Tag Archives: executive-legislature relations

Venezuela – Executive and Legislative Branch in Open Conflict

In Venezuela, the executive and legislative branch are now engaged in nothing short of open war. The Venezuelan Supreme Court announced late on Wednesday that it would take over and assume the legislative powers of the opposition-dominated Congress. The Court alleges that the National Assembly are in contempt of court over a case involving three opposition legislators. The opposition claim that this move is simply a coup. In fact, some have compared it to the autogolpe (self-coup) of President Alberto Fujimori in Peru in 1992.

Executive-legislative relations in Venezuela have been smoldering since the legislative elections of December 2015. As I have discussed previously on this blog, although the opposition won enough seats for the all-important two thirds majority, some political shenanigans managed to prevent the super-majority taking all of their seats. The Supreme Court barred three opposition legislators and one from the governing coalition from taking their seats. These four legislators are all from the state of Amazonas, and the PSUV alleged that there had been irregularities during the election, revolving around accusations of vote buying.  To prevent the escalation of another political crisis, in January, the three opposition legislators in question, Julio Haron Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana, agreed to give up their seats while investigations into the alleged electoral irregularities continue.

Although this denied the opposition the magic two thirds majority required to change the constitution, they have nonetheless placed President Maduro on the back foot, both in and out of the Assembly. However, President Maduro has found an ally in the Supreme Court. The Venezuelan constitution does not grant President Maduro veto power, but presidents are allowed to refer a bill to the Supreme Court, who can rule on the legitimacy of the legislation. So far, in the government’s battle with Congress, the Supreme Court has proven to be President Maduro’s best ally, striking down a number of the opposition initiatives.  In this case, the Court accuses the leaders of Congress of not handling the case of the expelled legislators according to legal procedures.

This all comes amid a debilitating economic crisis for Venezuela. The Maduro administration has been seeking investment in the state oil company PDVSA in order to raise much-needed income. Some of this mooted investment was to come from Russia. The opposition led-Congress was looking set to oppose these type of joint ventures and foreign investment in Venezuela’s oil industry. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court also authorized Maduro to negotiate such ventures without Congressional approval.

Venezuela’s actions have been condemned by governments across the region and by the Organization of American States, but it looks as if Maduro’s administration are now being forced to go for all or nothing. We have written before on this blog, notably with reference to Venezuela, about electoral or competitive authoritarianism, a coin termed by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way in a seminal paper back in 2002.[1] These are regimes that they describe as a ‘diminished form of authoritarianism’ and involve the reform of political institutions to centralize power and distort the electoral arena in order to stack the deck in favor of the incumbent. Democracy remains, particularly the façade of procedural democracy, but it is of a much weakened variety.

In Venezuela, it doesn’t even look like much of that façade remains any more.

[1] Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way. 2001. The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy., Vo. 13(2), pp. 51-65.

Emiliano Grossman – The French “guillotine” procedure: rationalized parliamentarism gone mad

This is a guest post by Emiliano Grossman, Associate Research Professor, Centre d’études européennes de Sciences Po, Paris

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The announcement that the government would again resort to Article 49.3 of the Constitution for the adoption of the second reading of the “Macron Act” on June 18 caused a new outcry among politicians and the press. The first reading had already been subject to this procedure[1]. The main reason behind this is the existence of increasingly strong divisions within the center-left government majority in the Assemblée nationale, France’s lower chamber. The Macron Bill contains a series of measures meant to boost the French economy, but many of its critics within the government camp consider it to be a classic pro-market measure with few benefits for employment or public finance.

The use of this article is not new and neither are the hostile reactions that its use has led to. Opposition parties pretend to be outraged, while members of the majority remain, at best, awkwardly silent. Created by the 1958 Constitution, the ’49 .3′ or ‘guillotine’ is a permanent issue of conflict under the 5th Republic. The reason is simple: the procedure puts an end to parliamentary debate and the normal legislative procedure. In its original wording, the article is very explicit:

The Prime Minister may, after deliberation by the Council of Ministers, make the passing of a Finance Bill or Social Security Financing Bill an issue of a vote of confidence before the National Assembly. In that event, the Bill shall be considered passed unless a resolution of no-confidence, tabled within the subsequent twenty-four hours, is carried as provided for in the foregoing paragraph.

In other words, once the announcement is made, the law is adopted unless the opponents to the bill force the government to resign through a no-confidence vote! Originally, this text was conceived as a protection for the executive against the excesses of the Fourth Republic with its very high government instability. Article 49 carries very narrow understanding of government responsibility, defined simply as the absence of an absolute hostile majority. This has made it possible to make governments more stable and less vulnerable to fragile majorities. But over time it has turned into a tool in the hands of the executive, even in the absence of a real danger to the government.

As with any use of 49.3, voices on all sides have expressed hostility. Moreover, the two current heads of the executive feature an “anti-49.3” record. The Huffington Post quotes François Hollande arguing in favor of the “abolition of the 49-3” in 2007 (as well as many other now forgotten measures meant to strengthen the powers of Parliament) and Prime Minister Manuel Valls was part a group of “deputés” who, in 2008, introduced an amendment to delete Article 49.3 from the Constitution.

They were also opposed to the only reform of this article, which took place in 2008, under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. The reform was considered too timid. Rather than abolishing the article, it limited its use to the finance bill and one other bill per parliamentary session.

The graph below shows the number of 49.3 per legislature. This includes “complete” five-year legislatures as the last three legislatures, but also shorter ones, such as the 10th (1993-1997) or eighth (1986-1988). The blue-red band above the graph indicates the color of the majority for each legislature (blue = right, red = left).

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The all-time champion of 49.3 is Michel Rocard, prime minister during the 9th legislature. At the time, the left held theoretically had an absolute majority in the Assembly. De facto, however, it could not rely on the Communist Party. With 28 uses, the Rocard governments account for one third of the 83 appeals to date. Edith Cresson, during the same legislature, used the article almost once a month. Before them, Pierre Mauroy, Raymond Barre and Jacques Chirac during the 1986 cohabitation had been regular users. François Fillon, the only Prime Minister of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential term, never resorted to 49.3 in 5 years of government.

If the opposition and often much of the majority oppose the use of 49.3, so why is it not abolished once a new majority comes to power? I order to answer this question it is necessary to remember that the world does not look the same from government or opposition benches. The same tool can thus look very attractive to the government and very questionable in the eyes of the opposition. And Article 49.3 is not the only example to illustrate this state of affairs.

The underlying reasons for this almost systematic shift in preferences with regard to article 49. 3 are rather straightforward. The 49.3 is very helpful to incumbent governments. The reasons put forward to justify its use are always more or less the same: “emergency”, the “need” or “no time to lose or risk-taking”. Indeed, in a context of crisis and divisions within the majority, 49.3 appears to be a weapon of last resort. It is a way to re-solidify the majority by confronting it to the danger of new elections. Thus, without even having to improve the bill and convince reticent allies the 49.3 will allow the party of Prime Minister to rely on the absence of opposition, rather than the presence of her majority.

While it is true that parliamentarians do not like the 49.3, there may be secondary benefits to it. It allows “small parties” or government minority partners to dissociate themselves from the government majority on specific bills. Thus, the left wing of the Socialist Party and the Greens can publicly take their distance with the Macron Act and signal their disagreement to their constituents. At the same time, they know full well that they cannot really prevent the adoption of the text. In doing so, they hope to retain a particular electorate, perhaps hostile to the text. Thus, the 49.3 also performs an ‘electoral’ function, as had John Huber (1996) had explained about 20 years ago.

It is therefore remains a valuable tool. To give it away once in power would be short-sighted. This certainly explains the discrepancy between the opposition parties’ advertised projects with regard to article 49.3 and their implementation (or rather, the lack of implementation) of reform once these parties come to power. As a consequence, we can expect new outcries and indignation the next time that the current opposition, when it is in power, resorts again to article 49.3.

[1] The government had already used the same procedure during the first reading. A discussion in French is available here.

John D. Huber, Rationalizing parliament: legislative institutions and party politics in France. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

 

Emiliano Grossman was born in Buenos Aires and grew up in Germany. He holds degrees from Sciences Po and the University of Cambridge. He has been a senior research fellow at Sciences Po since 2003, working now at the Centre d’études européennes (CEE). He is the co-convenor of the Master’s Programme in European Affairs. He teaches courses on EU politics, interest-group politics and comparative politics at Sciences Po. His research concentrates on economic and financial regulation in the EU and political institutions. He has more generally focused on the variety of state-society relations in the EU and the challenges they are facing. At the same time, he has worked on the political systems of EU member states and the effects of the EU on politics, policy-making and political institutions in France. He recently co-edited a special issue for the 50iest anniversary of the French 5th Republic. He is currently working on two major research projects. The first concerns the political agendas in France, which aims at creating quantitative indicators of political activity for the past 30 years or so. The second deals with the politics of financial liberalization in several EU member states over the past twenty years.

The Philippines – Political parties and Presidential power

Vice president Jejomar Binay recently left his party of 30 years, the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), to form a new party in preparation for his run at the 2016 presidential elections. VP Binay was a member of the Laban (Laban ng Bayan) Party when it was headed by former senator Benigno Aquino. The Laban Party joined forces with the Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas (PDP) in 1986, and has enjoyed significant electoral success – winning the presidency under Corazon Aquino in 1986 – as well as lacklustre performance – in the last 2013 elections, it won one seat in the Senate and 2 of the 231 seats in the House.

With VP Binay’s departure from the PDP-Laban, the party has announced that it will leave the main opposition coalition, the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). The UNA was an electoral alliance formed in part with VP Binay’s support as national chair of PDP-Laban. However, PDP-Laban President Senator Aquilino Pimentel III was opposed to the coalition and did not run under the UNA banner for his senatorial seat but, instead, under the administration’s Team PNoy, which he successfully secured.

The situation with the PDP-Laban and the UNA underscores changeability in political parties in the Philippines and renews the question: how does this changeability affect presidential power and policy performance in the country? The answer – discussed at greater length below – is not hopeful: the changeability undermines programmatic political development and fails to displace personalistic money-centric politics.

Studies identify at least three fundamental roles for political parties:[1] (1) as vehicles to mobilize support for elections; (2) as a political pillar encapsulating regularized patterns, such as programmatic political contestation rather than personalistic politics or candidate-centered politics; and (3) undergird executive-legislature relations that frame political performance.

Do political parties perform as vehicles to mobilize support for elections in the Philippines? On the one hand, thus far, presidential candidates have continued to run under party labels; on the other hand, it is debatable if this represents a rallying under political parties or if political parties are rallying around strong candidates. Thus, for instance, the 2013 elections for the senate are not necessarily indicative of political party performance as much as Team Pnoy’s success.

Are political parties in the Philippines encapsulating regularized patterns? The answer to this is less ambiguous than the previous: studies show that political trust remains low in the Philippines, and the electorate remains sceptical of political institutions and representatives of Congress, Senate, and political parties.[2]

Do political parties undergird executive-legislature relations that frame political performance? As the PDP-Laban and UNA situation indicate, and the rebuilding of the Liberal Party under President Aquino III suggest, political parties are still working out their coalescence. While this process is underway, executive-legislative relations continue to ride on personalistic relations. This means that successful policymaking generally carries high transaction costs.

Clearly, political party institutionalization in the Philippines will benefit the country in the immediate term and the long run. There is reason for hope: as executives and legislators become increasingly cognizant of the significant political and social costs in running personalistic campaigns and as the anticorruption efforts deepen, the trends will converge towards greater institutionalization.