Tag Archives: coalition government

Semi-presidentialism – Can presidents influence coalition outcomes?

This post is based on my article ’Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ The Coalition Potential of Presidents in Semi-Presidential Republics—Insights from Romania” in East European Politics and Societies.

The research article published by East European Politics and Societies sought to investigate the basis of the power of presidents to shape coalitions in semi-presidential systems, using the case of Romania. The findings put forward by the article contribute to the weakening of the theory that semi-presidential systems are inherently affected by a process of growing presidentialization.

Throughout my study of coalition governments more generally, the question about the potential systematic influence of presidents in their formation and evolution has often risen. To know who has the upper hand and the final say in the process of government formation is of chief importance to the students of political institutions. However, previous research on coalitions rarely addressed the topic related to the powers of the president, with recent findings claiming that in European democracies presidents have a substantial ability to induce their preferred governments. The case of Romania disputes these claims and shows that the mechanisms of a multiparty regime mostly limit the president’s exclusive bargaining advantage to nominating the prime minister and then, much as in a parliamentary democracy, render him or her dependent on the coalition potential of his or her own party.

President Klaus Iohannis, prime minister Mihai Tudose and Liviu Dragnea, chairman of the dominant party in the coalition, the Social Democrat Party (PSD) (2017). Although a ‘friendly’ government is not always in the president’s cards, more often than not, he finds himself dancing to their tune.

Romania is a young, consolidating, semi-presidential European democracy and a fertile ground for the presidentialization of politics, according to the measures proposed by previous research. Samuels and Shugart use the Romanian presidential elections of 2004 to open their 2010 seminal volume and highlight influence of presidents on government formation in semi-presidential republics: “The results of the direct presidential election thus not only took government formation out of the hands of the largest parliamentary party and the largest parliamentary coalition, but also served to break a pre-election agreement, altering the partisan balance of forces that parliamentary coalitions and parliamentary elections had established.”(p.2)[1]

Nevertheless, an in-depth, qualitative investigation of the same case generated surprising insights by showing this outcome to be rather the exception than the rule and entails certain conditions to be met. Overall, the study shows that when the president and prime minister (or a plausible designate prime minister of a presidentially “unfriendly” majority) enter a competition to shape a coalition in this institutional format, they enter as equals. The weight of their supporting parties makes the difference in deciding the winner.

Methodologically, the article supports the need for more in-depth qualitative study of such matters, mostly since there are insufficient accounts for the informal aspects of presidential authority in government formation. Ignoring such aspects, which we can only uncover through elite interviews, could lead to incomplete results.  Although there are limitations linked to respondents’ subjectivity when asked about the direct involvement of the president in off-the-record negotiations for government formation, including accounts of first hand participants is a valuable addition to our understanding. The article relies heavily on semi-structured discussions with prime –ministers, ministers or important witnesses at sensitive moments linked to the role of the president in coalition formation.

Firstly, the article makes a distinction between cases when coalition cabinets and presidents were in a situation of partnership (whether the president and the prime minister were from the same party or not) and cases of coalition cabinets and presidents in a situation of conflict (Table 1). It proceeds with a selection of a case where the president played an important role in government formation and could make use of his prerogative to name the prime minister from his loyal party, which thus became a formateur, and compared it with one where he could not (Romania has only had male presidents). The conditions to induce a preferred government are highlighted with the case of the 2004 parliamentary elections and the active involvement of president Traian Băsescu in government formation. In contrast, while maintaining the same actors and the same institutional design, the analysis goes on to show a different situation following the 2012 elections.Finally, it emphasises how, all things considered, the coalition appeal of the party behind the president makes the final difference in government formation, regardless of his or her exclusive prerogative to name the prime minister.

The implications of this study go beyond uncovering the dynamics of coalition formation in Romania. The study shows that although a president could find within the semi-presidential system the institutional incentives to try to increase his or her influence in government formation, he or she remains firmly limited by the coalition potential of his or her party, regardless of context-driven peaks of increased informal authority. It also argues that in choosing cases for a comparative analysis of coalition formation and administration, there is reason to go beyond a differentiation between semi-presidential and parliamentary regimes.

Notes

[1] David Samuels and Matthew Shugart, Presidents, Parties and Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Power Affects Party Organization and Behaviour (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 2

Lee Savage – How do president’s influence coalition bargaining in semi-presidential systems?

This is a guest post by Lee Savage in the Department of European & International Studies at King’s College London. It is based on his article in European Journal of Political Research.

Presidents in semi-presidential systems usually have a constitutionally prescribed role in the government formation process. Often, this is limited to the ability to appoint either a formateur or candidate for prime minister who will then go on to form a cabinet which must maintain the confidence of the legislature. In some countries, such as Bulgaria and Ireland, even the power to appoint a prime minister is limited by constitutional requirements to select the leader of the largest party in the legislature.

Even though the constitution may define a limited role for presidents role in government formation, they can still exert influence over the cabinet that eventually takes office. Previous research has shown that presidents can influence the composition of the cabinet by increasing the proportion of non-partisan ministers that are appointed. In some circumstances, presidents can also increase the likelihood of a cabinet leaving office prematurely. In new research, I have shown how presidents influence the coalition formation process itself by decreasing the duration of bargaining negotiations.

The duration of the government formation process can have significant consequences for a state. For example, the 541-day bargaining process experienced by Belgium between 2010 and 2011 resulted in the legislature’s failure to pass a budget which, in turn, led to an official rebuke from the European Commission. However, it is notable that there are few examples of protracted coalition bargaining processes in semi-presidential systems. But is this a result of presidential influence, and if so, then how is this influence exerted when cabinet formation is usually the preserve of the legislature in semi-presidential democracies? I argue that the influence of presidents on the duration of coalition bargaining is a result of first, the extent of their constitutional powers and second, their partisanship.

Presidential powers and coalition bargaining

The constitutionally-mandated powers of the president increase their legitimacy to intervene in the government formation process. More powerful presidents are seen as possessing greater legitimacy to act in the eyes of other actors in the process, specifically, the legislative parties. This legitimacy to act decreases the duration of the coalition bargaining process by reducing its complexity. More powerful presidents place implicit limits on the range of governing proposals that are acceptable to all politically relevant actors in the process. Presidents with stronger non-legislative powers, such as the power to appoint the prime minister, dissolve the cabinet, or dissolve the assembly can intervene directly in the process of government formation. The legislative parties will seek to propose a cabinet that is more acceptable to the president and reduce the likelihood that they will use their dissolution powers.

Presidents with stronger legislative powers also reduce the complexity of the bargaining process. Presidents are co-executive actors in semi-presidential systems and will govern alongside the cabinet as both try to satisfy the policy preferences of their voters. Rationally foresighted parties in the legislature will understand this and seek to limit their proposed cabinets to the set that can govern in relative harmony with the president. If a cabinet is appointed that has a completely divergent legislative agenda from that of the president then it increases the likelihood of conflict between the president and the legislature. Presidents can use their powers of veto or delay to disrupt the government legislation, or generally act to impede the cabinet’s legislative agenda as was the case during the period of cohabitation in France between 1986 and 1988.

In sum, when presidents have greater powers the range of potential governments is reduced to the set that will be more likely to be stable and are able to implement its legislative agenda. The chart below shows the effect that presidential powers have on the likelihood that coalition bargaining will end on a given day. At low levels of presidential powers (those that receive a score of 2 on the Shugart-Carey index) the likelihood of coalition bargaining ending sooner is increased by around 50 percentage points in semi-presidential systems. However, when presidents are more powerful (those that receive a score of 8) the likelihood of government formation ending sooner is increased by 120 percentage points.

Simulated marginal effect of semi-presidentialism on the hazard of coalition bargaining ending, conditional on presidential powers.

Note: Results are taken from model three of Table 1. Graph is based on 1,000 simulations.

Presidential partisanship and coalition bargaining

Some studies of semi-presidentialism, particularly those that examine cabinet composition, begin from the premise that the president has both a mandate and preferences that diverge from those of their party. This is apparent in those studies which view the appointment of non-partisan ministers to the cabinet as an indicator of presidential influence. Others have argued that presidents have large incentives to act in a more partisan manner. Party organisations provide campaigning support for presidential candidates and presidents that have a base of support in the legislature are more likely to be able to fulfil the policy preferences of their voters. In some instances, it has been argued that legislative parties in semi-presidential systems have become ‘presidentialised’ with the presidential candidate able to set the agenda for the party as a whole. Following the presidentialisation logic, it can be argued that the president will be more likely to see a cabinet proposal that includes their party as more acceptable than one that doesn’t. Other rationally foresighted parties in the legislature will also concede that such a proposal is more sustainable if it avoids a period of unstable cohabitation.

The complexity of coalition bargaining will therefore be lower when the president’s party holds a stronger bargaining position in the legislature. When the president’s party is a member of a greater proportion of minimal winning coalitions the range of governing proposals that are acceptable to all politically relevant actors is more easily identifiable. Therefore, when the president’s party holds a stronger bargaining position, the duration of coalition bargaining will be reduced.

Simulated marginal effect of semi-presidentialism on the hazard of coalition bargaining ending, conditional on the bargaining power of the president’s party.

Note: Results are taken from model three of Table 1. Graph is based on 1,000 simulations

 

The chart above shows the effect of semi-presidentialism on the duration of coalition bargaining, conditional on the bargaining power of the president’s party which is measured by the Shapley-Shubik Index (the SSI indicates the proportion of minimal winning coalitions in the legislature to which the president’s party is pivotal). As is clear from the chart, the likelihood of coalition bargaining ending sooner rather than later increases along with the bargaining power of the president’s party. To give an example of this relationship, in Poland, the first government to form after the inauguration of the SLD president, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, was an SLD-PSL coalition that took just 12 days to negotiate in 1996. The SLD’s bargaining power was 0.41 on the SSI at the time, meaning that it was a pivotal player in around 41 percent of possible coalitions. Following the 1997 general election, the SLDs bargaining power was reduced to 0.22 and government formation lasted 40 days resulting in the formation of an AWS-UW coalition.

Implications

The results of my research point to the systemic influence of semi-presidentialism on the duration of coalition bargaining. Presidents with greater powers can wield more influence over cabinet formation and other parties in the system adjust their own behaviour and expectations to account for presidential preferences. A further implication of the study is that presidential partisanship matters. Contrary to some studies which assume presidents are almost non-partisan actors, the results presented here indicate that presidents have an interest in seeing their parties succeed and are willing to act to facilitate their success.

Georgia – Ruling Coalition Dissolved

The Georgian Dream Coalition, which has ruled the country and held a majority in parliament since the elections of 2012, has dissolved just months before the next parliamentary elections.

Although the major opposition and the former ruling party, the United National Movement, began to speculate about the possible break-up of the ruling coalition much earlier, the dissolution has occurred in the run up to the next elections.

The Georgian Dream – Democratic Party emerged only in 2012 when its billionaire founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, stepped onto the Georgian political stage. At that time, Ivanishvili established a coalition for the parliamentary elections, uniting the Republicans, Free Democrats, Conservatives, Industrialists, the National Forum, and a few independent politicians under the umbrella of the Georgian Dream.

The Georgian Dream party (GD) itself has always held a leading role in the coalition and, accordingly, GD party candidates dominated the electoral list and, later, cabinet of ministers in the government.

The first signs of discord in the coalition came in November 2014, when the Free Democrats, led by the former Defense minister, Irakli Albania, split from the coalition. With this move, the Free Democrats (FD) also lost all their leading positions in Parliament and government. FD still has a group (10 lawmakers) in the current parliament, but is in opposition to the current government.

The Republican Party, which was founded in 1978 and is based on liberal values, has always been viewed as the number two of the coalition. The Republicans strengthened their position inside the coalition, especially after the Free Democrats left: they have the chairman of the parliament, a parliamentary group, and three ministers in the cabinet (one of them being the Defense ministry).

Former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who founded GD party and the coalition, spoke about the need for a reshuffle in October 2015, when he noted that at least half of the current lawmakers from the ruling coalition may not appear on the party list of candidates for 2016 parliamentary elections.

Ivanishvili, although he holds no official position, is regarded as the informal ruler of the coalition and the government. Thus, his statement carried a clear message that the future of the parties inside the coalition was uncertain.

Beginning in March 2016, the Republicans announced about the “strategic partnership” deal with the Georgian Dream party. However, the essence of the particular partnership was never explained to the public as it became apparent that the Republicans were simply fighting for extra places on the electoral list.

The possible bilateral deal with the Republicans was confirmed by the Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who stated that the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), was considering a partnership agreement with the Republican Party and that others within the coalition would have to join if GD was to remain a multi-party entity for the October 2016 parliamentary elections.

However, PM Kvirikashvili also added: “GD Party will of course be renewed to a significant extent and there will be a consolidation over joint goals. Overall, if we run in the elections as a coalition, the team will unite over very clear goals, which are based on our best values and traditions and of course on a consensus over Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic future.”

Interestingly, the Georgian Dream coalition has united parties of different values and visions and for that reason was often referred as an eclectic creation, bringing together left, right, socialists and conservatives.

By mid-March, divisions between the ruling majority parties became evident. In particular, two of them – the Industrialists and Republicans – were engaged in a public confrontation for weeks. Furthermore, one of the leaders of the Industrialist Party, MP Gogi Topadze, accused Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party of manipulating Sagarejo MP by-election results in October 2015.

Conscious uncoupling

By the end of March 2016, the Republicans announced that they had decided what they were going to do at the upcoming elections. However, the public waited for the statement for three days, suspecting that the Republicans were taking final attempts to agree on their terms for the elections.

On March 31, the Chairperson of the Republican Party, Khatuna Samnidze, stated that, the party had taken its decision to run independently at a meeting on March 27 but had delayed the announcement due to the PM Kvirikashvili’s request.

Later, the Chair of the Parliament and the Republican, David Usupashvili, clarified the party’s decision. “It was clear for us that the priority of the Georgian Dream party is to run separately in the upcoming elections. We accept this reality and challenge, which is normal for a multi-party political system … To some extent, this is also a novelty in Georgian political life. Many ask how we can manage to be partners and competitors at the same time – that’s how it works; European democracy is unimaginable otherwise,” stated Usupashvili.

It is worth nothing that the break up of the Republicans from the coalition did not result in resignation of party ministers from the ruling cabinet. Furthermore, Republicans confirmed that they would continue working as a team in the government, until the PM decides to dismiss them.

Even after the Republicans left, the Georgian Dream did not confirm the dissolution of the coalition. Only later did formal statements come from the Conservatives and the National Forum confirming their decision to run independently in the elections. Only the Industrialists abstained from a formal divorce.

The Georgian Dream party is expected to hold its party convention next month and promises to present its electoral list for the next elections.

Opinion Polls

NDI Opinion Poll Results, April 2016

NDI Opinion Poll Results, April 2016

On April 13, 2016 the National Democratic Institute (NDI) published the recent nationwide opinion polls. According to the survey, 61% of Georgians are undecided about their vote in the parliamentary elections. The polls demonstrated 16% support for Georgian Dream and 15% for the major opposition party, the United National Movement.

In October 2016, Georgia’s political parties need to overcome a 5% threshold in order to qualify for parliament. With the current political setting, it will be necessary to create coalitions within the parliament only after the election, something which will itself be unprecedented in the history of independent Georgia.

Slovakia – Government loses majority in elections but cohabitation likely to continue

On Saturday, 5 March, Slovakia held its seventh parliamentary election since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Although the SMER party of Prime Minister Fico emerged as the clear winner, it lost its absolute majority. Given that SMER only won 49 out of 150 seats in the Slovak National Council (falling short of the 63 seats predicted by the last opinion poll), Fico will have a difficult time forming a government. Nevertheless, a coalition of former and new centre-right opposition parties is unlikely and cohabitation between a (arguably only nominally) social democratic party-led government and the centre-right (yet independent) president could continue at least for another few years.

Party Votes Percent Seats
SMER – sociálna demokracia 737,481 28.28% 49
Sloboda a Solidarita (SaS) 315,558 12.10% 21
OBYČAJNÍ ĽUDIA a nezávislé osobnosti (OĽANO – NOVA) 287,611 11.02% 19
Slovenská národná strana (SNS) 225,386 8.64% 15
Kotleba – Ľudová strana Naše Slovensko (ĽSNS) 209,779 8.04% 14
SME RODINA – Boris Kollár 172,860 6.62% 11
MOST – HÍD 169,593 6.50% 11
#SIEŤ 146,205 5.60% 10
Kresťanskodemokratické hnutie (KDH) 128,908 4.94%
Strana maďarskej komunity – Magyar Közösség Pártja 105,495 4.04%
Others 108,874 4.12%
TOTAL 2,607,750 100.00% 150

When Prime Minister Robert Fico announced in early 2014 that he would run for president, it came as a surprise given not only the presidency’s limited powers but also the fact that his party held an absolute majority in parliament and was on course to form the next government if not alone then easily with support from a minor party. However, since Fico’s defeat in the presidential elections by independent Andrej Kiska, support for his government has dropped and a number of new political parties have appeared on the scene and each attracted a small, but significant share of the electorate. Although the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS), Fico’s coalition partner from 2006-2010, re-entered parliament after having been absent during the last legislature, their 15 seats will not be enough to form a majority government. A potential third partner could be the far-right ĽSNS of regional governor Marian Kotleba, yet its inclusion in the government might be costly for SMER which is already facing internal divisions over its anti-refugee policies and facing criticism from Western European social democratic parties.

Already after the publication of the first exit polls, Richard Sulik – leader of the second-placed centre-right SaS – announced that he would attempt to form a government of right-wing parties. A coalition of moderate centre-right and right-wing parties (SaS, OĽaNO-NOVA, MOST-HÍD, Sme Rodina and #SIEŤ) would however only have 72 seats and thus have to rely on deals with other parties or – more likely – individual deputies from the opposition. Among these parties, the failure of #SIEŤ to garner more votes was the most surprising. Its leader, former KDH-deputy Radoslav Procházka, set up the party after finishing third finish in the 2014 presidential elections with 21% of the vote (only 3% less than first-round runner-up and eventual winner Andrej Kiska). His initial support and momentum did not translate into more seats and the party eventually barely passed the 5% electoral threshold. The other right-wing parties represented in parliament, SNS and ĽSNS, are unlikely to be included in a right-wing coalition – their nationalist views but also their desire for more/continued state intervention in the economy and welfare provision are incompatible with the traditionally economically very liberal Slovak centre-right.

In contrast to previous Slovak parliamentary elections, the president refrained from intervening directly. President Kiska continued to stand by his election promise to be the country’s first non-partisan president (Kiska never belonged to any political party, his policy views can however be described as centrist to centre-right). While the Slovak constitution foresees that presidents appoint the Prime Minister who is then subject to parliamentary approval, no Slovak president to date has used these stipulations to overly involve themselves in government formation and have appointed the party leader who presented a ready-formed majority government (similar stipulations in the Czech Republic have however allowed president Zeman to install the Rusnok government in summer 2013 which lacked any parliamentary support). It is clear that Kiska would prefer a coalition government that does not include Fico’s SMER, yet just like the parties of the moderate right, he might have to be more to gain from an unstable SMER-SNS-ĽSNS coalition. Not only would such a government have greater difficulties in overriding his vetoes (which generally only require a relative majority) but a weak government would also give the opposition parties (particularly new ones such as #SIEŤ) the opportunity to make their mark and win early elections triggered by SMER’s loss of support in a few years, potentially allowing him to win his second term in office on the coat-tails or even with the support of a new centre-right government.

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More detailed information about the election results, including preference votes for individual candidates, can be found at http://volbysr.sk/sk/data02p.html (Slovak and English).

Burkina Faso’s New Government – Change and Continuity

On January 13, newly elected President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré named his cabinet, led by Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba. What are the key characteristics of this 29-member government? To what extent does it represent a break with the past? A closer look at the composition of the new cabinet reveals both significant political change and important institutional continuity.

This is the first instance of a real coalition government since multipartism was first introduced in Burkina Faso in 1970. There have been other governments into which the ruling party invited cabinet members from other parties, as did former President Blaise Compaoré in an effort to broaden his governing base and co-opt opposition. However, this is the first time that the president’s party does not by itself control a majority in the National Assembly. Kaboré’s People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) only won 55 of the 127 legislative seats, and thus had to form a coalition with a number of other, smaller parties, to secure a governing majority under Burkina Faso’s semi-presidential system [see earlier post on the results of the November 29, 2015 presidential and legislative elections here, and final results validated by the constitutional council here].

Seven smaller parties with a total of 14 seats – UNIR/PS (5 seats), NTD (3 seats), PAREN (2 seats), MDA (1 seat), ODT (1 seat), PDS/METBA (1 seat), RDS (1 seat) – have formed a parliamentary group, Burkindlim (which means integrity in mooré), that has become part of the presidential majority. The second largest party in parliament, the UPC with 33 seats, chose to remain in opposition. The opposition also includes the CDP, Compaoré’s party, which saw its representation slashed from 70 seats in the 2010 National Assembly to only 18 in the newly elected legislature.

The newly appointed cabinet thus includes four members from the three largest coalition partners – Nestor Bassière (Environment) and Somanogo Koutou (Water and Animal Resources) from UNIR/PS, Souleymane Sama (Transports) from the NTD, and Tahirou Barry (Culture) from PAREN.

The MPP has kept the strategic ministries of Defense (of which President Kaboré has taken charge himself as did Blaise Compaoré before him) and Interior. MPP-members also manage the ministries of Labor, Higher Education, Health, Agriculture, Water & Sanitation, Infrastructure, Commerce & Industry, Youth, Women’s Affairs, and Urbanism. A majority of the MPP cabinet members have previously served in elected or appointed positions under Compaoré, as CDP deputies or mayors, ministers or in other high-ranking posts in the administration. Kaboré himself had been both prime minister and chairman of the national assembly. This was before the creation of the MPP in early 2014 as a scission of CDP stalwarts disillusioned with Compaoré’s intent to remove presidential term limits.

Several technocrats with a background in international development have also joined the government. This includes Minister of Economy & Finance Rosine Coulibaly (a high-raking UN official) and Prime Minister Kaba Thieba himself.  Though maintaining a close friendship with Kaboré, Kaba Thieba has spent most of his career outside of Burkina Faso, serving for more than 20 years with the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO). There is not a single member from the military. Women take seven cabinet seats, most of which are centered on the economy and budget, including the Ministry for the Development of the Digital Economy.

Two well-known private media journalists, who were not afraid to provide often critical coverage of the Compaoré government, are in charge of the ministries of Foreign Affairs (former RFI-correspondent Alpha Barry) and Communication (Rémis Fulgance Dandjinou). An indication of the higher value placed on communication by Kaboré, compared to his predecessor.

Though there are many new faces in this government, about two thirds of its members have prior experience in elected or appointed positions or as career civil servants within the Compaoré administration.  This is not a government of civil society activists. “Balai Citoyen” (civic broom), one of the civil society organizations that played an important role in the demonstrations that brought down Compaoré, is only indirectly represented through the minister of Justice & Human Rights, René Bagoro. Bagoro is a friend of Guy Hervé Kam, the spokesperson for Balai Citoyen; they have both in the past headed the Union of Magistrates of Burkina Faso (SBM).

The MPP owes much of its success at the polls to its ability to win over former CDP-supporters, leveraging organizational structures, experience and contacts developed while its leading triumvirate – Kaboré, Salif Diallo (the new chair of the national assembly) and Simon Compaoré (minister of the Interior) – were in commanding positions within the CDP, before they separated ways with Compaoré.

This element of continuity may bode well for Burkina Faso’s prospects of consolidating recent, significant democratic gains. Unlike most of the Arab spring countries, Burkina Faso was not a hollowed-out state, when the October 2014 uprising swept away Compaoré. The election commission and constitutional council remained legitimate and facilitated the transition. Opposition political parties were organized and ready to participate in competitive elections. Citizens took to the streets and loyalist forces blocked a coup attempt by pro-Compaoré elements within the presidential guard trying to derail the transition in September 2015, days before the scheduled presidential poll.

Kaboré’s government thus has much to build on – and high expectations to fulfill. The new government will have to secure improvements in human development, notably in terms of access to quality education where Burkina Faso lacks woefully behind, ranking 49th out of 54 countries on the continent, according to the Mo Ibrahim Index. Kaboré and his team will also have to strengthen internal security in the face of extremist threats following the January 15 terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, while at the same time reforming the military. The government will be closely monitored by an active civil society and a parliamentary opposition of a significant size. It will have to demonstrate its capacity for change.

Turkey – The failure to form a coalition results in a snap election

At the parliamentary election on 7 June Turkish voters ended the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) 13-year single-party rule. However, the election did not return a clear majority. On the 10 July President Erdoğan gave the leader of the AKP, Ahmet Davutoğlu, as Prime Minister with the responsibility for forming a coalition government. If no government was formed within 45 days, then President Erdoğan could call a second election.

Prime Minister Davutoğlu met with the other three party leaders several times but without success, even though certain circles within the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is the second biggest party in the new parliament, and the AKP were said to be eager to form a coalition. At the end of the talks a senior CHP official claimed that the AKP did not want to form a government for four years but only a short-term coalition, while the CHP had pressed for a four-year reform government.

President Erdogan was careful to be seen as an active and influential actor. During the talks between the CHP and the AKP, the President warned that it would be suicidal to enter a coalition if the views of “one side” do not match with the principles of the other, implying that a secularist left wing CHP would not be a good coalition partner for the conservative Islamist AKP.

Less than a week before the end of the constitutional time limit of 45 days, President Erdoğan announced that there would be a snap election on the first of November and that there would be an interim government in the meantime. President Erdoğan refused to hand the duty to form a government to the Peoples’ Republican Party (CHP) or any other party with seats in the parliament, saying that there was no possibility left for a coalition government. President Erdoğan also replied to opposition’s criticism of his decision by saying that he would not hand the power to form a government to the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroglu, since he had insulted the president and refused to recognise his newly built 615 million dollar palace (symbol of his power and desire to change governmental system into a presidential one) as the presidential palace.

Some critics believe that Erdoğan blocked any possibility of a coalition
in order to push for a presidential system. Despite the fact that a majority of Turkish electors failed to endorse the idea in the last election, Erdoğan said in a public speech in his hometown of Rize on August 14 that the Turkish system has been changed into a de facto presidential one since he was elected by a public vote. The President claims that he has de facto powers and there is a need for a new constitution that enhances presidential powers and brings them into line with his de facto position. Even though he has been elected by public vote, the 1982 Turkish Constitution, which was originally parliamentary, does not bestow strong executive powers on the president, only a few powers checking and balancing the cabinet.

In the meantime President Erdoğan announced the end of a two year cease fire between security forces and the Kurdish Workers Party, PKK, and negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish government. The country has entered into a phase where the civilian death toll is rising every day. Over the summer 220 politicians from pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) were arrested. Opponents have accused Erdoğan of attacking the PKK in a bid to win nationalist support and discredit the pro-Kurdish party, whose gains in the June elections deprived the ruling party of its majority.

In an environment where political violence and economic uncertainty are becoming a realit, President Erdoğan seems to want to hold on to his desire for a presidential system hoping that snap elections will produce enough seats for the AKP not only to form a single-party government, but also with a two-thirds majority that will allow him to change the constitution. He and his close allies blamed electors not switching to a presidential system and for the increasingly chaotic situation in the country after the June election.

With two months to go before the November election, the polls do not suggest a dramatic rise in support for the AKP since June election, meaning that there is no single-party government on the horizon. It seems that current constitutional structure does not suit the president, especially in the context of a possible coalition government. So much so indeed that he is willing to gamble not only his political career but also the country’s peace and well-being.

Latvia – New government passes vote of confidence

Following the parliamentary elections in October, which saw the ruling centre-right coalition confirmed in office, the Latvian parliament passed a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma last week. As the government consists of the same party coalition as before, the changes to the line-up have been small and no major policy changes can be expected. The renewed inclusion of the Union of Greens and Farmers in the coalition makes a re-election of president Berzins likely.

Latvian president Andris Berzins and Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma | photo via wikimedia commons

Latvian president Andris Berzins and Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma | photo via wikimedia commons

Latvian president Andris Berzins nominated Prime Minister Straujuma to head the next government less than a week after the election. The continuation of the coalition between her “Unity” party, the Union of Greens and Farmers (Berzin’s old party) and the National Alliance was the only viable option to form a government. Given the prevalence of centre-right parties and strong russophile connection of the social-democratic ‘Harmony’, the latter had no chance of being included despite winning the most seats.

Despite this constellation and some more resources to distribute (Unity had absorbed the ‘Reform Party’ founded by former president Valdis Zatlers which previously held 3 portfolios), the coalition talks experienced several deadlocks which prompted president Berzins to publicly announce deadlines by which a conclusion should be reached. The ministry for Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry triggered one of the larger battles between parties during the coalition negotiations with both the Union of Greens and Farmers and the National Alliance (which, too, is reliant on voters ins more rural regions and held the ministry in the last government) keen to claim it. In the end, the National Alliance was successful yet had to accept the Union of Greens and Farmers’ board chairman as deputy minister. Furthermore, the Union of Greens and Farmers were given the Health Ministry as well as the post of parliament speaker which was previously held by Unity leader Solvita Aboltina.

Overall, only modest policy change can be expected from the government. The fact that Latvia will take over the presidency of the EU for the first half of 2015 means that some domestic reforms will be put on hold and the opposition, too, has little interest in exposing the government to criticism during this time of international (or at least European) focus on the country. A factor to watch remains the government’s policy with regard to same-sex partnerships. In 2005 parliament passed a bill that defined marriage as being between two people of the opposite sex and a draft for a new bill is currently in parliament. Yet two days after the government received approval by parliament, foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics came out as gay (receiving words of encouragement mostly from his foreign rather than domestic colleagues) and called for a framework that allowed all kinds of partnerships.

Last, the renewed inclusion of the Union of Greens and Farmers as well as their now more prominent position in government (it only entered the coalition earlier this year when Straujuma was first elected Prime Minister due to pressure by president Berzins), appears to have secured his Berzins re-election in the next presidential elections (2015).

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 Composition of Straujuma II

Straujuma 2 composition

Prime Minister: Laimdota Straujuma (Unity)*
Minister for Defence: Raimonds Vējonis (Union of Greens and Farmers)*
Minister for Foreign Affairs: Edgars Rinkēvičs (Unity)*
Minister for Economics: Dana Reizniece-Ozola (Union of Greens and Farmers)
Minister for Finance Jānis Reirs (Unity)
Minister for the Interior: Rihards Kozlovskis (Unity)*
Minister for Education and Science: Mārīte Seila (independent; nominated by Unity)
Minister for Culture: Dace Melbārde (National Alliance)*
Minister for Welfare: Uldis Augulis (Union of Greens and Farmers)*
Minister for Environmental Protection and Regional Development: Kaspars Gerhards (National Alliance)
Minister for Transport: Anrijs Matīss (Unity)*
Minister for Justice: Dzintars Rasnačs (National Alliance)
Minister for Health: Guntis Belēvičs (Union of Greens and Farmers)
Minister for Agriculture: Jānis Dūklavs (Union of Greens and Farmers)*

* Member of previous government

Czech Republic – A new government and the evolution of semi-presidentialism

On 29 January 2014, 95 days since the parliamentary elections of October 2013, president Miloš Zeman appointed a new government under the leadership of Czech Social Democrat Chairman Bohuslav Sobotka, thus ending the longest tenure of an acting government in recent Czech history. While the government still has to pass a vote of confidence in the assembly until the end of February, this is rather seen as a formality given the coalition’s 111 votes in the 200 seat assembly – a comparatively comfortable majority for Czech conditions.

President Miloš Zeman appoints prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka | © Czech Presidential Office 2014

President Zeman eventually did not refuse to appoint any of the candidates presented to him by the coalition parties, yet the past months were filled with speculations about the president’s potential interference. These were mainly fueled by the fact that Zeman had in an unprecedented move already appointed the last government of Jiri Rusnok without consulting parties (the government subsequently failed to win a vote of confidence and resigned) as well as Zeman’s insistence that he need not appoint all candidates proposed to him. In particular, Zeman objected to the candidates for the ministries of interior, industry/trade, and human rights/legislative council. While his objections to individual candidates were only made public in early January, Zeman previously announced that he would require lustration certificates from each candidate (mainly aimed at preventing ANO 2011 leader Andrej Babiš from taking office) and that he would not appoint a candidate without relevant experience.

The question is now in how far this activism can be attributed to Zeman’s popular mandate (from 1993-2013 Czech presidents were elected by parliament) and why he eventually chose to acquiesce with the prime minister’s wishes. Many commentators have pointed out the importance of direct presidential elections for explaining the president’s activism (particularly in connection with the appointment of the Rusnok government in summer 2013) but Zeman himself has not yest publicly spoken about the increased popular legitimacy of the presidency. Given that he has been in office for less than a year (as well as the personal dislike/feud between former party colleagues Sobotka and Zeman), a definite answer on this question needs to wait. Nevertheless, the fact that Zeman has voiced his intention to interfere so publicly suggests that he is very conscious of the signals that he has to send to his electorate.

A clearer answer can be given to the question of why Zeman eventually accepted all candidates for government office, First, Sobotka has already announced that the coalition was intending to limit the president’s powers – by refraining from interference Zeman now avoids a quick implementation or (in case the coalition cannot mobilise a constitutional majority) clarification of his only vaguely defined powers by the constitutional court (which would likely rule in favour of government and parliament).

Even if Zeman continues his current level of activity, this does not mean that the system will necessarily evolve in a way that gives the president a more prominent decision. After neighbouring Slovakia introduced popular presidential elections in 1999, its first incumbent Rudolf Schuster also showed a significantly increased level of activism. Yet faced with a determined parliament and government, he (and his successor) eventually failed to change the (parliamentary) logic of Slovak politics.

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Composition of Sobotka I

government party seat share and portfolio allocation_sobotka1

In terms of portfolio allocation, ANO 2011 is slightly underrepresented but as a new party likely has had to pay an apprentice’s premium. Nevertheless, it receives the offices of first deputy PM, finance (both for controversial party leader Andrej Babiš), and justice.

Prime Minister: Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD, male, 42)
First Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Finance: Andrej Babiš (ANO 2011, male, 59)
Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Science + Research: Pavel Bělobrádek (KDU-ČSL, male, 37)
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Lubomír Zaorálek (ČSSD, male, 57)
Minister of Interior Milan Chovanec (ČSSD, male, 44)
Minister of Labour and Social Affairs: Michaela Marksová-Tominová (ČSSD, female, 44)
Minister of Industry and Trade: Jan Mládek (ČSSD, male, 53)
Minister of Health: Svatopluk Němeček (ČSSD, male, 41)
Minister of Justice: Helena Válková (non-partisan/ANO 2011, female, 63)
Minister of Education, Youth and Sport: Marcel Chládek (ČSSD, male, 45)
Minister of Defence: Martin Stropnický (ANO 2011, male, 57)
Minister of Transport: Antonín Prachař (ANO 2011, male, 51)
Minister for Regional Development: Věra Jourová (ANO 2011, female, 49)
Minister of the Environment: Richard Brabec (ANO 2011, male, 47)
Minister of Agriculture: Marian Jurečka (KDU-ČSL, male, 32)
Minister of Culture: Daniel Herman (KDU-ČSL, male, 50)
Minister for Human Rights and Equal Opportunities: Jiří Dienstbier Jr. (ČSSD, male, 44)

Latvia – President Berzins and the difficulties of forming a new government

On 27 November, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned from office taking the political responsibility for the collapse of a supermarket roof which killed 54 people. Since then, president Andris Bērziņš has played a surprisingly active role in forming a new government, yet until now with little success.

The resignation of Valdis Dombrovskis, who has headed three different cabinets since March 2009 (his most recent coalition of three-party centre-right parties had been in office since October 2011) [1], came as a surprise to many observers and was met with criticism from commentators and fellow members of government. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the tragedy some had blamed his government for loosening building regulations and thus being indirectly responsible for the tragedy. Dombrovskis’ justification for his resignation (“Latvia needs to have a government that will supported by the Saeima majority and deal with the current situation in the nation”), however, highlights another, likely more important factor for his resignation. Only two weeks earlier and following a number of conflicts within the coalition, Dombrovskis refused to dismiss a disgraced party member of his coalition partner VL-TB/LNNK (National Alliance) from the position as Justice Minister. While the the National Alliance’s other representative remained in cabinet, the coalition was effectively terminated and the government has been without a clear majority since.

Latvian president Andris Bērziņš | photo via wikimedia commons

President Bērziņš put pressure on parties to quickly form a new government, yet until now he appears to be a hindrance to the process himself. The Latvian Constitution leaves the president much leeway in appointing a prime minister, yet the established practice has been that the president plays a purely formal role in confirming the outcome of party negotiations. President Bērziņš has taken a different approach by becoming actively involved in the search of a new prime minister (and it is even rumored that it was him who put pressure on Dombrovskis to resign). All four centre-right parties in parliament (i.e. the three coalition parties + Bērziņš’ own ‘Union of Greens and Farmers’ which together command 63% of seats) have vowed to work together in a new coalition government but have not started negotiations yet. Despite being the largest party in parliament, the left-wing ‘Harmony Centre’ is unlikely to be included in any coalition (both due to the policy distance and its identification with the country’s Russian minority) and the four centre-right parties thus present the only viable option for a majority government.

Dombrovskis’ ‘Unity’ Party has proposed three possible candidates who were all rejected by president Bērziņš on the basis that they were not the ‘strongest possible candidates’. He has also turned down the candidates of his own party and of the National Alliance, although no specific reasons were made public. On the other hand, both candidates suggested by the president – EU Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and speaker of parliament Solvita Aboltina – declined to take on the role. 

Bērziņš’ activism is not only interesting in so far as it deviates from established political practice, but also because his predecessor, Valdis Zatlers, failed to be re-elected after confronting the government about its refusal to lift the immunity of an MP accused of corruption (thus illustrating that indirectly elected presidents are very much agents of the assembly rather than independent actors). It is possible – but in now way confirmed – that Bērziņš is trying to forge a stronger cooperation between his ‘Union of Greens and Farmers’ (which was part of Dombrovskis’ second cabinet from November 2010 to October 2011) and the other parties in order to ensure his own re-election in 2015.

The parties’ patience with the president is likewise noteworthy, yet the reasons seem to be more straightforward. First and foremost, the 2014 budget has already been passed meaning that the current government can still fulfill its duties. As Bērziņš appears to prefer a political rather than technocratic cabinet (although he has not outright rejected ‘Harmony Centre’s suggestion to form one), coalition parties also do not have to fear to be excluded from the spoils of office any time soon. Furthermore, elections to the European Parliament will take place in May and the next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 2014. As all centre-right parties can be expected to fare worse than in previous elections and because amendments to the budget are not possible for the time being (meaning that there is no potential for pork barrels), parties are naturally not too eager to join a new government whose duty it would be to merely continue the increasingly unpopular policies of its predecessor.

In the short term, this situation plays in favour of the president and parties might eventually even be quite content to be able to leave the choice of successor for Dombrovskis to the president. Should the 2014 parliamentary elections produce an unclear majority situation, Bērziņš might again play a crucial role in assembling a new (centre-right) government. However, he still runs the risk of becoming too involved and being replaced with a candidate promising to be less active come re-election.


[1] Sikk, Allan (2011) Baltic Governments 1990-2011. http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~tjmsasi/baltgov.pdf

For further background on the Latvian political landscape in the wake of the supermarket tragedy see: Cianetti, Licia. 2013. ‘The Latvian government after the Riga supermarket tragedy has exposed deep divisions in the country’s political system’. LSE EUROPP Blog 10/12/2013.