Taiwan – Direct democracy, Minority Rights, and the Referenda in the 9-in-1 elections, 2018

The 9-in-1 local elections for Taiwan on November 24, 2018, also saw voters cast ballots on 10 referenda. The large number of referenda follows from the Revised Referendum Act, which took effect on January 3, 2018, following passage by the Taiwan legislature in December, 2017. The elections saw the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) routed: the party lost seven of the 13 cities and counties it held to the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), including Kaoshiung, a DPP-foothold for 20 years. The final election tally for the 22 city, county, and special municipality mayoral and magistrate seats saw the DPP with six seats, the opposition KMT with 15, while independent incumbent mayor of Taipei, Ko Wen-je, was re-elected by 0.23 percent margin, or slightly over 3000 votes. KMT candidate for Taipei, Ting Shou-chung, has challenged the results and lodged a suit for a recount, which officially started on December 3, 2018. Much has been said about the election results as well as the disappointing referenda outcomes, particularly for advocates of same-sex marriage. Here, I review scholarship regarding the promises and perils of direct democracy, to contextualize the referenda and their outcomes in Taiwan.

Direct democracy occurs when citizens participate directly in policy-making, most commonly through referenda and initiatives. Some perennial concerns regarding direct democracy are voters’ knowledge or access to information; the role of money; how the outcomes are translated into policy; and whether democracy aids majority or minority interests.[1] Supporters of direct democracy often fall along arguments that, by and large, direct democracy engenders greater political engagement and participation and, hence, is more representative and democratic.[2] Critics charge that direct democracy typifies majoritarian rule which often fails to accommodate and may even discriminate against minority interests.[3] On balance, studies find that the evidence generally falls on the side that minority rights needs protection against the processes of direct democracy.[4] Indeed, Donovan (2013) finds pronounced “stereotypes and negative affect” in information campaigns leading-up to direct democracy ballots (1731). [5]

In important ways, the Revised Referendum Act pave for democratic deepening, political engagement, and even change. In particular, it reduced the voting age to 18 to empower youths to participate in established institutions and processes. It also reduced the required number of signatures to initiate a proposal and to support the initiated piece to 0.01 percent, and 1.5 percent, respectively, of the electorate in the most recent presidential election, which are equivalent to 1879 and 281,745 respectively. It also eliminates the Referendum Review Commission and reduces the turnout quorum to 25 percent of registered voters, where a majority affirming the referendum means that it passes. Prior to the revisions, the 2003 Referendum Act stipulates that the initiation and support of a referendum are 0.1 percent and 5 percent respectively of the electorate in the most recent presidential election; further, amendments must be approved by more than 50 percent of all eligible voters at a referendum held in six months from the public announcement of the revisions. These conditions set a high bar for passage of referendum: none of the six referenda proposed since the 2003 Act passed.

However, the ease of initiating a referendum also led the same-sex marriage issue to be put to a plebiscite. In this regard, by failing to put in safeguards on the referendum process, the government has complicated its policy-making process and responsibility.

Thus, on November 29, 2018, the Judicial Yuan Secretary-General asserted that the Constitutional Court’s 2017 ruling on same-sex marriage – the Court ruled that the Civil Code that prohibited same-sex marriages was unconstitutional – represents the highest law of the land and cannot be overridden by referenda. This is followed by the announcement by the Ministry of Justice of preparations for a same-sex marriage bill, to be presented to the legislature before March 1, 2019. Still, with more than 60 percent of the voters expressing opposition to same-sex marriage, the road ahead to reconcile the referenda with legislation will be rocky.

 

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[1] Lupia, Arthur, and John Matsuska. 2004. “Direct Democracy: New Approaches to Old Questions.” Annaul Reviews Political Science: 463-82

[2] Clark, Sherman. 1998. “A Populist Critique of Direct Democracy.” Harvard Law Review Issue 2 Dec: 434-482.

[3] Gunn, Patricia. 1981 “Initiatives and Referendums: Direct Democracy and Minority Interests.” Urban Law Annual No 135: 1-27

[4] Lewis, David. 2011. “Direct Democracy and Minority Rights: Same-Sex Marriage Bans in the United States.” Social Science Quarterly, vol 92 no 2: 364-83; Haider-Markel, Donald, Alana Querze and Kara Lindaman. 2007. “Lose, Win, or Draw? A Reexamination of Direct Democracy and Minority Rights.”Political Research Quarterly vol 60 no 2: 304-14.

[5] Donovan, Todd. 2013. “Direct Democracy and Campaigns Against Minorities.” Minnesota Law Review vol 97 no 5: 1730-1779.

 

 

Poland – The president as legislator

On 20 November, Polish president Duda submitted another bill proposal the Sejm (lower chamber of parliament), this time aimed at creating local social services centres. Although presidents have frequently used this prerogative in the past (to the same degree as vetoes and requests for judicial review), Duda has been particularly active and proposed over two dozen separate bills so far. However, the Polish president is only one of four European presidents vested with the power to propose ordinary legislation – interestingly, the other three countries are also from Central and Eastern Europe (i.e. Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania).

Polish president Duda presents the act amending the law on legal aid and education that resulted from his initiative, 30 July 2018 / ® Polish Presidential Office 2018

The president’s right to propose legislation has been included in all Polish constitutions since the fall of Communism, including the heavily amended Communist constitution (it was not, however, part of the Polish interwar constitutions). As the Polish president only possesses a block veto, the provision partly compensates for the lack of agenda-setting power through amendatory observations (as is the case in most other post-communist systems). Nevertheless, parliament is not obliged to consider presidential initiatives and can – once they have received by the appropriate committee – be abandoned without fearing any consequences. Furthermore, as presidents do not have any reserved policy areas for their initiatives, the usefulness of the power depends very much on the composition of parliament and government. If presidents have a majority (or at least strong presence) in parliament and/or government, bills are more likely to be accepted. Presidents without significant partisan support in other institutions should have little chance of seeing their bills become law. Accordingly, when Polish presidents made use their prerogative, they did so with varying frequency and varying degrees of success (see Table 1 below).

Interestingly, the first three Polish presidents (who all experienced longer periods of cohabitation and unified government during their terms) used their powers largely independently of the majority situation in parliament and government. For Lech Walesa, this may largely be explained by the fact that neither the fragmented Sejm, nor the stream of coalition governments had the resources to craft legislation, allowing the president to set the agenda. However, given that less than half of his initiatives were successful, actual implementation of policy can only be part of the reason why he (and his successors) used this power so frequently. On the one hand, we may be able to explain the use of initiatives by presidents’ desire to communicate with voters – more so than ‘reactive powers’ like the veto, legislative initiatives allow presidents to proactively highlight their policy preferences. On the other hand, interviews I conducted with presidential advisors in Poland for my PhD suggest that the presidential legislative initiative can be borne out of cooperation between president and government and provide a shortcut compared to regular parliamentary procedure – presidential bill proposals do not require the same statements or reports from ministries and agencies before they can be discussed (and passed) in parliament. However, the scale of these cases is difficult to ascertain without more detailed knowledge of individual bills.

To date, the use of presidential legislative initiatives outside of presidential systems has hitherto not been subject to much research. Nevertheless, the case of Poland raises a number of interesting questions that go beyond the four European cases mentioned above. First, why would presidents be vested with the power to propose legislation in the first place? Even where they are not formally part of the executive, they are not part of or emanate from the legislature either. Granting presidents proactive legislative prerogatives, particularly in systems where they are not the dominant actor, thus makes little sense. Second, how can we explain the use of this power – especially across varying partisan-political constellations? Furthermore, if bills are more likely to be accepted during friendly/unified relations between president, parliament and government, why would presidents need to propose legislation? After all, their policy preferences should already be implemented. Third, while part of the answer to the last question lies in the publicity potential of the bills, how can we reliably identify those bills that are (informal) collaborations between president and government to circumvent more lengthy parliamentary procedure? The answer to the latter would likely also reveal new information on president-government collaboration in semi-presidential and parliamentary regimes.

Grigorii V. Golosov – The Impact of Authoritarian Institutions on Party Systems in Post-Soviet Central Asian States

This is a guest post by Grigorii V. Golosov. It is based on the article “The Five Shades of Grey: Party Systems and Authoritarian Institutions in Post-Soviet Central Asian States”, in Central Asian Survey, doi:10.1080/02634937.2018.150044.

As of 2017, there was no single instance of a state that could be qualified as an electoral democracy in post-Soviet Central Asia. Meanwhile, all these states do conduct elections on a fairly regular basis, and they have developed party systems that display a remarkable cross-national variation. While the consequences of authoritarian institutions have been already subjected to a rather close scrutiny in scholarly literature, relatively little is known about the reasons why such institutions take their specific shape. This problem is particularly salient with respect to the most fundamental property of party systems, fragmentation, conventionally defined as the number of important parties in the system. While it is certainly true that the general tendency of authoritarian regimes is to create dominant party systems in which a pro-government party takes a lion’s share of votes and legislative seats, there are well-known instances of long-standing yet very fragmented authoritarian party systems, such as in Morocco. The reasons for this situation have not been clarified in the literature. The purpose of this study is to solve this puzzle by means of a systematic comparison of five authoritarian party systems that, while being quite similar in their origins, belonging to the same region of Post-Soviet Central Asia and thus sharing many similarities of context, do display a significant variation on the main parameter of interest, fragmentation.

In this study, I use a conventional measure of fragmentation, the effective number of parties, in the mathematical formulation developed by Golosov: where pi and p1 stand for the fractional shares of seats received by the i-th and the largest parties, respectively. Table 1 provides a brief summary of parliamentary elections, presented as the observed levels of party system fragmentation, in Central Asian states throughout the whole post-Soviet period. Since the electoral cycles of individual countries do not concur, each of the cells of the table reports the year of elections (or the year of the first round of elections, if different from that of the second round), and the effective number of parliamentary parties in parentheses.

Table 1. Years of parliamentary elections and effective numbers of parties (in parentheses) in Central Asian states

Abbreviations: NPS – no party structure in the assembly; SPS – single-party system. Sources: Inter-Parliamentary Union 2017; Nohlen, Grotz and Hartmann 2001.

I hypothesize that the levels of party system fragmentation in autocracies are contingent upon the scope of presidential powers. This is not to say that formal constitutional provisions, shallow as they are in authoritarian political contexts, are matters of primary concern for the autocrats. Of course, they are primarily concerned with preserving and expanding their hold over the polity. Yet if they choose to follow the rules of the game as established in the constitution, then it is rational for them to facilitate the development of secondary political structures, such as party systems, in a way that is optimal for the consolidation of authoritarianism within the existing constitutional order. In other words, the autocrats are well motivated to seek congruency between the scope of their constitutional powers and party system properties. In fact, there is no reason to assume that in this respect, the autocrats are fundamentally different from democratic presidents. What differentiates the two is not motivation but rather capacity: the autocrats are much better equipped to shape party systems at their will.

For an institutionally strong president, the party composition of the assembly is not very consequential. Given that the president makes crucial political and administrative decisions without any parliamentary involvement and often possesses significant legislative powers, political fragmentation in the assembly can be affordable for the presidency. In democracies, the limits of such affordability are set by the president’s ultimate inability to pursue her legislative agenda in a complete defiance of the parliament, which explains why the coexistence of a strong presidency with a fragmented assembly is often problematic. In autocracies, a strong president is less constrained by such considerations. At the same time, parliamentary fragmentation offers several tangible rewards to an institutionally strong president. First, the presence of many parties in the assembly greatly increases the symbolic value of the parliament by providing a visible proof to the autocrat’s claim that the regime is democratic in its nature. Indeed, one of the primary goals of authoritarian institution building is to project an image of democracy without threatening the political survival of the autocrat. Second, the survival of autocrats in power largely depends on their ability to neutralize the actual or potential opponents by co-opting them into the institutional structure of the regime. This explains why cooptation is often viewed as the principal rationale for the very existence of authoritarian institutions. Yet for co-optation to occur, a wide range of elite groups – including those that do not belong to the autocrat’s ‘inner circle’ – should gain access to representation, however shallow, and to the spoils associated with it. Third, by allowing such groups to participate in elections under their own party labels, the regime makes use of their political machines, which is important in authoritarian electoral contexts that are often dominated by clientelism.

Taking this into account, consider a situation when the formal powers of the presidency are intermediate, neither very strong nor very weak. In this situation, the autocratic president still can afford a multi-party composition of the assembly. However, the payoff of this strategy is smaller than in the conditions outlined above. For example, if the president is involved in the formation of the government yet the parliament also has significant appointment / government censure powers, which is often the case when the constitutional powers of the presidency are within an intermediate range, then manufacturing a multiparty majority poses a problem for the president without significantly reducing the political capacity of the legislature. In this situation, it is in the best interest of the president to seek and obtain a single-party legislative majority. A fragmented legislature is not necessarily dangerous for an autocratic president with moderate formal powers, but it is certainly more difficult to handle. This creates a strong incentive for seeking a pro-presidential party majority in the legislature. In the presence of strong motivation towards single-party control over the assembly, those factors that have been listed above as facilitating the coexistence between institutionally strong presidents and fragmented assemblies become less consequential. Thus the main hypothesis of this study can be formulated as follows. There is a curvilinear pattern of association between the constitutional powers of the presidency and the effective number of parties in electoral authoritarian regimes. While institutionally weak and institutionally strong presidencies are associated with fragmented party systems, the autocratic presidents with moderate yet sizeable formal powers seek and obtain single-party majorities in their assemblies, which leads to low levels of party system fragmentation.

In order to test this hypothesis, I used the Prespow scores as reported at this site with some minor amendments. Table 2 presents the scores as used in this study. The structure of presentation is the same as in Table 1.

Table 2. Years of parliamentary elections and Prespow2 scores (in parentheses) in Central Asian states

Sources: Inter-Parliamentary Union 2017; Presidential Power 2017.

With the data on the powers of the presidency and the effective number of parties at hand, I proceeded with my statistical analysis. The overall number of observations in the analysis is 16, which corresponds to the number of party-structured elections held in Central Asian states throughout the period under observation, as defined above and reported in Tables 1 and 2. This is explained in detail in the previous section of this paper. Given that the relationship between the two variables of interest is expected to be curvilinear, I used a polynomial regression model. The scatter plot is provided in Figure 1 (note that two data points for Kazakhstan, 2012 and 2016, nearly coincide in space). As is evident from the figure, the trend line takes the form of a U-shaped parabola, which supports my expectations regarding the relationship between the constitutional powers of the presidency and the effective number of parties.

The observed relationship is very strong, with R-squared = 0.67, and statistically significant at 0.001. The regression equation is thus: where ENP stands for the effective number of parties.

The strength of the observed association between the scope of presidential powers and the effective number of parties in Central Asian states suggests that the presidents can direct political processes – in this case, the process of party system development – at their will. Here lies the main difference between the dynamics of party system development in democracies, where it is largely determined by societal cleavages and other factors beyond the control of the acting rulers, and in autocracies, where it is largely manipulated by the authorities. Of course, a wider cross-national inquiry is needed to fully substantiate this vision of institutional dynamics under electoral authoritarianism, and it might well be that the dynamics observed in Central Asia deviates from the general tendency.

Sources: see sources to Tables 1 and 2.

Portugal – The memoirs of a president

In Portugal, ever since Mário Soares decided to publish annually his most relevant public interventions as a book, presidents have followed this practice. Soares published ten volumes of Intervenções (Interventions), Jorge Sampaio followed with Portugueses, and Cavaco Silva edited Roteiros(Roadmaps). These are collections of speeches in public occasions, with sometimes an interview or some other journalistic piece, and constitute a fundamental basis to analyse the terms in office of each president.

Cavaco Silva, however, ventured into new grounds when he decided to write his memoirs. Soares published a lengthy interview covering his entire life, including the years as president (Maria João Avillez.MárioSoares, 3 volumes). Sampaio has an authorized biography which also covers his years at the Palácio de Belém(José Pedro Castanheira, Jorge Sampaio, 2 volumes). No one had written individual memoirs centred on the role of the president. Cavaco Silva’s new memoirs come as a continuation of his previous books that covered his early life and his tenure as prime-minister for ten years (Autobiografia Política, 2 volumes), and respond to the need felt by the author to “offer citizens precise and clear information on the actions I undertook while discharging public functions”. In all, we dispose of four volumes of memoirs, a first hand testimony which is invaluable for the comprehension of his political persona. This post aims to discuss some of the issues raised by the most recent volumes, without any intention of exhausting the theme

These recent volumes are called Quinta-feira e outros dias(Thursday  and other days), as they  purport to focus on the relations between the president of the Republic and the government, Thursday being the long-established day of the week in which the prime minister visits the president to inform him on different issues. More than a formality and a gesture of goodwill, keeping the president informed “of all issues pertaining to the conduction of internal and external policies” is a constitutional provision (CRP section 201c). On top of that, the law on the intelligence services requires that the prime minister keep the president informed of major developments. Cavaco Silva would later recall that the prime minister had failed to inform him of the dealings with the EU in preparation for a package of austerity measures in 2011 as a “gross misconduct in institutional solidarity” which he castigated several times. Besides, as it will emerge further down, these meetings allow the president to react to the information received and enter a true bargaining process with the prime minister (something he cannot do directly with parliament). As a result, Cavaco Silva estimated that about one third of all legislation received from the government were amended at his request. Thursday meetings are an epitome to the power-sharing nature of Portuguese semipresidentialism

Of course, Cavaco Silva insists that his exercise of accountability towards the Portuguese is limited by the “secrecy imposed by the safeguard of the highest national interests”, and thus one cannot expect to have full disclosure of every episode that hit the news. However, Cavaco Silva is quite generous in opening up the drawers of his memory. Many references in the press to the facts disclosed in these volumes refer to la petite histoire, episodes that are controversial and still stir the popular imagination and feed gossiping, but on the whole are perhaps not the most interesting way to address the issue of presidential powers and how they were exercised by one particular individual.

The background to the volumes covering the presidency is given by the ten years in which Cavaco Silva was prime minister, which formatted most of his understanding of both presidential and governmental powers. As he says, implicitly criticizing the president with whom he worked as prime minister (Mário Soares), “my time as prime minister was one of fruitful learning about what a president of the Republic should not do”.  Perhaps the most evident sign of a particular reading of presidential powers is referred in the second volume of his Autobiografia Politicawhen he recalls having said this: “To those who spend their time in political manoeuvring and creating obstacles to the government, we say: let us work”. Together with his repeated references to the “forces of blockade”, these words were widely read as a reassessment of the government’s independence from all other organs of sovereignty, be they the Constitutional Court (which had raised several objections to his policies) or – above all – the president of the Republic. It was thus expectable that Cavaco Silva as president would not venture in terrains he had so bitterly criticized while serving as prime minister, and adopt a low profile as president. This was though a difficult task to perform.

The title of his presidential memoirs include the expression “and other days”, which refer to the scope of presidential initiatives that do not depend on the relation with the prime minister.

In the first of these volumes, the “other days” are present in a section he entitled “To Believe in the Portuguese”. He justifies this section by stating: “I defined as one of the goals of my presidency to give voice to good examples” in areas as disparate as science and education, culture and historical heritage, economy and information technologies, Portuguese communities abroad and youth, social inclusion and social institutions, the sea and fisheries, etc. This is not a small realm of intervention. Claiming he always “wanted to be part of the solution and not the problem” (and I would add, active part), he summoned members of government to accompany him and expressed publicly his views on the issues that surfaced in those initiatives. Presidential initiatives do have high media coverage, and this is a form of setting the political agenda inaugurated (against an angry Cavaco Silva) by Mário Soares with his “open presidencies” and to offer presidents ample room to intervene in the process of decision making. In the end of the day “all my initiatives were very welcome by the population, by the institutions and by all those who were involved in them”. Popularity is thus a critical element to gauge the effectiveness of presidential initiatives. In the second volume, the “other days” are mostly dedicated to the “projection of the interests of Portugal in the world”, assuming those to be framed by the concept of “presidential diplomacy” – an equivocal concept that does not derive from the constitutional powers of the president which, in matters of foreign affairs, are reasonably contained (CRP section 135). However, Cavaco Silva considered this to be one of the areas in which his voice could be heard, and independent initiatives taken, so much so that “during my terms in office a reinforcement was felt of the role of the president of the Republic in the realm of foreign affairs”. One of the reasons for this resides in the fact that, as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the president was involved in the deployment of Portuguese soldiers in several UN or NATO sponsored missions throughout the world. It is certainly an aspect that gained roots and is not openly challenged by any major political actor, and which evokes the French case of presidents assuming prominent roles in foreign relations and defence policies. It is interesting to note that at various points in his books, Cavaco Silva mentions several  formal direct meetings with the ministers of foreign affairs and defence, whereas in the case of most other ministers his relations were mediated by the prime minister.

The two volumes combined cover Cavaco Silva’s two mandates and refer to four different governments. When he took office in March 2006, the country had a majority socialist government headed by José Socrates. As is usual in Portugal, the prime minister did not tender his resignation nor did he put his job at the president’s disposal. The understanding is that the parliamentary responsibility of the government was assured, and thus the new president had to live with the existing government – or be determined to take action. It is useful to recall that Cavaco Silva had been the leader of PSD, and when that memory was still fresh he had lost the 1996 presidential election; seeking the presidency in 2006 was based on the affirmation of a clear distance between the candidate and the right of centre parties that supported him, assuming the traditional role of the president as an “independent” figure that should not guide his action by party motivation. Not surprising, Cavaco Silva promised during the campaign he would offer any government “strategic cooperation”.

The narrative of the period 2006-2009 is one of a deteriorating relation with the prime minister, which started on a high note and ended in one of the most sour episodes just before the legislative elections of that year (what he recalls as “the political intrigues of the summer of 2009”). Maybe the highest point of conflict was around a government proposal to change the statute of the Autonomous Region of Azores (unanimously approved in the regional parliament) which Cavaco Silva felt as an attempt to reduce his constitutional powers, which was a theme for discussion for about eight months before Caavaco Silva felt compelled to address the nation. The action of the president, however, was much broader, and included initiatives to reformulate the project for a new airport in Lisboa, a discussion of the high-speed train project, or the decision to recognize the independence of Kosovo (this one was present in sixteen of the weekly meetings with the prime minister), to quote just a few with heavy consequences. In most instances, the president managed to negotiate with the government the final outcome of public policies. Cavaco Silva does not shy away from criticizing by name some ministers, either because one had “little common sense” or another was prone “to speak out too much” – but in no circumstance did he go beyond asking the prime minister “to take adequate action”. If the suggestion was obvious that he would have welcome a change of minister, he stopped short of declaring he had lost political confidence or that the issue threatened the survival of the government.

Elections were held during his first term, and the socialist party won again, although it lost the absolute majority – a situation that, in principle, enlarges the scope of presidential intervention. A minority government was formed that had the difficult task to respond to the crisis that erupted in 2008 and was fast approaching Portugal. The distance and acrimony between Cavaco Silva and José Socrates was now public and evident. In the fall of 2010, when the budget was being prepared, Cavaco Silva realized “the prime minister has been lying to me about the deficit for this year”. The hypothesis of a political crisis was on the table. Still, he decided to use his goodwill to help negotiate a new budget that could be supported both by the minority socialist government and the PSD, the largest opposition party. He suggested one of his closest friends and sometime minister for finance to broker the deal. The deal was made under the auspices of the president.

The second term began with a very critical speech, which had a direct impact on the fall of the minority government a few weeks later. Fresh elections were called, as no solution was viable within the existing parliament. The right wing parties PSD and CDS obtained a majority and formed a post-electoral coalition. An old dream of PSD founder Francisco Sá Carneiro – “a majority, a government, a president” – was now possible (despite continuous claims that the president was “above the party fray”). Eventually, this became a nightmare for Cavaco Silva: for all major purposes, the leader of the majority was the prime minister, not the president. Cavaco as a university professor of public finance had his own views and claimed “I do not harbour doubts and I seldom make a mistake”; the prime minister, who had never had any job in government, and who had a poor formation on economics and finance matters, had to carve a balanced relation in which the weight of government far out weighted that of the president. In some instances, Cavaco Silva came to the rescue of government, as in the case of the huge popular demonstrations against one specific fiscal policy in September 2012, prompting a change of course. Some others, he criticized the government, as in the New Year speech of 2013 in which he raised fears of a “vicious circle of depression” – although he could not elicit any change of policy from the government. Even if many legislative pieces raised issues of constitutional conformity, Cavaco Silva most often decided to sign the bills and ask for the opinion of the Constitutional Court afterwards, thus facilitating the government’s policy, even with the cost of his own reputation (he stepped out of office in March 2016 with the lowest ever popularity rate: -13%, whereas the normal popularity rate for presidents is in excess of 50%).

The final episode of Cavaco Silva’s term in office took place after the legislative elections of October 2015. The right wing coalition won the election with a plurality of the vote; but the left parties soon declared they would oppose their continuation in office. Cavaco Silva disregarded the composition of parliament and installed the former prime minister again in his post, having decided to address the nation on the media to justify his option. However, parliamentary investiture is needed. It can come out of a vote of confidence presented by the government, or by a motion rejecting the government’s program tabled by the opposition. The rejection motion was approved by a large majority, and Passos Coelho’s executive fell. The president could not, in constitutional terms, dissolve the parliament and call fresh elections due to a double principle: presidents cannot dissolve parliaments in the last six months of their term in office, and parliaments cannot be dissolved in the first six months after an election. Cavaco would have three choices: to keep Passos Coelho as a caretaker government, with limited capacities, namely unable to propose a new budget, until the six months had elapsed and his successor could call fresh elections; to try what had been used back in the 1970’s – a government of independents regarded as “government of presidential initiative” – which raised constitutional doubts but not an outright impossibility, as recent examples in Greece and Italy suggest; or to appoint the leader of the largest left wing party, the socialist Antonio Costa, to form his government. He chose the latter solution, after lengthy consultations with several actors of the political arena and civil society, although he considered “It is difficult to believe that one government that depends on political forces that are against the EU, NATO and multilateralism in international trade can become a coherent, credible, stable, and efficient government”. For this reason, Cavaco Silva sent a memo to the socialist leader asking for “the clarification of several questions” and for “guarantees as to the stability, credibility and long-term perspectives” of the proposed new government (i.e., written documents signed by all parties involved in the new majority). When he finally accepted to swear in António Costa, he made a very critical speech in which he set boundaries to the policies the government was allowed to pursue, suggesting the government would be subject to constant presidential monitoring not so much in its institutional capacity, but truly in a sense that comprised political choices.

The question that remains after this episode in which the president is vehemently opposed to the political solution he had to empower, is this: would Cavaco Silva have behaved differently if he was not in the final six months of his term with his powers limited? Would he have behaved differently in there was not a question of the need of a new budget? Would he have behaved differently if he was in his first term with aspirations to be re-elected? All those circumstances must have weighted in the very peculiar situation in which presidents have their powers curtailed. If in full capacity, what would have been the outcome? It must be borne in mind that this example shows that disposing of a parliamentary majority is a facilitating condition for a government to emerge – and then to subsist – but its emergence must pass through a presidential decision – and the president may decide to try his luck if he dislikes the parliamentary majority. Cavaco Silva’s memoirs tell us a dramatic story which shows that there is room for interpretation of the presidential powers regarding the formation of a new government.

A few other comments can now be made. Some authors have referred to the existence of “weak powers” of the president, including under this heading the competence to appoint several public officers under governmental proposals. Cavaco Silva’s memoirs are very illuminating in this particular, as he had to deal with two appointments to the post of Prosecutor General and several top military ones. What emerges from his writings is a that a “methodology” exists – which was certainly present in other similar instances – by virtue of which the president and the prime minister agree to exchange views prior to a formal  governmental initiative (that is, before the constitutional prescriptions come into being), which in most cases consists of a proposal of up to three names from which the president can choose (or indeed reject). His descriptions of the processes leading up to the appointment of two Prosecutors General under different prime ministers shows that the principle is established and warrants presidents more than ceremonial roles, disposing of substantive capacity to influence the choice of top civil servants. The conclusion that emerges from these pages is certainly not one of “weak power”.

The last comment refers to the very last chapter of the second volume in which Cavaco Silva reflects on presidential powers. Arguing that he finds the constitutional powers to be well balanced with the fact that presidents are elected by universal suffrage, he nevertheless ventures to suggest six points that parliamentarians might take in consideration in future revisions of the constitution. Most of those points reinforce slightly the competences of the president without disturbing the overall distribution of powers, as would be the case if the president was given the power to appoint some members of the Constitutional Court or to enlarge the time limit for presidents to send legislation to that court in order to establish its conformity with the constitution, or even the power to appoint the governor of the Bank of Portugal upon a governmental proposal, and following a period of parliamentary vetting . One of Cavaco Silva’s suggestions, however, would significantly enhance presidential powers: he proposes that every legal diploma vetoed by the president should require a 2/3 majority in parliament to be overturned – a situation that occurs in a limited number of cases, and would, if extended, enlarge presidential powers and create a severe limitation to any parliamentary majority.

A final word on what appears to be a paradox. Cavaco Silva states time and again that presidential powers are adequate. On the other hand, he rejects any personal responsibility in the deterioration of the financial situation that took place after the onset of the global crisis of 2008-2009. Commenting on his very aggressive speech against the government in the inauguration of his second term (2011), he claims: “It was indeed a very incisive speech, growing out of my knowledge that the economic, social and financial situation of the country was very serious, and that there were errors in the economic policy of the government, which prime minister José Socrates resisted to change, despite my multiple warnings, both on the meetings that took place on Thursdays, and through the alerts I issued in several public interventions”. How can one be content with an array of competences that does not prevent the development and deepening of a very serious crisis in the country? Or is it the case that Cavaco Silva did not use all the presidential competences to guarantee the regular functioning of institutions beyond a mere formal analysis? Was he a prisoner of a parliamentarian understanding of the distribution of powers that the Portuguese Constitution attributes to the main political actors, neglecting the array of competences he had at his disposal? In the end, he contributed to bring down the minority government of Jose Socrates in 2011 not by taking any decisive action, but merely by speaking out his criticism that was welcome by all opposition parties which filed a non-confidence motion in parliament. The president watched this move in the comfort of Palácio de Belém,not intervening through a dissolution of parliament, the dismissal of the prime minister, nor even by sending a formal message to the parliament  . He simply used his public word – alas, quite a bit late.

Zimbabwe – More than 100 days into the new administration, little has changed

 

It has been 123 days since Zimbabweans went to the polls, in an election that was intended to usher in a new era for the troubled Southern African nation. But the fatal shooting of seven civilians by soldiers in the full view of the global media was an important reminder that the new administration looked much like the old. Although he positioned himself as a reformer, little appears to have changed in Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa came in on a wave of popular support after he and his military backers ousted former President Robert Mugabe in a coup that broke the continent’s longest coup-free stretch since the late 1950s. He promised accountable governance, a return to the rule of law and a tough stance on the pervasive corruption that has eaten through Zimbabwe’s social services like a cancer.

Following his election Mnangagwa appointed respected Cambridge-educated economist Dr Mthuli Ncube as his Finance Minister, sending positive signals to international investors and the IMF and World Bank that the country planned to turn over a new economic leaf. He also appointed a commission of enquiry into the killings on 1 August, headed by the respected former president of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe.

But the Military…

As if to confirm the fears of political scientists about the adverse outcomes of coups, the military has continued to play an outsized role in Zimbabwe’s post-coup dispensation. Rumours abound of the factional fights between the president and his Vice-President Constantine Chiwenga, the former Commander of the Defence Forces. It is widely reported that the deal between the two men was that Mnangagwa would serve just a single term before handing over to his second in command.

But repeated statements suggest that Mnangagwa has other ideas and hopes to run again in 2023. This was reportedly the reason behind the grenade attack at one of Mnangagwa’s rallies during the election campaign. The country’s independent media carries regular articles detailing the alleged factional fights within the state which continue to give lie to Mnangagwa’s ‘new dawn’ narrative.

At the same time, Chiwenga and Foreign Minister and former Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo (of the Chiwenga camp) are reportedly gravely ill, with Moyo apparently suffering from unexplained kidney failure. In a country where many leaders have died under unclear or suspicious circumstances – notably Mugabe’s former General, Solomon Mujuru, in 2011 – the illnesses amongst those said to be opposed to the President further raise suspicions.

As for Kgalema Motlanthe’s Commission, the military has bizarrely claimed that the deaths of civilians were caused by the opposition to destabilise and discredit the army and administration. Having refused to take any responsibility for civilian deaths, it appears that impunity will continue to plague the country’s armed forces. Zimbabwe’s civic groups have expressed grave concerns over the process, and confidence in the Commission appears to be waning rapidly.

What about the Economy?

Despite promises of massive international investment during the election campaign and the appointment of a technocratic Finance Minister, Zimbabwe’s economic woes appear to be deepening. Ncube has promised both austerity and wide-ranging reforms, vowing to cut down the country’s public sector wage bill which consumes 90% of the annual budget. In trying to restart the economy, he will need to bring the opaque extractives sector back under the wing of treasury and ensure that the burgeoning diamond and platinum sector remit finances to the state.

But in doing so, the Finance Minister will find himself up against entrenched interests in the military and the upper echelons of the governing party. Vowing to root out ghost workers in the public sector through biometric registration, Ncube will find himself up against the ZANU-PF elites who draw the salaries from these ghost workers in order to finance their own patronage networks. These reforms will also retire more than 6 000 ‘Youth Officers’ on the public payroll, who behave as little more than ruling party enforcers. This will certainly ruffle some feathers with their handlers.

The Minister faces a massive debt mountain; at the end of August 2018, public debt stood at $17.69 billion USD of which domestic debt accounted for 54%. This represents a national debt of over 100% of current GDP. But with industrial capacity operating at 20%, a massive trade deficit engendered by the collapse of local manufacturing and opacity in the minerals sector, it isn’t clear where the finances will come from to turn the listing economic ship around.

The country’s most important export earners are minerals (gold, diamonds, platinum and ferrous metals) but these sectors suffer from heavy involvement of the military and military elites and few of the proceeds from exports reach the public purse. Any attempts to introduce greater transparency in minerals and mineral governance is likely to come up against stiff resistance from those who benefit from the status quo.

Finally, Mnangagwa’s flagship project of 2017 was the country’s ‘Command Agriculture’ project which sought to incentivise and push agricultural sector growth to revitalise the ailing economy and return the country to its former status as a major agricultural producer. This project was run by the military and is said to have been lucrative for many government and military insiders. Ncube’s recent declaration of intent to scale down this programme will likely push him further into conflict with the beneficiaries of this scheme.

And the Opposition?

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has continued to loudly contest the legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s government and tries to capitalise on broad public dissatisfaction with the collapsing economy. On 29 November they held a massive march through the streets of the capital to deliver a petition to parliament demanding a new transitional government to address the financial and political crisis.

Although the opposition is a far cry from its strengths of the early 2000s and the country’s formerly indomitable trade unions are a shadow of their former selves, the widespread desperation brought on by 20 years of deepening economic crisis have pushed citizens to the brink. This has won the MDC many inadvertent supporters and poses a threat to the ruling elite.

Mnangagwa the Reformer?

There remains a robust debate in Zimbabwe about whether or not the president is honest about his intentions to reform the state – and many would like to believe that he is indeed trying to rein in the military. Even if he is sincere in his intentions to reform the state, he is facing threats from all sides – the military, the economy and the opposition – and it remains difficult to see how the administration can possibly dig their way out of the current morass.

The events following the July elections have reminded foreign governments and investors of the reasons for their long hesitation over investing in Zimbabwe, and consequently little foreign investment has been forthcoming in the three months since. The instability of the relationship between the military and the executive as well as the entrenched nature of the army in the country’s productive sectors continues to give investors pause.

Sadly, a year since Mugabe’s removal, the country’s battle-weary citizens hardly look any closer to the end of their long suffering.

Ukraine – Parliament Declares Martial Law

On Monday, November 26th, the Ukrainian parliament approved presidential decree “On Institution of Martial Law in Ukraine.” The measure was passed with 276 votes in favour during an extraordinary session of parliament. The decree was put forward by President Poroshenko on advice of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine in response to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 23 sailors in Kerch Strait on Sunday.

Before the martial law was approved, the President was forced to compromise on a number of points. First, the initial decree requested that martial law be introduced for 60 days. Lawmakers only agreed to 30 days. It came into effect at 9am on November 28 and will be in place until December 27. Initial proposal also suggested that martial law would be introduced on the entire territory of Ukraine. But per the approved law, it will cover only 10 regions and territories along the Russian boarder, the Sea of Azov and the Black sea.

Second, lawmakers insisted on the relaxation of the proposed limits on the rights and freedoms of citizens. To reassure the citizens, the Parliament voted not to debate the martial law proposal in closed session but instead the debate was televised on national TV. On his website, the President insisted that the decree was proposed mainly as a security measure and assured that he did not intend any restrictions to citizens’ rights. The President also noted that neither partial nor full mobilization was envisioned unless the conflict escalates further.

Finally, during the Parliamentary session, lawmakers demanded assurances that introduction of martial law will not affect the holding of presidential elections early next year. Only 5 minutes after the Parliament voted in favour of martial law, it approved a law officially setting the date of the next presidential election for March 31, 2019.

These recent political events generated two main concerns. First, of course, comes the issue of security, territorial integrity, and independence of Ukraine. Russia has denied any wrong-doing. However, other countries and international organizations have supported Ukraine. During a press conference, NATO’s chief stated that “there is no justification for the use of military force against Ukrainian ships and military personnel” and demanded that ships and sailors be immediately released. Concerns about what the attack and declaration of martial law could mean for the security in the region are high. President Poroshenko was careful to insist that “martial law does not mean declaring war. It is introduced with the sole purpose of boosting Ukraine’s defense in the light of a growing aggression from Russia.” He also noted that it did not mean that Ukraine either gave up or was not amenable to diplomatic solutions to the crisis, insisting that Ukraine will continue to comply with the Minsk agreement and all other international obligations.

Second, what impact will the introduction of martial law have on the political situation in the country, especially on the upcoming presidential elections? The opposition has accused the President of using martial law to divert public attention from his failing popularity. Some even expressed concerns that martial law will allow the possibility of postponing or cancelling the election complete. According to opinion polls, only 5-10 percent of citizens were ready to vote for him in the last couple of months. Less than 15 percent trusted the President. However, other presidential candidates have similar low levels of support and trust. For instance, 75 percent of those surveys did not trust Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the main candidates running for president next year.

The next couple of months will be critical for Ukraine and its President. On the one hand, it will be important to secure territorial integrity of the country and avoid escalation of the crisis. On the other hand, the President will need to ensure that he keeps his word and that free and fair elections do take place as scheduled on March 31, 2019. In the words of the recent Foreign Policy dispatch: “Martial law is a test. Will Ukraine’s democracy pass?”

Turkey – Is Erdoğan’s Competitive Authoritarian Regime Stable?

Christopher Carothers argues in his recent article “the Surprising Instability of Competitive Authoritarianism” that many competitive authoritarian (CA) regimes have not achieved stability over the past ten years.(1) The data suggest that only a small number of CA regimes seem stable; the rest either democratised or turned into fully authoritarian regimes. According to his observations, there are four factors leading to breakdown in CA regimes: losing elections (national, local/mayoral) due to poor electoral strategies; manipulated elections triggering massive public protests and anger; achieving successful election rigging but turning the regime fully authoritarian out of fear of rising opposition; and finally losing ideological legitimacy for their regime.

Turkey is an interesting case study testing all these theories. Upcoming local elections will be held on 31 of March, 2019 and current polls suggest that the ruling AKP’s vote share is around 34-35%. If the opposition wins mayoral elections in big cities like İstanbul, Ankara, and Kocaeli, this might not only create an electoral alternative as suggested by Carothers, but it would also cut the patrimonial ties controlled by municipal authorities. In the Turkish context understating neo-patrimonial relations as a source of de facto power for President Erdoğan and his party, the AKP, is important to grasp the dynamics of the Turkish regime. (2) Neo-patrimonialism sets hierarchical patronal relations based on transferring collective interests from the big patron to the loyal group in exchange for political loyalty.(3) The selective transfer of collective interests in the forms of public aid, power and even public service is mostly controlled by local authorities, which also possess knowledge about electors in their area. Losing local elections would cut those ties which are already beginning to be severed by the deepening economic crisis.

Allegations of election/referendum rigging have been voiced for quite some time in Turkey without massive public protests.(4) This can be seen especially in the 2017 constitutional referendum, which established a hyper-presidential legal ground for Erdoğan’s patrimonial CA regime. The Higher Election Board accepted unstamped ballots, despite the clear ban in law no. 298, art.10. Furthermore, the fear of massive public protests like the Gezi protests in 2013 pushed the Erdoğan regime into passing repressive laws and being more aggressive. For instance recently 13 liberal academics and human rights activists were arrested and accused of spreading and organizing the Gezi protests, which more than 3 million people attended. Freedom House data confirms Carother’s arguments that the regime is turning seemingly more authoritarian spreading fear among the public in case they decide to take streets again.

As for losing its ideological legitimacy, the AKP’s CA regime faces the same danger. President Erdoğan still claims that Turkey is a democratic and free country where people enjoy basic rights despite overwhelming evidence suggesting otherwise. Erdoğan’s regime increasingly compensates for the weaknesses of this argument by turning to Islam as a source of legitimacy, especially at the local level however high corruption rates and patrimonial relations potentially damage the religion and its power as source legitimacy increasingly in divided Turkish society even though it is hard to measure its extent at the moment. Also Erdoğan’s regime has enjoyed performance legitimacy due to its good economic performance in the past. Nowadays high inflation and unemployment, lower economic growth and bad economic performance will test Erdogan regimes’ performance legitimacy.

In short, the immediate state of the Turkish regime points in a towards more authoritarian direction, however it will be very hard for the AKP regime to stabilise it in the long run.

Notes

  1. Christopher Carothers, “the Surprising Instability of Competitive Authoritarianism”, Journal of Democracy, vol.29/4, October 2018, p. 130.

2. Fatih Çağatay Cengiz, “Proliferation of Neopatrimonial Domination in Turkey”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 2018. DOI: 10.1080/13530194.2018.15096938.
https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2018.1509693.

3. Gero Erdman, – Ulf Engel, “Neopatrimonialism Revisited – Beyond a Catch-All Concept”, Giga Working papers, no.16, 2006. P.20.
http://www.giga-hamburg.de/de/system/files/publications/wp16_erdmann-engel.pdf.

4. Koray Çalışkan, “Toward a New Political Regime in Turkey: From Competitive Toward Full Authoritarianism”, New Perspectives on Turkey, vol. 58,2018, p. 12-16.

Latinization in the Turkic post-Soviet Republics

On 14 November 2018, at Kazakhstan’s universities, a nation-wide exam to test students’ proficiency in the Latin alphabet took place. Simultaneously, two major radio stations and websites invited people to take the test at home. This was the kick-off for the implementation of a reform, started by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s October 2017 decree ordering a switchover from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet for Kazakh, the country’s state language. If carried out as planned, the reform will proceed in three stages. After a preparatory period (2018-2020), teachers will be trained, and identity cards based on Latin script will be issued (2021-2023). Finally, during 2024-2025 state agencies and state-owned media must gradually transition to the Latin alphabet.

The writing issue is an eminently political one across Central Asia. During the early 1920s, Soviet authorities created five republics out of Turkestan, the vast internal colony of the Russian Empire. Here as well as in Azerbaijan, they first introduced a modified version of the Arabic alphabet, replacing it between 1927 and 1930 with Latin, and finally, between 1938 and 1940, with the Cyrillic script. This policy claimed to be a necessary measure to combat illiteracy and to raise the cultural level of national minorities to that of Russians, and also aimed to thwart the influence of Turkey in the Soviet Republics with their predominantly Muslim population.

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Latinization, the transition of the state language of the new republics to the Latin alphabet, entered the political agenda again. Initiated by Turkey, in the early 1990s, the idea of a common alphabet for the Turcophone world was popular. Numerous conferences and meetings brought together political representatives and scholars from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, but also from Russia’s Turkic regions and elsewhere. The project of a common script turned out to be utopian and lost its appeal by 1996.

By this time, three of the five post-Soviet states had managed to introduce their versions of Latin scripts. They argued that the Latin alphabet is better suited for representing the sounds of Turkic languages than Cyrillic, that its adoption strengthens the cultural, intellectual and social identity of their nations and that it secures the computer compatibility of their state languages. However, this move was mainly considered to signal a break with the Soviet era and a geopolitical reorientation.

Already in December 1991, Azerbaijan introduced a modified version of the Latin Azeri script that had been used during the 1920s and 1930s. The Cyrillic alphabet, so the law stated, had been a “historical injustice” introduced “despite the people’s will” and as a “continuation of the mass repressions of the 1930s.” However, in practice, the transition unfolded slowly, until a 2001 presidential decree made the use of the Latin alphabet mandatory.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan adopted Latin scripts in 1993, using alphabets that represented mere transliterations of the Cyrillic system. To date, the transition has not been fully completed here. This is most visibly in Uzbekistan, where both graphic systems continue to be used concurrently. The Latin alphabet prevails in many street names, on billboards, in public transportation, television and film productions, and the Cyrillic script in all other spheres.

The two remaining Turkic republics with their large segments of Russian-speaking populations approached the issue much later. In Kyrgyzstan, Latinization of the state language was included in a state program on language development during the period from 2000 to 2010. However, the project was not carried out. In July 2017, then-President Almazbek Atambaev declared that first, the shift to the Latin script might “divide Turkic languages and nations” across the post-Soviet region rather than unite them, because Turkic peoples in the Russian Federation continue using Cyrillic. Second, he argued, the change of the alphabet may also “break the link between generations, as many prominent Kyrgyz writers used Cyrillic when creating their works.”

In Kazakhstan, a six-step plan to switch the country to the Latin alphabet was launched by the Ministry of Education in 2007, but the program lost momentum soon. A new attempt followed in 2012 when Nazarbayev in his annual State of the Nation Address declared the transition to Latin part of the “Strategy Kazakhstan-2050,” a long-term program to push the country into the top 30 global economies by 2050. The recent measures aim to tackle this difficult task as smoothly and as well-organized as possible. Strikingly, and compared to the justifications for alphabet switchovers in the early 1990s, any geopolitical statements are avoided. Nazarbayev’s “Strategy Kazakhstan-2050” envisages the transition to Latin letters as one of several measures for modernizing the Kazakh language, the nation’s “spiritual center.” The move is incorporated into the seventh priority of the Strategy, which is titled “New Kazakhstani patriotism is the basis for the success of our multiethnic and multi-confessional society.” There, the use of the Latin alphabet is substantiated as a “decision for the sake of the future of our children,” easing access to English as a third essential language—along with Kazakh and Russian—and to the internet. When Russian media criticized this step as a geopolitical statement, the Kazakhstani foreign minister hastened to soothe his Russian colleague by underscoring that there was “no subtext and no geopolitical signal in Kazakhstan’s intention.” In the same vein, Nazarbayev declared in 2017 that “the transition of the Kazakh language to the Latin-based script does not in any way affect the rights of the Russian-speaking citizens” in the country, which still makes up more than 20 percent of the population.

DRC – Presidential campaign is on

The presidential campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was launched on Thursday, November 22, one month ahead of the December 23 presidential poll. While the ruling coalition is well prepared and ready for the fight, the opposition is trying to catch up from behind. Months of opposition efforts at uniting behind a single candidate have thus far been unsuccessful.

The United Front for Congo (FCC), the electoral coalition backing President Joseph Kabila’s handpicked candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, is indeed united. The FCC has pulled all the stops, including enlisting famed Congolese dancer and singer Tshala Muana to produce a get-out-the vote jingle and music video calling on Congolese to ‘vote vote vote for Shadary, candidate number 13.’ [See previous blog posts relating Kabila’s clever maneuvering to secure support for his chosen contender here and here.] A 564-member campaign team working for Shadary includes sitting Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala and his cabinet, the president of the national assembly, Kabila family members and a number of other well-known Congolese.  The impressive line-up presented at a public ceremony on November 3, is divided into 48 ‘cells’ with representation from all 26 provinces, covering the entire country. Some of the alleged members of the campaign team, like the trainer of the national football team Floribert Ibenge, have complained, however, that their name was added to the roster without their consent. A leading opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, has called the apparent fusion of state and party, with major state institutions at work for the ruling party’s candidate, ‘inacceptable.’

The opposition despite significant efforts, remains divided in two major camps – one backing Fayulu, the other supporting Felix Tshisekedi, son of historical opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who passed away in 2017. For a short 24-hour period it appeared that the leaders of the seven major opposition parties had succeeded in agreeing to support a unity candidate – Martin Fayulu – as the flag bearer of the Lamuka (“wake up” in Lingala and Swahili) coalition. The seven leaders met for three days in Geneva in early November to negotiate an agreement, hosted by the Kofi Annan Foundation. Three of the leaders – Moise Katumbi, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Adolphe Muzito – are excluded from running as candidates, leaving four possible choices: front-runners Felix Tshisekedi (UDPS) and former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe (UNC); and second tier candidates Fayulu (ECiDé) and Freddy Matungulu (CNB). With 41 seats, the UDPS is the second largest party in the National Assembly of the DRC, after the ruling PPRD, followed in sixth place by the UNC (with 17 seats), while ECiDé (3 seats) and CNB (0 seats) are smaller parties whose leaders have not held prominent positions in Congolese politics. Fayulu is currently a National Assembly deputy, and Matungulu is a former IMF-official who served a two-year stint as minister of finance in the early 2000s.

The method chosen to facilitate a vote among the seven opposition leaders meeting in Geneva, after a consensus candidate did not emerge, had the unexpected consequence of Fayulu’s selection. A two-round vote was held: only the four eligible candidates could vote in the first round, casting two ballots – one for himself and one for one of the other three. None of the four chose to cast his second ballot for his perceived strongest  competitor, resulting in Fayulu and Matungulu getting the most votes and proceeding to the second round – an outcome that should perhaps have been foreseen, taking the likelihood of strategic voting into consideration. On November 11, in the second round, all seven opposition party leaders, including the three banned from running, cast their vote, leading to the selection of Fayulu.

The choice of Fayulu as single candidate for the opposition did not survive the realities of Congolese politics, however. Upon their return to Kinshasa, Tshisekedi and Kamerhe were met by demonstrations by their respective party bases and within 24 hours both withdrew from the Geneva agreement. The two pursued bilateral negotiations, and on Friday November 23, they signed a pact in Nairobi whereby Kamerhe will support Tshisekedi. According to the agreement, should Tshisekedi win, he will appoint Kamerhe as prime minister, and the two would switch places on the presidential ticket in five years time. The detailed deal references also the distribution of key cabinet and other posts.

It is thus likely that three leading candidates will face off in the one-round presidential poll on December 23 – Shadary, Fayulu and Tshisekedi. Of these, Tshisekedi appears best poised to win, according to a recent opinion poll by the Congo Research Group based at the University of New York, whose findings are contested by the ruling party. The poll, conducted in the first half of October, found Tshisekedi to be favored by 36% of voters, followed by Kamerhe at 17% and Shadary close behind at 16%, while Fayulu trailed at 8%. The agreement with Kamerhe further strengthens Tshisekedi’s chances.

The scene is set for a hard fought race. Election observers – many to be deployed by the Catholic Church – and party agents will play an important role in increasing the transparency and credibility of the vote in a context characterized by consistent opposition concerns over the integrity of the voter registry and the reliability of the electronic voting machine introduced by the election commission.

Chile – The Piñera administration faces its most serious challenge yet

At the beginning of last week, one of President Sebastián Piñera’s major preoccupations was the underperforming economy. Even though Finance Minister Felipe Larraín assured that Chile’s economy would grow by twice as much in 2018 as it had in 2017, the truth is that unemployment figures are far from ideal (7.1% for the period July-September 2018). Furthermore, a surprising and intense hailstorm that took place ten days ago prompted the Minister of Agriculture Antonio Walter to suggest that a significant share of further jobs were in jeopardy as a result. Despite this causing some concern on the basis that Piñera ran on an electoral platform of economic prosperity, it was not a serious threat to La Moneda’s overall popular support.

On the other hand, the fragmented left-of-centre opposition was still struggling to find a shared goal around which to organize and deal with its own drawbacks. Deputies Gabriel Boric and Maite Orsini, both members of the leftist Frente Amplio (FA, Broad Front) conglomerate, were widely criticised for secretly meeting in Paris with Ricardo Palma Salamanca, a former revolutionary who was convicted for the assassination of UDI party founder and Senator Jaime Guzmán in 1992 (Palma Salamanca escaped from jail in 1996 and days ago was granted asylum in France). Meanwhile, the Partido Socialista (PS), Partido Por la Democracia (PPD) and Partido Radical (PR), all of which were former members of the left-of-centre government coalition Concertación (1990-2010) and then Nueva Mayoría (2013-2018), toyed with the idea of forming one “mega-party” built on social-democratic ideas in a motion that is still on the table.

How things changed

Those were the issues that dominated the political agenda until last week. Nevertheless, the political landscape made an unexpected turn on November 15th when Camilo Catrillanca, a 24-year-old Mapuche community member, was killed in the Araucanía region by members of the Carabineros’ Grupo de Operaciones Especiales (GOPE, Police Special Operation Group), popularly known as “Comando Jungla” (Jungle Command). This special force unit was formed upon Piñera’s decision to deal with violent acts in Araucanía. Its members received specialist training in Colombia and the United States to deal with organised terrorist groups. This initiative was received with disapproval, especially from the Left and human rights organisations, as it appeared to increase the militarisation of the so-called conflict between the Chilean state and the Mapuche people.  More importantly, the account of the death of Camilo Catrillanca was surrounded in controversy over inconsistencies about how the GOPE reacted to the theft of a vehicle during the afternoon of November 15th. Minister of Interior Andrés Chadwick and Luis Mayol, Intendant of the Araucanía region[i], quickly backed the police special force’s version of events, which indicated that Catrillanca was killed during a crossfire. Chadwick even suggested that Catrillanca had police records, although he had not been convicted of any crimes, which was seen as an attempt to support the initial police version of the incident.

While President Piñera was abroad to attend the APEC summit and visit New Zealand, the incident took a serious toll on his administration when it became public that the special police forces had not carried their personal cameras during the procedure. Even worse, the ongoing investigation shows that one of the “Comando Jungla” members had in fact carried his camera but deleted its memory card afterwards, which cast further doubt on the versions initially supported by Minister Chadwick and Intendant Mayol. Different actors have asked for Chadwick and Mayol’s resignations. The Left, which have craved for unity in recent months, rapidly agreed to interpellate Minister Chadwick, a procedure by which a minister is asked to come forward at the Chamber of Deputies to answer questions. Moreover, Luis Mayol offered his resignation on Tuesday night upon the Christian Democrats’ announcement that they will seek to initiate a constitutional accusation against Mayol for the death of Camilo Carrillanca.

La Moneda’s mistakes

The Piñera administration’s political errors can be summarised as follows. First, the formation of an elite militarised special unit seemed largely inappropriate to deal with a public problem that has more to do with socio-political issues rather than with terrorism, as some in the Right have argued. Second, the way in which the police special forces were introduced five months ago, in a ceremony led by Piñera himself and in which all the weaponry at the Comando’s disposal was presented, was clearly an exaggerated show of force. Finally, there was no need for Minister Chadwick and Intendant Mayol to almost immediately back the police special forces’ version of the incident. Carabineros de Chile, the national police force, is currently going through its deepest crisis yet in the post Pinochet period. Dozens of top-ranking Carabineros officials, including a former general, are under investigation for a US$ 40 million fraud. Yet, more importantly, the Carabineros of the Araucanía region face another more worrying probe about “Operation Hurricane,” a scandal that saw several police officers accused of falsifying and tampering with evidence, which led to some Mapuche community members being sent to jail. Therefore, Chadwick’s and Mayol’s hurried remarks about the incident itself, and the backing of the Carabineros’ version of it, were unnecessary and unwarranted.

Notwithstanding Minister of Interior Andrés Chadwick explaining himself during a special session summoned by the Human Rights and Public Security legislative commissions on Monday 19th and Intendant Mayol’s resignation on Tuesday 20th, the damage to the Piñera administration’s image and credibility was already done. It remains to be seen whether (and how) President Piñera might turn things around and if the opposition may finally become a united front. A different and more fundamental question asks whether the public trust and effective political control of police in the Araucanía region can be regained any time soon.

[i]The intendant is the equivalent of a regional governor, who is directly appointed by the president.