerable share of the electoral vote and legislative seats. Frente Amplio is a diverse political alliance that is comprised of several — mostly left-wing — small parties, some media personalities, far-left groups and former student leaders. The major differences between Frente Amplio and Nueva Mayoría are not purely ideological, but rather they hinge on their pro or anti-establishment orientation and political style. All these changes, along with worn-down relations within Nueva Mayoría and the defeat of its presidential candidate in the run off, have created a challenging scenario for the center-left opposition.

Opposition at the crossroads

Forming the opposition is not new for the Left, although the part they played during Piñera’s first term (2010-2014) was not a successful one. On the one hand, Concertación had then found itself struggling to maintain its unity and to redefine itself as a key political actor. On the other, this meant that at times they found it difficult to constrainPiñera and his cabinet. One way for the opposition to keep the executive at bay is to resort to interpelaciones(interpellations), a procedure by which ministers are forced to appear before Congress to answer questions, which might entail an important political cost for the ruling coalition. Nevertheless, the number of interpelacioneswas rather small when the left-wing parties were in the opposition (2010-2014). In fact, Piñera’s ministers were interpelados only three times by the Concertación during that period, which is considerably lower than the 14 times Bachelet’s ministers were questioned in Congress — seven secretaries in each of her two administrations — when the center-right parties were in the opposition.

Currently, there is a serious shortage of political leaders behind whom opposition parties and legislators might rally. It is telling that a few weeks ago Michelle Bachelet decided to step up and confront Piñera, who seeks to undo several of her policies. Bachelet met with her previous ministers and they individually criticized Piñera. Interestingly, Bachelet did not team up with the opposition parties or their leaders. As a sign of division in the left in itself, this is not really new. During both Bachelet administrations, relations with parties in her coalition were not entirely constructive. Moreover, she did not groom any important party member as her potential successor which among other factors contributed to handing the presidency over to Piñera twice in less than ten years.

As if this was not enough, the Democracia Cristiana(DC), a pivotal actor along with the Socialist party when the Concertación was in office, finds itself beleaguered by internal splits and power struggles. The DC is facing perhaps its most serious electoral and internal crisis yet, as many of its members debate whether to stay, collaborate with Piñera or move further to the left. Several well-known DC politicians have resigned and some have even decided to work for the Piñera administration.

Piñera and the future of his right-wing coalition

Piñera has attempted to take advantage of the fragmented opposition by resorting to the proverbial “divide and conquer” strategy. Atthe end of March, he asked the opposition to work together on a childhood policy proposal. As expected, divisions quickly arose among the opposition between those that accepted the offer and those that adamantly criticized it, exposing their different political styles and interests even further.

Piñera’s coalition has also witnessed divisions over policy proposals such as homoparental adoption, abortion, and lately between the president and his own party, Renovación Nacional (RN), about partisan appointments. Yet, these differences do not represent a serious threat to the ruling alliance’s stability. While Piñera continues moving his agenda forward — although not without problems— the opposition is still trying to find a footing in this new political scenario. In the short term, the center-left seems doomed to fail considering the fragmentation across and within its parties. The left-of-center opposition need to overcome their differences soon, otherwise not only do they risk losing the local elections in 2020, but also the presidency again in 2021. If the latter materializes, it would be the first time in almost 100 hundred years that the Right would remain in La Moneda for two consecutive constitutional terms.