Tag Archives: Corruption

Brazil – Former President Lula Sentenced to Nine and a Half Years in Prison

In a decision, where the true political ramifications are, as of yet, unknown, last week, the former two-term president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison by judge Sergio Moro. Lula, of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) or Worker’s Party, served as Brazil’s president between 2003 and 2011. Probably Brazil’s most popular politician in recent decades, Lula was sentenced for his part in the ever-widening Lavo Jato corruption scandal. The sentence is connected to some UK£590,000 in bribes that Lula allegedly received from the Brazilian engineering firm OAS. Apparently, Lula bought a seaside apartment in a complex built and operated by OAS for UK53,000, but OAS then ‘upgraded’ Lula to a lavishly refurbished duplex apartment worth nearly UK£600,000 in the same complex.

The Lavo Jato corruption scandal, which has engulfed the Brazilian, and increasingly the regional, political establishment centres upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in addition to a host of other companies, in return for a whole gamut of favours. In fact, Odebrecht alone has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

The scandal has rocked Brazil. The current president, Michel Temer is facing corruption charges, and a much discussed list, known as Fachin’s list, when released, contained details of prominent politicians that are under investigated for allegedly receiving payments from Odebrecht. This list is based on information provided to federal investigators in Brazil by 77 former Odebrecht executives as part of a larger plea bargain and includes at least eight government ministers, nearly a third of the whole cabinet.

The scandal has also dragged other Latin American executives into its orbit and has included allegations of corruption involving the former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), the sons of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and in Argentina, members of Mauricio Macri’s centre-right organization have been accused of ties with Odebrecht, and in the case of Gustavo Arribas, of accepting a direct bribe from the firm. In the Dominican Republic, the Brazilian firm admitted that it payed US$92 million in bribes to Dominican government officials to secure large and lucrative infrastructure projects.

Although this sentence hangs above Lula like the sword of Damocles, Judge Moro has allowed Lula to remain free until he appeals, a process that could take up to eighteen months. The decision will also have significant implications for the next presidential election in 2018. Lula has long been touted as a possible candidate for the beleaguered PT, and opinion polls suggest that he would be one of the hypothetical front runners in any election contest. Currently, as long as the legal action is ongoing, Lula is free to run. However, if he appeals and his appeal is successful, the verdict must completely quash Moro’s ruling. Any slight alteration or amendment to the sentence would still result in a conviction and would present Lula from running in the next election, as his case would have been heard in two different courts. If he accepts his sentence and does not appeal, he is also free to run, but he most likely will end up in prison. Not an easy choice for either Lula or the PT.

Ukraine – Ex-president Viktor Yanukovych on Trial

On May 4, Ukraine began a high treason trial of its former president Viktor Yanukovych. According to the Ukrainian state prosecutor’s website, Yanukovych is accused of committing “treason by helping the Russian Federation and its representatives to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The so-called “trial of the century” has already held two sessions. The prosecution’s main evidence are copies of letters written by Yanukovych asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to Ukraine. In addition, the prosecutor says that it has witness testimonies, documents, and photo materials to support the case. The punishment for treason in Ukraine carries a sentence of 10 to 15 years.

However, in addition to the treason trial, Yanukovuch is also under criminal investigation in three other cases. First, the former president is accused of ordering the use of disproportionate force against the demonstrators during the so-called Europmaidan protests between November 2013 and February 2014. Second, Yunukovych is accused of having formed criminal groups. And finally, the Mezhyhirya case of illegal acquisition of property. The Mezhyhirya residence of the former president became famous when it was confiscated in 2014 after he fled the country. Later authorities discovered fleet of luxury cars and other luxury items that have stored in the the now infamous estate.

Currently leaving in exile in Russia, the president is being tried in absentia. To enable this, Ukrainian legislature had to pass a number of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code. This, however, generated a number of controversies. Some argued that the bill is a case of selective justice and is politically motivated, drafted with a sole purpose of putting the former president on trial. Furthermore, the defence has argued that there is no legal basis for the treason trial as Yanukovych has not been presented with an official notification of the charges against him. Most importantly, however, the bill has been criticised for the potential impact it may have on regular citizens. Many argue that the amendment can lead to the dangerous abuse of power allowing the possibility of convicting a person in absentia, without them even knowing about being on trial.

In the last year alone, a number of other countries put their presidents on trail. The most high profile recent case is the impeachment and the corruption trial of the president of South Korea Park Geun-hye. Burkina Faso has also recently started a trial of its former president Blaise Compaore. He is also tried in absentia and is accused of using force against unarmed protesters in 2014, during the uprising that took him out of power. The presidents of Brazil and Argentina are also currently on trial for corruption. Thus, a quick look around the world shows that Ukraine is not the only country to have one of its former presidents on trial. However, it is one of the few countries to have a president tried for treason, in addition to corruption and excessive use of force.

The trial is an important test for the Ukrainian judiciary. There are serious grounds for bringing charges against the former president. However, it is crucial for the trial to be conducted in a fair and independent manner in order not to only avoid the verdict being challenged in an international court but also continue to further build and strengthen the judicial system in Ukraine.

Brazil – One Third of the Cabinet to be Investigated for Corruption

Everybody was waiting for this. I have written before on this blog about the long tentacles of the huge Lavo Jato corruption scandal, which has engulfed the Brazilian, and increasingly the regional, political establishment. The whole scandal centres upon bribes given to Brazilian politicians (and elsewhere) by the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, in return for a whole gamut of favours. Odebrecht has admitted to paying over US$1 billion in bribes and apparently, they even had a designated department whose sole function was to bribe governments across the region in return for state building contracts.

Well, now in Brazil, a federal judge, Edson Fachin, has released a list of prominent politicians that are to be investigated for allegedly receiving payments from Odebrecht. This list is based on information provided to federal investigators in Brazil by 77 former Odebrecht executives as part of a larger plea bargain. It was due to be released earlier, but the former federal judge responsible for the investigation, Teori Zavascki, was killed in a plane crash in January.

The list was part of a ruling that allows federal prosecutors to begin investigating politicians named by the Odebrecht executives and for the somewhat beleaguered government of Michel Temer, it is particularly damaging. It may also have consequences for the 2018 presidential elections. At least eight government ministers, nearly a third of the cabinet, will now be under investigation for allegations of bribery and corruption. It includes Michel Temer’s chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, and his foreign minister, Aloysio Nunes Ferreira. It also includes the Speaker of the lower house and the head of the Senate, not to mention a large chunk of sitting senators (24), 40 federal deputies and 3 governors.

This comes at a moment when Temer is trying to push an important pension bill through Congress, which would introduce a mandatory retirement age and reduce death benefits. This legislation is deemed crucial in order to deal with Brazil’s very large primary budget deficit. The deputy responsible for its introduction to the Chamber of Deputies has also been named on this list.

Potential candidates for the 2018 election have also been implicated, including Aécio Neves and José Serra (both from the PSDB). It is difficult to see how Temer’s party, the PMDB, could realistically contest the election given the incumbency curse they will face, and it remains to be seen whether the PT can shrug off its own involvement in the corruption scandal. Given that nearly the entire upper echelons of Brazilian politics have been caught up in this scandal, a cynical and downtrodden electorate might end up turning to an outsider like Marina Silva, or a populist, like the right-leaning Jair Bolsonaro.

One thing is for sure. There is more to come with this scandal. It has already spread across Latin America and its tentacles have thus far enveloped the sons of former Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), the current president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, and in Colombia, a former senator who admitted receiving bribes from Odebrecht has accused current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, of receiving illegal campaign donations from the Brazilian firm. In Peru, Odebrecht’s chief executive there has supposedly told Peruvian investigators that Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru between 2001 and 2006, has also received US$20 million in bribes from Odebrecht, in return for a lucrative infrastructure project.

We have not seen the end of Lavo Jato by a long shot.

Latin America – Odebrecht Scandal Expands across the Region

In my last post, I discussed the fallout from the Lavo Jato corruption scandal, which was partly responsible for forcing Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil, out of office last year. Parts of this scandal involved allegations of kickbacks from the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, to former worker party president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011). The scandal spread to Peru, where former president, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), has been accused of receiving US$20 million in bribes from Odebrecht in return for granting them the contract to build a large road and infrastructure project. This led to the Peruvian government offering a 100,000 soles award (approximately US$30,000) for information leading to Toledo’s arrest.

Well, the scandal rumbles on. And rumbles across the region, dragging into its orbit current and former presidents across Latin America.

In Panama, prosecutors are now seeking to detain the sons of former president, Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014). Ricardo Alberto and Luis Enrique Martinelli are accused of depositing part of a US$22 million bribe that Odebrecht paid in return for lucrative state contracts in Panama. And current Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, has been accused by a former advisor of receiving political donations from Odebrecht. In Colombia, a former senator who admitted receiving bribes from Odebrecht has accused current Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, of receiving illegal campaign donations from the Brazilian firm.

In Argentina, members of Mauricio Macri’s centre-right organization have been accused of ties with Odebrecht, and in the case of Gustavo Arribas, of accepting a direct bribe from the firm. All of this comes amid a controversy over a government plan to settle a fifteen year debt incurred by Macri’s father when he owned the Argentine postal service. In the Dominican Republic, the Brazilian firm admitted that it payed US$92 million in bribes to Dominican government officials to secure large and lucrative infrastructure projects. And on Wednesday, prosecutors in Chile raided the Santiago offices of Odebrecht as part of a larger 10 country investigation into the political links and acitivies of the construction company.

So is there an explanation for such an encompassing and massive scandal? Part of the problem clearly lies with norms and regulations governing campaign financing across Latin America. There are few public subsidies to political parties and most campaigns are paid for by corporate donors, while repeated attempts to regulate donations have fallen short, given the lack of an incentive structure for doing so among the political classes.[1] The lack of strict regulations governing campaign financing is surely compounded by the rise of populist outsiders who appeal to “the masses” via television. Kurt Weyland has argued that “over the past 15 years, such personalistic leaders have sought to bypass established political parties and interest groups in order to reach “the people” through direct, most often televised, appeals aimed at building up a loyal following from scratch. Because its methods are costly, the new media-based politics has given ambitious politicians much higher incentives to resort to corruption.”[2]

Political donation kick-back schemes therefore like the one operated by Odebrecht are simply too difficult for many Latin American politicians to turn down, given the spiraling cost of electoral campaigns across the region. Expect more revelations to emerge.

Notes

[1] See the recent Economist article on campaign financing across the region: http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21717985-unavoidable-trade-offs-paying-democracy-how-latin-america-deals-campaign-finance.

[2] Kurt Weyland. 1998. The Politics of Corruption in Latin America. Journal of Democracy 9 (2): 108-121.

Ukraine – New Political Party, Corruption, and Calls for Parliamentary Election

On 28 November 2016, Mikheil Saakashvili, a former President of Georgia and a former Governor of Odessa region in Ukraine, held a rally in support of his new political party – Movement of New Forces. During the rally, Saakashvili told around 1,000 people who turned up to support him in the centre of Kyiv that he knew “how to make Ukraine great…and we will do it together.”

Educated in Ukraine and later in the U.S., Saakashvili first came to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution. He served two terms as President of Georgia. Barred from running for a third term, Saakashvili left Georgia shortly after the expiration of his term in 2013. Today, he is wanted in Georgia on the charges of abuse of power and use of excessive force against the demonstrators in 2007.

Saakashvili renounced his Georgian citizenship in 2015 and accepted Ukrainian citizenship to become a Governor of Odessa region in Ukraine. On 7 November 2016, however, he resigned his governorship and accused President Poroshenko and his allies of supporting corrupt officials and undermining his reform efforts in the region. His resignation came just a week after the online declarations detailing the assets of around 50,000 top Ukrainian public official have been released. To the surprise of both Ukrainians and the West, the declaration revealed that Ukraine’s top officials owned millions in cash, luxury items, and properties raising questions about country’s commitment to curtail corruption.

In a recent interview with Kyiv Post, a famous Ukrainian newspaper, Saakashvili insisted that Ukraine needed to hold an early parliamentary election to get rid of its entire ruling political class. Next parliamentary election in Ukraine is scheduled for 2019. If Ukraine holds another election now, it will be its third election in the past two years. Nonetheless, Saakashvili insisted on “a real, clear threat of violence” if elections were not held, warning of a possibility of a military coup.

Some argue that Saakashvili came to Ukraine to start his second political career and was deeply dissatisfied to be only a Governor after holding a presidential post in his native Georgia. Although his motivations for coming to Ukraine remain unclear, his career offers an interesting perspective on term limits, presidents, and their future careers. In his recent book, Alexander Baturo examines why some executives willingly step down from power whereas others attempt to circumvent term limits. [1] Baturo argues that this variation can be explained by the cost and benefits of leaving office. Simply put, the executives will try to extend their tenure if the stakes of losing office are too high. These high stakes could include lucrative opportunities while in office as well probabaility of persecution once out of office. This theory would suggest that Saakashvili should have stayed in power in Georgia in 2013 given that he faced persecution after leaving office and little possibility of continuing his political career or extending his wealth once out of office. However, Saakashvili’s example shows that another possiblity for a former president who faces few benefits and relatively high costs of leaving office is to leave office and start over in another country.

[1]. Baturo, Alexander. 2014. Democracy, Dictatorship, and Term Limits. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Guatemala – President Morales under Pressure from Corruption Scandal

Once again, a corruption scandal has affected the executive office in Guatemala. Although the president, former comedian and political outsider, Jimmy Morales, is not directly implicated, his brother, Samuel (Sammy) Everardo Morales and his son, José Manuel Morales Marroquín, have both been placed under investigation by the UN-supported International Commission on Corruption in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) and the Attorney General’s Office. Last week, a Guatemalan judge barred both Sammy Morales and José Manuel from leaving the country.

The alleged offence involves the fabrication of invoices and contracts for goods and services that were never actually supplied and centres upon Fulanos y Menganos, a restaurant in Guatemala city, owned by Congressman Gilmar Othmar Sánchez, who is a representative for Frente de Convergencia Nacional (FCN), Morales’ party. Apparently, Guatemala’s National Property Registry contracted Fulanos y Menganos, together with José Manuel and Sammy Morales, to provide 564 Christmas breakfasts in 2013. A bill was submitted to the Property Registry for 90,000 quetzals for the breakfast (about US$12,000), together with another 90,000 quetzal bill for seating. The breakfast is reported to have never happened. What is more, under public procurement law, three companies must submit formal bids for any contracts below a certain value. To cover his tracks, the President’s son, José Manuel supposedly asked his uncle to provide falsified bids from two other companies, in a competition that Fulanos y Menganos than won. Falsifying documents in this manner is also a crime.

What makes this case particularly noteworthy is the fact that Morales’ election campaign last year railed against the corruption allegations that dogged, and ultimately prematurely ended, the presidency of his predecessor, Otto Pérez Molina. Molina had been accused of involvement in a scheme, know as La Linea, that allowed businesses to evade paying custom charges in return for generous kickbacks.

Morales’ election was symptomatic of the rise of political outsiders and the ‘politics of anti-politics’, which has become something of a recurring feature of the Latin American political landscape. Jimmy Morales, a self-descried ‘common man’ with no prior political experience, spent the last fourteen years starring in a popular TV comedy series with his brother and his election manifesto was only six pages long. In fact, the major and central plank of his entire campaign was opposition to the graft and corruption that was endemic among Guatemalan political elites. His campaign slogan was ‘neither corrupt nor a thief’, so this current episode is particularly embarrassing for the President.

This incident is indicative of corruption scandals that continue to plague executive offices all over the region. For example, aside from the scandal involving Molina, another Guatemalan ex-President, Alfonso Portillo was recently sentenced to five years in prison in the US for taking bribes from Taiwan. In El Salvador, it was announced that evidence had emerging linking former president Francisco Flores to illegal and hidden bank accounts. Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, appeared in court last year to respond to allegations that he illegally halted bankruptcy proceedings against a company that he supposedly had an interest in.

I have written before about the relationship between corruption and the executive office in Latin America. Explanations range from the historical development of the state and Guillermo O’Donnell’s infamous ‘brown areas’, to the lack of transparency during the economic reform process of the 1980s and 1990s, to the combination of presidentialism and the PR electoral system, a variant of which most Latin American countries employ.[1]

More significantly, Kurt Weyland has suggested that a contributing factor to the persistence of populism has been the rise of politicians who appeal to “the masses” via television. Weyland argues: “Over the past 15 years, such personalistic leaders have sought to bypass established political parties and interest groups in order to reach “the people” through direct, most often televised, appeals aimed at building up a loyal following from scratch. Because its methods are costly, the new media-based politics has given ambitious politicians much higher incentives to resort to corruption.”[2]

Jimmy Morales is the proto-typical outsider politician. His campaign, and that of his vice-president, Jafeth Cabrera, was subjected to claims that it benefitted from a donation of half a million dollars from a known drug trafficker.  With this barrage of corruption scandals and with his party, the FCN, holding only 11 of 158 seats in the house, the incentives for the kind of behaviour Weyland described must surely rise. Either way, the Guatemalan President will do well to celebrate a one-year anniversary in office.

[1] See For example, some of the chapters in Walter Little and Eduardo Posada-Carbó (eds.) 1996. Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America. Palgrave Macmillan or Jana Kunicová and Susan Rose-Ackerman. 2005. Electoral Rules and Constitutional Structures as Constraints on Corruption. British Journal of Political Science, 35: 573-606.

[2] Kurt Weyland. 1998. The Politics of Corruption in Latin America. Journal of Democracy 9 (2): 108-121.

Ukraine – Key Minister Resigns

Two weeks ago, Aivaras Abromavičius, Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, tended his resignation. Once deemed to be the “man who would save Ukraine’s economy, ” and characterised as “one of the greatest champions of reform“ by the US ambassador to Ukraine, Abromavičius accused senior law makers in Ukraine of corruption and slow pace of reform. His resignation threw Ukraine into yet another political crisis endangering much needed foreign aid and support.

Ukraine struggled with corruption well before the current cabinet was appointed. Corruption was one of the reasons for the 2014 Maidan protests that ousted the former president Viktor Yanukovych. As a part of efforts to combat corruption and to make a break from old political ways, the party of the President, Bloc Petro Poroshenko, decided to nominate Abromavičius, as one of the three foreign born ministers, to the cabinet in December 2014. Yet, more than a year later, Ukraine remains to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world and the most corrupt in Europe.

Last week, Abromavičius published an op-ed in Ukrainska Pravda, an online newspaper, calling for a completely technocratic government. He argued that it was the only way to ensure much needed economic reforms in Ukraine.

If his advice is followed, Ukraine will not be the first country to turn to a technocratic government during an economic crisis. Both Italy and Greece appointed technocratic cabinets during the recent debt crisis. Some scholars have been uneasy about the idea of non-partisan cabinets, especially in the case of new presidential democracies, arguing that they were an indicator that the presidents would be more likely to rule by decree [1]. Others, however, argued that there is nothing inherently undemocratic in having a technocratic cabinet. In fact, a cabinet of technocrats might be exactly what is needed to deal with highly technical tasks that frequently face new democracies, especially when they wrestle with economic problems at the same time [2].

If Ukraine were to appoint a technocratic cabinet, it would need to address a number of issues. First, how can the cabinet be insulated from the influence of political parties? Just because it is technocratic, it does not mean that it is automatically immune to political influence. Second, what would be the term limit for such cabinet, if any? And last but not least, getting an agreement for such cabinet from all coalition partners will be crucial. In Ukraine, like in many multiparty democracies, allocation of cabinet portfolios is one of the most important tools that presidents can use to form and maintain their coalitions. [3] The more proportionally distributed the cabinet positions are among the coalition partners, the higher is the discipline of their legislators on roll calls. [4] If this tool is taken away, Ukraine will need to think of other ways to keep the ruling coalition together.

[1] Amorim Neto, Octavio 2006. “The Presidential Calculus: Executive Policy Making and Cabinet Formation in the Americas,” Comparative Political Studies 39 (4): 415-440.

[2] Bermeo, Nancy. 2002. “Ministerial Elites in Southern Europe: Continuities and Comparisons,” Southern European Society and Politics 7 (2): 205-227.

[3] Chaisty, Paul and Svitlana Chernykh. 2015. “Coalitional presidentialism and legislative control in post-Soviet Ukraine,” Post-Soviet Affairs 31 (3): 177-200.

[4] Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2002. “Presidential Cabinets, Electoral Cycle, and Coalition Discipline in Brazil,” in Morgenstern, Scott and Benito Nacif (eds.) Legislative Politics in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press; Chaisty, Paul and Svitlana Chernykh. 2015. “How do presidents manage multiparty coalitions? The coalitional effects of presidential toolbox in Ukraine,” Working paper.

Albanian presidents and an incriminated political elite

Recent reports on a parliamentary speech of Deputy Blushi (member of the ruling Socialist Party) describing the incrimination of other deputies, or claims of an unlawful surveillance of President Bujar Nishani paint a picture of a very problematic political development in Albania. These reports match earlier accusations made in 2009 by then President Topi from the conservative Democratic Party. In the following post I will briefly portray the president’s role in the political system and embed this in a description of the difficulties arising from the politicized state security forces and judiciary with a strong clientilism trying to make the president the “henchman of the prime minister” (Osterberg-Kaufmann forthcoming).

Presidential power in Albania

With a pre-emptive transition process accompanying independence and the personal continuity during the constitution-making process in the early 1990s, Albania was predestined to design a strong presidential institution. This process of democratization initially perpetuated the totalitarian and personalized cult around Hoxcha, who was the leader of communist Albania for over 42 years (Osterberg-Kaufmann 2012, 221). The premise for the establishment of a de facto delegative democracy in the 1990s was the close relation between a paternal figure and the non-scrutinized nature of presidential leadership (O’Donnell 1994, 59). The socialist constitution was replaced in April 1991 with an interim constitution. This interim constitution reproduced the old leadership pattern, offering President Sali Berisha the opportunity to bypass and marginalize parliament. From today’s perspective, the presidential power of Berisha up until 1998 can be considered relatively strong. This is partly to blame for the fact that in 1996 “Albania had degenerated into an illusion of democracy with an isolated authoritarian president, facing no effective parliamentary opposition, supported by an overly large highly politicized security apparatus” (Fischer 2010, 428).

Following the crisis of a failed draft constitution, but even more so the economic and political crisis of 1997 and 1998, the constitution-making process was dominated by the landmark establishment of a parliamentary system with an indirectly elected president, supported by a referendum. Nowadays Albania has one of the constitutionally weaker presidents in South-East Europe. According to Art. 85, the president has suspensive legislative veto powers, which can be overruled by an absolute majority, and according to Art. 134 the president (along with other institutions) can initiate a judicial review. Following the logic of a parliamentary system, the president nominates the prime minister (Art. 96 Sec. 1-4), which has to be confirmed by a majority in parliament. Overall, the presidential role remains reactive. This observation is also confirmed by the absence of a presidential legislative initiative. His competences are limited and, in addition, not even concentrated on standard competences expected also for a parliamentary system, which is different from for example Macedonia, and which entails a systematically weak position for the president.

Lustration Law 2009

With the competence of a legislative veto, the Albanian President would have the opportunity to at least establish some moments of power and thus influence both the policy agenda and the expectations of rivaling political institutions, as well as the public. Yet, in case the opportunity structure arises (for example in terms of public support for a veto), presidents choose to avoid the political confrontation. In the following, I will illustrate this for a highly controversial legislative project: a lustration law. This law also gave a brief glimpse (thanks to the reports in wikileaks) about the informal pressure behind political decision-making in Albania.

With the possibility of “the firing of anyone without proving he or she committed a crime” (Koci 2014), the 2009 lustration law became a confrontational issue between Prime Minister Sali Berisha and President Bamir Topi (both at that time important figures in the conservative Democratic Party[1]). The political positions in this difficult case were clear: President Topi was against this legislative project based on its far-reaching consequences. Prime Minister Berisha was pushing for the implementation of this internationally criticized law. It certainly carries a sad irony that Topi, who had not been politically active in communist times, thought of returning the lustration law to parliament. After all, this law had the function of banning former secret police officers, or employees in the judicial system, from public employment. Some authors consider the draft of the law in 2008 to have “[…] coincided with the prosecution of one of the biggest corruption charges, the so called Gerdec affair, which exposed several current ministers” (Elbasani and Lipinski 2011, 10). In a confidential interview between a US-diplomat with the then-President Topi, the president claims “[…] that in the event he vetoes the Lustration Law the DP [Democratic Party, author] would launch a “frontal assault” against him, including a smear campaign to paint him as protecting former communists” (Wikileaks 2009a).

Nevertheless, Topi confirmed in another confidential conversation “that representatives of former victims of the Albanian communist regime – a key political constituency for Topi – unanimously urged (him) [Topi] not to reject outright the Lustration Law, claiming that to do so would be politically devastating for him” (Wikileaks 2009b). Although the constitutional court later abolished the law, Topi’s obvious fear limited his radius of action. Although it should be clear that Wikileaks as the source of information chosen here has to be handled with care, considering that the statements given in private to a United States official might have different motivational backgrounds. However, despite the obvious opportunity structure, President Topi did not use his legislative veto. The Albanian Constitutional Court declared the lustration law as unconstitutional in 2010. The decision of the constitutional court was no surprise, as the lustration law from 2009 would have allowed for the prosecution of half the constitutional court (Likmeta 2012).

Discussion

Presidents in Albania obviously face high informal pressures to align with the government. Due to the sensitivity of informal influence we are hardly ever able to consistently trace this problem. However, the two reports of the two presidents show how informal pressure on president in Albania might work. And although the accusations of Bujar Nishani from 2015 were – at least what it looks like at the moment – a political move and not followed by any legal action, they show a similar pattern as the accusations of Bamir Topi in 2009. Both claims are nearly impossible to verify and go in hand with legislative initiatives concerning reforms of the legal system. A series of political corruption scandals, the grave distrust of the public towards the political elite and a political culture characterized by a specific form of personalization and clientilism is thus seriously damaging Albania’s democratic development.

References:

Elbasani, Arolda, and Artur Lipinski. 2011. “Public contestation and politics of transitional justice: Poland and Albania compared.” EUI Working Paper Series 11. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1956796

Fischer, Bernd J. 2010. “Albania since 1989: the Hoxhaist legacy.” In Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989, edited by Sabrina P. Ramet, 421–44. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press.

Fruhstorfer, Anna and Michael Hein. forthcoming. Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe: From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems.  Wiesbaden. VS Springer.

Koci, Jonilda. “Albanian lustration law criticised.” SETimes.com. Unpublished manuscript, last modified May 09, 2014. http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/features/setimes/features/2009/02/05/feature-02.

Likmeta, Besar. 2012.”Albania President Savages Berisha’s Communist Past.” Balkan Insights. March 7. Accessed January 20, 2015. http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/albania-president-pans-berisha-for-his-communist-past

O’Donnell, Guillermo A. 1994. “Delegative democracy.” Journal of Democracy 5 (1): 55–69.

Osterberg-Kaufmann, Norma. 2012. Erfolg und Scheitern von Demokratisierungsprozessen: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Osterberg-Kaufmann, Norma. forthcoming. „Constitutional Politics in Albania.“ In: Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe: From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems. edited by Anna Fruhstorfer and Michael Hein. Wiesbaden. VS Springer.

Ramet, Sabrina P., ed. 2010. Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press.

Wikileaks. 2009a. “PRESIDENT TOPI; IT’S LONELY AT THE TOP.” Accessed May 09, 2014. https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09TIRANA9_a.html.

———. 2009b. “PRESIDENT TOPI LEANING AGAINST VETO OF LUSTRATION LAW.” Accessed May 09, 2014. https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09TIRANA18_a.html.

[1] Partia Demokratike e Shqipërisë (PD)

Romania – Censure motion fails to remove PM indicted on corruption charges

On 29 September, Romania’s Social-Democratic government survived a no-confidence vote in parliament. This was the fourth censure motion submitted by the National Liberals (PNL), the main opposition party, in the last 18 months. Unlike previous motions, though, the most recent one did not target the government’s collective performance, but was filed in response to the prime minister’s formal indictment on corruption charges on 17 September. The initiators hardly mentioned any government activities and exclusively focused on the need to remove the compromised head of government.

The criminal investigation against the prime minister was launched by the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) on 5 June on grounds of forgery, tax evasion, money-laundering, and conflicts of interest. Perhaps not coincidentally, the National Liberals filed a censure motion against the government on the same day. However, on that occasion the text of the motion criticised the government’s failure to introduce postal voting for Romanians living abroad. The comfortable majority social democrats and their allies enjoy in both parliamentary chambers allowed PM Ponta to survive not only the no-confidence motion, but also a separate parliamentary vote to have his immunity lifted.

Anti-corruption prosecutors formally charged the prime minister and seized his personal assets on 13 July. Shortly thereafter, Victor Ponta stepped down as leader of the ruling Social Democrats but remained in office as head of government. He was temporarily replaced as party leader by Liviu Dragnea, a former deputy prime minister, minister of development, and executive president of the social-democrats, who himself had been forced to leave PM Ponta’s government in May 2015 upon receiving a one-year suspended jail sentence for electoral fraud in the 2012 presidential impeachment referendum.

President Iohannis has repeatedly called on the prime minister to step down since 5 June, when the criminal investigation was launched by anti-corruption prosecutors. He urged the prime minister to resign again after his case was formally brought to the High Court for Cassation and Justice on 17 September and expressed support for the censure motion put forward by his National Liberal Party. However, Romania’s Constitution specifically denies the head of state the power to dismiss the prime minister (article 107). The president does have the power to suspend cabinet members from office when a criminal investigation is launched against them – but only when the accusations concern acts committed while in office (article 109). As the prime minister stands accused of criminal activities dating back to past activities as a lawyer, his continuation in government office can only be decided by the parliamentary majority and/or his party.

Romania’s Constitution features several requirements for a non-confidence vote: a censure motion must be initiated by at least one quarter of all deputies and senators, who are not allowed to endorse another motion of this type during each of the two ordinary parliamentary sessions each year, unless the government invokes a confidence vote (articles 113-114). Under these circumstances, the government is unlikely to face more than one censure motion per legislative session.  As the opposition has just availed of this opportunity at the beginning of the autumn session, the government can rest assured that it will not be confronted with another no-confidence vote until at least February 2016.

Thus, the only threat to PM Ponta’s office can come from his own party. Social Democrats have scheduled elections for the new party leader on 11 October, followed by an extraordinary congress on 18 October. Liviu Dragnea, PSD’s current interim president, has announced his candidacy for the party leadership, while Victor Ponta said he would not run anymore. With both local and general elections scheduled for 2016, it remains to be seen whether or how long the new party leadership will continue to grant unconditional support to a prime minister facing a corruption trial while in office.

The Philippines – Presidential Election 2016: Is the Vice-Presidency a Venue?

Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for the Philippines on May 9, 2016. The President and Vice-President are elected separately, so that the elected candidates may come from different parties. Such is the case with current President Benigno Aquino III, from the Liberal Party (LP), and Vice-President Jejomar Binay, formerly of the Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). President Aquino III is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a second term, but there are no limitations on the Vice President for seeking the presidency. While it may seem that a vice-presidential term is strong endorsement for a candidate to seek the presidency, recent developments in the Philippines provide an interesting take on the whether the vice-presidency is a tenable venue to the presidency.

Although the President and the Vice-President may be from different parties, relations are not necessarily strained. After all, VP Binay was a 30-year member of the PDP-Laban, i.e., when it was headed by the late-Senator Benigno Aquino. VP Binay was also considered a strong supporter of the President’s mother, former President Corazon Aquino. Indeed, as recently as 2013, President Aquino III’s LP and Vice-President Binay’s PDP-Laban engaged in a period of team- and coalition-building to launch Team PNoy – comprising a coalition of the LP, the PDP-Laban, the Nacionalista Party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the National Unity Party, and the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party – that partnered with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) to field 12 candidates for senatorial elections that year.

Notwithstanding that history as well as ongoing work-relations between the President and Vice-President, ties failed to concretize to the point where the President endorsed the VP for the presidency. Instead, the President endorsed LP Manuel Roxas II, the original candidate-elect for the LP in 2010 who stepped aside for Aquino III to run as presidential nominee for the party. This is notwithstanding polls showing Mar Roxas as the least favoured presidential candidate; the President’s endorsement of Mar Roxas also came after the Vice President made clear that he was after the endorsement.

In part, the competition-versus-cooperation relations may be stoked by the horse-race mentality from approval polls that appear to regularly pit President against the Vice-President. In part, it may be VP Binay’s ongoing struggle against corruption raps. In part, it may also be due to the VP’s clear and unequivocal pursuit of the presidency: in early 2014, VP Binay resigned from his party of 30 years to launch the UNA party in preparation for his 2016 presidential bid. The president of the PDP-Laban, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, has signaled clearly that the party will not be endorsing VP Binay for the presidency; of course, he and VP Binay had a major falling out just prior to the VP’s resignation from the PDP-Laban.

With President Aquino III’s endorsement of Mar Roxas, Vice-President Binay’s retort was to resign from the cabinet, charging mistreatment as well as incompetence in the current administration. That, in turn, elicited the Presidential Palace’s rejoinder: too late to be complaining about the administration after five years in it? The back-and-forth, if not the events prior to that, certainly underline that the vice presidency is not a shoo-in for the presidency;