Tag Archives: elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkey – After a period of violence and threats of political instability Erdoğan’s party wins back its dominant position in the parliament

Turkish voters went to the polls once again on the first of November, only six months after the June 7 general election. Eventually, 49 per cent voted for the ruling AKP, thus reinstating the AKP’s single party rule and its dominant status once again. The main opposition party, CHP, sustained its votes, whereas the nationalist MHP and the pro-Kurdish HDP saw a decline in their support even though they passed the ten per cent national threshold. This result came as a surprise for many as even the pro-government polls failed to predict such a strong result for the AKP.

The AKP’s nine percent gain came after a period of increasing political violence, threats of instability, and authoritarian pressures over free press and atmosphere of fear. After losing their parliamentary majority in the June election – which was turned into an informal referendum for a presidential system by the President – the AKP continued to govern the country. Parliament stayed closed and opposition parties failed to come together to form a legislative or executive coalition. Meanwhile, President Erdoğan continued exercising de facto powers despite the fact that his recent aggressive campaign for a type of hyper-presidential system failed.

The rising star of the June 2015 election was Selahattin Demirtaş the leader of the HDP pro-Kurdish party, who famously declared that his party would not allow Erdoğan to form a presidential system. He led his party to crossing the ten per cent national threshold for the first time, and thus prevented President Erdoğan and his party from realising their goal of a presidential system by simply taking their fair share of parliamentary seats. As votes for parties which are unable to pass the electoral threshold are assigned to the biggest party, giving them a significant overrepresentation under the Turkish D’Hondt system, votes for the HDP in previous elections often translated into an increased seat share for the AKP.

Four parties entered parliament following the June 7 elections: the AKP, CHP, MHP and HDP. However, none of them had a clear single majority. In a highly polarised political climate this meant stalemate. Prime Minister Davutoğlu, the new “official” leader of the AKP was given the mandate to form the government but returned it unsuccessfully to President Erdoğan. The president also made it clear that he was in favour of a snap election rather than forming a coalition.

The six months period in which Turkey first discussed coalition formation, and later the possibility of snap election, coincided with the end of peace talks and a ceasefire agreement between government forces and the PKK. Bloody clashes between the PKK and security forces took place in civilian occupied town centres as well as mountains resulting in heavy civilian, military and PKK losses. Furthermore ISIL suicide bombers attacked two different political demonstrations in Suruç and Ankara, killing 136 people.

It was not only the increasing threat of political violence that contributed to the political instability of the country. Within this climate fears of economic crisis have been rising together with threat of political instability. In addition, there were attacks on newspapers and journalists opposed to a government run solely by the AKP members and MPs. Some of the opposing newspapers and TV channels have been seized, sparking reactions from journalists all over the world. Many of the TV channels’ and newspapers’ coverage have been pro-government and opposition parties were unsuccessful in voicing their opinion in a free, equal or fair election atmosphere.

The AKP’s election strategy was formed on the idea of stability. Single party rule against coalition governments, peace against violence, economic growth against economic crisis -propagating that coalition meant instability, political violence and economic crisis.
Furthermore, President Erdoğan was overall less visible as part of AKP campaigns and plans for the introduction of a presidential system were not mentioned this time around. This campaign strategy seemed to have worked well as the AKP regained the votes that it lost six months ago. It has been claimed that Erdoğan new strategy after June 7 election was reinstituting single party rule by the AKP which would enable his de facto presidential rule. In other words, a type of semi-presidential system without being forced to cohabit.

Meanwhile the HDP and its rising star Selahattin Demirtaş could not campaign after the Suruç and Ankara bombings which mainly targeted the party and its supporters. Campaign events had to be cancelled in fear of more violence. The CHP partly followed the same path and decided not to lead an aggressive campaign. The pro-nationalist MHP and its leader Bahçeli, who blocked any possibility for a coalition with the AKP or opposition after the June election, led an unsuccessful campaign trying to explain why he refused to form a coalition. In the end, the MHP lost more than 4 per cent of its votes to the AKP.

With this result Turkey’s chances for re-establishing a parliamentary system are significantly slimmer. President Erdoğan now has a free hand to control executive, legislative and judicial powers, resulting in a strong form of semi-presidentialism. There is no doubt that he will increase the pressure on the political opposition, free press or any force that opposes his neo-patrimonial rule. It is also highly likely that he will seek to change the constitution – even though his party lacks the necessary three-fifths majority with a referendum – to establish a so called “Turkish Type” of presidentialism.

South Korea – Presidential Decree, Presidential Veto, and Presidential Power

Elections are in the horizon for South Korea: legislative elections are scheduled for April 2016 while presidential elections are to be held in December 2017. With about nine months of campaigning to go under a president that seems under pressure of public disapprobation, and with the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) seemingly in disarray, this looks to be a good time for ruling Saenuri Party officers to re-evaluate loyalties to the “lame-duck” President while underlining allegiances to the public. It seems that floor leader Yoo Seung-min did just that: he brokered a deal with the opposition NPAD to pass the President’s public service pension reform by acceding to the NPAD’s demands to pass the National Assembly Act. Yet, within weeks of the path-breaking effort, both Yoo and the hard-won reforms would suffer the fall-out of the President’s wrath.

The National Assembly Act allows for the legislature to “request” changes to the president’s decrees or ordinances (itself a change from the previously, more strongly-worded “demand” changes in the Act). The Act, primarily targeted at reducing the executive’s influence on the investigations into the Sewol tragedy, provided for parliament to request a revision or change to an enforcement ordinance that requires the relevant ministry to respond to the request. The nimble balance of delivering on an important policy on the President’s agenda while acknowledging the public’s demand for greater accountability without compromising (and, indeed, perhaps enhancing) the ruling Saenuri party’s election chances was no mean feat. Indeed, the National Assembly Act was passed by 211 lawmakers – more than two thirds of the 298 incumbent members of the legislature – so that its strong support would underline to the President the significance of the brokered agreement.

Yet, the President not only came out blasting against the legislature’s “unconstitutional” encroachment of presidential powers but also threatened to veto the Act, and with it, the civil service pension reform bill that had been painfully and painstakingly negotiated. And, the President did not stop there. Following her veto on June 25, the President proceeded to cold-shoulder floor leader Yoo – notwithstanding his apologies and efforts to mend bridges with the executive – and her own party, until Yoo resign as floor leader for his “betrayal.”

Following the President’s veto, the Saenuri party recoiled from the Act, choosing to boycott the vote revisiting the Act and allowing the bill to die. The ruling party also recommended floor leader Yoo’s resignation from the post in a general assembly meeting, which Yoo accepted.

What is perhaps most curious is that these series of events have progressed while President Park is personally experiencing the most significant slide in public approval of her career, marked in turn by Sewol ferry disaster in 2014, an “influence” scandal in January 2015 that eventually led to the replacement of her highly unpopular chief-of-staff Kim Ki-choon, a huge corruption scandal that engulfed chief architects of her 2012 campaign as well as her government revealed in the aftermath of a business tycoon’s suicide in April 2015, to be followed by the government’s missteps and mishandling of the MERS crisis in June 2015.

What does this mean? At a minimum, it shows that the President retains significant political clout, which may set up political battles between the sitting President and prospective presidential candidates for control of the party going into elections.

Kiribati – What does it take to become President?

2015 shapes as an important year in Kiribati politics as it will be the last of current President Anote Tong’s tenure in office. First elected Beretitenti [President] in 2003, Tong has served the maximum three terms allowed for under the Kiribati constitution and so he cannot contest the next ballot. Taking up where I left off in this post about the profile of Presidents in FSM, here I look back at the people who have been President in Kiribati and cast my eye over possible contenders for the top job this time around.

As outlined here, Kiribati is somewhat unique among Pacific Island countries in that it has enjoyed relative political stability since independence in 1979. There have only been four Heads of Government, for example, which is a marked contrast to other Pacific countries, especially in neighboring Tuvalu or Melanesia. Like nearby Marshall Islands and Nauru, the President of Kiribati is both Head of State and Head of Government. One distinguishing feature is its two-round runoff electoral system in which the Parliament nominates up to four of its members after each election to contest a nation-wide ballot for the Presidency.

All four Presidents of Kiribati are currently still Members of Parliament (MP), although, as I will discuss further below, this may well change at the next election. The first President, Sir Ieremia Tabai, was New Zealand educated and took the country to independence at just 29 years old. On the completion of his three terms his Vice President, Teatao Teannaki was elected, although some commentators believed that Tabai continued to wield considerable influence behind the scenes before and after his appointment as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum in 1992. Teannaki, who incidentally is much older than the other three (he was born in 1936 whereas the others were born in the early 1950s), was educated in the UK and only served one term as President. His successor, Teburoro Tito, was educated in Fiji and came from the opposite side of politics to Tabai and Teannaki (although the membership of parliamentary coalitions is fluid in Kiribati). He is also the only one of the four to be elected from a Tarawa constituency. Tarawa is the capital of Kiribati and is home to around 50% of the population. Tito was eventually defeated in a no-confidence motion, which led to the election of Tong in 2003 after a brief caretaker period. Educated in the UK, Tong has been especially vocal on climate change issues during his Presidency, which has led to his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

While the sample is obviosuly tiny, many of the patterns identified in the FSM post are also apparent in Kiribati. Presidents tend to be male, overseas educated from professional backgrounds, which means that even if they are not born in Tarawa they have spent most of their lives living there or overseas. It also means that they have the financial resources to compete in election campaigns. Campaigning is increasingly expensive in Pacific Island countries and the two-round runoff system means that prospective Presidents have to fund both an initial parliamentary contest and then a later nation-wide Presidential campaign. Kiribati is a geographically large country (21 inhabited islands spread across more than 3 million kilometers of ocean) and so having a national profile, often developed by performance in parliamentary debates that are widely broadcast on radio, helps. The backing of local members from each of Kiribati’s atoll constituencies is also important.

Keeping that in mind, who might vie for the top job this time around? The fluid nature of Kiribati politics makes any outcome hard to predict but we might expect that the two losers in the last Presidential campaign, Dr. Tetaua Taitai and Rimeta Beniamina, might contest again. Taitai heads up the main opposition party, of which Tito is a member, while Beniamina is a former government MP but is now leader of his own party. Taitai, who was born in 1947, is of the Tabai/Tito generation whereas Beniamina, who was born in 1960, would represent a changing of the guard. This shift would be especially significant if other independence generation politicians like Tabai, Tito and Teannaki chose to step down or lost at the next election. The current Vice President, Teima Onorio, is another possibility. Hers would be a remarkable result, however, as no women has ever been elected Head of State in the independent Pacific. For this and other reasons her candidacy is unlikely.

No doubt others will emerge throughout 2015. What makes the outcome so difficult to predict, however, is that candidates and their supporters must first win their constituency seats and in a country where political parties have little bearing on voter preferences – family and church allegiances are more important – this is not an insignificant hurdle.

Maurice Duverger, 1917-2014

Maurice Duverger died on 17 December 2014 at the age of 97. He had been in a rest home for many years, too unwell to make public appearances. Here are some clips of Duverger from the ina.fr website.

The first clip is an excerpt from a December 1965 programme about the first direct presidential election in France after the 1962 constitutional reform.

The second clip of Duverger shows him in a car during demonstrations in Paris in May 1966. He has been invited to comment on events. There is footage of Duverger at 1 min. 20 secs.

The third is from May 1968 where Duverger talks about the student riots that were shaking the country.

There is a further clip from 1976 where he is talking about a new book that had just published.

The final clip is a news report from October 1987. The item is about the National Front’s campaign against absenteeism by deputies in the French National Assembly. There are comments from Prof. Duverger at 1 min. 55 secs.

Other clips are available too.

France – Government gets a shellacking in mid-term Senate elections

Elections to the Senate, the upper house of the French legislature, were held on Sunday. The Senate is an indirectly elected body, though the electorate is large, mainly comprising local councillors and there are many of them. Since recent changes, the mandate of a Senator lasts six years and one half of the senate is elected every three years.

In 2011, the left gained a slim majority in the Senate. This was first ever left-wing majority in the upper house since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958. The left has traditionally been disadvantaged at Senate elections, because there are many councillors and, hence electors, from rural areas who have tended to support the right. While the left enjoyed a slim majority after 2011, the government did not. The left’s majority included the Communist, Republican, and Citizens group, which included representatives from left-wing parties not in the government. Moreover, the majority also included the Greens. However, they left the governing coalition with the Socialists in March 2014. Partly because the government of socialist President François Hollande never enjoyed a majority even when the Greens were in office, it was defeated a number of times in the Senate after it took office in 2012.

Following the election at the weekend the state of the parties is roughly as follows:

  • UMP (right-wing opposition) – 145 seats (+12)
  • UDI (centre-right opposition) – 38 seats (+6)
  • Socialists (government) – 112 seats (-16)
  • RDSE (government) – 12 seats (-7)
  • Greens (opposition) – 10 seats (no change)
  • Communists and left opposition  – 17 seats (-3)
  • National Front (extreme right) – 2 seats (+2)

So, as expected, the left has lost its overall majority. Moreover, the Socialist group is weakened further. This was expected, but it will make life for the government of PM Manuel Valls more difficult. Not entirely unexpectedly, but newsworthy nonetheless, was the arrival for the first time of the National Front (FN) in the Senate. One of the noteworthy elements of the election of their two Senators is that they received the votes of electors who were not representatives of the FN on local councils. This is perhaps a sign that the FN is becoming more mainstream, less untouchable.

These two lessons of the Senate elections confirm general trends. The popularity of President Hollande is still hovering around an all-time low at less than 20%. He has become a figure of ridicule. This is being felt within the Socialist party itself. The President and PM are having difficulty keeping their majority together in the National Assembly. It is not unrealistic to think that the government may lose its majority there in the coming months. At the same time, the National Front is polling very well. There is no chance, as yet, of its candidate being elected President of the Republic in 2017. However, there is every chance that the candidate, which is almost certainly going to be the party leader, Marine Le Pen, will win through to the second ballot.

The prospect of a weak PS and an unelectable FN is one of the reasons why former president Nicolas Sarkozy made a political come back only last week. If he were to stand as the UMP’s candidate in 2017, he would be well placed to win again, though the same could be said about any UMP candidate at the moment, notably Sarkozy’s main rivals on the right, former PMs Alain Juppé and François Fillon. Sarkozy’s chances are not unrealistic. Some of his judicial issues have gone away at least for the time being. He is also a dogged political fighter with a history of reinventing himself and identifying popular (or populist) issues.

As things stand, the FN will continue to make headlines over the next couple of years, but the significant battle is the one that is taking place within the UMP.

Guinea – Opposition demonstrations to begin anew as political dialogue falters

Following failure to achieve consensus on action points from the July 1st – 9 political dialogue between ruling and opposition parties, Guinean opposition parties have declared their intent to resume street demonstrations. Opposition parties claim that the government has misrepresented the recommendations agreed upon by the two parties, aimed at paving the way for a peaceful presidential poll in 2015. The opposition thus intends to organize a political manifestation in Conakry on August 4th. During demonstrations in 2011-2013, more than 60 opposition activists were killed in protests over the modalities for organizing legislative elections.

Opposition grievances center on delays in the organization of local elections and the lack of progress on other provisions of a political agreement signed on July 3, 2013 between opposition and majority parties. According to that agreement, local polls should have taken place by the end of the first quarter of 2014. In March 2014, however, the election commission postponed the elections indefinitely citing a lack of funds. Mistrust between the government and opposition parties has since festered. The 54 seats held by opposition parties in the 114-seat National Assembly remained empty for three weeks, during the most recent legislative session, inhibiting the passage of laws requiring a two thirds majority to be adopted. This included the adoption of rules of procedure to govern the legislature’s own work.

In late June, the Minister of Territorial Administration Alhassane Condé made overtures to the opposition to resume dialogue stalled since the September 2013 legislative elections. Dialogue effectively resumed on July 1st and concluded with apparent success and the opposition resuming its seats in the legislature. Discussions centered on five agenda points:

  • The choice of a new operator for the revision of the voter registry through open tender;
  • The organization of local elections;
  • The political neutrality of the public service;
  • The prosecution of actors responsible for violence related to last year’s legislative elections and the compensation for victims of that violence; and
  • The establishment of follow-up and monitoring committees to facilitate implementation and oversight of agreed-upon action points.

Problems arose when the Minister of Territorial Administration forwarded a synthesis of the decisions made during the dialogue sessions for joint signature, on July 11. Opposition parties found that certain details had been glossed over, omitted or misrepresented. For example, the opposition complains that the synthesis prepared by the government omits the following points on which consensus was reached: that the current operator of the voter registry, Waymark/Sabary, cannot participate in the open tender for a new operator; that political parties should be associated with the elaboration of an election calendar for the local polls; and that disciplinary action will be taken against public servants found to violate the principle of neutrality in public service.

Guinea is clearly far from achieving a rebuilding of mutual trust after the highly contentious 2010 presidential poll. The opposition is particularly concerned that the open tender for the selection of a new operator for the revision of the voter registry appears to be moving ahead, while the follow-up and monitoring committees with representation of both opposition and ruling parties have not yet been seated. The Secretary General of the ruling party, Saloum Cisse, calls the opposition’s intent to resume demonstrations an unnecessary provocation, as the ‘door for dialogue is wide open.’ Hopefully, ruling and opposition parties will succeed in achieving a common understanding of the outcome of the dialogue earlier this month to avoid tensions escalating further and a resumption of violence.

Slovakia – Perils of semi-presidentialism?! Independent Andrej Kiska inaugurated as new president

On 15 June 2014 independent Andrej Kiska was inaugurated as Slovakia’s new president, succeding Ivan Gašparovič who had served as president since 2004. Kiska is the country’s first truly non-partisan president and while his lack of any partisan affiliation was one of the main reason for his electoral victory against Prime Minister Robert Fico, it will also be his greatest obstacle to exerting political influence.

picture

Andrej Kiska giving his inaugural address in the concert hall of the Slovak Philharmonic | photo via nrsr.sk

Since 1993, Slovakia has experience three different presidents – indirectly elected Michal Kovač (1993-1998; indirectly elected), Rudolf Schuster (1999-2004) and Ivan Gašparovič (2004-2014; both directly elected) – all of which declared to stand above parties and act as presidents of all people. Kiska, too, declared his ambition to be a president above parties, yet in contrast to his predecessors he is – in his own words – “the first president without political or partisan past”. Non-partisan presidents are not an unusual phenomenon and given that constitutional stipulations or constitutional practices in most European republics foresee that presidents give up their party membership a number of presidents could be classified as such. Nevertheless, Kiska is exceptional in so far as he never served in any other political office and has never been member of a political party. His predecessors were all experienced politicians and (at least up until their inauguration) party members. In a European context, the only real point of comparison for such apolitical and non-partisan candidate even entering the second round of a popular presidential election would be Stanislaw Tyminski, a Polish-Canadian businessman who surprisingly advanced to the second round in the 1990 Polish presidential elections but eventually lost against Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

Kiska’s lack of a political past together with his background as a self-made man proved to be his most important asset and unique selling point in the presidential campaign. However, Kiska’s independence will now likely be an obstacle to his success as a president. The political left, almost exclusively represented by the governing SMER-party of Prime Minister Robert Fico, sees Kiska as a representative of the right and will generally be hostile towards the new president (not only because he defeated Fico). While this might not lead to open conflict between government and Prime Minister, the refusal of outgoing president Gašparovič to meet with his successor is reminiscent of the way the semi-authoritarian government of Vladimir Meciar (1992-1998) tried to sabotage the work of president Michal Kovač and shows how the government could try to prevent Kiska from becoming an effective check-and-balance. The fragmented political right on the other hand is wary of the new president and despite the support Kiska received from the third- and fourth-placed centre-right candidates, Radoslav Procházka and Milan Kňažko, he can hardly count on any party to act as his support base.

With the next parliamentary elections still two years away and SMER holding a majority of 55% in the assembly, Kiska is in a difficult situation. On the one hand he is in cohabitation with the government and should therefore be more active to show his closeness to and build alliances with the centre-right in parliament. On the other hand, although SMER’s approval ratings have been falling since their victory in the snap elections of 2012, it is currently unlikely that an alliance of centre-right parties will emerge that can topple the current government. Furthermore, if Kiska wants to play at least some role in everyday politics in the next two years, he needs to stay on neutral terms with the government and parliamentary majority. Although the contents of Kiska’s inaugural address should be interpreted with caution, his announcement to support political ideas from whichever political side they come from appears to be a signal in this direction.

Kiska

Kiska’s campaign poster [slogan reads: ‘The first independent president’] | image via andrejkiska.sk

In their discussion of presidentialism, Linz (1990) and Mainwaring and Shugart (1997) agree that popular presidential elections are more likely to bring political outsiders into power which can have negative consequences for political stability and presents one of the theoretical perils of presidentialism. Due to the limited powers of the Slovak president, a destabilisation of the political scene is unlikely – even the extremely frequent use of vetoes by president Rudolf Schuster who vetoed more than 10% of all legislation did not affect the parliamentary character of the system. Rather, the outsider status appears to have a negative effect on the president’s ability to influence policy and thus represents a peril for the president, not democracy.

For now, Kiska’s most likely course of action appears to be to continue stressing his philanthropic activities – he is founder of the “God Angel” charity, declared that he was willing to give his salary to the poor (see also here) and invited a number of socially disadvantaged people to the first dinner he hosted as president – while looking for a viable political partner. The new centrist formation ‘Sieť’ (Net) of third-placed presidential candidate Radoslav Procházka (the only of the centre-right candidates to unequivocally support Kiska in the second round) could be an option. According to a recent poll, its approval stands at 13% and is thus only second to Prime Minister Fico’s SMER (34.6%). Nevertheless, Kiska will likely remain cautious in affilliating himself with any political party (even inofficially) and probably wait how ‘Sieť’ fairs in local election in autumn before deciding on further steps.

 

Kosovo – President in post-election government formation controversy

Kosovo held a snap parliamentary election on 8 June. The results, though yet to be confirmed, were not dissimilar to the 2010 parliamentary election. The ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) won 30.7% (-1.4%), the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo won 25.8% (+1.1%), Self-determination won 13.5% (+0.8%), the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo won 9.6% (-1.4%), and a new party, the Civic Initiative for Kosovo, won 5.24%. These were the only parties that crossed the 5% threshold.

Given these results, there was a general expectation that the ruling prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, who heads the largest party in parliament would return at the head of a coalition that was dominated by his own DPK with the support of smaller parties.

However, events may turn out differently. Even though there was no united opposition to the DPK at the election, Balkan Insight is now reporting that the Democratic League of Kosovo, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, and the Civic Initiative for Kosovo are planning to form an alternative coalition.

The problem is that the proposed coalition may not enjoy an absolute majority in parliament. The nationalist Self-determination party is opposed to PM Thaçi and is not currently part of the coalition negotiations, though it may tacitly support an anti-Thaçi coalition. The situation is made more difficult because the parliament comprises 120 seats, 20 of which are reserved for minorities. Their support is likely to be crucial for the formation of any government, but it is not clear who they will go with.

The result has caused a constitutional problem. Art 95.1 states: “After elections, the President of the Republic of Kosovo proposes to the Assembly a candidate for Prime Minister, in consultation with the political party or coalition that has won the majority in the Assembly necessary to establish the Government.” So, who should the president call upon to form a government? Should it be PM Thaçi, who heads the largest party but who does not have any major coalition partners with which to form a majority government, or the PM candidate from the current opposition, Ramush Haradinaj, who heads the fourth largest party and who may not enjoy the support of an absolute majority in the new parliament, but who is the candidate from the coalition that stands perhaps the best chance of forming a government?

Basically, as in the recent case in Madagascar, there is no right answer to this question. The president has to make a choice as to how the constitution should be interpreted. The current incumbent is an independent, Atifete Jahjaga. She is under pressure from both sides to acquiesce to their demands. How she decides and how the parties react will be a stern test of democracy in the new country.

Malawi’s president faces tough challenge

On May 20, Malawians headed to the polls to vote in the most hotly contested presidential election since the return to multiparty politics in 1993.

In a crowded field of 12 presidential hopefuls, four lead candidates stand a chance of winning as election results continue to trickle in. Incumbent Joyce Banda from the People’s Party (PP) has campaigned aggressively to consolidate her popular mandate after first acceding to the presidency upon the death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, in 2012. The brother of the former president, Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is Banda’s main rival. The two remaining lead candidates are Atupele Muluzi from the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

Some observers view this tight presidential race as cause for celebration, a sign that Malawi is overcoming its authoritarian past. As noted by the editor of the online newspaper, Nyasa Times, “We never thought that one day we will be in a situation where we cannot actually tell who is going to be our next president.”

Other commentators are more circumspect. For one, all of the lead contenders come with a heavy load of political baggage. Banda started her presidency on a high. One of three female heads of state in sub-Saharan Africa, she made every effort to appeal as a strong and transparent leader. She, for instance, made a show of selling the presidential jet, a symbol of political excess in a country with a GDP per capita of $800 (2012 est.). She further appealed to donors by implementing economic reforms which saw the value of Malawi’s currency, the Kwacha, fall by 25 percent. The rosy glow quickly dissipated, though, as Banda engaged in the same political strong-arming as her predecessors, fuelled run-away inflation through her currency devaluation, and fumbled her response to “cashgate”, a corruption scandal that has brought to light the loss of $40m worth of public funds.

Banda’s rivals offer no clear alternative. Mutharika has promised to put the country on more stable economic footing, but fears abound that his primary aim is to secure his brother Bingu’s legacy by consolidating the Mutharika family hold on power in Malawi.

Muluzi, too, has dubious family ties to account for, despite being the youngest and seemingly least encumbered candidate. His farther, Bakili Muluzi, served two terms as president starting in 1994 and is currently on trial for corruption charges. Muluzi the son has consequently had to shake off allegations that he is benefiting from the family’s misappropriated wealth to fund his campaign.

Finally, Chakwera of the MCP is heading up the party of the former dictator, Hastings Banda. Although he has a fresh cohort of politicians leading his campaign, the memory of atrocities perpetrated under the former MCP regime is still a sore point among Malawi’s older voting population.

The electioneering tactics of these various candidates have raised additional concerns. Banda in particular has come under fire for distributing maize and cattle to voters in rural regions. Malawi’s independent Human Rights Commission has filed a suit with the High Court demanding that Banda account for the funds used to finance these giveaways, which appear to surpass the amount Malawi’s informal patronage norms generally sanction. As one commissioner put it, “Handouts are typical in our politics, but this is so much stuff.”

Violence also marred a campaign season that often more closely resembled a hard fought turf war than an open election contest. Historically, voting in Malawi follows regional lines, but Banda, Mutharika and Muluzi all come from the southern region, which is also the most populous. This situation has raised the electoral stakes considerably. Responding to reported fatalities at a Banda rally held in an opponent’s stronghold, one commentator remarked, “If every partisan grouping declared their area or location a no go zone for rival parties, this country would be divided into hostile territories that will make the practicing of democracy and multi-party politics impossible.”

The bitter campaigns stoked further tensions ahead of Tuesday’s elections as fear spread of possible rigging and more violence. Already on Sunday May 18, protest broke out in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe as crowds responded to rumours of an unidentified vehicle ostensibly carrying marked ballots. Widespread irregularities on election day fuelled additional violence, particularly in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial hub, where military vehicles were deployed to maintain peace.

The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) initially affirmed all was under control. By Thursday, however, the MEC concluded it was in “no rush” to announce results amidst allegations of a police raid on a “rigging” house spread. President Banda has joined in the chorus, denouncing “some serious irregularities” and calling for calm. Beyond a simple goodwill call for transparency, this cry for help appears to be a rare sign of an incumbent African president running scared; early reports suggest that Mutharika is in the lead. This is worrying, because it raises the prospect that Banda may be laying the groundwork to reject the election results on the basis that they were manipulated in favour of the opposition.

Whoever emerges the winner, though, it seems clear that heightened electoral competition and uncertainty are not, in and of themselves, synonymous with democratic consolidation in Malawi. There is of course a temptation to celebrate the absence of a dominant incumbent figure with a clear hold on power. However, the elite fragmentation and political tension that has come in its stead carries its own set of liabilities, potentially jeopardizing the prospects for a peaceful transition and for effective future governance capable of addressing Malawi’s many development needs.