Tag Archives: authoritarianism

Mariana Llanos and Detlef Nolte – Brazil, Venezuela, and the Many Faces of Latin American Presidentialism

This is a guest post by Mariana Llanos and Detlef Nolte, both from the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies, on their new paper, The Many Faces of Latin American Presidentialism.

In 1990 Juan Linz published an influential article in the Journal of Democracy entitled “The Perils of Presidentialism” in which he did not make many favourable prognoses for the recently established democratic, and presidential, regimes of Latin America. He argued that the instability of presidential regimes was connected to its essential features – that is, the principle of dual legitimacy, according to which both the president and the legislature equally derive their power from the vote of the people, and the fixed mandates for both elected institutions. The fixed term introduced rigidities to the system that made crisis and conflict resolution more difficult, and the direct election of the executive and legislative powers gave both president and congress direct democratic legitimacy, thus inducing inter-institutional struggles and making it unclear which would prevail in the event of lack of majorities and a conflict between the two.

Although Latin American democracy survived, and the problems that Linz attributed to presidentialism turned out to be less pervasive than he had initially thought, they did not disappeared. In effect, since the beginning of 2016 the region has witnessed two major political crises, in Venezuela and Brazil, which despite being extreme are predictable crises within presidential regimes. In these two cases the presidents face an adverse majority in Congress: in Brazil, congress is using the constitutional mechanism of impeachment to oust President Rousseff, while in Venezuela President Maduro is manipulating the rules of the decision-making process to disempower congress and to avoid a recall referendum that would take him out of the presidency.

While presidentialism may be prone to producing political stalemates, political actors are responsible for creating and resolving these stalemates. Brazil and Venezuela represent two different presidential traditions within the region, and the institutional mechanisms being used to solve the current impasse situations differ accordingly. We should bear in mind, though, that crises are profound in these countries and will persist beyond the short-term solutions to stalemate. It appears that the period of fine-weather democracy may be coming to an end and that some of the “perils” and less pleasant traits of presidential democracy may be resurging.

Coalition Presidentialism and Presidential Breakdowns

“Coalition presidentialism” is the consensual Latin American variant of presidentialism that is practiced in Brazil. Under this scheme, the directly elected president serves as a coalitional formateur and uses his/her appointment prerogatives to recruit ministers from other parties in order to foster the emergence of a legislative cartel that could support her/his proposals in congress for overcoming political deadlocks. Alongside the distribution of cabinet posts, presidents use a wide range of agenda-setting powers and pork-barrelling to maintain control of the legislative process.

Coalitions have helped overcome inter-institutional conflicts, but they are demanding for presidents, particularly when they face other challenges. A tough economic situation, scandals, popular discontent, and public mobilisation, expose the weakness of the presidential leadership and may lead to his/her demise. During the third wave of democratization, many presidents have been challenged and 17 presidents have actually been forced to leave before finishing their constitutionally fixed mandates under the pressure of unfavourable majorities in congress and often also of protests in the streets. A few weeks ago, the Brazilian Senate initiated an impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff who is suffering from extremely low popularity as a result of a serious recession, high inflation and unemployment rates, in addition to the Petrobras affair, a corruption scandal that involves her party (the PT) and many others and that has infuriated the public and motivated protests. Due to these events, latent rivalries among coalition members became apparent, leading to a major break between the PT and the main coalition partner, the PMDB, and giving impulse to the impeachment process. The impeachment resembles previous presidential breakdowns where the president had to leave power prematurely. In these solutions to stalemate where congress prevails, the president has to go and the succession line is activated, but democracy persist.

The Autocratic Phase of Presidentialism

The Venezuelan case belongs to another variant of presidentialism, one based on presidential dominance that has a long tradition in Latin America. It is characterized by the exalted status of the presidency, particularly when the presidential party controls the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Presidents may also use their formal powers to either bypass or manipulate the legislative and judicial branches. Presidents prone to unilateral excursions enjoying strong political backing have populated the regional landscape – for instance, as part of the pink tide during the first decade of this century. Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales have exemplified a delegative and hyperpresidential style of government, notwithstanding their participatory discourses.

In Venezuela, the president’s loss of a majority after congressional elections at the end of 2015 has left in evidence the autocratic tendencies of the regime. President Maduro managed that his outgoing majority appointed 13 new judges by blatantly violating the constitution. The new supreme court has since then proved to be a tremendous functional instrument for serving the executive and disempowering the opposing Congress. The latest of several controversial measures was to hold up the constitutionality of the two-month state of emergency that had been rejected by congress and that gave Maduro extra powers to impose tough security measures and to deal with an uneasy social context characterized by food and medicine shortage, the economy shrinking by 8 per cent, and an inflation rate of up to 500 per cent.

The congressional attempts to get approval for a recall referendum, the constitutional mechanism to depose the president, are also being boycotted by the president-controlled electoral judiciary. We understand that the way in which Maduro is prevailing in the conflict with congress has crossed the line in the direction of authoritarianism. This solution to the gridlock closely resembles the autogolpe solutions (such as that in Peru in 1992), where we saw congress unilaterally closed by the executive and the democratic regime break down. It is quite difficult to predict how the political stalemate, the partisan polarisation, and the economic crisis in Venezuela can be overcome. What would the military reaction be if they were asked to intervene?

For a More Sincere Solution to Gridlock

Whether a presidential triumph in case of gridlock may lead to an authoritarian variant of presidentialism, a congressional triumph also entails the risks of leading to more political polarisation. The latter is connected to the fact that impeachment concerns a president’s misconduct or violation of norms while, in the end, it is the size of the presidential majority that determines his/her fate. It would be more honest if impeachments were replaced by votes of non-confidence (by a two-thirds majority): the political debate would be framed less in normative and more in political-programmatic terms. Certainly, the call for earlier elections would be a more embracing solution for critical stalemate situations. We believe that either of these semi-presidential solutions to gridlock, which have often informally prevailed in similar crises during the last thirty years, are preferable to old-style Latin American authoritarian rule.

Mariana Llanos is a lead research fellow at the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies and head of GIGA’s Accountability and Participation Research Programme.

Detlef Nolte is the vice president of the GIGA, the director of the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies, and a professor of political science at the University of Hamburg.

Link to the Article: https://www.giga-hamburg.de/en/publication/the-many-faces-of-latin-american-presidentialism

Kazakhstan – Nazarbayev re-elected as president. What’s ahead.

Hardly surprisingly, Nursultan Nazarbayev has been re-elected as Kazakhstan’s president on Sunday April 26. According to the Central Election Commission of Kazakhstan, there had been a record turnout of 95.11% for the poll and the votes in favour of Nazarbayev have been almost 98%. His two token-opponents gathered 2.3% the vote. The president, who is 74 years old and has ruled the country since independence in 1991, is now starting a new term, his fifth, in office. The Central Asian country has a semi-presidential system, and several constitutional reforms have been passed in order to ad hoc extend presidential terms or allow Nazarbayev to run for consecutive terms. Despite not being surprising, this election features some elements of interest to the observers. Kazakhstan has indeed gone through tough times recently, with both the economic situation being worsening as an effect of the Russian economic crisis; and an unclear future plan in terms of the post-Nazarbayev succession being increasingly a concern for the national elite and foreign investors. A sign of the impact of such growing concern and uncertainty was given by the government itself in first instance, when in March it called for early presidential election. During a TV appearance, Nazarbayev explained that ‘In the interests of the people… and for the sake of the general and strict implementation of the law, I have taken a decision and signed a decree calling an early presidential election for April 26.’ A more attentive analysis reveals how the Ukrainian crisis, the falling of the oil prices internationally, the constant devaluation of the national currency and the calls for the implementation of economic reforms can better explain the rush to re-confirm Nazarbayev as the leader of the executive in the country. Nazarbayev’s re-election has the benefit of solving all issues in one time, delaying the question of succession and reassuring the international finance community that the leader is firm in power and will keep the situation, politically and financially, stable.

Strengthening the economy and reforming the political system

The economic crisis in Kazakhstan has hit badly and the future is rather unclear considering the enduring difficulties that Russia, to whom Astana is diplomatically and economically very close, is currently going through. In January, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development cut the country’s growth projection for 2015 to 1.5% from 5.1%. In the meanwhile, prices of goods are rising, producers are having hard time in competing with foreign products from Russia and China and the national central bank is rumoured to be likely to devaluate the national currency, the tenge, again. It is worth mentioning that the tenge has lost almost 20% of its value in one day last year, triggering popular protests in a country known world-wide to be protests-free. Considering this situation, the decision of calling for early election has the goal of avoiding preparing for election in 2016 in order, on the contrary, to focus on strengthening the economy and prevent the crisis to further hit the country. Nazarbayev has acknowledged this difficult situation, and declared in November 2014 that “Kazakhstan, as a part of the global economy and a country close to the epicentre of geopolitical tension, is feeling the negative effects” adding that “the next years will be a time of global tests for the world, and for us too,” concluding that “not all the states will be able to adequately go through this stage. This frontier will be crossed only by the strong, united nations and countries.” The strategic plan that will constitute the backbone of the Kazakh exist strategy from the crisis is advanced in a document titled “The Path into the Future” which was presented by Nazarbayev in November and that involves the diversification of the economy and the active development of the non-oil sector as the main goals to be attained.

Nazarbayev also intend to reform the political system by the means of pro-democracy and meritocratic reforms after the economic situation will be stabilised. He is proposing a well-known rhetorical pattern sweeping through Central Asian authoritarian systems, whereby political pro-democracy reforms are to be carried out once the economy is strong enough. For instance, Karimov in Uzbekistan has adopted a number of liberal and democratic-minded documents, which set out the need of strengthening democratic and accountable good governance, civil society and the rule of law – liberal buzzwords that usually constitute authoritarians’ international discourse. Karimov, who ironically was re-elected last month and who is as old as Nazarbayev and faces similar succession challenges, has been an inspiration to Nazarbayev who declared that “first – a strong state and economy, and then – politics”. At the right time, then, Nazarbayev intends to tighten requirements for judges and law-enforcement bodies, and secure the rule of law. Also, he plans to create a modern, professional and autonomous state apparatus, with no room for nepotism, protectionism and corruption. Along with such changes, a new system will be introduced for paying the wages of officials in line with the efficiency of their contribution to the administrative process; and talented expatriates will be called back in Kazakhstan and offered a position in civil service. In order to start implementing these reforms, Nazarbayev intends appoint a special commission. Along with such themes, Nazarbayev’s electoral campaign has been much characterised by usual refrains of national harmony, celebration of national identity and condemnation of ethnic sectarianism.

Nazarbayev’s re-election also helped to easy the concerns for another issue, namely succession. The question of “who will come next” is particularly pressing now since no clear leadership is emerging. Many candidates have passed by, such as the president’s son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, but the appointment of Karim Massimov as Prime Minister in April 2014, may signal an ambition of succeeding Nazarbayev. In fact, his nomination could indicate Nazarbayev’s willingness to counterbalance the growing power of Astana mayor, Imangali Tasmagambetov, or an attempt to weaken Timur Kulibayev’s influence, his son-in-law, another likely candidate for succession. After all, Turkmenistan has opted for this pattern of succession, with the former president Niyazov appointing the then little known Prime Minister Berdimukhamedov as his successor. Nevertheless, the president Nazarbayev has consistently avoided indicating any preference and he is still doing so: in a recent piece in the Financial Times, he portrayed Kazakhstan as a country navigating from despotism to democracy and therefore referred to the polls as the appropriate venue to select the national leaders.

Uzbekistan – Karimov re-elected: what’s ahead?

Islam Karimov

On Sunday 29th of March, the Uzbek people voted to choose the head of the state in national election and, as expected, Islam Karimov has been successfully re-elected as president for the fourth time. With a turnout of over 91% of the current electorate, 90% of the voters cast a vote in favour of the incumbent president. The Uzbek constitution would not allow candidates to run for more than two terms, but an exception has been made for Karimov who got his third mandate already in 2007 and in 2011 ordered a constitutional revision to curtail the presidential mandate from seven to five years. As international monitors noticed, since then, Uzbek officials have justified Karimov’s decision to continue to run for office by pointing out that terms of a different length cannot be considered consecutive. Constitutional revisions are a popular move in Central Asia where Karimov and other neighbouring authoritarian leaders, such as the Kazakh president Nazarbayev, who is also running for the presidency in anticipated election at the end of April, have used them to justify their permanence in power. However, this election comes at an interesting time. While Karimov’s re-election is far from signalling any element of instability in the Central Asian country, it can be interpreted as a way to minimise elements of uncertainty such as Karimov’s ageing and health conditions, the future of the country and the outcome of the current struggle for power, which is going on within the Uzbek elite in anticipation of the post-Karimov era.

The election

Sunday’s presidential election saw the participation of four candidates, all nominated by their political parties. Incumbent president Karimov was nominated by the Liberal Democratic Party; Khatamjon Ketmonov by the People’s Democratic Party; Narimon Umarov by the Social Democratic Adolat (Justice) party; and Akmal Saidov by the Democratic National Renaissance Party. None of the candidates was a serious opponent or challenger to Karimov and according to a number of sources, they have spent their electoral campaigns by praising Karimov’s rule. Khatamjon Ketmonov, who is 45 years old, has been the chairman of the Central Council of the People’s Democratic Party since April 2013. He was deputy governor of the Andijan province and in December 2014, Ketmonov was elected a member of the lower house of parliament. Since January 2015, he has been at the head of his party’s parliamentary faction. Nariman Umarov, who is 62 years old, was appointed head of the State Committee of Nature Protection of Uzbekistan and in 2013 he became the chairman of the Social Democratic Adolat party. Akmal Saidov, who is 56, is the director of the National Centre of Human Rights of Uzbekistan and the chairman of the parliamentary committee of democratic institutions. The three challengers lost the electoral race to Karimov, who has been elected for the next five years. He garnered the votes of over 17 million (corresponding to 90% of the total number of the voters) over a total electorate of nearly 21 million voters, said Mirza Ulugbek Abdusalomov, the chairman of the Uzbek Central Election Commission.

This election has been criticised by both independent observers and by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). OCSE vote monitors said the Uzbek poll lacked genuine opposition to Karimov and that the election was marred by legal and organisational shortcomings. Independent observers, such as Alexei Malashenko, a central Asia expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center, and Human Rights Watch, have called the election ‘a sham’ and draw attention to the lack of a real opposition to Karimov, while thousands of opponents are jailed or in exile. Fear and suspicion have hampered open political discussion and confrontation, while the media have been dominated by Karimov’s propaganda. In addition, the Islamist threat has helped Uzbek authorities to enforce special security measures and to avoid an environment of openness, limiting contacts with the international press and foreign media.

As for his political programme, Karimov has already outlined the priorities of his next executive during the end-of-year speech he delivered in December 2014. The crucial priority is economic development, with a planned reduction of the role of the state in the economy. Future reforms in this policy area will most likely be clarified by a presidential decree and privatization program in 2015. He has not discussed the most recent constitutional reforms approved in March last year which, crucially, transferred presidential power and duties to the prime minister while increasing the role of the parliament.

Struggle for power and political stability

It is not a secret that Uzbekistan is torn by an ongoing struggle for power between Rustam Inoyatov, the head of the intelligence service, the prime minister Mirziyaev, the finance minister Azimov and the Karimov family (which is internally divided between the eldest daughter Gulnara and the younger one, Lola Karimova-Tillayeva with whom the mother united in coalition), who are competing to shape post-Karimov Uzbekistan. For the moment, Gulnara Karimova is under house arrest and involved in an international corruption scandal, to the benefit of her competitors. Islam Karimov is old and the succession to his presidency is unclear. According to the constitution, the speaker of the Senate would become interim president in the event that Karimov is unable to perform the duties of the office. In the meanwhile, experts also highlight that the constitutional reform of March 2014 significantly increased the powers of the prime minister. Therefore, some are waiting to see whether president Karimov will mentor the prime minister Mirziyaev to handle the country’s economic and social matters and increase his prominence, or whether Karimov will remain the sole prominent decision-maker in Uzbekistan. In addition, giving that the power of the parliament also increased, the majiles is supposed to become a real agora of discussion and debate among parties, thus keeping the prime minister accountable. However, according to Alexei Malashenko, Karimov is likely not to consider any change of direction for the moment. On the contrary, because of the possible destabilising effects of the ‘war for power’, he is more likely to tighten up his grip on power.

John MacLeod, a Central Asia analyst of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, highlights however the presence of challenging elements to Karimov’s stable rule. He points out to the crowd that gathered to mourn the death of the Islamic scholar Sheikh Muhammad Sadeq Muhammad Yusuf on 11th of March, highlighting how unusual such a public gathering was in strictly controlled Tashkent. MacLeod linked this event to a diffused, yet still underground and not publicly expressed, feeling of distrust and discontent with the regime, whereby people have little faith in the state and its institutions and no means to express such a disappointment. In addition, worries about the economic performance of the country, which is going through a period of recession due to Russian economic difficulties, widespread corruption and large emigration flux might turn into a decisive mix to spread political discontent.