Tag Archives: government formation

Presidential Influence over Government Formation Process: Towards a Classification

This post is based on the article by Lubomír Kopeček and Miloš Brunclík, which has just been published in East European Politics and Societies (L. Kopeček and M. Brunclík, “How Strong Is the President in Government Formation? A New Classification and the Czech Case.” East European Politics and Societies (2018).

In this article we focus on the influence of formally weak presidents over the outcome of the government formation, which is often neglected in scholarly literature. However, as contemporary Czech or Slovak presidents have shown, weak presidents may still become key players in the process leading to appointment of government, i.e. a collective body headed by prime minister, who can be considered to be the chief executive in most European countries. The task of assessing the role of presidents in the government formation process (GFP) is tricky. One can take account of formal presidential powers enshrined in constitutions, but as many researchers have shown[i], formal powers may not tell us much about the real influence presidents exert over the GFP. It should be borne in mind that the actual influence of presidents varies from case to case. It is contingent on a number of circumstances, such as the president’s relationship with the parliamentary majority, the president’s political orientation, the degree of fragmentation of the party system, the organizational capacity of parties, historical precedents, the public’s expectations of the president, the president’s popularity and informal authority, the mode of election of the president, the timing of the presidential election, etc.[ii]

In order to assess the degree of influence presidents have over the GFP, we developed a classification of the roles of presidents in the GFP reflecting real practice, moving beyond comparing formal constitutional rules. We believe that this simple qualitative framework enables us to compare the degree of presidential influence within single presidencies (the degree of influence may vary significantly from one government formation to another), within a polity as well as across polities.

When analyzing the GFP,[iii] it is necessary to examine formal-constitutional rules regulating the GFP, as well as the actual course of the GFP in terms of real politics. An analysis of the GFP in European states in formal terms, e.g. studying constitutional texts, shows that government formation is the result of negotiations between parliamentary parties (and also among them) and the president (although the former is usually stronger than the latter)[iv]. Hence, it is logical to distinguish between parliamentary and presidential cabinets. The parliamentary cabinet largely results from an agreement between parliamentary parties. The president’s role in the GFP is rather formal: he/she formally confirms the cabinet determined by the parliamentary parties. On the other hand, the presidential cabinet primarily reflects the will of the president, whereas the parliamentary parties’ role in the GFP is only secondary. In political practice we can find a number of examples which are somewhere in between the two above-mentioned cases: these cabinets are formed as a compromise between the parties and the president, with each holding a varying degree of influence. The whole process can be seen as a trade-off: the greater the influence a president has over the GFP, the less influence the parliamentary parties exert and vice versa. For this reason, we define more subtle categories, which are presented below from the perspective of the president. The categories mainly reflect the real influence of the president in the GFP. Our classification categories are compiled inductively, i.e. on the basis of a generalization of knowledge about the GFP in particular European countries:[v] 1) observer, 2) notary, 3) regulator, 4) co-designer and 5) creator (see table below).

Table: Presidents’ influence over the GFP

  Control over the GFP Political preferences Level of activity
Observer no irrelevant no
Notary limited irrelevant low
Regulator medium relevant medium
Co-designer main relevant high
Creator exclusive relevant very high

This classification is further based on the assumption that the activity level of parliamentary parties may differ significantly from that of the president. While weaker heads of state (observer or notary) are rather passive and let the parliamentary parties take the initiative, stronger presidents (co-designer and creator) tend to be more active and play a more important role in the GFP. The extent of the actors’ activity is also linked to the relevance of their political preferences as to the government and its shape. While weaker heads of state do not display their preferences (as they are irrelevant anyway), stronger presidents tend to reveal their preferences in an effort to defend the steps they take in the course of the GFP.

Let us explore the categories in more detail. The observer, unlike any of the following patterns, has neither a formal nor an informal role in the GFP. In this case, the GFP is exclusively in the hands of the parliament. However, in European republics we cannot find any president that would fit the observer pattern (nevertheless, the observer type can surely be identified in some European monarchies: Sweden since 1975 and the Netherlands since 2012).

The regulator plays a relatively important role in the GFP. S/he is involved (directly or through mediators) in parties’ bargaining over a new cabinet. The regulator reveals his/her political preferences, which are thus relevant to the outcome of the GFP. S/he does not necessarily come up with his own government alternative. However, s/he may set some conditions for the new cabinet, e.g. a preference for a majority cabinet; a preference for a cabinet that includes/excludes a certain party or some candidates for prime ministers, ministers etc. The role of the regulator is no longer passive, but rather reactive. S/he expects that parties will propose their alternatives for the future cabinet within the limits set by him/her and s/he reveals his/her preferences for a certain alternative. Good examples of this situation come from Austria in the 1950s.[vii]

The co-designer is a strong player in the GFP and his/her overall influence over the outcome of this process is greater than that of the parliamentary parties. Unlike the regulator who does not usually propose governmental alternatives on his/her own, nor does s/he assert them, the co-designer promotes his/her own idea and composition of the future cabinet, and his/her opinion largely, but not completely, determines the outcome of the GFP. The co-designer is typically a powerful president, who however lacks majority support in parliament and who cannot afford to push his/her idea completely independently and against the will of the parliament. Instead, s/he needs cooperative parliamentary parties to set up the new cabinet. The co-designer can also be identified in situations in which a president has fewer constitutional powers in the GFP, but the parliamentary parties are unable to generate a cabinet on their own and thus encourage the president to step significantly into the process, so that an originally weak president becomes a co-designer. It follows from our observations that co-designer is rather infrequent pattern. Still, we can identify some examples[viii].

The creator clearly dominates the GFP. S/he forms the cabinet alone, in line with his/her ideas and political preferences. Parliament’s role is either limited to a minimum (e.g. formalizing the president’s choice in a vote of confidence) or parliament is out of the game altogether (in countries were the new cabinet is not obliged to ask for confidence). The designer creates so-called “presidential cabinets”, i.e. cabinets that are created primarily at the will of the president, while the parliament is sidelined.[ix] The creator is typical for countries where the president is usually responsible for the executive and has a wide range of executive powers. S/he is at the same time the leader of the parliamentary majority, and it is generally expected that the president will actually determine the government. French presidents during the Fifth Republic are a classic example. Of course, with the exception of the periods of cohabitation, when president faces a parliamentary majority from a different political camp. However, a creator might be also a president who is formally strong enough to appoint his/her own presidential (usually technocratic) cabinet, even though s/he lacks the support of the parliamentary majority, and the continuation of such a government in power and pursuit of its program may be extremely problematic.[xi] Good examples of this practice might be three short-lived technocratic cabinets appointed by the Portuguese president António Eanes in 1978 and 1979.[xi].

The classification can be applied almost to both republics and monarchies, indeed all cases where the government is a separate executive body from the head of state. Our classification rests on the qualitative assessment of individual cases of the GFP and requires detailed information about each GFP. Yet, it allows us to compare heads of state with different formal powers in different countries and different periods of time, thus making it a useful tool for comparative analysis. It may help us demonstrate that even extremely weak heads of state may occassionally significantly affect the outcome of the GFP, which cannot be reduced only to inter-party bargaining and coalition theories.

Notes

[i]  E.g. M. Duverger, “A new political system model: semi‐presidential government.” European Journal of Political Research 8(1980);

[ii] O. Protsyk, “Prime Ministers’ Identity in Semi-Presidential Regimes: Constitutional Norms and Cabinet Formation Outcomes”; O. Neto and K. Strøm, “Breaking the Parliamentary Chain of Delegation: Presidents and Non-partisan Cabinet Members in European Democracies.“ P. Köker, “Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe.”; S. G. Kang, “The influence of presidential heads of state on government formation in European democracies: Empirical evidence.”

[iii] In line with the literature, we analyze the GFP when a new cabinet is to be formed after one of the following situations: 1) parliamentary elections, 2) PM’s resignation, including the fall of the cabinet following a successful vote of no-confidence, or rejection to pass a vote of confidence in the cabinet, 3) cabinet is recalled by the head of state, 4) change of partisan composition of the cabinet. Cf. J. Woldendorp, H. Keman and I. Budge. Party Government in 48 Democracies (1945-1998): Composition –Duration –Personnel (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publisher, 2000).

[iv] R. Carroll and G. Cox, “Presidents and their Formateurs”; cf. S. Choudhry and R. Stacey. Semi-Presidentialism as Power-Sharing (IDEA, 2014).

[v] E.g. T. Bergman, “Formation rules and minority governments.” European Journal of Political Research 23(1993); J. Blondel and F. Müller-Rommel, Cabinets in Eastern Europe (Gordonsville: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); K. Strøm, W. Müller and T. Bergman, Delegation and accountability in parliamentary democracies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

[vi] This pattern can be also found in parliamentary monarchies where the sovereign is equipped with formally great powers but, in accordance with constitutional traditions, does not fully use them and lets the parliament decide on the future cabinet. The monarch only formalizes such decisions (e.g. Great Britain).

[vii] Wolfgang C. Müller, “Austria. Tight Coalitions and Stable Government”, in Coalition Governments in Western Europe. eds. W. C. Müller and K. Strøm, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 90.

[viii] I. Jeffries, Eastern Europe at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century: A Guide to the Economies in Transition (London: Routledge, 2002); . Bilefsky, “Serbia approves pro-Western government.” New York Times, 7 July, 2008.

[ix] Cf. A. Kuusisto, “Parliamentary crises and presidial governments in Finland.” Parliamentary Affairs 11(1958); E. Kolb, The Weimar Republic (London: Routledge, 2005); M. Needler, “The Theory of the Weimar Presidency.” The Review of Politics 21(1958).

[x] H. Bahro, B. Bayerlein and E. Veser, “Duverger’s concept: Semi–presidential government revisited.” European Journal of Political Research 34(1998).

[xi] P. Manuel, The Challenges of Democratic Consolidation in Portugal: Political, Economic, and Military Issues, 1976-1991. (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996); J. Magone, “Portugal. The Rationale of Democratic Regime Building,” in Coalition Governments in Western Europe. dd. W. Müller and K. Strøm, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Czech Republic – The President and a protracted government formation process

Although the 2017 parliamentary elections took place some six month ago, the Czech Republic still lacks a fully fledged cabinet. The country is currently run by a partisan caretaker cabinet led by Andrej Babiš, the leader of the largest parliamentary party, ANO (“ANO” means “yes” in Czech). His cabinet, which was appointed in December 2017, failed to receive a vote of confidence in the January 2018 parliamentary vote. In line with the Constitution, President Zeman authorized Babiš’ cabinet to carry out governmental functions until a new cabinet is appointed. At the same time, he gave Mr. Babiš a long time horizon (until the end of June) to form a new cabinet which would enjoy parliamentary confidence. Given the strong presidential powers in the government formation process, President Zeman (along with Andrej Babiš) became a central figure of this process.

As far as the government formation negotiations are concerned, there is a paradox. ANO is a pragmatic centre-oriented populist movement that lacks a clear ideological profile. Instead, it is characterized by bowing both to the right and to the left and flexibly changing its policies. This flexibility gives ANO a great coalition potential. Indeed, ANO has been able to negotiate with almost all parliamentary parties. That said, ANO has failed to win support for its minority cabinet or generate a majority coalition cabinet. This puzzle can be explained by the very fact that Mr. Babiš, the leader and also the de facto owner of the ANO movement (ANO is a prime example of a business-firm party), faces a number challenges, including a police investigation of his business, his past co-operation with the former Communist secret police, and allegations of instructing political journalists of the media he owns. In addition, Andrej Babiš finds himself with a considerable clash of interests, because he is the owner of the Agrofert group, one of the largest business conglomerates in the country, owing various agricultural, food processing, and chemical companies. Agrofert is also the largest beneficiary of various state subsidies. Most parties are willing to co-operate with ANO, if Mr. Babiš stays outside the future cabinet. However, ANO insists that Mr. Babiš is its only candidate for the role of prime minister, which is understandable given the fact that ANO comes close to the ideal of one-man party.

Andrej Babiš can also rely on almost unconditional support from President Miloš Zeman. This pragmatic alliance between Miloš Zeman and Andrej Babiš (including their political styles, policies and rhetoric) brought thousands of people onto the streets of many cities across the Czech Republic in spring 2018. The protesters showed their anger with both figures and also with the rising importance of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), the legal and ideological successor of the former Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. The party has recently increased its influence upon the executive, because it is likely to support Babiš’s future cabinet. The party has not been in government since the 1989 Velvet revolution and no cabinet has so far been reliant on the votes of the Communists. This stable feature of the Czech politics seems to be coming to an end. In symbolic terms, this shift can be illustrated by the fact that Miloš Zeman attended the KSČM party congress in April 2018, whereas his two predecessors in the presidential office, Václav Havel and Václav Klaus, never did so.

The most probable shape of the future cabinet appears to be a minority coalition by ANO and the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), supported by KSČM, which is the option that was also supported by Miloš Zeman. ČSSD is heavily influenced by Miloš Zeman, who was the social democratic PM between 1998 and 2002 and who encouraged the party to join an ANO-led coalition. The party is still badly divided on the issue of joining the coalition with ANO. However, in spring 2018 the party’s congress elected its new chairman and vice-chairmen, who are supportive of co-operation with Mr. Babiš on condition that ČSSD would get four seats in the cabinet plus the Ministry of Interior to keep an eye on “neutral” police investigation related to Babiš’ alleged fraud of a two million euro EU subsidy. ČSSD also insists that if a government member (in fact M. Babiš) is convicted of a crime by a court, he will be obliged to resign from the cabinet. Mr. Babiš eventually accepted the former condition, but he strongly rejects the latter.

Andrej Babiš has also considered a minority ANO cabinet supported not only by KSČM, but also by a radical-right wing populist movement “Freedom and Direct Democracy” (SPD) led by a political entrepreneur Tomio Okamura, whose party has called for a “Czexit” (i.e. Czech Republic’s withdrawal from the EU), has pushed for a Czexit referendum, and has a strong anti-immigration rhetoric, which has made its critics call the movement “fascist”.  However, the idea of the ANO-led cabinet supported by SPD and KSČM was eventually rejected by ANO’s leading figures.

When it comes to the most important events of the second Zeman’s term, one can identify a consistent pattern. He keeps polarizing the Czech society. In his inaugural speech, he harshly attacked Czech quality media, including the Czech television, which is generally considered one of the most reliable sources of information in the Czech Republic and which is modelled on the BBC. Furthermore, Miloš Zeman has kept supporting Russia and Vladimir Putin. This peaked at his speech in the Council of Europe towards the end of his first mandate in October 2017. At that time he said that the annexation of Crimea was a fait accompli and that European countries should look for alternative solutions to the crisis, such as Ukraine getting financial compensation for Crimea from Russia, or free deliveries of crude oil or natural gas. Such a position clearly diverges from the government’s position and displeased Ukraine.

In March 2018 the Novichok nerve agent was used to try to kill former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK. British representatives have accused Russia of this act. Russia denied the allegations and argued that the nerve agent could have been produced in the Czech Republic. Although Prime Minister Babiš dismissed the Russian claim, Miloš Zeman asked the Czech counter-intelligence service to look for the Novichok agent. This led to a couple of Czech parliamentary parties to accuse Zeman of high-treason and of serving the interests of Russia against the interest of the Czech Republic. In relation to the Novichok scandal, a large number of (not only) European countries, including the Czech Republic, expelled Russian diplomats, but Miloš Zeman did not support this move.

Another controversy over Zeman’s foreign policy was also related to Russia. In spring 2018 Zeman lobbied the Minister of Justice for the extradition of Yevgeniy Nikulin to Russia, who had filed for his extradition on the grounds of a petty online theft. The suspected Russian hacker was, however, extradited to the United States, where he was charged with hacking American firms such as LinkedIn and Dropbox. The media speculated that Nikulin might have some details on Russia-sponsored cyber-attacks on the USA. As a reaction, Zeman’s chancellor to the president, Vratislav Mynář, called the minister‘s decision “unlawful”.

President Zeman also supports Chinese political and economic interests in the Czech Republic. Many observers were taken aback by Zeman’s decision to make Ye Jianming,  Chairman and Executive Director of CEFC China Energy Company Limited (a giant Chinese finance conglomerate with alleged links to Chinese secrete services), his official economic advisor in 2015. Although Zeman highly appreciated Chinese investments in the Czech Republic, they remain only marginally important for the Czech economy. Moreover, Ye Jianming was detained by the Chinese authorities. Ye’s detention in China was probably ordered directly by the Chinese president Xi Jinping. In the past, several CEFC’s representatives were accused of bribery and CEFC was criticized for risky investment projects.

Although these events have clearly cast doubt on Miloš Zeman’s foreign policy, he remains highly popular as some 50% of population trust the President. As for his use of presidential powers in the last six months, Miloš Zeman has respected the dominant position of the caretaker government and has not pushed the limits of his competences. There has been almost no conflict between the president and the government. President Zeman still retains the control over the government formation process. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Babiš will be successful in creating a new cabinet. Even if he fails for the second time (i.e. the Chamber of Deputies will not pass a motion of confidence in his cabinet), the power to appoint a new prime minister passes from the president to the Speaker of the Chamber of Depuites, Radek Vondráček, an ANO member.

Victor Araújo, Andréa Freitas, and Marcelo Vieira – The partisan logic of government formation in presidential democracies: evidence from Latin America

This is a guest post by Victor Araújo, Andréa Freitas, and Marcelo Vieira. It is based on their article in Revista Ciencia Política and is available here.

In presidential democracies, constitutions empower the head of the executive branch as the main actor responsible for the composition of ministerial portfolios. Once elected, the president has the prerogative to directly appoint the high-level members of the government. The invited parties, in turn, must also decide whether to accept the offer. This decision, similar to the decision in parliamentary multiparty systems, involves costs and benefits. However, there are few studies that examine the reasoning behind parties’ decisions to join coalitions in presidential systems.

In our recent article The Presidential Logic of Government Formation in Latin American Democracies, we argue that the decision over whether to join or reject the government’s coalition is related to the party leaders’ evaluations regarding how much political resources their party will gain from the policies. By analyzing 12 Latin American presidential democracies, we test whether the presence of institutional incentives that allow political parties to influence policies in the legislative arena is related to parties’ decision to join government coalitions.

Theoretically, we assume that decentralization of the legislative decision-making process creates institutional mechanisms for sharing the policy formulation competence among different actors, strengthening the system of legislative commissions and allowing those parties to use this decision arena to change the policies that interest them. Thus, decentralized parliaments tend to empower opposition parties and increase the probability of minority governments.

Considering that state resources are finite and political actors prefer policies closer to their ideal points, parties need to set strategies on how to access resources from the public machine. Therefore, the question that emerges is: In which arenas can parties act to have their preferences considered in policies to be implemented by the government? In democratic contexts, parties have three options:
1. To systematize, vocalize and organize their preferences in deliberative instances of the decision-making process within the legislative branch;

2. To use mechanisms of preference alignment during the formulation process of public policies or;

3. To occupy ministry offices and positions in the structure of the executive power, attempting to aggregate their preferences to the executive’s policy agenda.

If, in contexts such as 1 and 2, a parties’ chances of influencing the policy-making process are reduced, then its incentives pursue option 3 increase. In other words, if a party does not expect to be the formateur party, it is more advantageous to join the government and have the chance to actively participate in the public policy formulation process. Those contexts vary according to the set of political institutions in two dimensions based on the centralization or decentralization score of the legislative power and the executive power. These two dimensions regulate the capacity of each branch to influence the political agenda. That is, to aggregate their preferences into the decision-making process.

Figure 1. Policy aggregation preference arenas and incentives to integrate into government coalitions

Source: Elaborated by the authors

In the first context (I), the area to aggregate preferences according to the two arenas (executive and legislative) is equivalent (L<=>E). In this case, the institutional arrangement gives equal capacity to the executive and legislative branches to influence the decision-making process. In other words, the possibility that parties influence public policies through the process of formulation and control of the implementation of public policies, which occurs both in the legislative arena and in the executive arena, is open. Consequently, the party that expects to be the formateur party of the cabinet in the short and medium run – and other parties that choose to not integrate cabinet -, will have an equivalent executive capacity to influence the agenda. In this context, formed coalitions will be either minimum winning or even minority coalitions, depending on the political/ideological parties that form the legislature.

In the second context (II), there is a non-equivalence relationship in the aggregation of preferences between both arenas of power (E>L). Therefore, the capacity of the legislative branch to aggregate its preferences is reduced by an excessive centralization of decision-making power in the hands of the executive branch and president. In other words, not being a member of the government cabinet means having restricted access to the formulation process of public policies, due to the legislative branch’s reduced capacity to aggregate parties’ preferences. In this context, all parties invited by the president that do not aim, in the short term, to assume the presidency, tend to accept the president’s coalition offer.

The third context (III) describes a situation in which the president has fewer agenda-setting powers and a reduced autonomy to manage resources — positions and budget — as well as a decentralized legislature (L>E). In this context, the capacity of the executive branch to influence the decision-making process is reduced, making it less attractive to legislative parties. In such a context, coalitions will seldom be formed. Because parties can aggregate their preferences in the legislative branch, they will not risk the potential costs of being associated with the government.

The Latin American countries analyzed in our article represent each of the three contexts described above. Chile and Panama are examples of the first context (L<=>E). In those cases, although the executive power has considerable influence over the legislative process, processes in the legislature are decentralized and there is an open space for aggregating preferences in this arena. Colombia and Ecuador can be included in the second context (E>L). In those democracies, the executive has considerable capacity to aggregate preferences in the formation of policy, while there is also a relatively low degree of decentralization of the legislative process. Finally, Costa Rica and Paraguay are included in the third context (L>E). In both countries, the presidency has a reduced prerogative that limits the executive’s ability to dominate legislative agenda. There is also a high degree of decentralization of legislative activity in these cases.

We use information from 12 Latin American Countries, comprising 68 governments and 112 cabinets, formed between 1979 and 2011. We conducted a panel data analysis in which we considered the variation among government’s cabinets both between and within democracies. We tested the impact of the decentralization score of the legislative activity on the probability of parties joining a government’s coalitions in presidential systems.

Our results suggest that the existence of parliaments with greater influence on the legislative process consistently reduces the incentives of parties to join the government. Figure 2 graphically shows the predicted effect of the degree of decentralization on the size of the cabinet. By varying the degree of decentralization and keeping all other variables constant (at their means), we are interested in assessing the expected size of the government’s coalition when we observe different values for legislative decentralization. A basic interpretation of the figure indicates a linear and negative relationship between both decentralization and the proportion of legislative parties within the cabinet. As the variable decentralization increases, the proportion of legislative parties that join the coalition decreases.

Figure 2. Predicting the size of the government coalition according to the decentralization of the legislative process in 12 Latin American Countries

Source: Elaborated by the authors

Therefore, our findings reinforce the idea that offices in the structure of the executive branch are only one path, among others, used by parties to influence the policy decision-making process. Our results suggest that parties adopt a policy-seeking orientation in presidential systems. This does not mean that we assume the unrealistic premise that all parties pursue programmatic goals. Our assumption means that, even if a specific party has clientelistic and patronage aspirations, political and monetary resources are crucial elements to accomplish their objectives, and that the only way to access such resources is through control over policies. There are at least three clear advantages in assuming the premise of policy-seeking behavior of parties:) it considers all dimensions where parties can express their preferences; 2) it takes into consideration the role and preferences expressed by the voters, and; 3) it enables analyses of different aspects of the decision-making process, avoiding simplistic conceptions based on, for example, the idea of patronage.

Authors

Victor Araújo is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP, Brazil) and a Research Associate at Center for Metropolitan Studies.
Email: victor.asaraujo@usp.br Website: http://www.victor-araujo.com

Andréa Freitas is Professor of Political Science at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP, Brazil), and coordinator of the Center for Political Institutions and Elections Studies (CEBRAP, Brazil). Email: amfrei@g.unicamp.br

Marcelo Vieira is Professor of Political Science at the Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo (UFES, Brazil), and coordinator of Comparative Politics Center (CPC, UFES).
Email: marcelo.m.vieira@ufes.br

Selena Grimaldi – Italy: Will President Mattarella succeed in emerging from the party swamp?

This is a guest post by Selena Grimaldi of the University of Padova.

There is no doubt that President Sergio Mattarella was chosen in order to mark a change from Giorgio Napolitano’s presidency. The first years of his term confirm this idea, in particular his sober leadership style and his self-restraint are in line with the typical President of a parliamentary system who tries to embody the unity of the nation rather than performing an active role in the day to day politics.

The differences with his predecessor are not simply related to their opposite political culture but also to their different visions of the presidential role. In fact, Mattarella has claimed to be the Guardian of the Constitution and an impartial arbiter of the political game, whereas Napolitano asserted his right to intervene to solve problems over party gridlock and meltdown.

This striking difference is recognizable even considering how Napolitano dominated international relations and how deeply he exploited the mass media to communicate his thoughts and vision in comparison to Mattarella. In a very rough attempt to empirically prove this, the number of interviews given by Mattarella and published in the Quirinale webiste from 2015 to 2018 was counted, and it appears to number only seven.

The polls also show that this self-restraint has probably negatively affected the trust people have in the presidential institution. Currently, the President remains broadly trusted by citizens, even though the percentage trusting him decreased from 49% in 2016 to 46% in 2017 according to Demos & Pi. In other words, a President who has been generally silent on most issues seems not to correspond to the citizens’ preferences and probably to the peculiar Italian political circumstances that emerged just before the beginning of Mattarella’s term. That is to say, the critical elections of 2013 that completely changed the dynamics of political competition.

The result of the elections of March 4 confirms that the tripolar competition that first emerged in 2013 is not a contingent but a stable feature of the Italian political system. The only relevant novelty is related to the changing power relations among parties. In particular, in 2013 three parties gained a similar quota of votes; the Democratic Party (PD) (25.4), Forza Italia (21.6) and the Five Star Movement (M5S) (25.6), and both the centre-left coalition and the centre-right coalition could not form a government alone, which pushed them to form a Grand Coalition. In 2018, among these parties, only the Five Star Movement has increased its score, becoming the first party with 32.6% of the votes. The PD is the loser, obtaining a result under 20% of the vote and in the centre-right coalition there has been a reversal of the balance of power, since the League (now without any reference to the North) gained 17.4% of the votes, whereas Forza Italia obtained 13.9% of the vote. Therefore, the final result makes it impossible for both M5S to govern alone, as well as for the centre-right coalition, which gained 37% overall.

In this party gridlock, President Mattarella is expected to act as “the second engine” of the system by finding a solution to government formation and preventing the possibility of new elections. This government formation process is a unique opportunity to understand if Mattarella’s style is simply connected with his personal attitude or if it is indeed a sign of a weak presidency. In other words, if there is a clear departure from the pattern of the Italian Presidents of the so-called Second Republic, who are examples of strong presidents even within a parliamentary context, or if there is a substantial continuity.

In particular, a call for new elections – even if it is unrealistic – would be the most negative result for the President because it would demonstrate his inability to find a political solution, not to mention the fact that with the current electoral rules, a replication of the same political impasse is the most likely outcome. The formation of a political government, namely a coalition government of any type, may prove to the opposition parties that the President is responsible. Or in other words, his capacity as mediator among parties, who themselves remain the real decision-makers. Finally, the formation of a caretaker/technocratic government or a government of the President may prove that Mattarella can impose his will on political parties, making his strength clear.

Six on weeks from the vote, two rounds of consultations have taken place. According to data published by Istituto Cattaneo, since 1994 only 2 governments have required more than 20 days to be formed: Berlusconi I in 1994 and Letta’s government in 2013. Moreover, on only four occasions have 2 rounds of consultations been needed to find an agreement (Dini, D’Alema I, D’Alema II, and Letta) and Letta’s was the only post-electoral government. Besides, it is well known that in pParliamentary systems government formation can require a lot of time, such as in the Netherlands or in Belgium, not to mention the formation of the recent Grosse Koalition in Germany or even certain Italian governments during the so-called First Republic (Cossiga I, Andreotti II, Craxi etc.). However, this is the first time that, even after a second round of consultations, nothing has really changed from the day after the elections.

Briefly, the situation appears to be the following: The Five Star Movement claims the premiership for Luigi Di Maio and has declared that it is open to forming a coalition with either with the PD or The League. Matteo Salvini also claims the premiership, since he represents the largest party in the largest coalition. However, within the right-wing coalition the League and Forza Italia have different preferences with regards the identification of potential allies. The League wants to form a coalition with the M5S, while Forza Italia probably prefers a coalition with the PD, since Silvio Berlusconi’s comment during the traditional press-conference at the Quirinale about the M5S as an anti-democratic and populist force. The challenge is that The League doesn’t seem ready to let go of its traditional allies to form a government with the M5S alone. However, Salvini has proven that he can cooperate with the M5S in the parliamentary arena, especially during the election of the Speakers of the Chambers. Finally, from the very beginning, the PD has declared that it is unavailable as a coalition partner and will remain in the ranks of the opposition. The truth is that, even within the PD, the situation is not so clear. The faction close to the former leader Matteo Renzi strongly supports this position, but other political factions, as well as the radical left, seem to be more open toward the M5S.

As a consequence, Mattarella decided to follow a traditional path confirming his attitude of caution. In other words, he decided to avoid the concrete possibility of a failure by giving a political pre-appointment to a candidate within the League or within the M5S, who would have to find a majority in Parliament by his/her own. Instead, the President has preferred – consistent with tradition – to give an explorative mandate (mandato esplorativo) to the President of the Senate, Maria Elisabetta Casellati (FI). In the next few days, the appointee is going to report to the President if she is able to find a possible majority in Parliament and a possible PM. If this attempt does not succeed, only two alternatives remain: a government of the President or new elections.

The situation is even more complex for Mattarella given he was elected without the support of the two largest parties: the Five Star Movement and The League. And even Silvio Berlusconi’s party cast a blank ballot during the presidential elections. This means that, this time, it may be more difficult for these actors to accept a government of the President.

The open question is: will Mattarella succeed in emerging from the party swamp? Or, can he prove to be a strong President notwithstanding his proverbial discretion?

Romania – An Underused Presidency?

Can the president of a semi-presidential republic build a politically independent and effective check-and-balance on government and parliament? The question continues to instil both scholarly and general interest debates. Recent political developments in Romania have once again brought to the public eye the matter of whether a president can actively and constructively contribute to government formation, the policy making process and agenda setting. And should s/he do so? In the present text I discuss what tools the current president has chosen to use from his ‘toolbox’, and what he stays away from.

  1. The Newest Government Formation

On 29 January 2018, Iohannis nominated his third prime-minister from the Social Democrat Party (PSD) in the course of approximately one year. The exclusive prerogative of nominating the prime-minister shines a spotlight on the president. The government was once again formed without his own National Liberal Party (PNL), prolonging a period of cohabitation. His supportive part of the public expected the president to lead the opposition in extensive negotiations for an alternative government formation. However, he quickly accepted the proposal of the parliamentary majority. Bargaining duration was of one day only. Consequently, he not only contradicted public expectations, but also some of the most recent empirical studies claiming that presidents have an interest in seeing their parties succeed and are willing to act to facilitate their success (Savage, 2017; Anghel, 2017). For the time being, the president has chosen not to instrumentalize his constitutionally prescribed role in cabinet formation to influence its outcome.

Iohannis shows a loose connection to his party (PNL), from whose ranks expectations of support and leadership have always existed. The PNL itself has a weak performance in the role of the main opposition party, which could incentivize the president’s doubts regarding its coalition potential or ability to assume governance.  Coupled with what his supporters perceive as a disengagement from public life, this might bring into question the interest of the president in pursuing a second mandate.

  1. Veto Power

The president of Romania has the right to veto legislation on constitutional grounds by reference to the Constitutional Court or for any other grounds by returning the bill to parliament. MPs may repass a bill through ordinary majority, and the president cannot veto it a second time. The table below shows the number of times president Iohannis made use of this prerogative (see Koker, 2017 for a comparison with the veto use in other countries in Central and Eastern Europe). The third column shows how many laws passed with his consent. When comparing figures, we could infer a working relationship between parliament and president, and a consensus oriented elite. Most of the laws sent back to parliament have actually undergone a process of re-examination and have not been repassed in their exact initial form.

The major source of tension between the president and the parliament is the set of laws on justice reform supported by the government and the majority of MPs. In the proposed bills, the president’s own institutional role in the anti-corruption fight has been watered down. Iohannis has constantly shown a different approach to the government’s plans and even joined street-protests against a government ordinance that would have decriminalised some forms of public office abuse. He is expected to use this ‘tool’ and veto the justice laws once they reach him for promulgation. This prospect, coupled with some anticipation of a severe societal backlash, has so far influenced the government’s actions and is delaying a resolution.

President Klaus Iohannis and PM Sorin Grindeanu (18/01/2017) Iohannis appeared unexpectedly during a cabinet meeting where an emergency decree to pardon certain detainees and amend the Penal Code was to be discussed. PhotoSource: A3 Press

The same issue related to anti-corruption prompted the president to use two more of his executive attributions: calling for national referenda and taking part in the cabinet sessions when matters related to national security or foreign policy are discussed. Iohannis successfully prevented the government’s first attempt to pass the draft emergency decree to pardon certain detainees and amend the Penal Code by unexpectedly attending a would be decisive cabinet meeting in January 2017. He also announced his (unfulfilled) intention to call for a national referendum concerning this amnesty bill, should it not be withdrawn. Iohannis’s use of formal presidential ‘tools’, in the context of recurring mass street protests, has so far delayed the government’s plans to reform the justice laws.

  1. Informal Powers

Most investigations on the powers of the president in multi-party systems agree that the president has a formally more or less limited role, in accordance to the Constitution.  Scholars have so far provided few inquiries into the informal aspects of presidential authority. The few studies that exist are focused on the USA and showed how presidents rely on their electoral legitimacy and visibility to influence the policy process via their public positions and symbolic actions (Strauss and Sunstein, 1986; Ashley and Jarmer, 2016). We should expect it to be the case for any directly elected president, and expand our research agenda.

In the case of Romania, the president’s public appearances are an underused tool. He is reactive in his (e.g) public statements, does not engage in unscripted dialogue with media representatives and mostly limits his activities to technical or ceremonial appearances. His priorities appear locked in preserving the status quo in the justice system, and does not appear willing to set other directions to the public agenda and use his own electoral legitimacy to get people to think about new issues or believe in particular actions. Three years in his (five year) mandate, we could conclude that informal powers are not among his preferred tools of action.

Conclusion

When compared to years of presidential activism by former president Traian Băsescu (2004 – 2014) and the symbiotic relationship he had with his Liberal-Democrat Party (PDL), we can conclude that the mandate of president Klaus Iohannis turned Romania away from a path of increased presidentialization (Samuels, Shugart 2010) and party presidentialization (Passarelli, 2015).

The present text acknowledges that formally, a major effect of the president on the political life is conditional on the inclusion of his or her own parliamentary party in the cabinet. Institutionally, he or she has a limited number of tools to use as effective check-and-balance on government and parliament. Nevertheless, the question remains whether the willingness of presidents to use informal powers (symbolic actions, visibility, leadership abilities, electoral legitimacy, and a working relation with their own party) may not also condition the final output. The use of informal powers by popularly elected presidents in presidential and semi-presidential systems[i] to affect government formation, policy making and agenda setting would benefit from further empirical research.


[i] This blog also suggested that even presidents who are not directly elected can make a constructive contribution in government formation. See the case of Germany.

Germany – The unexpected leadership role of President Steinmeier in coalition talks

The results of the German federal election of 24 September 2017 shook up the country’s party system more than ever before. Both Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic and Social Union (CDU/CSU) and her coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), registered significant losses, while four smaller parties – polling between just 8.9% and 12.6% – also entered the Bundestag. While far from unexpected, this result has created a particularly difficult bargaining environment for coalition talks. Amidst the new parliamentary arithmetic, president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has taken on an expected leadership role and could influence the formation and party composition of the next German government more than any of his predecessors.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (left) meets with SPD leader Martin Schulz | image via bundespraesident.de

Already hours after the first results were announced, SPD leader Martin Schulz declared that his party – having achieved the worst result since 1949 and without possibility to form a left of centre coalition with Greens and LINKE – would not renew its coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and become part of the opposition. Given that the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered the Bundestag for first time after just missing the 5% threshold in 2013, is universally shunned by the other parties, the ‘Jamaica’ option seemed the only possibility to form a majority government. Named after the combination of parties’ traditional colours (CDU/CSU = black, Green Party = green, FDP = yellow) this would have created a coalition which has hitherto only existed on local level. While CDU/CSU and FDP have governed together on both federal and state level and CDU/CSU and Greens have recently (if only sporadically) started to cooperate on state level, the economically liberal FDP and left-leaning Greens seemed unlikely bedfellows. Formal coalition talks between the three parties only started a month after the election, yet collapsed two weeks ago after the FDP withdrew its participation. Since then, president Frank-Walter Steinmeier (formerly SPD) has taken an unusually active role in managing the coalition talks and encouraging parties to find a solution to avoid snap elections.

Since 1949, coalition formation in Germany has been exclusively dominated by parties. While the president formally proposes a candidate for chancellor to parliament after elections, presidents have always proposed the candidate chosen by parties once coalition talks were concluded. Only if the president’s candidate fails to gain a majority can the Bundestag attempt to elect its own chancellor with a majority. If in the end parliament fails to elect a majority candidate (which the president has to appoint), a final vote is held and it is at the president’s discretion to appoint a candidate who has only gained a relative majority of votes.

As leader of the largest party, Angela Merkel appears to be the only serious candidate for chancellor. However, she has repeatedly voiced her opposition both to leading a minority government and to triggering snap elections (a likewise complicated process; see below). In the aftermath of the collapse of the Jamaica talks, president Steinmeier unusually strongly appealed to parties to act responsibly and continues to hold publicised meetings with leaders of all parties. Especially his meeting with former co-partisan Martin Schulz seems to have had an effect as the SPD leader has now softened its stance on retreating to the opposition benches. However, he faced an immediately backlash from the party’s youth wing; the SPD is also likely to once again hold a ballot on any new coalition among its members.

There is no deadline for president Steinmeier to nominate a candidate for Chancellor, yet once he does the pressure is on parties to build a functioning (majority or minority) government. It is unlikely that Steinmeier will start the process before parties have made significant progress towards a new coalition, yet this possibility – together with the German constitution’s obsession with stability – gives him the upper hand. Once appointed, a chancellor can only be removed by the ways of a constructive vote of confidence (i.e. when a new Chancellor is elected with a majority) – even if a chancellor loses a vote of confidence and asks the president to dissolve the Bundestag, the dissolution remains at the president’s discretion (the Bundestag cannot dissolve itself). After previous dissolutions were heavily criticised due to the fact that sitting chancellors only feigned a loss of confidence, It is unlikely that Steinmeier will readily agree to such a move. Last, Steinmeier is in the rare situation that his five-year term only ends after the next regular federal elections and he is thus less bound by considerations about his re-election (which will partially rely on electors from the German states in any case).

It is thanks to this combination of factors that president can currently take on this (unexpected) leadership role in party coalition talks. While the old government is only provisionally still in post, he almost has a legitimacy advantage over the yet unformed government and can use his position to actively shape public opinion as well as increase pressure on political parties.

Overall, this sheds a new light on the role of the German president and highlights the value of the office. While scholarship (including my own) have so far rather focussed on the interference of presidents in day-to-day politics and resulting complications and ineffectiveness, the example at hand shows how presidents – even if only vested with reserve powers – can become guarantors of stability.

Marcelo Jenny: Austria – Legislative election results leave the president little leeway in government formation

This is a guest post by Marcelo Jenny is Professor for Political Communication and Electoral Research at the University of Innsbruck.

Like many elections the results of Austria’s legislative elections on October 15th were a mix of expected and surprising elements. Among the surprising bits was a strong increase in electoral turnout from 74.9 %in the last legislative elections of 2013 to 79.4 %on Sunday. This is also well above the 74.2 %turnout in the final round of Austria’s presidential elections in December 2016, when the former long-time chairman of the Green party, Alexander van der Bellen, won against rival candidate Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party (FPÖ) and was sworn in in January 2017 as the country’s first president not belonging to one the traditional government parties – the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) or the christian-democratic People’s Party (ÖVP).

The president will be particularly hurt by the fate that befell his former party shortly after it celebrated its biggest ever electoral victory. Frustrated by intra-party conflict with young activists and senior MPs, who failed to be renominated as candidates, its female party leader resigned and was followed by two women as co-leaders but could not stop the Green’s downward slope in the polls. The Greens dropped from a vote share of 12.4 % in the last election in 2013 to 3.7 % and, thereby, also out of parliament while the new party ‘List Pilz’ led by renegade Green MP Peter Pilz, parliament’s most senior MP, successfully crossed the 4% threshold with a vote share of 4.4 %.

Final vote and seat sharesfor the parties will be announced on Thursday after the last small batch of postal votes has been counted, but only minor changes are expected to preliminary results published by the Ministry of the Interior (https://wahl17.bmi.gv.at/).

Preliminary results of the Austrian legislative elections | Austrian Interior Ministry https://wahl17.bmi.gv.at/

The happy winner of these elections is the ÖVP’s young party leader Sebastian Kurz (just 31 years old) who came into office in spring of this year, rebranded the party within weeks and successfully translated his personal popularity into a 31.5 % vote share (24.0% in 2013). He jumped from heading the third largest party in the polls to becoming leader of the largest parliamentary party. The SPÖ was relegated to second place with 26.9 % (26.8 in 2013), while the right-wing FPÖ came in third by a small margin with 26.0 % (20.5). The liberal party NEOS remains in parliament with 5.3 % (5.0 in 2013).

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Integration Sebastian Kurz is on course to become the youngest leader of a government worldwide. Most observers expect the ÖVP to form a coalition with the FPÖ, and even if he wanted president Van der Bellen will be unable to do much about it. By political convention the president tasks the leader of the largest party with forming a new government. President Van der Bellen has not done that yet. He will talk with the leaders of the five parliamentay parties first. By convention the current government resgined after the election and has been asked by the president to keep serving until the new government is sworn in.

How long it will take to form a new government coalition is among the most speculated topic right now, but once Kurz returns to the president’s office equipped with a coalition agreement with the FPÖ, few expect Van der Bellen to take a stand against it. The electorate has decisively moved to the right in this election and the ÖVP’s appetite for a renewal of the coalition government with the Social Democratic Party is at an all-time low. An alternative coalition between SPÖ and Freedom Party would have a nominal parliamentary majority but the Social Democratic Party is deeply split on that idea, making such an outcome very unlikely.

In the coming weeks and perhaps months Van der Bellen will be closely watched and compared at each step with his immediate predecessor Heinz Fischer (who served the last two terms 2004-2016) and most of all with another former president, Thomas Klestil, who strongly opposed the formation of Austria’s first coalition government between the People’s Party and the Freedom Party in 2000 due to its anti-European stance. Klestil expressed his opposition to including the FPÖ in government very publicly and refused to accept two of its ministerial candidates. Reactions from other EU member states were likewise strongly negative and even triggered sanctions against Austria. Eventually, everybody emerged bruised from this episode.

The times have changed and nobody expects something similar to happen again this time around. Eurosceptic parties are more widespread today and Sebastian Kurz’ restrictive position on immigration, very similar to the position held by the FPÖ, is also popular among Central and Eastern European governments. Taking the current domestic and international context into account, president Van der Bellen’s leeway in making a personal imprint on the next government is very small.

Marcelo Jenny is Professor for Political Communication and Electoral Research at the University of Innsbruck. His research focuses on electoral behaviour, election campaigns and party competition, parliamentarism, content analysis and sentiment analysis as well as political communication.

How Do Minority Presidents Manage Multiparty Coalitions?

This is a blog post by Svitlana Chernykh based on her recent article with Paul Chaisty published in Political Research Quarterly (Online First). The full article can be found here.

Although the concept of coalitional presidentialism is not new, until recently, the question of how presidents form and manage their coalitions has been explored primarily in the context of Latin American presidential democracies. However, we know little about how and whether these theories travel outside Latin America. In “How Do Minority Presidents Manage Multiparty Coalitions? Identifying and Analyzing the Payoffs to Coalition Parties in Presidential Systems” we use original quantitative and qualitative data to analyse how minority presidents manage their multiparty coalitions to achieve legislative support in Ukraine.

Why Ukraine? With few exceptions, the country has been governed by multiparty cabinet coalitions since 1996 and thus offers rich macro-level data. Ukraine is also a difficult case with which to test institutional hypotheses. Many scholars of Ukrainian politics have questioned the applicability of notions of coalitional behavior to the country and have suggested that coalitional solutions to the problems of limited legislative support are difficult to operate in the Ukrainian context. Finally, presidential coalitions in Ukraine frequently contain cabinet parties as well as parties that do not have cabinet representation. This allowed us to explore the non-cabinet strategies that presidents used to manage the support of coalition parties.

Portfolio Allocation and Cabinet Coalition Discipline in Ukraine

In the first part of the paper, we test a now well-established hypothesis in Latin American literature that cabinet portfolio payoffs to coalition allies raise the level of legislative support for presidents. Our dependent variable is coalition discipline. It is measured as the percentage of legislators belonging to cabinet parties who voted in favour of bills introduced by the executive branch. Our main independent variable is the level of cabinet coalescence or the level of fairness in the distribution of cabinet posts among coalition members [1].

We find that cabinet coalescence has a positive and statistically significant effect on cabinet coalition discipline in Ukraine. To put it in substantive terms, an increase in cabinet coalescence by 10 percent increases cabinet coalition discipline by 2.4 percent. Thus, the dynamics of coalitional presidentialism in Ukraine are similar to those that we find in Latin America. The presidents who compose their cabinets more proportionally can expect a higher degree of satisfaction from allied parties and thus higher levels of discipline.

Managing Parties Outside of the Cabinet 

However, Ukrainian presidents also rely on the support of parties that do not receive portfolio payoffs. As the figure below shows, the number of non-cabinet coalition parties is significant in the Ukrainian case. In fact, the inclusion of non-cabinet parties was crucial in giving each president minimum winning majorities or near majorities.

Figure 1. The number of Ukrainian parties in cabinet and floor coalitions, 1996–2011.

 

How did the presidents in Ukraine secure their support? What were the motivations behind these parties’ decision to join the coalitions? To answer these questions, we interviewed 50 legislators, of whom 60 per cent were members of the coalition in 2012. We designed an interview sample and a number of structured and semi-structured questions to help us explore whether the perceived benefits of coalition membership differed significantly between members of coalition parties that had and did not have cabinet representation.

As figures 2 and 3 show, that the motivation to support the president differed between coalition parties that were members of the cabinet and those that were not. Non-cabinet coalition parties were significantly likely to identify extra-cabinet strategies such as patronage, budget payoffs, and informal favours when asked about strategies that the president used to form the coalition (figure2).

Figure 2. Percentage of non-cabinet and cabinet coalition party members who identified the importance of extra- cabinet benefits (patronage, budget resources, and informal favours) in the formation of coalitions.

We find a similar pattern when analysing the responses to a structural question, which asked legislators to choose the first and second most important reason why a political party would decide to join a presidential coalition from a list of options (figire 3). Members of the cabinet party were significantly more likely to identify policy influence and cabinet positions than the members of non-cabinet parties within the floor coalition. In contract, members of non-cabinet parties were more likely to mention budget influence and especially the informal exchange of favours than members of cabinet parties.

Figure 3. Percentage of non-cabinet and cabinet coalition party members who selected as the first or second most important reason why a political party might choose to join a presidential coalition.

Therefore, on the one hand, the Ukraine case validates extant analysis on the effects of cabinet management on legislative behaviour. This suggests that coalitional presidentialism is not simply a unique Latin American phenomenon and gives us good reasons to expect similar dynamics in other regions of the world. Given the increasing preponderance of minority presidents in new democracies, this presents the opportunity to compare a diverse range of presidential cases across other parts of Europe as well as other regions including Africa and Asia.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian case also highlights the multivariate nature of the strategies that presidents deploy to maintain their legislative support. This adds a new dimension to the extant literature, which has mainly focused on the tools deployed by presidents at the cabinet level. By distinguishing between cabinet and floor coalitions, it is possible to identify parties that are motivated to join presidential coalitions by reasons other than cabinet portfolios. This finding highlights the need to consider the entire “toolbox” of resources that presidents can use to maintain their coalitional support [2]. 

 

[1] Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2002. “Presidential Cabinets, Electoral Cycles, and Coalition Discipline in Brazil”, in: Scott Morgenstern and Benito Nacif (eds), Legislative Politics in Latin America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 48–78.

[2] Chaisty, Paul, Nic Cheeseman, and Timothy J. Power. 2014. “Rethinking the ‘Presidentialism Debate’: Coalitional Politics in Cross-Regional Perspective.” Democratization 21: 72–94.

Albania – Government formation after months of partisan turmoil

In this post, I examine the most recent developments in Albania after an unconventional presidential election in April, a months-long boycott of parliament by the oppositional Democratic Party (DP), and the parliamentary election with Socialist Edi Rama as clear winner of a majority that enables him to govern without a coalition partner.

Presidential election in April 2017
Since February 2017 the oppositional DP was boycotting the Albanian Parliament. Despite calls by the European Union and several European governments the DP was determined in its course. Among their demands were the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the formation of a caretaker government. This parliamentary boycott – that could not be solved by several rounds of EU-led negotiations – not only resulted in a political stalemate that largely influenced and hindered the political decision making but also impacted the presidential election. As explained in a blog post published earlier this year, Albania is a parliamentary system with a president elected by parliament. Candidates are nominated by at least 20 deputies. In the first three rounds a presidential candidate has to gain the support of 3/5 of the members of parliament, i.e. 84 votes out of the 140 seats (Art. 87). The constitution stipulates a maximum of five rounds. Only after three rounds failed, the majority requirement changes. The fourth ballot (and the fifth) require only the absolute majority and are held between the two leading candidates from the third round. In case the fifth round fails as well, parliament is dissolved and snap elections take place within 60 days. (Art. 87).

Hence, after three rather unconventional rounds of presidential elections, the president/chairman of the Albanian Parliament, Ilir Meta was elected as 7th President of the Republic of Albania. This presidential election was unusual because the ruling Socialist Party did not nominate a candidate during the first three rounds of presidential elections. Party representatives declared that they are not “nominating anyone for president to demonstrate its willingness to conduct a dialogue with the opposition [DP, author] over the next president and achieve a consensus with all political forces in the country” (EurAsia Daily 2017).

Parliamentary elections in June 2017
As could be expected the election of Meta as President was heavily criticized by the DP, a fact a lot of observers deemed hypocritical because of Meta’s ties to both DP and the Socialist Party. And although some DP deputies threatened to boycott both the parliamentary elections and local elections, the parliamentary elections were held in June 2017 after the leaders of the main parties – Edi Rama and Lulzim Basha – agreed on several measures to meet the demands of the boycotting DP. Next to the inclusion of representatives of the opposition in the cabinet and as heads of some state agencies, the center-right opposition was also put in charge of the Central Electoral Commission (Mejdini 2017). This agreement ended the three-months long boycott by the DP and allowed the parliamentary election to be rescheduled. Within the short campaign time, Prime Minister Rama ran mostly on an anti-corruption and a pro-EU message. And his declared goal was to get enough support among the electorate to govern without a coalition partner (Keleka 2017). With the lowest voter turnout since the end of communist rule (44.9%) (Keleka 2017), the Socialist Party of Rama won the majority of 48 % and 74 seats in parliament. This means a plus of 9 seats compared to the previous election. The DP of Basha won 29 % and 43 seats in parliament (a minus of 7 seats) (RFE/RL 2017). With this result, Edi Rama exceeded expectations and was able to form a new government. As Article 96 of the constitution stipulates, the prime minister is nominated by the president with the approval of the party with a majority of seats in parliament. With the now absolute majority of the Socialist Party secured, the old and new Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the new cabinet on August 27.

What to expect from the new government?
The results of the parliamentary election allow the Socialist Party to govern without a coalition partner – “a unique opportunity for a country that has been marred by political divisions and coalition in-fighting to pursue an ambitious agenda of reform and European integration” as Fras (2017) has convincingly stated. But some observers have also identified a concrete threat to the democratic development in Albania, the tendency to rely on so-called Balkan strongmen (Fischer 2007 and 2010), strong leaders without a proper check by other institutions. Prime Minister Rama faces no real opposition at this point. The president – Ilir Meta – does not have a lot of constitutionally assigned competences. His authority beyond the constitutionally assigned power is certainly limited because of his difficult election by a boycotted parliament and his long and controversial political career with allegations of corruption and not a lot of partisan support. Some authors and analysts have even suggested that it was Rama’s intend to place Meta in a position where he could not become a threat against his political ambitions (see for a collection of these statements Koleka 2017). At the same time, the electoral defeat and the months long boycott has left the main oppositional party – DP – and its leader in a precarious position: “In Albania’s strongly divided personality politics, Lulzim Basha’s decision to push the old DP grandees aside could cost him his post. His earlier decision to abandon an election boycott was a smart move but the defeat might lead to the party’s collapse” (Fras 2017) and the re-structuring of the whole party system. But Rama’s presentation of his cabinet also offered a glimpse into his ideas about the future of Albania. He announced a near equal representation of male and female ministers and emphasized his clear commitment to a fast EU-accession. Taking up this leading role – also among Western Balkan leaders – is certainly a hopeful sign for the whole region.

Literature
EurAsia Daily (2017): Political crisis in Albania: parliamentarians failing to elect president
Подробнее: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2017/04/20/political-crisis-in-albania-parliamentarians-failing-to-elect-president
Fischer, Bernd J, 2007. ed. Balkan strongmen: dictators and authoritarian rulers of South Eastern Europe. Purdue University Press.
Fischer, Bernd J. 2010. “Albania since 1989: the Hoxhaist legacy.” In Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989, edited by Sabrina P. Ramet, 421–44. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press. Accessed August 05, 2014
Fras, Max (2017): Prime Minister Edi Rama takes total control in Albania, but who can keep him in check?, in: blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/06/30/edi-rama-takes-control-albania/
Mejdini, Fatjona (2017): Albania Opposition to Join Govt Ahead of Election, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/opposition-enters-with-technical-ministers-in-albanian-gov-05-18-2017
Koleka, Benet (2017): Albanian Socialists to get parliamentary majority: partial vote count, in: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-albania-election-result-idUSKBN19H18L
RFE/RL (2017): Albania’s Socialists Secure Governing Mandate In Parliamentary Vote, in: https://www.rferl.org/a/albania-socialists-parliamentary-elections/28581341.html, June 27.

Bulgaria – Who got what in Borisov III cabinet?

About one month after the general election held on March 26, a new government formally took office in Bulgaria on May 4. The post-election negotiations were led by Boyko Borisov’s centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), which has emerged once again as the largest party in the fourth consecutive election since 2009. In fact, since the party first competed in a national poll in 2009, GERB and PM Borisov have spent only one year in opposition between May 2013 and October 2014.

As anticipated, a majority coalition was forged between GERB and the United Patriots (UP) alliance, which brings together Bulgaria’s three main players of the far right: the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO), the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), and Ataka. Separately, the three parties have proved instrumental to maintaining both GERB- (in 2009 and 2014) and BSP-led governments (in 2013) in power without directly participating in government. This time around, due to their ability to unite ahead of the 2016 presidential election and support a common candidate, the nationalists are formally represented in cabinet.

Technically, the government has a mere one-seat majority, as the two coalition partners have 122 deputies between themselves in the 240-member National Assembly. Nevertheless, the ruling parties may be able to count on the more or less explicit parliamentary support of Volya, a new anti-establishment party founded by businessman Veselin Mareshki, which won 12 seats in the March election. A first indication in this regard was the investiture vote held on May 4, which the government won by 134 votes to 101, as Volya MPs voted alongside GERB and the United Patriots.

Portfolio allocation

Figure 1 compares the share of legislative seats the two partners contribute to the governing coalition with their portfolio payoffs. Out of 21 posts, GERB retained 17, including the PM, while UP obtained four posts. As kingmakers in the government formation process, the United Patriots were expected to demand a high price for their participation in cabinet. As far as the numerical payoffs are concerned, though, they received one portfolio less than their proportional share of the cabinet prize (if a purely proportional divisor method like Sainte-Laguë or Hare-Niemeyer were used to translate their seat contribution into cabinet posts). That said, removing the temporary portfolio in charge of Bulgaria’s 2018 EU Presidency from GERB’s share of ministerial posts results in perfect seat proportionality in portfolio allocation. Thus, the distribution of ministries may have taken into account the long-term prospects of the governing coalition and the need to underline the government’s pro-EU and pro-NATO stance ahead of the 2018 EU Presidency despite the presence of the Eurosceptic and pro-Russian (as far as Ataka is concerned) United Patriots in government. Moreover, an entire portfolio devoted to the EU Presidency is also consistent with the centrality of EU-related domestic and external policies highlighted in GERB’s 2017electoral manifesto.

Figure 1. Seat shares and portfolio allocation in Borisov III cabinet

The slight underpayment of the United Patriots may also reflect GERB’s dominant position within the party system and the decline in the nationalist vote compared to the 2014 general election. In fact, with the exception of Volya’s entry in parliament, the only parties that gained votes and seats in the 2017 election were the mainstream GERB and BPS, which dominate the right and left side of the political spectrum. Moreover, given the consensus on UP key demands such as increasing public spending and curbing immigration during the campaign, reaching a compromise with the nationalists may have been less of a complex bargain to strike.

In terms of policy areas, the United Patriots received two out of four deputy prime ministerships, along with the defence, economy, and environment portfolios. Krasimir Karakachanov (VMRO), the UP candidate in the 2016 presidential poll, cumulates the deputy prime ministership with the defence portfolio. One of his main priorities is to bring back compulsory military service, despite GERB’s reluctance to commit to anything more than “encouraging” voluntary military service in the governing programme. Valeri Simeonov (NFSB leader), who is deputy PM in charge of economic and demographic policy, has already faced calls for resignation after he downplayed a Nazi salute scandal that led to the resignation of an UP deputy minister. The economy portfolio is occupied by Emil Karanikolov, who was nominated by Ataka, while Neno Dimov, a former deputy environment minister during 1997-2001 who recently described global warming as a fraud, is the new environment minister.

GERB has kept the remaining 17 posts, including two deputy PMs. Most of these positions are occupied by ministers from previous GERB governments. Some of them have returned to the same posts they occupied in November 2016, when the government stepped down. This is the case for Tomislav Donchev (deputy PM), Vladislav Goranov (Minister of Finance), Ivaylo Moskovski (Minister of Transports), Temenuzhka Petkova (Minister of Enery), Nikolina Angelkova (Minister of Tourism) and Krasen Kralev (Minister of Youth and Sports). Others were promoted from the team of previous ministers or from the leadership of state agencies. Overall, the similarity with Boyko Borisov’s previous team has strengthened the expectations that “the status quo won” and that the country will receive “more of the same” while the GERB-UP coalition is in power.

Gender balance

Gender equality is not the strongest feature of PM Borisov’s third cabinet. Women hold only five out of 21 posts. The United Patriots did not nominate any women for their ministries. Most of the prestigious posts controlled by GERB went to men, including the ministries of the Interior, Finance, Labour, Health, Agriculture, Education, and Regional Development. That said, a few exceptions exist. Former justice minister Ekaterina Zakharieva was promoted as deputy PM and assigned the foreign affairs portfolio. She was succeeded at the Ministry of Justice by Tsetska Tsacheva, GERB’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election. Both women had previously held important political roles: the former was President Plevneliev’s Chief of Staff and served as Deputy PM in the two caretaker cabinets appointed during 2013-2014; while the latter served twice as Speaker of the National Assembly while GERB was in power (2009-2013 and 2014-2017). Former women ministers in Borisov’s previous cabinet picked up the other three portfolios in Energy, Tourism, and the temporary ministry in charge of the 2018 EU Presidency. On the whole, while this is a far cry from a parity government, at least women were not exclusively allocated stereotypically “feminine” or low-profile portfolios.

  Figure 2. Women and independent ministers in Bulgarian cabinets (1991-2017).                                                       Source: Cabinet composition data from Database on WHO GOVERNS in Europe; European Journal of Political Research Political Data Yearbook (Bulgaria); Wikipedia (Bulgarian pages)

Figure 2 shows that the current cabinet does not stand out from his predecessors. Since 1991, the percentage of women in Bulgarian cabinets has not exceeded 35%. In fact, it was during PM Borisov’s first term in government that the number of women in government increased from well below 20% to more than one third of cabinet members. This time around, though, women make up less than one quarter of cabinet members. As we can see from Figure 2, a significant number of Bulgarian ministers continue to be recruited from outside the parliament and political parties, partly as a result of enduring distrust in politicians and state institutions.

New president-cabinet relations

The return of GERB and PM Borisov to power is also likely to change the working relations between the head of state and the new executive. As it is known, Bulgaria’s third consecutive snap poll was triggered by the 2016 presidential election, as PM Borisov stepped down after GERB candidate Tsetska Tsacheva was defeated by Rumen Radev, the non-party candidate supported by BSP. Although the presidency is not a particularly important asset for running the government, the prime minister speculated the moment to prevent the Socialist Party from capitalising on their electoral victory in the long run.

Since President Radev, a former air force commander, ran in the election as a non-partisan candidate supported by BPS, the relations with the GERB-led government should not be labelled as cohabitation. That said, the level of conflict between the president and the government can escalate even outside periods of cohabitation. For example, President Plevneliev, who also run for office as a non-partisan candidate supported by GERB, constantly used his constitutional powers to put pressure on the Socialist-backed Oresharski government during 2013-2014.

Like his predecessor, President Radev seems to take a keen interest in electoral reform. In early April, while government formation negotiations were in full swing and the Gerdzhikov caretaker government was still in office, the president was involved in a controversy about the drafting of legislation limiting the voting right of Bulgarians living abroad. The caretaker government had no attributions in setting policy but the scandal intensified when officials from the Ministry of Justice claimed that the proposed amendments to the electoral legislation had been drafted in meetings with the president and his advisers. President Radev did not deny his involvement and argued that despite lacking formal powers of legislative initiative, he sees it as his duty to get involved when issues “particularly important to society and national security” are at stake.

To a certain extent, the voting bill rights episode may reflect the president’s lack of political experience. At the same time, it could also indicate his readiness to clash with political actors if necessary. PM Borisov’s plan to introduce a majority run-off system to elect all members of the National Assembly could provide such a motivation. GERB’s electoral reform proposals are in line with the three-question referendum held in November 2016. While the referendum results were not validated, the turnout was high enough to force the parliament to discuss and vote on the referendum matter. As the party that would have the most to gain from a majoritarian system, GERB is alone in supporting the adoption of the majority runoff rule for all 240 constituencies. All other parties, including the United Patriots coalition partners, are in favour of a mixed electoral system. President Radev argued against a 100% majoritarian vote as well. Thus, cohabitation or not, the GERB-UP coalition and the president/cabinet relations may soon reach the end of their honeymoon.