Tag Archives: democracy

Edalina Rodrigues Sanches – Cabo Verde: Political leadership in the most exceptional democracy in Africa

This is a guest post by Edalina Rodrigues Sanches: Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa.

2018 marks the 43rd anniversary of Cabo Verde independence and 27 years of an exceptional democracy  with a tradition of  free and fair elections as well as peaceful transitions in power.  While historical and geographic factorsmay have facilitated these developments, political institutions such as executive systems, and political leadership have also played an important role.

A stable two-party system

Since the founding multiparty elections of January 1991, Cabo Verde has developed a balanced and stable two-party system in which the  PAICVand the MPDare the major parties. The PAICV is the older party in the system, and a forerunner of the PAIGCwhich was formed in 1956 during the liberation struggle against Portuguese colonial rule. It was the sole legal party during the authoritarian regime that spanned between 1975 and 1990; and it continued to play and important role in the post-transition era.  After losing parliamentary elections in 1991 and 1995, the PAICV won subsequent elections (2001, 2006, 2011) with broad parliamentary support (more than 50% of the seats).  The MPD, the second party to become legal in the country, was formed in 1990 during the critical juncture of democratic transition. It unexpectedly won the founding multiparty elections in 1991 and repeated the win in 1995 and more recently in 2016[1]. In all these polls the MPD managed to secure more than 50% of the potential seats.

Leadership successions within these two parties have been relatively peaceful. In the PAICV, there have been three transfers of power since 1991. In 1993, Aristides Lima replaced Pedro Pires as the new secretary-general and stood as prime-ministerial candidate at the 1995 elections but eventually lost. In 2000, José Maria Neves was elected new party leader, a position he held for 14 out of the 15 years he acted as the country’s prime-minister (2001-2016). This was a period of strong external projection of the country; but, internally, the government faced important challenges namely economic slowdown, rising unemployment, and higher levels of social contestation, particularly between 2008-2015.  In 2014, José Maria Neves announced he was not going to run for the party presidency. This happened before the end of his mandate as Prime Minister and paved the way for the election of a new leader that would also run as prime-ministerial candidate in the 2016 polls. Janira Hopffer Almada was elected the new leader in the highly disputed party primaries of 2014 and became the first female to be elected party leader and to run for prime minister. The party never came together to support her leadership and she eventually lost the 2016 elections but saw her legitimacy as leader sanctioned in the 2017 primaries.

In the MPD, leadership successions have been more difficult. Carlos Veiga’s leadership was marked by economic recovery and good governance but conflicts within the party led to the first scission in 1993 and to the formation of Partido da Convergência Democrático (PCD). In 2000, he decided to step down as both Prime Minister and party leader, and to run as presidential candidate. But in-fighting persisted and led to a new offshoot in 2001 – Partido da Renovação Democrática(PRD). This crisis set Jacinto Santos, the then President of the Praia municipality and member of the Political Committee of MPD, against Gualberto do Rosário, the then Prime Minister. With the 2000 MPD convention ahead, Jacinto Santos withdrew from the leadership race and went on to form the PRD with other party members. The Convention confirmed the leadership of Gualberto do Rosário who was succeeded by Agostinho Lopes (2002-2007), Jorge Santos (2007-2013) and most recently Ulisses Correia e Silva (since 2013), the current Prime Minister.

The key lesson that can be drawn from this is that leadership successions in Cabo Verde – both within the parties and in the executive – have become sufficiently institutionalized, and help maintain regime stability.

Symmetric and stable relations between the president and the prime minister

Cabo Verde has been a semi-presidential regime from the outset of democratic transition. The amendment to the 1990 constitution in 1992 reduced presidential powers to dissolve parliament and dismiss the cabinet, and strengthened the legislative initiative  of the executive[2]. Eight years later, a new revision defined that presidential and legislative elections should no longer be almost concurrent (only one month between them) but were now to be held with a six-monthlag.

When compared to other former Lusophone countries, the Cabo Verdean president is theweakest in terms of formal powers, but his role has never been irrelevant[3]. The overall relationship between the president and the prime minister has been balanced and symmetric whoever is in leadership. One contributing factor is that the rounds of parliamentary and presidential elections held since 1991 have produced successive episodes of unified government in which the same party has the majority in the parliament and in the presidency[4]. The only episode of cohabitation was in 2011 when the PAICV had the majority in parliament and the MPD was able to elect its presidential candidate. Power sharing between Prime Minister José Maria Neves and the elected President, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, generatedpolitical tensions and conflictsover the appointment of state officials and foreign policy issues. Despite this, these two strong charismatic leaders maintained an amicable relationship throughout the period of cohabitation.

Since 2016, “normality” has returned as there is again a situation of unified government. In his second mandate, Jorge Carlos Fonseca has already stated the need for a constitutional revisionthat reinforces democratic institutions as well as social justice.  Following some problems related to the performance of some ministers and the coordination between the different portfolios,Prime Minister Ulisses Correia eventually reshuffled the cabinet.  But in a context of balanced intra-executive relationships, there are signs of increasing contestation from civil society. This year the celebration of Cabo Verde’s independence on July 5 was marked by several protestsin the main Islands and the same happened last year. This time, citizens’ complaints included a broad range of  issues from  unemployment, to regionalisation  and to the Status of Forces Agreement(SOFA)with the United States. With further impending strikes and protests, it remains uncertain how the new political leadership will address social contestation.  So far, the Prime Minister has refused to take responsibilityfor the complaints made, although the rights of individuals to protest  is generally acknowledged.

Notes

[1]Sanches, E.R. 2018. Party Systems in Young Democracies: Varieties of institutionalization in Sub-Saharan Africa. London and New York: Routledge.

[2]Évora, R. 2013. Cabo Verde: Democracia e sistema de governo, in Costa, S. & Sarmento, C. (orgs). Entre África e a Europa: Nação, Estado e Democracia em Cabo Verde. Coimbra: Almedina

[3]Costa, Daniel. 2009. O Papel do Chefe de Estado no Semipresidencialismo Cabo-verdiano, 1991–2007, in Lobo, M.C., & Neto, O. A. (orgs). O Semi-Presidencialismo nos Países de Língua Portuguesa, Lisbon: ICS.

[4]MPD’s cabinets were supported by President António Mascarenhas Monteiro (two mandates 1991-2001) while PAICV’s were supported by President Pedro Pires (two mandates 2001-2011).

Thomas H. Johnson – The Illusion of Afghanistan’s Electoral Representative Democracy

This is a guest post by Thomas H. Johnson, Research Professor and Director, Program for Culture and Conflict Studies, Department of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA (thjohnso@nps.edu). It is based on his recent paper  in Small Wars and Insurgencies.

On October 9, 2004 Afghanistan held a presidential election to replace the post-Taliban, transitional government that had administered Afghanistan since December 2001.  Nearly a year later, September 2005, parliamentary and provincial council elections were held.  This electoral sequence was repeated in August 2009 for Afghan presidential and provincial councils and in September 2010 for the Afghan Parliament.  The establishment of an electoral system and process was a key foundation of the Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-Establishment of Permanent Government Institutions, or UN-sponsored Bonn Accords and Process.[i]

While the Afghan election process was originally greeted with great international fanfare and enthusiasm in 2004, it is now widely recognized, as suggested above, that recent Afghan elections raise significant and serious questions concerning the legitimacy and utility of the entire Afghan electoral system, as well as the “democratic process.”  Indeed a number of years ago the International Crisis Group (ICG) suggested that the “prolonged crisis over Afghanistan’s … elections has undermined [then] President Hamid Karzai’s credibility” and has politically isolated him.  The ICG goes on to posit that the Afghan election process “could plunge the country deeper into not just political but armed conflict.”[ii]  Things have not changed with the election of Ashraf Ghani.  Moreover, with long-delayed parliamentary and provincial elections scheduled for July 7, 2018 and the presidential elections scheduled for 2019, it is important to raise fundamental questions concerning the Afghan election process.[iii]

The 2009 Presidential Election

On August 20, 2009 Afghanistan held its second-ever presidential election.[iv]  Ostensibly 41 candidates vied for office; the most prominent of which were Hamid Karzai (incumbent Afghan President), Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (United Front candidate, ethnic Tajik, former Northern Alliance leader, and former Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs), Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (former Afghan Finance Minister and leader of the Afghan diaspora), and Dr. Ramazan Bashardost (ethnic Hazara and former Afghan Planning Minister).  Each presidential candidate ran on a ticket with up to two vice presidential candidates.[v]

While some in the international community did not believe that the Afghan Presidential Election should take place at all, deeming it an “unnecessary risk to all involved,”[vi] Karzai insisted that the election take place as planned.   Arguments against the election were premised on the assumption that the presumed security risks involved in an accelerating Taliban insurgency/jihad were too threatening for a creditable election to be held; not only would the election require vast organizational efforts, due partly to the winter season, but also significant augmentation of security personnel and measures to protect the polls and participating population.  Threats to the population were apparently high since the Taliban had advised people to boycott the elections. Afghanistan’s Free and Fair Elections Foundation (FEFA), the largest Afghan observer organization, feared that the inability of local and international observers to monitor the elections in all areas of the country, especially the most volatile and remote locations, would negatively affect the transparency of the elections.  The foundation’s head, Jandad Spinghar, stated that an issue of concern for observers would be the problems associated with the insecurity and the lack of information about the importance and the role of observers in the elections.[vii]

Election Results

Though Karzai emerged as the eventual winner, revelations of countrywide electoral fraud by all presidential candidates stripped him of the majority 50% plus votes attributed to.[viii]  The ECC served as the key electoral watchdog, composed primarily of non-Afghan officials.   It was the ECC which exposed the extent of the fraud in electoral registrations and ballots, and which subsequently invalidated about one million or approximately one-third of Karzai votes in the presidential election, forcing a second round of voting.  The EEC investigated 600 of the most serious complaints and “sample audited” suspect votes at 3,377 polling stations.  It dismissed all the votes cast at 210 of these stations.  In the aftermath of the election analysis, the ECC determined that Karzai only received 48.29% of the vote.[ix]  On October 19, 2009 the ECC announced the completion of the audit process based on a review of the ballot boxes that had been quarantined by the IEC.  The investigation showed that no candidate received over 50% of the vote, and that a run-off vote was required to determine a winner. Karzai’s campaign team attributed the decision to foreign interference and hinted at not accepting the results.  This triggered a series of high-diplomatic negotiations, encouraging the candidates to accept the findings.  On October 21, the IEC announced that Karzai had received 49.67% of the vote and Abdullah received 30.59% of the vote.[x]

A subsequent run-off election was scheduled for November 7, 2009 but on November 1, 2009 Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the race, making the presidential run-off a one-man race.  On November 2, 2009 the IEC declared Karzai as president-elect.

The criticality of ethnic voting preferences remains the single most important dynamic of the Afghan electoral process. Karzai was elected not only without a majority national vote; he also failed to garner any significant vote from any ethnic group outside of his own. Karzai’s claim that he represented a truly national candidate that had support across ethnic lines was not borne out by these results.  And just as we observed of the 2004 election, the 2009 Afghan Presidential elections was “belied by ethnic divisions, which, unless properly addressed, threaten to derail any long-term hope of a democratic Afghanistan.”[xi]

The 2010 National Parliamentary Elections and the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV)

During his address to the first session of parliament on February 20, 2010 Karzai laid out his plans for parliamentary elections in September, highlighting his goal to “fill the gaps” of the problems that arose during the presidential elections.  He affirmed his avowed commitment to address these issues by limiting the “interference by others in the election process,” promising to reform the structure of the ECC and “afghanizing” the election process.[xii]  As virtually all Afghans saw the international element as the only check against rampant corruption in a Karzai-packed commission, these efforts to try to deflect criticism away from his regime and onto foreign meddlers and agents fooled few Afghans and simply increased his own unpopularity.  Absent from his comments was any discussion of possibly the most important factor influencing the Afghan legislative elections – the single non-transferable vote (SNTV).

The SNTV electoral system allows multiple candidates to run for seats that have been allocated at a specified level per Afghan Province.   For the 2010 election, 2,577 candidates filed to run for 249 legislative positions.  The number of seats allocated was based on the total population per province.[xiii]  The SNTV electoral process allows one voter to cast a single vote for one candidate.  This results in a single candidate obtaining a very low percentage of the votes.  Indeed, many Members of Parliament were “elected” from their districts with less than one percent of the popular vote in that district.

The SNTV electoral system does not allocate seats by district but rather by population size.  Provinces with fewer seats than districts cannot possibly have representation for all their districts.[xiv]  Additionally, districts with larger populations generally have more political pull or influence than those with smaller populations.

664 candidates competed for the 33 Wolesi Jirga seats available for the province of Kabul and a total of 486,111 valid ballots were cast.  Muhammad Mohaqiq, chairman of the People’s Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan and former Vice-President and the Minister of Planning in the interim government of Afghanistan was the leading vote getter just as he was during the 2005 election.[xv]  He received a total of 3.6% of the vote!  That a mere 3.6% of the vote could represent the most popular candidate as indicated by total votes received is disturbing, and has serious implications for Afghan “representative democracy.”  Overall, 21 of the 33 candidates elected to the Wolesi Jirga from Kabul (64%) were elected with less than 1% of the total vote in their district.

Conclusion

This analysis clearly suggests that Afghan elections as well as the entire Afghan electoral process is fraught with deep structural problems that ultimately undermine both the credibility and legitimacy of the Kabul regime.  The International Crisis Group (IGC) suggests that the “prolonged crisis” over Afghan elections “is paralyzing government and weakening already fragile institutions … [and] stoke ethnic tensions and could drive disenfranchised Afghans into the arms of the Taliban.”[xvi]  Moreover, the continuing election crisis as we saw vividly in the 2014 election is already deepening an on-going conflict between the Afghan executive and legislative branches.

It is particularly problematic that many of the problems affecting the Afghan electoral system have long been known by Kabul, the UN and the US, yet little has been done resolve these problems or to promote election reform.  It should also be noted that this analysis does not explore the broader and untested assumption that democracy and an electoral system per se are genuinely a source of legitimacy of governance, in the Weberian sense, in a country that has never known them and where literacy rates nationally hover around 10-20 percent.  Democracy is a political system, not something instinctive in human DNA.

This analysis does clearly suggest that legislative voting based on the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) continues to plague Afghanistan.  The goal of any electoral process should be to ensure that a representative government can be formed, but in the case of Afghanistan, the SNTV is significantly hampering the development of representative institutions.[xvii]  In addition, the SNTV system clearly distorts multi-seat constituencies.  The fact that almost all legislators continue to be elected with a fraction of the popular vote, many less than 1% of the vote, presents a variety of problems.   The mere fact that both the 2005 and 2010 Wolesi Jirga Elections witnessed winning candidates, nationwide, receiving an average of 35% of the votes cast suggests the unviability of the system as a means of expressing popular representation.  It results in a group of parliamentarians who are seemingly not beholden to anyone but themselves.  The simple fact is that these “representatives” may be virtually unknown by the majority of the population and may thus have no support amongst their “constituents,” a system reminiscent of the “rotten boroughs” of the British parliament before 1832.   In the final analysis, the Afghan electoral system takes the power away from the people or constituents and puts it in the hands of a nontransparent, personality-based politics.

The SNTV electoral process is a complicated process that can only work under ideal conditions.  Important factors in Afghanistan such as security, ethnic diversity, and gender roles all play a significant role making SNTV unworkable in the Afghan context, but the lack of a mature and disciplined (and officially discouraged) Afghan political party system in particular makes SNTV inappropriate for Afghanistan.   As suggested by the IGC, “the absence of disciplined political parties to carefully analyze prospects and to ensure that their votes are evenly distributed among candidates results more often than not in inequitable political representation.”[xviii]

Over the past hundred years and as suggested above, national politics has not been of much concern to the ordinary Afghan, who made decreasing the state’s influence at local levels his number one priority.[xix]   This constant deflection of central authority in the everyday lives of the Afghans allowed for traditional governing structures to remain and slowed their evolution into more modern structures.   As the central government fights to gain access to these local structures of governance, it has been met with increased resistance and eventual revolt.   This cycle has repeated itself over many different Afghan regimes using varying models of government.

The challenge now facing the current Afghan government is the daunting task of uniting the Afghan people while not repeating the mistakes of the past. And this all needs to be done in the context of massive government corruption and a continuing, significant Taliban insurgency wrapped in the narrative of jihad.[xx]  The tricky balancing act of fostering an overarching national identity without being perceived as privileging particular identities requires strong leadership and a willingness to challenge traditional ethnic, linguistic, and religious norms when need be.  Karzai and Ghani Administrations have seriously failed relative to this dynamic. Literacy and civics are the sine qua non of any democracy and Afghanistan is severely deficient in both.

Notes

[i] United Nations Security Council, Agreement on the Provincial Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the

Re-Establishment of Permanent Government Institutions, 5 December 2001, S/2001/1154.

[ii] International Crisis Group, Afghanistan’s Elections Stalemate: Update Briefing,” Asia Briefing, No. 117, (Kabul/Brussels, 23 February 2011), pg. 1.

[iii] For a series of excellent analyses of Afghan elections by the Afghan Analysis Network, see: Martine van Bijlert , “Afghan Elections Dilemma: Finish before it finishes you,” August 31, 2014, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/miscellaneous/aan-in-media/afghan-elections-dilemma-finish-before-it-finishes-you/ ; Martine van Bijlert, “Polling Day Fraud in the Afghan Elections,” September 9, 2009, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/publication/aan-papers/polling-day-fraud-in-the-afghan-elections/ ; Ehsan Qaane and Martine van Bijlert, “Elections in Hibernation: Afghanistan’s stalled electoral reform,” June 17, 2015,  https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/elections-in-hibernation-afghanistans-stalled-electoral-reform/ ; Thomas Ruttig, “Elections (31): Afghanistan’s confusing election maths,” June 19, 2014, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/elections-31-afghanistans-confusing-election-maths/ Thomas Ruttig, “Pluralistic within Limits, but Not Democratic: Afghanistan’s political landscape before the 2014 elections,” https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/pluralistic-within-limits-but-not-democratic-afghanistans-political-landscape-before-the-2014-elections/ .

[iv] In addition to the presidential race this election also saw 3197 candidates vie for 420 provincial council positions.   For an excellent analysis of the presidential election see: Crisis Group Asia Briefing N°96, Afghanistan: Elections and the Crisis of Governance, 25 November 2009; and Crisis Group Asia Report N°171, Afghanistan’s Election Challenges, June, 24 2009.

[v] The selection of a particular vice presidential candidate was often aimed at ethnically balancing a candidate’s “ticket.”   For example, Karzai retained Vice President Karim Khalilli, an ethnic Hazara.  Karzai replaced his first Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud (a Tajik) with Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the powerful Tajik warlord, leader of the Northern Alliance and former Minister of Defense.[v]  Ironically during the 2004 Presidential election, Karzai dismissed Fahim from his ticket on the last official date for filing of presidential election candidacy forms and replaced him with another Tajik, Ahmad Zia Masood.

[vi] James Bays, “The Words of the Professor,” Blogs, Aljazeera, November 2, 2009.

[vii] “Violence to Prevent Observers from Widely Monitoring Polls – Afghan Expert,” BBC, July 21, 2009.

[viii] The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is a constitutional body appointed by the president to oversee polls. It is tasked with registering voters, running polling stations, and issuing election results.  The IEC is accountable to the Afghan parliament and population.  Members of the IEC are selected by the president, which has cast doubt on the commission’s independence.  On the other hand, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) is an independent panel that reports any findings of fraud to the Independent Election Committee (IEC), which under law must accept Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) findings.  It was established under Article 52 of the Afghan Electoral Law to investigate and oversee all challenges and complaints associated to the electoral process.  If an offense is found to have taken place, it has the right, under Article 54, to impose sanctions. The ECC can also review disputes regarding the eligibility of nominated candidates.  It is made up of two national commissioners and three international commissioners.  The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of Afghanistan each select one commissioner; the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations appoints the final three commissioners. The provincial embodiment of the ECC is the Provincial Electoral Complaints Commission, set up in each of the provinces and composed of three Commissioners and one support officer.  During the 2005 and 2009 elections, the ECC required that at least one Afghan commissioner had voluntarily agreed with any finding in order to prevent the three international commissioners from abusing their majority to override the two Afghan commissioners.

[ix] “Karzai ‘Stripped of Outright Win’,” BBC, October 19, 2009.

[x] “The Situation in Afghanistan and its Implications for International Peace and Security,” Report to the Secretary-General, A/64/613-S/2009/674, United Nations General Assembly Security Council, December 28, 2009.

[xi] Thomas H. Johnson, “Afghanistan’s Post-Taliban Transition: The State of State-Building After War,” Central Asian Survey, Vol. 25 No. 1-2, (March-June 2006), pgs. 14-15.

[xii] Hamid Karzai, speech to first session of Afghanistan’s Parliament, February 20, 2010.

[xiii] See Appendix B for how the seats are distributed for both the 2005 and 2010 Wolesi Jirga elections.  The number of seats allocated is based on the total population. This is shown in Appendix C in a simple linear regression analysis of number of seats to total population.  The number of seats each province can have is important if true representational government is to be established.  In the case of Afghanistan the guidelines for this process have been established in Article 20 in Chapter 5 of the Electoral Law.  The law regulates the number of seats to each province is to be in proportion to the population size. Additionally the minimum number of seats for each province has been set at two seats.  If this occurs the remaining provinces in which extra seats were not allocated to shall divide the remaining seats proportionally based on population size. (Legal Frame Work: Laws and Decrees:Electoral Law, 2010).

[xiv] Astri Surhke suggests: “The Parliament was … weakened by an election law that introduced a curious and rarely used system designed to inhibit political party representation (the Single, Non-transferable Vote system, or SNTV)”. Astri Surhke, “Electing to Fight in Afghanistan,” Middle East Institute, April, 2012, http://www.mei.edu/content/electing-fight-afghanistan .

[xv] Mohaqiq received 13.2% of the vote in 2005 when he was the leading vote getter for the Kabul Wolesi Jirga positions.

[xvi] International Crisis Group, Afghanistan’s Elections Stalemate: Update Briefing,” op. cit., pg. 1.

[xvii] Afghan Wolesi Jirga elections were scheduled to be held on October 15, 2016; they were postponed, in part, because the lack of resolution concerning the reform of Afghanistan’s electoral laws. See: Mujib Mashal, “Afghan Panel Sets Election Date, Drawing Government Criticism,” The New York Times, January 18, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/19/world/asia/afghan-panel-sets-election-date-drawing-government-criticism.html .

[xviii] Ibid. pg. 5.

[xix] Ibid. pg. 168.

[xx] For example, see: Thomas H. Johnson, Taliban Narratives: The Use and Power of Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict, (London: Hurst Publisher and Oxford University Press, September, 2017).

Cynthia McClintock – The superiority of runoff to plurality election for democracy in Latin America

This is a guest post by Cynthia McClintock of George Washington University. It is based on her recent paper in Journal of Democracy

In the 1950s, the most common presidential-election rule world-wide was plurality (first-past-the-post).[i]  Now, however, the most common rule is majority runoff (a requirement for a second round between the top two candidates if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote).  In 2016, among the countries classified as “electoral democracies” and that directly elected their presidents, 73 percent in Latin America, 88 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, 86 percent in Europe, and 63 percent in the Asia-Pacific used majority runoff.[ii]

The vast majority of scholars have opposed runoff.[iii]  But, it is indeed superior. Runoff opens the electoral arena but at the same time enables presidential legitimacy and entices presidential candidates towards the political center.

PLURALITY, RUNOFF, AND DEMOCRACY: QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS

To assess the impact of plurality versus runoff rules on levels of democracy, I elaborated a dataset for Latin America between 1990 and 2016.[iv]  Thresholds for a first-round victory between 40 percent and 50 percent were classified as runoff but thresholds below 40 percent as plurality.  Bolivia was omitted because, until 2009, its rule was anomalous (if no candidate tallied 50%, the president was selected by the legislature from among the top two finishers (or, prior to 1990, the top three finishers).  Levels of democracy were measured through the addition of political rights and civil liberties scores by Freedom House (www.freedomhouse.org) and by the Liberal Democracy scores in the Varieties of Democracy 7.1 dataset at www.v-dem.net.

Figure 1 shows that Freedom House scores were similar under runoff and plurality between 1990 and 1998 but subsequently improved under runoff and plummeted under plurality.  The trajectory of V-Dem Liberal Democracy scores was similar. In regression analysis (using a random effects linear model and conventional control variables), runoff was significant to superior Freedom House and V-Dem scores at the .05 level.

Figure 1 Presidential-election Rules and Freedom House Scores, 1990-2016

PLURALITY, RUNOFF, AND POLITICAL INCLUSION

Scholars’ primary concern about runoff is that it lowers barriers to entry to the electoral arena and, concomitantly, enables a larger number of parties.  Under plurality, a new party is usually a “spoiler” party; but, under runoff, citizens can vote sincerely in the first round for the candidate whom they prefer.

These scholars’ concerns are not unfounded.  In the most recent elections in Chile, Colombia, and Guatemala, the number of parties surpassed 6.0 and, in Brazil, 10.0.  Often, many parties are inchoate and, sometimes, executive-legislative conflict is severe.

However, lower barriers to entry are synonymous with greater openness of the electoral arena.  It is easier to defeat long-standing parties with authoritarian proclivities that have lost majority support but retain political bases.  Such parties endured for many years under plurality in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela.

An open electoral arena was especially important in Latin America because, during the Cold War, Marxist parties had built considerable support but had usually been excluded; in the 1990s and 2000s, a key challenge was the incorporation of these parties into the democratic political arena.  Under runoff, a virtuous circle emerged.  With lower barriers to entry, leftist leaders gained respect for the democratic process and were likely to moderate.  For their part, long-standing parties knew that any new party would have to win 50 percent and, by definition, could not be “extreme;” they were less likely to resort to ugly tactics—again, increasing rivals’ respect for the democratic process.

By contrast, under plurality in the Dominican Republic (until 1994), Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela (until 1993), long-standing parties endured by means of dividing their opposition and applying ugly tactics—alienating the left and decreasing its respect for the democratic process.

Still, measures to reduce the number of parties under runoff would be advantageous.  The most promising reform would appear to be scheduling the legislative election at the time of the runoff or even after the runoff.   (Currently, in most Latin American countries, the legislative election is scheduled at the time of the first round.)  In France as of 2002, the legislative election has been scheduled after the runoff and, in France’s 2002, 2007, 2012, and 2017 elections, the expectation for momentum for the president’s party has been realized.

PLURALITY, RUNOFF, AND PRESIDENTIAL LEGITIMACY

Although legitimacy is a complex concept, it is clear what presidential legitimacy is not: it is not a president elected by a minority of voters and opposed by the majority—which can happen under plurality.  In 2006-2007 surveys that I carried out with legislators in Latin America, 84 percent of the 133 legislators who preferred runoff cited greater presidential legitimacy as their reason.[v]  These preferences were based in part on Latin America’s historical experience.  Although the causes of military coups in Argentina in 1963, Brazil in 1955, Chile in 1973, Ecuador in 1968, and Peru in 1962 were manifold, they occurred after elections in which the incoming president had won only 25 percent, 36 percent, 37 percent, 33 percent, and 28 percent respectively.

For the forty-five elections under plurality between 1978 and 2012, I determined that, under runoff, a “reversal” of the first-round result (victory for the first-round runner-up) would have been likely or virtually certain in seven (15 percent).[vi]  Also, between 1990 and 2016, elections were won with 41 percent or less in the Dominican Republic in 1990, Honduras in 2013, Mexico in 2006 and 2012, Nicaragua in 2006, Panama in 1994, Paraguay in 1993 and 2008, Uruguay in 1994, and Venezuela in 1993—often provoking legitimacy deficits even if the first-round runner-up would not have been likely to win.

Sometimes, legitimacy deficits were overcome–but sometimes not.

In various elections under runoff, the rule prevented victories by first-round winners that would have provoked widespread dismay.  Among the most problematic victories would have been Carlos Menem in 2003 in Argentina and Ollanta Humala in 2006 in Peru.   Further, presidents who prevailed in runoffs but whose parties were perceived to be leftist or populist gained legitimacy advantages through majorities in runoffs.  Among the most important examples are Jaime Roldós in 1978-1979 in Ecuador; Salvador Sánchez Cerén in 2014 in El Salvador; Vinicio Cerezo in 1985 and Álvaro Colom in 2007 in Guatemala; Ollanta Humala in 2011 in Peru; and José Mujica in 2009 in Uruguay.

PLURALITY, RUNOFF, AND PRESIDENTIAL IDEOLOGY

Under runoff, by definition, a candidate must appeal to the majority and be positioned not too far from the political center.   Recently, political leaders’ ideologies have been assessed by the country’s legislators in surveys by the Parliamentary Elites of Latin America Project at http://americo.usal.es.oir; political leaders’ ideologies are scored from 1.0 [the furthest left] to 10.0 [the furthest right].[vii]

Between 2000 and 2012, a president (or presidential candidate within 5.0 points of the winner) was classified at the “extreme left” (1.0 through 3.2) in four of the six plurality countries but only one of the eleven runoff countries.   Candidates at the “extreme right” (8.0-10.0) were elected in three of the six plurality countries but only three of the eleven runoff countries.

Further, presidents or top presidential candidates at the “moderate left” (3.21 through 4.99) were rare in plurality countries but common in runoff countries.  Often, these moderate leftists had previously been classified at the extreme left or had run for parties classified at the extreme left: Brazil’s Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva, Guatemala’s Álvaro Colom, Peru’s Ollanta Humala, and Uruguay’s Tabaré Vázquez.   Gradually, these leaders appeared to decide that, if they were to win, they would need to shift towards the center.

CONCLUSION

Although no electoral rule is a panacea, runoff has been successful in Latin America.  The greater openness of the electoral arena facilitated the defeat of long-standing parties with authoritarian proclivities that had lost majority support but retained political bases.  Presidents were enticed towards the political center and, with majorities of the vote, did not suffer legitimacy deficits.

Notes

[i] Nils-Christian Bormann and Matt Golder, “Democratic Electoral Systems around the world, 1946-2011,” Electoral Studies 32 (March 2013): 360-369.

[ii]Author’s calculation from www.electionguide.org and, if necessary, a country’s constitution.  The “electoral democracy” and regional classifications follow Freedom House at www.freedomhouse.org.  The figure for Latin America excludes several countries with a reduced threshold; the figure for Sub-Saharan Africa includes several countries in which runoff is combined with a territorial distribution requirement.

[iii]John M. Carey,  “Presidentialism and Representative Institutions,” in Jorge I. Domínguez and Michael Shifter, eds., Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 14-15;  Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, “Evaluating Presidential Runoff Elections,” Electoral Studies 25 (March 2006), 129; Juan J. Linz, “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does It Make a Difference?” in Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela, eds., The Failure of Presidential Democracy (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 21-22; Scott P. Mainwaring and Matthew  S. Shugart, “Juan Linz, Presidentialism, and Democracy: A Critical Appraisal,” Comparative Politics 29 (July 1997), 467-468; Arturo Valenzuela, “Latin America: Presidentialism in Crisis,” Journal of Democracy 8 (October 1993), 8.

[iv] For more information, see Cynthia McClintock, Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2018), Chapter 2.

[v] For more information, see Cynthia McClintock, Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2018), Appendix 1.

[vi] For more information, see Cynthia McClintock, Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2018), Appendix 6.

[vii] For more information, see Cynthia McClintock, Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2018), Chapter 3.

Stewart Firth – Nauru: The Retreat from Democracy and the Coming Election

This is a guest post by Stewart Firth, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University.

Since the election of Nauru’s latest President, Baron Waqa, in 2013, democracy and the rule of law in that country have been under threat. The new government moved quickly to remove key members of the judiciary including the Chief Justice, who was not permitted to re-enter the country after foreign travel. A crackdown on media freedom followed, with foreign journalists effectively excluded by a prohibitive visa fee of US$5,000, and a ban placed on Facebook in order to check criticism of the government. An amendment to the criminal code in 2015 makes the expression of ‘political hatred’, that is to say, disagreement with the government, an offence punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment.

As previously reported on Presidential Power, three opposition MPs were suspended from Parliament for ‘talking too much to foreign media’ and bringing their country into disrepute. Since then a further two opposition MPs in the Parliament of 19 have been permanently suspended, leaving a rump of 12 to conduct Nauru’s business. As the 2016 election approaches, the Nauru government is using Parliament to suppress candidature: public servants must now resign three months before the election, and the fee for standing as a candidate has jumped from US$74 to US$1,500.

This creeping authoritarianism has little to do, however, with the institution of the Presidency in Nauru. The Nauru Presidency is a Westminster phenomenon, and the President resembles a prime minister. Under Article 16, 2 of the Nauru constitution, ‘A person is not qualified to be elected President unless he is a member of Parliament.’ Parliament elects the President of Nauru after each election, he or she sits in a Cabinet that is formed from Parliament and is collectively responsible to it, and may be removed along with other ministers on a vote of no confidence.

What has mattered in recent years in Nauru has been the Cabinet, not the President. In fact most observers think the author of Nauru’s retreat from democracy is not President Waqa but instead his Justice Minister David Adeang. Nauru hosts Australia’s asylum seeker detention centre, and Adeang has seized the opportunity created by Australia’s dependence on his country to amass power and suppress dissent, secure in the knowledge that Canberra will offer little criticism. New Zealand has suspended much of its aid to Nauru in protest. Australia has not.

Nauru – Ongoing MP suspensions highlight concerns about democratic freedoms

It has been more than a year since I first wrote on this blog about the suspension of Nauruan MPs from parliament on the grounds that they were being overly critical of the current government’s development strategy. Despite repeated attempts to overturn the ban, the suspension remains. And, in the interim, the situation has escalated.

As long-time readers may recall, the initial controversy surrounded the suspension of three MPs. Since then, the number has risen to five with two further MPs, Sprent Dabwido and Squire Jeremiah, now held in custody for their participation in protests outside parliament. The other three are Dr Kieran Keke, Roland Kun and Matthew Batsiua. Initially Batsiua was also arrested for his role in the protests but has since been released under strict bail conditions. The protests that led to these arrests were related to the ongoing suspensions. The Australian-based lawyer of the accused was recently refused entry into the country to mount a case in their defence.

The suspensions have heightened international interest in the tiny island nation. In June, the Australian Broadcasting Commission reported that a Queensland phosphate importer had allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Nauru’s justice minister, David Adeang, the President, Baron Waqa, and other government MPs. Adeang, often cited as the defacto head of government, denied the claims, first raised in the Nauruan parliament in 2009, and accused the Australian media of campaigning to destabilise Nauru. Likewise, President Waqa has stated that its larger neighbours will not bully Nauru and accused the foreign media of bias. In June, he argued that the arrests had nothing to do with the MPs speaking out against the government but reflected the fact that they were ringleaders of a violent protest aimed at toppling a democratically elected government in order to further their thirst for political power. The government has labelled the protest a riot in which several police was injured.

The New Zealand government has been at the forefront of international condemnation of the current state of affairs. In July the parliament unanimously passed a motion expressing concern about the political situation in Nauru. More recently, the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, has suspended aid amounting to around $750,000 annually to Nauru.

Australia, on the other hand, the largest aid donor to Nauru and financier of an asylum seeker processing facility on the island, has refused to go this far. Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has expressed dismay at the way the situation has unfolded and has sought assurances from the Nauruan government that the rule of law will be upheld. New head of the Pacific Island Forum, Dame Meg Taylor, has likewise expressed concern but dismissed the notion that the regional body will take action.

These claims and counter claims have emerged against the backdrop of an Australian parliamentary inquiry into the management and operation of the asylum seeker detention facility on Nauru, including the safety of children and their families from alleged sexual abuse and criminal conduct.

Madagascar – Local elections, national politics

On 31 July Madagascar headed to the polls to elect local councils. The elections were one of last pieces of the transition roadmap that was designed to return the country to democracy after the coup in January 2009. Since it was finalised, the transition process has been implemented relatively successfully, but the situation remains fragile.

In the coup President Marc Ravalomanana was ousted from power. He sought exile in South Africa and was threatened with immediate arrest if he returned to Madagascar. In the end, he returned in October 2014 and was indeed arrested on his arrival. He was released only in May 2015 following an intervention by President Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

These events encapsulate the difficult return to democracy in Madagascar. In 2010 a new Constitution was approved in a referendum. In January 2014 Rajaonarimampianina was elected in a presidential election that was considered to be generally fair by international observers, even though some forces within the country contested the result. In part, this was due to what happened in the lead up to the vote. As part of the transition deal both former President Marc Ravalomanana and the coup leader and new president, Andry Rajoelina, declared that they would not stand for election. However, Ravalomanana’s wife, Lalao Ravalomanana, announced her candidacy, to which Rajoelina responded by presenting himself for election too, seeing her as a proxy for her husband. In the end, the Election Commission ruled against the candidacy of both Lalao Ravalomanana and Rajoelina as well as another former president, Didier Ratsiraka. Rajaonarimampianina, who was seen as the anti-Ravalomanana candidate, won the election, despite coming only second at the first ballot. Legislative elections were held at the same time, returning a divided parliament.

President Rajaonarimampianina’s presidency has not been uneventful. He soon distanced himself from Rajoelina and tried to shape the formation of the new government. In May 2015 he was subject to an impeachment attempt by deputies opposed to his governing style, even though the presidency has only limited powers under the 2010 semi-presidential constitution.

The most recent part of the transition process was the local elections in late July where the most important contest was the election of the mayor of the capital, Antananarivo. Here, turnout was low at about 30%. However, Lalao Ravalomanana was easily elected, winning 56% of the vote. Her TIM party, which was the former vehicle of President Ravalomanana himself, also emerged with a majority of seats on the city council. In general, though, TIM did not do so well across the island as a whole. Indeed, even though it lost this contest, President Rajaonarimampianina’s HVM party did relatively well at the elections, including in areas that had formerly been a stronghold of the TIM party. Senate elections are due to be held by the end of the year.

The question is whether Lalao Ravalomanana is merely the stalking horse for her husband. He is now free to come and go in the country, having returned freely from a foreign visit only recently. He is also back in charge of his media outlets, giving him direct access to the airwaves. However, he remains a very divisive figure on the island. Moreover, the parliament is still very divided. The transition has been managed relatively well so far, but stern tests are still ahead.

Tyson Roberts – Do executive election rules matter in authoritarian regimes?

This is a guest post by Tyson Roberts, lecturer at UCLA and UC Irvine. It is based on his article ‘The Durability of Presidential and Parliament-Based Dictatorships’ in Comparative Political Studies, June 2015, vol. 48, no. 7, pp. 915-948. An earlier version of this post appeared at The Monkey Cage.

TysonRoberts

Many of the recent presidential elections covered in this blog – e.g., in Togo, Kazakhstan, and Sudan – occurred in states that many political scientists do not consider to be presidential regimes. The category “presidential regimes” is often restricted to presidential democracies, and in such data sets, democracies are states in which incumbent parties lose elections.

In nondemocracies such as Togo, Kazakhstan, and Sudan, many political scientists care little if the leader calls himself president, prime minister, or chairman of some military council. Nor do they care if the executive, president or otherwise, is elected directly or indirectly. Although recent cross-national research has recently paid attention to parties and elections in authoritarian regime legislatures (see here, here, and here for examples), election rules at the executive level in dictatorships are generally ignored in cross-national research. If the ruler cannot lose the election, the conventional wisdom assumes, then the rules for that election are unimportant.

In a forthcoming article, however, I find that election rules for the executive in dictatorships affect a number of outcomes, including regime durability and economic growth. Even if the executive has no intention of losing the election, the rules by which the election is held helps shape inter-elite dynamics in ways that have both economic and political consequences. These issues are particularly salient in recent years, since the majority of authoritarian regimes do hold multiparty elections for the executive office – in most cases, for the office of president.

According to the data used for the paper, most non-monarchy dictatorships prior to 1994 did not hold contested elections at the executive level (the paper does not consider monarchs, since this type of executive is never elected). The most common “executive selection system” during the Cold War was “Unelected”; either no elections were held or elections were uncontested plebiscites. With the end of the Cold War, a surge of contested Presidential systems (in which opposition parties can compete on the direct ballot for president) emerged in dictatorships, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and former Soviet Republics in Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. By 1995, contested Presidential systems were the most common form of executive selection system in authoritarian regimes worldwide.

Meanwhile, approximately 5-10 countries per year, both during and after the Cold War, used what I call a Parliament-based system, in which contested elections are held for the legislature, and the legislature elects the executive. In some cases, the executive is a Prime Minister (for example, in Singapore, Malaysia, and Cambodia). In other cases (such as Botswana and pre-2005 Egypt), the executive is a President that is elected indirectly through the legislature rather than directly by the voters. In some cases, the executive of a Parliament-based system can be voted out at any time by a majority of the legislature, in others, the executive remains in office until the end of his term, at which time he must be confirmed by the legislature. Pre-2005 Egypt was an interesting case: the multiparty Parliament was empowered to elect the president with a two-thirds majority, and then voters confirmed that election in a referendum.

Tyson

Figure 1. Frequency of non-monarchy authoritarian regimes with Unelected (including single party) and multiparty Elected (Parliament-based and Presidential) executive selection systems, 1975-2012. PRES = Presidential; PARL = Parliament-based.

If authoritarian leaders cannot be removed from office by election, then why should the executive selection system matter in authoritarian regimes? The answer begins with the fact that authoritarian regimes centered on an institutionalized ruling party tend to be more durable than regimes based upon the military or upon a personalistic leader and his clique. A party-based regime tends to share power with a broader set of elites; these elites have an incentive to work together to keep the party in power. In military regimes, on the other hand, many officers prefer to hand power to civilians in order to preserve the unity and reputation of the armed forces, and they can enforce an attractive exit agreement with the threat of a future coup, leading to brief spells in power. In personalistic regimes, the basis of support is narrow, which makes holding executive office more lucrative but also less secure than is the case for a party-based regime. Using the data from my analysis, I calculate the average risk of regime failure by dividing the number of failures by the number of country-years: a military regime has a 12% chance of failure (meaning democratization or transition to a non-military authoritarian regime) in a given year, a personalist regime has a 6% chance of failure, and party-based regimes have just a 3% chance of failure in a given year.

If a party-based regime has a Parliament-based executive selection system, the power-sharing and regime-sustaining effects of a party-based regime are amplified. The executive relies upon party members to win legislative office and then support his candidacy. In a Presidential system, on the other hand, the executive runs for office directly, and so relies less on party members, and may rely relatively more on the armed forces to repress voting in opposition areas.

These dynamics help explain why many of the most durable dictatorships are party-based regimes that maintained a Parliament-based executive system: for example, Malaysia, Singapore, and Botswana. For party-based regimes with a Parliament-based system generally, the average risk of regime failure is less than 1% in a given year, while the risk of regime failure for party-based regimes with a Presidential system is 5%. In other words, the durability of Party-based systems is in large part the result of regimes with a Parliament-based executive selection system.

However, it may be misleading to treat election rules in dictatorships as an independent cause of regime failure. Whereas democracies seldom change the rules to elect the executive, the executive selection system in authoritarian regimes can be changed by ruling elites. Weak regimes may be more likely to choose certain election rules, making such rules a marker but not an influential factor.

One way to test whether the executive selection system has an effect on regime survival is to consider cases where an ongoing regime changed its system, and compare those cases to regimes that kept the same system. Rulers of regimes with a Parliament-based system often wish to change the rules to enhance the visibility and legitimacy of their post, and to strengthen the executive office relative to the legislature. Regimes who changed from a Parliament-based to a Presidential system have higher failure rates than those that kept the Parliament-based system. There are nine cases since 1975 in which the system was changed from Parliament-based to Presidential, and in all but two cases (Togo and Zimbabwe), the regime later failed. In Egypt, Mubarak’s predecessor Sadat replaced single-party elections with contested elections at the parliamentary level in 1976. This Parliament-based system survived for nearly 30 years until 2005, when Mubarak adopted direct elections for the presidency. In Yemen, the constitution was amended in 1994 to shift the system from a multiparty Parliament-based system to a direct-vote presidential system. In Mongolia (1993) and Serbia and Montenegro (2000), the ruling party won re-election in a Parliament-based system, changed the rules to a Presidential system, and then lost power within a year by losing the first presidential election. More generally, regimes that maintained a Parliament-based system have a 2% chance of failure in a given year, while regimes that switched from a Parliament-based to a Presidential system have a 6% chance of failure in a given year.

However, this analysis does not preclude the possibility that regimes headed toward failure adopt a particular set of rules along the way. To make an apples-to-apples comparison between regimes with different rules, I use statistical analysis to understand which dictatorships are most likely to adopt a Parliament-based system rather than a Presidential or Unelected system. I find that contested election systems are more common in dictatorships with relatively high-income levels and low reliance on foreign aid and oil exports. Among these, personalist regimes are more likely to use a Presidential system, while party-based regimes are relatively more likely to use a Parliament-based system.

After controlling for these predictors of executive selection system, the Parliament-based system remains effective in promoting dictatorship survival. In other words, dictatorships that share power among many party elites are more likely to maintain a Parliament-based system that institutionalizes their power against the executive, and such power-sharing in turn promotes the ability of those elites to remain in power. Dictatorships in which more power rests with the executive are more likely to adopt a Presidential system that centers power in his hands; this concentration of power promotes survival of the president as long as the regime endures, but undermines the survival of the regime more generally.

To understand further how the Parliament-based system extends the lifetime of party-based dictatorships, I have found a number of intriguing patterns that fit with this story. Economic growth is particularly high in such regimes; Singapore, Malaysia, and Botswana are just a few examples. These regimes are also stable politically, with few cabinet shake-ups or military coups.

In short, the benefits for citizens from multiparty elections in dictatorships are particularly common in those with certain institutional features: a Parliament-based executive selection system and a strong institutionalized party. However, once an authoritarian ruler frees himself from the constraints of a Parliament-based system, citizens have little hope of implementing such constraints. I found no cases during the years covered of a Parliament-based system replacing a Presidential system in a surviving dictatorship.

Tyson Roberts is a lecturer at UCLA and UC Irvine. His research interests include comparative political institutions, democratization, international political economy, and the politics of economic development.

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Non-partisan presidents

There is a wide agreement among political scientists that political parties fulfil a crucial role in democracies. They nominate candidates, coordinate election campaigns, aggregate interests, formulate and implement policy proposals, and manage government power. Yet various democracies around the world have experienced non-partisan presidents.

The website worldstatesmen.org is a unique data source which provides us with information about the party affiliation of presidents. According to its founder, Ben Cahoon, non-partisan presidents are “those who were not affiliated with a political party at the time of taking office.” Here we are interested in presidents of presidential and semi-presidential systems. So, presidents of parliamentary regimes are excluded from our list. The chart below provides an overview of the number of non-partisan presidents in consolidated democracies[1], sorted by continent.

Number of non-partisan presidents in presidential and semi-presidential democracies between 1990-2013

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Source: World Statesmen: http://worldstatesmen.org/

We found the highest number of non-partisan presidents in Europe. In total 18 non-partisan candidates were elected president in European consolidated democracies between 1990 and 2013. It should be noted that all non-partisan presidents were elected in third, or better, fourth-wave democracies.[2] Indeed, we did not find any non-partisan president in the so-called bastions of democracy in Western Europe. In addition, all of these new democratic states adopted a semi-presidential system.[3]

In Asia we found four non-partisan presidents. Three of them were elected in semi-presidential Timor-Leste. The other was elected in presidential South Korea.

In Africa, three non-partisan presidents were elected: one in a presidential democracy, Benin, and two in semi-presidential regimes, namely São Tomé and Príncipe and Mali. In South America two presidential democracies, Bolivia and Ecuador, have experienced a non-partisan president. The only country that experienced a non-partisan president in North America was Guatemala, a presidential democracy. In Australia/Oceania all countries have adopted a parliamentary regime. These non-partisan presidents have been excluded from our list.

All in all, out of a total of 223 presidents who were elected between 1990 and 2013, 29 (13%) presidents were not affiliated to a political party. In Europe 26% of all presidents were non-partisan.

What do these numbers tell us? They demonstrate that the election of a non-partisan president is a relatively rare phenomenon in all continents but Europe. In Europe, more than a quarter of the elected presidents is non-partisan. The election of a non-partisan president may affect crucial matters like democratic representation. To be sure, non-partisan presidents are not accountable to a political party during their time of office. Worse still, when such presidents do not wish to get re-elected, they are free to act according to their own wishes. Yet, their existence has been largely ignored in the literature. More research is therefore needed on the effect of non-partisan presidents on the quality of democracy.


[1] A democracy is considered consolidated if it scores at least 5 on the Polity IV scale for five or more consecutive years.

[2] Doorenspleet, R. (2005) Democratic Transitions: Exploring the Structural Sources of the Fourth Wave. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

[3] The web site “The semi-presidential one” provides a list of countries with a presidential and semi-presidential constitution.