Tag Archives: Impeachment

South Korea – Collective-Action and President Park’s Impeachment: Did Corruption Galvanize Protestors?

President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment on December 9, 2016, when the South Korean legislature voted 234 to 56 (with two abstentions and seven invalid votes) to impeach the president – following consecutive weekends of large-scale protests against her – seemed nothing short of stunning. Here is an executive who has consistently weathered criticisms of her unconsultative style and recurring influence-peddling scandals to remain the Queen of Elections and assert her priorities over the opposition and even at the expense of her ruling Saenuri Party.[i] In fact, President Park was instrumental in the candidate-nomination debacle that led to departures of high-profile senior party-members and accounted in part for the Saenuri Party’s resounding defeat in the 2016 general elections. That the President managed to keep the now-minority party in government following the drubbing is instructive. Indeed, even following the President’s impeachment, Park loyalists retained leadership control of the ruling Saenuri Party (renamed since as the Liberty Korea Party); as a result, non-Park legislators and members left the party – some would say, again – to form the conservative Bareun Party. Given President Park’s apparent staying power, how did impeachment happen?

Public activism is the mainstay that underpins the resolve to bring about the President’s impeachment. The weekly protests that began in October and, at various times, exceeded two million, likely played a key role in bringing together the fractured opposition in the legislature to pull off the impeachment. It should be noted that the Park government had faced public protests previously, the most consistent being the Sewol protests to demand an independent investigative counsel for clear resolution of the tragedy in April 2014. What is different this time around is the size of the public protests: these are some of the largest protests to hit the country in 30 years, even larger than the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1987.

That large public protests are part of the knockout punch on a regime is not surprising: Tucker (2007) noted that electoral fraud led citizens to overcome collective action problems and form the Colored Revolutions protests that revolutionized politics in Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, and Kyrgyzstan.[ii] What other issues galvanize public protests? My own work on anti-corruption efforts show that government corruption may have such a galvanizing effect: in particular, experiment results show that Korean citizens are willing to join others to demand government accountability for corruption, even when they suffer no losses through the corrupt actions, if  expect others to pursue that course of action.[iii]

President Park’s fall from grace, then, may lie less in her susceptibility to the influences of her confidante, Choi Soo-sil, and more with her alleged role in aiding bribery and corruption from Korean conglomerates to said confidante. The President and her lawyers have been stalling and stonewalling the special investigation counsel as well as the Constitutional Court, in an effort to delay the Court’s decision. Still, the Constitutional Court has made clear that it will decide by March 10, lending to speculations that the collective protests have had an impact even on the mostly-conservative court. With the rise of popular authoritarianism across the globe, it may well be useful to uncover other issues that galvanize citizens and lead to demands for government accountability.

 

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[i] O. Fiona Yap, 2016. “South Korea in 2015: Battling to Set the Stage for Elections.” Asian Survey vol 56 no 1: 78-86

[ii] Joshua Tucker. 2007. “Enough! Electoral Fraud, Collective Action Problems, and Post-Communist Colored Revolutions.” Perspectives on Politics vol 5 no 3: 535-551

[iii] O. Fiona Yap. 2016. “How do South Koreans Respond to Government Corruption? Evidence from Experiments.” Korea Observer vol 47 no 2: 363-386

 

 

 

Thomas C. Bruneau – The Impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff: Old Politics Meets New Standards in Brazil

This is a guest post by Thomas Bruneau, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School

On May 28, 2016, the Brazilian Minister of Defense, Raul Jungmann, gave a long interview with the Estado de São Paulo newspaper. In the long interview he barely touched upon military or defense issues, merely lauding the military’s neutrality in the current chaotic political situation. However, he did highlight an important aspect of Brazilian politics. He noted that while the Constitution of 1988 strengthened accountability institutions, naming specifically the Public Ministry, the Federal Police, and the Judiciary, politics had not changed. In his terms, politics is a hostage to itself.

These observations by a seasoned politician, one who has twice served as both federal minister and federal deputy, permit us to better understand the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.  Despite allegations by President Rousseff that she was deposed in a golpe, a coup, the process is in accord with the Constitution of 1988. This is notwithstanding the fact that many other issues have contributed to the situation, including her narrow reelection in 2014, lackluster governance, dubious economic policies, exposes of massive graft and corruption, and miserable public opinion poll rating.  While President Rousseff cannot be blamed for all of these problems, she is being held to answer for at least one of the 37 charges levied against her, which is a “crime of fiscal responsibility”: fiddling with government accounts to facilitate her reelection in 2014.

Scholars who study the process whereby the Constitution of 1988 was formulated and the resulting document are extremely critical.  In my writing I argue that the Constitution did not represent an “elite settlement” ensuring democratic consolidation, as was the case in Spain, for example. Law professor, Keith S. Rosenn, states the following: “The process by which Brazil’s 1988 Constitution was adopted practically assured that the end product would be a hodgepodge of inconsistent and convoluted provisions.” [i] Despite the 245 articles and 70 transitional provisions, the framers were unable to resolve whether Brazil would be a monarchy or republic, and if the latter, a presidential or parliamentary system.  These fundamental decisions were left for a referendum in 1993 that favored a presidential republic.  The framers of the constitution, which were the 559 members of the Brazilian Congress, maintained intact both the institutional defects of the political system and the extensive prerogatives of the armed forces that governed Brazil between 1964 and 1985.  Whereas the institutional defects of the political system continue until the present, since the system is, as Jungmann puts it, hostage to itself, the prerogatives of the armed forces have been diminished and the accountability institutions have become robust and active.  These three processes, the diminishing of the prerogatives of the military, the vicious circle of the political system, and the emergence of strong accountability institutions are the foci of this paper.

Both Rosenn and I detail the extensive prerogatives of the armed forces that resulted from the negotiated transition from military to civilian rule and the reliance of President Sarney on the armed forces during his five year tenure (1985 – 90).  The most extensive work on this topic, however, is found in Alfred Stepan’s Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone where he demonstrates, by describing 11 prerogatives, that Brazil had little progressed between military and civilian rule.  More recently, twenty – eight years after Stepan published his book, scholars demonstrate that the prerogatives that were mainly high when Stepan wrote are today either low or moderate.  Some of the high points of the process whereby the prerogatives were diminished or eliminated include the creation of a civilian – led ministry of defense in 1999, which resulted in the decrease of military – led ministries from six to zero, and a large package of laws in 2011 which further delimited and restricted the autonomy of the armed forces. Today, the armed forces receive 1.29 % of GDP and 73% of this goes to salaries and pensions, and the political influence of the armed forces is minimal.  Illustrative of the change from the military regime to the present day is the elimination of the National Information Service, (Serviço Nacional de Informações SNI), which was the intelligence arm of the military regime, by President Collor in 1990, and the creation, only after nine years, of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência ABIN).  ABIN is prohibited from conducting intercepts, has a minimal budget, and lacks a direct link to decision – makers.  In short, the politicians had incentives to diminish the influence and roles of the armed forces, thereby increasing their own.

While the Constitution of 1988 included a great many items that could lead to an improved socio – economic situation for Brazilians, it changed nothing regarding the political institutions that put those 559 politicians into the position of writing the constitution, and have made only most minimal changes in the intervening 28 years.  As Rosenn states “The constituent assembly also did nothing to reform the malfunctioning of the political party system, which is one of the world’s worst.” [ii] They did not establish a minimum number of votes for a party to be recognized, resulting in the current situation with 35 political parties at the national level with 19 having deputies in the lower house, the Câmara. They did not change the open – list system of proportional representation in which each state is a single, and at – large multi – member district.  They did not change the gross misrepresentation whereby all states, and the federal district, have three senators or the provision stipulating that all states, regardless of population, would have a minimum of eight and a maximum of seventy deputies.

There was supposed to be a wholesale revision of the Constitution in 1993 that would require only an absolute majority of the deputies.  That revision never happened.  Instead, there have been piecemeal revisions. In reviewing the various initiatives to revise the constitution between 1988 and today, they amount to very little.  This is the consensus view of the experts on the issue including David Fleischer, Alfredo Montero, Timothy Power, and Keith Rosenn.  The Constitution of 1988 was full of contradictions. The issue of parliamentary vs. presidential form of government was never resolved, neither in the constituent assembly nor after. On the one hand the constitution gave the congress a role in approving annual budgets and allowed them to overrule presidential vetoes with absolute majorities rather than a two-thirds vote. On the other hand, it gave the presidency the exclusive right to initiate and execute annual budgets and to force 45 – day limits on the congress to review bills defined as “urgent” by the president, the power to appoint a cabinet, subject to Senate approval, and the power to issue executive decrees (medidas provisórias) which had the force of law while congress had 30 days to review the measure.  Post – 1990 presidents utilized these measures, and others, to govern.

Even with these gimmicks, the need to assemble a coalition, since no president since the first directly elected, President Collor, has belonged to a party with a majority in either house of congress, all presidents would have to attract the support of other parties.  Brazil has one of, if not the most fractured, party system of any democracy. This form of government, commonly called coalitional presidentialism (presidencialismo de coalizão), could, and did, easily evolve into corruption. The most famous, but not the only, corruption scandal of President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva –Lula (2002 – 2010) was the “big monthly” (as in big monthly payments to members of congress to support his government’s policies in the congress), mensalão scandal.  Alfred Montero has this to say on this topic. “The need to engage in vote – buying emerged from the limited options the Lula administration had for composing the same kind of legislative coalition that Cardoso enjoyed.” [iii]  Several top Workers’ Party (PT) officials were implicated in this vote – buying scheme.  The scandal ultimately led to the convictions of twenty-five people, including Lula’s former chief of staff, José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva, who has more recently been sentenced to 23 years in jail in the Lava Jato corruption scheme.

There are so many corruption scandals currently in play in the investigation and sentencing phases, that only the experts can keep straight the modalities of Mensalão, Lava Jato, Petrolão, Zelotes, and Operation Aequalis to mention only the biggest and most current. So far the wave of illegal, extralegal, and simply corrupt practices have resulted in the impeachment hearing of President Rousseff, the investigation of ex-President Lula, the conviction of 84 persons for crimes associated with Lava Jato, the majority of them politicians and businessmen. While not all of the crimes involve politicians, most of them do, and virtually all of them involve sources of funds, as in Petrobras, under the control of the Brazilian State, and thus of necessity involve politicians.

It must be acknowledged that corruption is nothing new in Brazil.  In fact, according to the late Samuel Huntington in his influential Political Order in Changing Societies corruption is seen in positive terms in the process of modernization.  Huntington calls specific attention to Brazil.  Further, there is a very influential article published in 1990 in the important Revista de Administração Pública of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas by Anna Maria Campos that argues in great detail why there is no concept or meaning to the term “accountability” in Portuguese. Most Brazilian and foreign authors refer to the Brazilian propensity to use “angles” or “gimmicks”, jeitinhos, to get around laws. Or, as was said in positive terms of a mayor of São Paulo, he robs but he accomplishes things. Rouba mas faz.

And, in line with Jungmann’s observations above, while politics has not changed, including the use of corruption to govern, what is now permissible in politics and business in general in Brazil is changing.  There is no single cause for the change, and I have identified at least five.

First, the 1988 Constitution created, or recreated, a large spectrum of oversight and investigation mechanisms, and these have been expanded in number during the intervening 28 years. Today they include the Comptroller General, the Accounting Tribunal, the Federal Police, the Public Ministry, and the courts.  There is a huge literature on these institutions in both Portuguese and English, and the approach that I find most convincing to explain their increasing influence, culminating in the current wave of imprisonments, is that of Sérgio Praça and Matthew M. Taylor who demonstrate that the capacity of these institutions increases not by a single event or factor, but through bureaucratic interaction.  The capacity increase is contingent and interactive.  In short, these oversight, investigatory, and punishment institutions can only be understood in a specific national and international context, which is why I include the following four factors.

Second, whereas in the past, the main weakness of the accountability mechanisms was the inability or unwillingness of the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, to process and convict individuals, today this is changing due to personalities and the gradual modification of processes similar to those noted in the prior paragraph.  This change is best highlighted by the actions of Judge Sérgio Moro of Curitiba who has taken the lead in the Lava Jato scandal. He is extremely active not only in pursuing corruption, but also in writing on the importance of plea – bargaining and the Italian experience in countering the mafia.

Third, much of the momentum to impeach President Rousseff is related to allegation of corruption involving the Workers’ Party, and was established by the information provided by Senator Delcídio do Amaral, who was the leader of the party in the Senate. He was arrested, and due to plea –  bargaining (delação premiada) he provided information on the spread of corruption throughout the Brazilian government.  Those familiar with criminal law in the United States are aware that plea – bargaining is probably the single most important mechanism for gathering evidence on white – collar crime. Plea- bargaining was established in Brazil only in 2013 with law 12,850/2013. I have been informed by lawyers involved in the introduction of plea – bargaining that it was one of several laws that were required for Brazil to reach OECD standards.  Since June 2015 there was a Co-Operation Agreement in place between Brazil and the OECD, which has been followed by an OECD-Brazil Programme of Work.

Fourth, Brazil’s population of over 200 million is increasingly invested in the system. An important indicator of this vesting is their paying taxes. According to one source, in 2013 over 50% of those who declared income, paid income tax, whereas a decade earlier only 36% paid income tax. [iv] Just as important, according to data analyzed by the Instituto Brasileiro de Planejamento e Tributação, of the thirty countries where taxes are the highest, Brazil is the worst in terms of return to the population in investments in the quality of life.

Fifth, Brazilians are today very much aware of the low return on investment for their high taxes. Indeed, the huge anti – government demonstrations in June 2013 were mainly caused by this awareness of high taxes, mediocre services in health, education, and transportation, while the government invested massively in stadiums and other infrastructure for the World Cup in soccer in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.  In addition to all – pervasive radio and television stations there is today extremely high penetration by social media. According to comScore, which claims to be the global leader in digital analysis, Brazil leads the world with a 99.9% reach of social media. And, with 8.8 hours of use in the month of June 2015, Brazil is the world leader in that similar data for Europe is 6.1 hours, and the U.S. 5.2 hours. [v]

In sum, traditional politics, in which the lubricant is public funds, has now encountered a wide spectrum of accountability mechanisms, supported by processes and attitudes, which no longer tolerate the traditional lackadaisical approach to ethics in politics.  While the incentives to reform politics are not as obvious as they were to assert control over the armed forces and intelligence services, they are nevertheless present in the expectations of the Brazilian population and international organizations.

References

Bruneau, Thomas (1992) “ Brazil’s political transition,” in John Higley and Richard Gunther, eds., Elites and Democratic Consolidation in Latin America and Southern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 257 – 281.

Bruneau, Thomas C. and Scott D. Tollefson (2014) “Civil – Military Relations in Brazil: A Reassessment,” Journal of Politics in Latin America, pp. 107 – 138.

Bruneau, Thomas C. (2015) “Intelligence Reform in Brazil: A Long, Drawn – Out Process,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, pp. 502 – 519.

Campos, Anna Maria (1990) “Accountability: Quando Poderemos Traduzi-La Para O Português?” Revista de Administração Pública, pp. 30 – 50.

Couto, Cláudio G. and Rogério B. Arantes, (2008) “Constitution, Government and Democracy in Brazil,” World Political Science Review, pp. 1 – 33.

Fleischer, David (2016) “Attempts at Political Reform: (1985 – 2015): Still a ‘Never Ending Story’” Paper Presented at BRASA Conference, Brown University, March 31 – April 2, 2016.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1968) Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968)

Instituto Brasileiro de Planejamento e Tributação “Estudo sobre a Carga Tributária/PIB X IDH Maio 2015. Available at www.idpt.com.br Accessed May 30, 2016.

Montero Alfred P. (2014) Brazil: Reversal of Fortune (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 2014)

Power Timothy J. and Matthew M. Taylor, eds. (2011) Corruption and Democracy in Brazil: The Struggle for Accountability (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011).

Power, Timothy J. (2010) “Brazilian Democracy as a Late Bloomer: Reevaluating the Regime in the Cardoso – Lula Era,” Latin American Research Review, pp. 218 – 247.

Praça Sérgio and Matthew M. Taylor, (2014) “Inching Toward Accountability: The Evolution of Brazil’s Anticorruption Institutions, 1985 – 2010,” Latin American Politics and Society, pp. 28 – 48.

Rosenn, Keith S. (2010) “Conflict Resolution and Constitutionalism: The Making of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988,” in Laurel E. Miller, editor, with Louis Aucoin, Framing the State in Times of Transition: Case Studies in Constitution Making (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 2010).

Rosenn, Keith S. (2014) “Recent Important Decisions by the Brazilian Supreme Court, Inter-American Law Review, pp. 297 – 334.

Stepan, Alfred (1988) Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).

Notes

[i] Keith S. Rosenn, 2010, “Conflict Resolution and Constitutionalism: The Making of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988,” in Laurel E. Miller, editor, with Louis Aucoin Framing the State in Times of Transition: Case Studies in Constitution Making (Washington, D.C. United States Institute of Peace, 2010), p. 458.

[ii] Ibid, p. 458.

[iii] Alfred P. Montero, Brazil: Reversal of Fortune (Cambridge, Mass: Polity Press, 2014), p. 43

[iv] Pulsamérica available at http://www.pulsamerica.co.uk/2013/02/25/brazil-over-12-million-currently=pay-income-tax/ accessed June 2, 2016.

[v] ComScore & Shareablee (2015) “The State of Social in Brazil” available at https://www.comscore.com Accessed June 2, 2016.

Thomas Bruneau is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He joined the Department in 1987 after having taught in the Department of Political Science at McGill University. Dr. Bruneau became Chairman of the Department in 1989, and continued in that position until 1995. He became Director of the Center for Civil Military Relations in November 2000, a position he held until December 2004. He left U.S. Government service in early 2013. He has six recently published books. He is co-editor, of Who Guards the Guardians and How: Democratic Civil – Military Relations (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006). His second book, also published by University of Texas Press, with CDR Steve Boraz, is Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness. His third co-edited book, with Harold Trinkunas, Global Politics of Defense Reform, was published by Palgrave – Macmillan in February 2008. His single authored book, Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security was published by Stanford University Press in mid-2011. His co-edited book, with Lucia Dammert and Elizabeth Skinner, Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America was published by the University of Texas Press in late 2011. His last co-edited book, with Cris Matei, The Routledge Handbook of Civil-Military Relations was published by Routledge in London in late-2012. He writes the annual report on Portugal for the Bertelsmann Foundation Sustainable Governance Indicators publication. His two most recent scholarly publications are “Impediments to Fighting the Islamic State: Private Contractors and US Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 2015 and “Intelligence Reform in Brazil: A Long, Drawn-Out Process,” International Journal of Intelligence andCounterIntelligence Fall 2015. Between 1998 and 2001 he served as rapporteur of the Defense Policy Board that provides the Secretary of Defense and his staff with independent advice on questions of national security and defense policy.

Mariana Llanos and Detlef Nolte – Brazil, Venezuela, and the Many Faces of Latin American Presidentialism

This is a guest post by Mariana Llanos and Detlef Nolte, both from the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies, on their new paper, The Many Faces of Latin American Presidentialism.

In 1990 Juan Linz published an influential article in the Journal of Democracy entitled “The Perils of Presidentialism” in which he did not make many favourable prognoses for the recently established democratic, and presidential, regimes of Latin America. He argued that the instability of presidential regimes was connected to its essential features – that is, the principle of dual legitimacy, according to which both the president and the legislature equally derive their power from the vote of the people, and the fixed mandates for both elected institutions. The fixed term introduced rigidities to the system that made crisis and conflict resolution more difficult, and the direct election of the executive and legislative powers gave both president and congress direct democratic legitimacy, thus inducing inter-institutional struggles and making it unclear which would prevail in the event of lack of majorities and a conflict between the two.

Although Latin American democracy survived, and the problems that Linz attributed to presidentialism turned out to be less pervasive than he had initially thought, they did not disappeared. In effect, since the beginning of 2016 the region has witnessed two major political crises, in Venezuela and Brazil, which despite being extreme are predictable crises within presidential regimes. In these two cases the presidents face an adverse majority in Congress: in Brazil, congress is using the constitutional mechanism of impeachment to oust President Rousseff, while in Venezuela President Maduro is manipulating the rules of the decision-making process to disempower congress and to avoid a recall referendum that would take him out of the presidency.

While presidentialism may be prone to producing political stalemates, political actors are responsible for creating and resolving these stalemates. Brazil and Venezuela represent two different presidential traditions within the region, and the institutional mechanisms being used to solve the current impasse situations differ accordingly. We should bear in mind, though, that crises are profound in these countries and will persist beyond the short-term solutions to stalemate. It appears that the period of fine-weather democracy may be coming to an end and that some of the “perils” and less pleasant traits of presidential democracy may be resurging.

Coalition Presidentialism and Presidential Breakdowns

“Coalition presidentialism” is the consensual Latin American variant of presidentialism that is practiced in Brazil. Under this scheme, the directly elected president serves as a coalitional formateur and uses his/her appointment prerogatives to recruit ministers from other parties in order to foster the emergence of a legislative cartel that could support her/his proposals in congress for overcoming political deadlocks. Alongside the distribution of cabinet posts, presidents use a wide range of agenda-setting powers and pork-barrelling to maintain control of the legislative process.

Coalitions have helped overcome inter-institutional conflicts, but they are demanding for presidents, particularly when they face other challenges. A tough economic situation, scandals, popular discontent, and public mobilisation, expose the weakness of the presidential leadership and may lead to his/her demise. During the third wave of democratization, many presidents have been challenged and 17 presidents have actually been forced to leave before finishing their constitutionally fixed mandates under the pressure of unfavourable majorities in congress and often also of protests in the streets. A few weeks ago, the Brazilian Senate initiated an impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff who is suffering from extremely low popularity as a result of a serious recession, high inflation and unemployment rates, in addition to the Petrobras affair, a corruption scandal that involves her party (the PT) and many others and that has infuriated the public and motivated protests. Due to these events, latent rivalries among coalition members became apparent, leading to a major break between the PT and the main coalition partner, the PMDB, and giving impulse to the impeachment process. The impeachment resembles previous presidential breakdowns where the president had to leave power prematurely. In these solutions to stalemate where congress prevails, the president has to go and the succession line is activated, but democracy persist.

The Autocratic Phase of Presidentialism

The Venezuelan case belongs to another variant of presidentialism, one based on presidential dominance that has a long tradition in Latin America. It is characterized by the exalted status of the presidency, particularly when the presidential party controls the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Presidents may also use their formal powers to either bypass or manipulate the legislative and judicial branches. Presidents prone to unilateral excursions enjoying strong political backing have populated the regional landscape – for instance, as part of the pink tide during the first decade of this century. Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales have exemplified a delegative and hyperpresidential style of government, notwithstanding their participatory discourses.

In Venezuela, the president’s loss of a majority after congressional elections at the end of 2015 has left in evidence the autocratic tendencies of the regime. President Maduro managed that his outgoing majority appointed 13 new judges by blatantly violating the constitution. The new supreme court has since then proved to be a tremendous functional instrument for serving the executive and disempowering the opposing Congress. The latest of several controversial measures was to hold up the constitutionality of the two-month state of emergency that had been rejected by congress and that gave Maduro extra powers to impose tough security measures and to deal with an uneasy social context characterized by food and medicine shortage, the economy shrinking by 8 per cent, and an inflation rate of up to 500 per cent.

The congressional attempts to get approval for a recall referendum, the constitutional mechanism to depose the president, are also being boycotted by the president-controlled electoral judiciary. We understand that the way in which Maduro is prevailing in the conflict with congress has crossed the line in the direction of authoritarianism. This solution to the gridlock closely resembles the autogolpe solutions (such as that in Peru in 1992), where we saw congress unilaterally closed by the executive and the democratic regime break down. It is quite difficult to predict how the political stalemate, the partisan polarisation, and the economic crisis in Venezuela can be overcome. What would the military reaction be if they were asked to intervene?

For a More Sincere Solution to Gridlock

Whether a presidential triumph in case of gridlock may lead to an authoritarian variant of presidentialism, a congressional triumph also entails the risks of leading to more political polarisation. The latter is connected to the fact that impeachment concerns a president’s misconduct or violation of norms while, in the end, it is the size of the presidential majority that determines his/her fate. It would be more honest if impeachments were replaced by votes of non-confidence (by a two-thirds majority): the political debate would be framed less in normative and more in political-programmatic terms. Certainly, the call for earlier elections would be a more embracing solution for critical stalemate situations. We believe that either of these semi-presidential solutions to gridlock, which have often informally prevailed in similar crises during the last thirty years, are preferable to old-style Latin American authoritarian rule.

Mariana Llanos is a lead research fellow at the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies and head of GIGA’s Accountability and Participation Research Programme.

Detlef Nolte is the vice president of the GIGA, the director of the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies, and a professor of political science at the University of Hamburg.

Link to the Article: https://www.giga-hamburg.de/en/publication/the-many-faces-of-latin-american-presidentialism

Magna Inácio – Collapse of Brazilian coalitional presidentialism?

This is a guest post by Magna Inácio from the Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais

Twenty-four years after the impeachment of the first elected president since redemocratization, Collor, a new trial has suspended the current president, Dilma, from her powerful seat as the senate votes whether or not to impeach her. Two events of this magnitude, in six presidential mandates, have called into question the capacity of Brazilian presidentialism to maintain stable governments. Further, they have rekindled interest in the adoption of semipresidencialism or parliamentarism.

Brazilian presidents build coalitions and govern through them. Scholars have seen this as a cooperative solution to legislative-executive relations that might mitigate the risks of legislative gridlocks and democratic breakdowns. Since ongoing political crisis challenges this view, it is inevitable to ask: is it a crisis of coalitional presidentialism in Brazil? Alternatively, is it a crisis of a coalition and the president’s failures in its management?

The current crisis seems to describe the typical scenario of those crises that magnify the rigidity of a system without exhaust valves for inter-branch conflicts: an unpopular and recalcitrant president and decisional paralysis spasms provoked by greater activism of the legislative parties. After a hard-won victory, Dilma pushed the government into the crossfire of the opposition and discontented supporters. Diverging from her electoral platform, which was based on redistributive policies, a different economic outlook was revealed when a fiscal adjustment program and deep budgetary cutbacks were adopted in the first days of her second term. Two years after reaching a record presidential approval rating (65%), in her first term, Dilma’s popularity fell to the lowest level (8%) achieved by any recent presidents.

Cross-pressured by these ambiguous signals, her legislative majority has become increasingly hostile and volatile. The conflicts within the coalition deepened, feeding the opposition’s attractiveness and political polarization in the legislative arena and on the streets. The legislative gridlocks and intense opposition, exacerbated by the Chamber of Deputies’ Speaker and member of the major coalition partner, made the fracture of the legislative cartel, led by the president, very obvious. Corruption scandals and a massive investigation (“Operation Car Wash”) touched important leaders of the president’s party, including former president Lula as well as other coalition partners, and deepened these conflicts as uncertainty about the future of government spread.

Why did these political conflicts evolve into an impeachment trial? Some scholars have identified the impeachment events as a heterodox political solution to the lack of exhaust valves in the presidentialism. Recent literature has pointed to the new political instability in Latin America at the government level, but not at the regime level (Pérez Liñan, 2007). Given the fragility of horizontal controls to constrain, ex-ante, the abuse of presidential powers, impeachment could work as a mechanism, ex-post, to interrupt it. In this, context matters. According to Carlin et al. (2015, 2016), such breakdowns reveal a conditional accountability: presidential unpopularity and scandals can feed protests, but they will be decisive in the collapse of governments when economic insecurities magnify political uncertainties. From this perspective, the corruption scandals became decisive to Dilma’s impeachment trial because they occurred simultaneously with the disastrous economic performance of government: high inflation (10%), high unemployment rates (11%), and negative GDP growth in the last year (-3.80%).

External shocks are relevant factors, but I consider that the effects of the scandals, plummeting popularity and declining economic outlook on the collapse of the government are all dependent on the lack of coalition management ability of the presidency. Powerful Brazilian presidentialism is strong, and not only because the president relies on a broad array of institutional powers. Its strength is variable: it depends on the coordinating ability of the presidency to use these resources in the management of the coalition and, jointly with legislative parties, to pave the way for sustainable governance. However, it should be noted that, although coalitional presidentialism is a recurrent practice in Brazil, there is a lack of institutional mechanisms of coalition leadership or a collective decision-making committee, as a coalition or party summit. Therefore, cabinet governance strongly depends on presidents’ strategies and abilities to manage their multiparty alliance.

In a fragmented party system, the profile of coalition makes its management cost variable. Brazilian presidents count on a diverse toolbox for dealing with these costs (Raile et al., 2011). This includes legislative agenda powers, ministerial positions, budget, etc. In addition to the distribution of these resources, whether with partisan bias or not, the model of coalition governance also varies according to the degree of centralization of decision-making in the hands of the presidency and its staff (Inácio & Llanos, 2014).

Although presidential powers have remained relatively stable since redemocratization, the performance of the presidencies on cabinet coordination varies considerably. Only when the president´s coordinating capacity declined below a critical threshold did the impeachment take place. Thus, the collapse of government seems to require both endogenous and exogenous factors, affecting the process of government. Then, impeachment is not inevitable.

Since 1986, Brazilian presidents have faced severe economic crises, presidential popularity has remained at oscillating and moderate levels, and scandals have been frequent. The most stable periods of coalition governance in Brazil correspond to power-sharing cabinet-presidency relations. The governments of Itamar (successor to Collor), Cardoso and Lula coordinated their coalitions in such a way as to internalize management costs and the processing of conflicts behind the closed doors of the executive. Cardoso and Lula faced serious crises that weakened the operational ability of the coalitions to sustain government decisions. However, both presidents managed their resources to surmount these crises through cabinet reshuffling, centralization, pork goods, policy concessions, and administrative strategies to keep tabs on their partners and keep them together, in order to avoid a single-party cabinet or the collapse of the government as reversion outcomes.

The financial and energy crises in Cardoso’s second term led him to make concessions on high-priority policy agendas and to give more attention to clientelistic demands from his allies. With less presidential leverage, the president dealt with these constraints and postponed the reversion outcome. It effectively occurred with the rupture of his coalition, opening space for PSDB’s electoral defeat on his succession. Halfway through his first term, Lula faced a profound crisis with the “mensalão” scandal in 2005. Legislative threats to begin impeachment proceedings and declining popularity put Lula’s re-election at risk. However, the president handled these risks through cabinet reshuffling (three times in a semester), redesign of the hypertrophied presidential office (and reduction of the partisan bias favoring PT) and sharing the management of legislative-executive relations with coalition partners. After distancing himself from those PT members involved in the mensalão scandal, Lula assumed a more active role for himself in both cabinet coordination and the mobilization of his supporters.

Differently, presidents Collor and Dilma demonstrated clear limits in the coordination of their cabinets, endogenously fostering the escalation of interbranch and intracoalition conflicts. They both resorted to a model of centralized cabinet governance, restricting interparty and interbranch negotiations. It made them more vulnerable to political crises, particularly when allegations of corruption and the “crime of responsibility” opened space for impeachment trials.

Governing unilaterally from a minority and single-party cabinet, headed by a centralized presidency, Collor implemented a radical economic reform agenda. The unpopular policies and their distributive costs quickly pushed the legislative parties into the arms of discontented voters and economic groups. After revelations of Collor’s involvement in a corruption scheme, the dissatisfied congress impeached him quickly and almost unanimously.

Dilma’s first term was relatively stable throughout the first three years. However, legislative-executive relations were continuously tense. Although the ruling coalition has been the same as that of Lula’s administrations, these tensions deepened with the centralized decision-making process headed by Dilma, particularly in the economic area. The “new matrix” of economic policies pursued by the government, based on continued expanding credit and government spending, reinforced criticisms about the insulated decision-making process[1]. When the first signs of the failure of her economic policies and the new constraints from global economy were made clear, the administration strongly resisted changing the route on the eve of the president seeking re-election[2]. As a candidate, Dilma rejected the need for this policy shift in her campaign and condemned her opponents’ proposals about this agenda. This strategy had high reputational costs for Dilma, when she pursued did it after her re-election. The president did not explain to the voters the reasons for this turning point, nor did she open negotiations with those sectors and groups affected by these policies.

The delay of this policy shift reduced the leeway for policy-makers to implement reforms in a context of economic stagnation, fiscal deficit and low government credibility. Facing a more fragmented and polarized Congress, Dilma did not receive legislative support for her economic and fiscal reforms after reelection. Even the leaders of cabinet parties walked away from the executive agenda, revealing a real minority from this centrifugal dynamic. At this juncture, the corruption scandals, low approval ratings and economic stagnation pushed the political crisis to a point of no return. Could it be avoided?  Maybe we have to pay more attention to the management of the coalition, beyond the use of the presidential toolbox. It could mitigate the effects of exogenous shocks on the president’s fate. It could allows the president not only to foster cooperation in good times, but also to overcome political crises by widening their choices in bad times. But this management must not depend only the president’s wisdom. It must be a by-product of institutional, power-sharing mechanisms that support coalition leadership. Such strong dependency on presidential leadership is, maybe, a risk-taking feature of Brazilian presidentialism. Exhaust valves are important during extreme crises, but there is still room for institutional innovations that fill the gap between presidential and coalition leadership.

References

CARLIN, Ryan E.; LOVE, Gregory J.; MARTÍNEZ-GALLARDO, Cecilia. 2015. “Cushioning the Fall: Scandals, Economic Conditions, and Executive Approval.” Political Behavior, 37(1):109-130.

INÁCIO, Magna; LLANOS, Mariana. 2016. The Institutional Presidency in Latin America: A Comparative Analysis. Presidential Studies Quartely (forthcoming)

PÉREZ-LIÑÁN, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

RAILE, Eric D.; PEREIRA, Carlos; POWER, Timothy J. 2011. “The Executive Toolbox: Building Legislative Support in a Multiparty Presidential Regime.” Political Research Quarterly 64 (2): 323- 34.

[1] These policies undermined the confidence of the private sector in the government, as it was seen as deepening state interventionism and departing from the policies of fiscal responsibility, inflation targeting and a floating exchange rate pursued by Cardoso and Lula.

[2] Dilma is accused of the “crime of responsibility” for allegedly having violated budgetary laws by illegally covering budget shortfalls.

Bios

Magna. InacioMagna Inácio is an associate professor at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG). Her research interests include coalition governments, the institutional presidency, and legislative parties. Currently, her research is concerned with the institutional development of the Presidency in Brazil and Latin American. She has published co-edited books: Legislativo Brasileiro em Perspectiva Comparada (with Lúcio Rennó). (Ed. UFMG); Elites Parlamentares na America Latina. (Argvmentvm Ed, 2009) and chapters in “Algo más que Presidentes. El papel del Poder Legislativo en América Latina”. (co-edited by Manoel Alcantara Saez e Mercedes Garcia; Fundación Manuel Gimenez Abad 2011); O Congresso por Ele Mesmo. (edited by Timothy Powers e Cesar Zucco; Ed. UFMG 2011). She has published in journals such as America Latina Hoy and Jounal of Politics in Latin America. E-mail: magna.inacio@gmail.com.

Honduras – Protests to Remove President Amid Allegations of Corruption

On this blog, my posts on Latin America have a few recurring themes. Two of the most prominent must surely be related to corruption in the executive office and public protests calling for the president’s impeachment or resignation.

Well, once again I return to this topic. Juan Orlando Hernández, the President of Honduras, from the conservative and right-leaning Partido Nacional, is facing calls for his resignation over allegations of corruption, following a large public demonstration attended by thousands of marchers last Friday in Tegucigalpa. This was the fifth Friday in a row that saw demonstrations calling for the president’s resignation.

JOH came to power following the December 2013 elections, which saw him defeat the left-leaning wife, Xiomara Castro, of a former president, Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup in 2009 by pro-military conservative factions. However, the president and his party have now been accused of embezzling over US$90 million from the state social security agency, which was then used to fund Hernández’s victory in the 2013 election. This is part of a larger scandal involving the state agency, El Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS), which provides one in every eight Hondurans with healthcare, that has seen over US$200 million embezzled from its coffers over the last few years. Hernández has claimed that he was unaware where the money came from.

These allegations of corruption in Honduras at the very highest institutional level join a long list for Latin America. Across the region, presidents have often been associated with corruption while occupying the executive office. For example, last year alone, Guatemalan ex-President Alfonso Portillo was sentenced to five years in prison in the US for taking bribes from Taiwan. In April in El Salvador, it was announced that evidence had emerging linking former president Francisco Flores to illegal and hidden bank accounts. Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, appeared in court in June 2014 to respond to allegations that he illegally halted bankruptcy proceedings against a company that he supposedly had an interest in.

These countries are also no strangers to mass protests. Since the return to democracy, large sustained street protests, motivated by allegations of corruption, have frequently acted as the trigger for a number of presidential impeachments and forced resignations. Consider the early resignations of Raúl Alfonsín and Eduardo Duhalde in Argentina in the face of popular mobilization. Or the collapse of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s presidency in Bolivia amidst persistent unrest and clashes between the police and protesters. Or the removal of Abdalá Bucaram in Ecuador. Or Carlos Andrés Pérez in Venezuela.

The combination of a corruption scandal and mass protests can, and indeed has, forced presidents to pre-emptively resign, or has forced the house to begin impeachment proceedings. Nonetheless, even in the face of mass protests, presidents who can boast institutional support have proven very difficult to remove from office.[1]

In Honduras’ conservative and oligarchic institutional system however, Hernández appears reasonably safe. He has the backing of the Supreme Court, the traditional and conservative, Partido Nacional and many within the Partido Liberal and crucially, the support of the military. Only recently, Hernández managed to introduce a new constitutional amendment, allowing for consecutive presidential election, the very same proposal that resulted in the removal of Zelaya. It is all not easy sailing for the president however. Since 2013, a third party, Partido Libertad y Refundación (Libre) the party of Castro, have held a third of the seats in the house and the legislature has proved a somewhat persistent institutional obstacle for Hernández.

For Honduras however, these protests and this scandal only add to the woes of the already beleaguered democracy.

[1] See for example, Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press; or Mainstrendet, Leiv. and Einar. Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions.” Comparative Politics, 41(1), pp. 83-101.

Madagascar – President’s impeachment ruled unconstitutional

Recently scholars have pointed to the increase in presidential impeachment votes. For example, Leiv Marsteintredet and Einar Berntzen in Comparative Politics (41:1, 2008) discussed how impeachment has been used in Latin America to ‘resolve’ crises between the executive and the legislature. When the two institutions are deadlocked, the legislature votes to dismiss the president. This is a solution to the problem of temporal rigidity that Linz first identified and that is brought about by fixed presidential terms. Mariana Llanos and Leiv Mainstentredet followed up this idea in 2010 in an edited volume with a number of case studies. Aníbal Pérez-Liñán also published a book on the topic in the same year.

In Madagascar presidential impeachment has already been used once before to dismiss the head of state. In September 1996 President Albert Zafy was removed from office by a combination of the National Assembly and the country’s highest court. There is a nice resume of these events in the edited book by Jody C. Baumgartner and Naoko Kada on presidential impeachments in comparative perspective. In the last few weeks it looked as if history in Madagascar was about to repeat itself in this regard.

In December 2013 Hery Rajaonarimampianina was elected president of Madagascar. He was elected in the first presidential election since the coup that topped President Marc Ravalomanana in March 2009. President Rajaonarimampianina was the candidate supported by Andry Rajoelina, who had taken power following the coup against Ravalomanana. With legislative elections being held concurrently and with Rajoelina’s group ending up as the largest single group in parliament, it seemed as if there would be a period of stability. However, this hasn’t happened.

Soon after taking power, President Rajaonarimampianina effectively broke with Rajoelina. Seemingly, Rajoelina wanted to be appointed Prime Minister, but President Rajaonarimampianina refused to to do so. The constitution states that the prime minister has to come from the largest group in the legislature. Rajoelina’s group was the largest and it wanted him to be appointed as PM. However, the president reasoned that there was a bigger non-Rajoelina group, even if it was not formally constituted. In the end, after a number of months of wrangling, another figure within Rajoelina’s group was appointed as PM. A new PM from the same group was appointed earlier this year.

Since this time the relations between the president and the legislature have remained strained. This came to a head on 26 May when deputies voted to impeach President Rajaonarimampianina by a vote of 121-4 with no abstentions. This was more than the two-thirds vote needed to dismiss the head of state in the 151-seat legislature. There were reports from pro-presidential deputies that the vote was rigged, but it stood.

The constitution states that the Assembly can vote to dismiss the president on the grounds of mental or physical incapacity to carry out the functions of the office. The list of reasons drawn up by the Assembly against the president were very wide ranging and somewhat contradictory. They included his supposed incapacity to run the country, his lack of action since his election, his interference in the business of the legislature, his failure to uphold the principle of laicity in the constitution, and his prime ministerial appointments.

According to the constitution, once an impeachment vote has been passed, it has to be approved by the High Constitutional Court. If they uphold the vote, then the Assembly once again has to vote by a two-thirds majority to formally dismiss the president.

On 12 June the High Constitutional Court issued its ruling. The Court rejected the Assembly’s impeachment vote. The Court ruled that the vote had not taken place properly and that at least 64 deputies had formally sworn that they had not voted to dismiss the president. Therefore, the two-thirds majority had not been reached. The Court also found other procedural irregularities with the process. Generally, they ruled that the impeachment claim had no legal foundation.

Interestingly, for some academic scholars at least, the Court also officially ruled that the country was semi-presidential. More importantly, it also stated that there were grounds for an agreement between the opposing parties. This was a signal to the president that even though they had ruled in his favour, he should avoid dissolving the legislature and calling fresh elections that would only introduce another period of instability.

On 13 June President Rajaonarimampianina appeared on television and in effect declared that he would not dissolve the legislature. Generally, his address has been interpreted as an attempt to calm the situation. However, some deputies remain resolutely opposed to the president and claim that they are willing to take to the streets to see him dismissed. Here, too, Madagascar has history. Let’s hope that this piece of history does not repeat itself either.

Brazil – Corruption Scandals, Protests and Calls for Impeachment

On Sunday, Brazil witnessed widespread public demonstrations across the country in protest against government corruption involving the Brazilian state energy behemoth, Petrobras. This follows an even larger demonstration in March when it was estimated that more than 1.5 million people took to the streets in anger at the government. Worryingly for President Dilma Rousseff in particular, protestors marched in support of her impeachment.

This colossal corruption scandal centers on the state energy giant Petrobras, which was allegedly used in an elaborate kick-back scheme, where money from inflated contracts was channeled back to the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), in addition to more straightforward allegations of bribery where energy officials received large cash payments in return for contracts. Thirty-five people, including top executives from Petrobras, have already been charged, and earlier this month, the Supreme Court approved the investigation of a further 54.

Currently, despite the efforts of the opposition, Dilma has remained above the scandal. She denies any knowledge of the kickback scheme, just as Lula did during the Mensalão scandal and she has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the attorney general. However, opposition groups claim that much of this bribery occurred while she was Minister of Energy (2003-2005) and therefore, must have been aware of the bribery scheme given its size and extent. For some members of the opposition (and a majority of the public), this justifies the initiation of impeachment proceedings.

Is this really likely to happen? Since the return to democracy, large sustained street protests, motivated by allegations of corruption, have acted as the trigger for a number of presidential impeachments and forced resignations. Consider the early resignations of Raúl Alfonsín and Eduardo Duhalde in Argentina in the face of popular mobilization. Or the collapse of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s presidency in Bolivia amidst persistent unrest and clashes between the police and protesters. Or the removal of Abdalá Bucaram in Ecuador. Or Carlos Andrés Pérez in Venezuela. Or even Fernando Collor de Mello, the only Brazilian president since the return to democracy to have been impeached (and who is now under investigation again as part of this corruption scandal).

Dilma’s popularity is at an all time-low. In March, a public opinion poll indicated an approval rating of just 13 per cent for the beleaguered president. Results from a public opinion survey from only two days ago suggest that 63 per cent of Brazilians believe that impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff should begin. It is quite possible that part of this dissatisfaction reflects unhappiness with the state of the domestic economy. Inflation and unemployment are rising and growth in 2014 was a paltry 0.1 per cent. This year the real has fallen 14 per cent against the dollar, a precipitous decline that has only been accelerated by the recent political turbulence.

However, as long as Dilma can maintain her coalition in the house, her impeachment, or even her resignation, remains unlikely. An excellent literature has now provided solid empirical evidence that presidential impeachment in Latin America lies at the intersection between popular protest and vanishing partisan support in the legislature (obviously two things that are not mutually exclusive).[1] The combination of a corruption scandal and mass protests can, and indeed has, forced presidents to pre-emptively resign, or has forced the house to begin impeachment proceedings. Nonetheless, even in the face of mass protests, presidents who can boast secure support in the assembly, a ‘legislative shield,’ have proven very difficult to remove from office. For the moment, providing the economy does not deteriorate dramatically, Dilma should be OK.

One thing is for sure however. The president’s honeymoon period is over.

[1] See for example, Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press; Mainstrendet, Leiv. and Einar. Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions.” Comparative Politics, 41(1), pp. 83-101; Hochstetler, Kathryn. 2006. “Rethinking Presidentialism: Challenges and Presidential Falls in South America,” Comparative Politics 38 (4), pp. 401-418.

Argentina – President May Face Judicial Investigation

In an extraordinary story that took another twist this weekend, the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, may face formal charges over a political cover-up involving a terrorist attack that occurred in Buenos Aires in the 1990s. An Argentine prosecutor has now officially requested that a federal judge formally investigate the president’s actions.

In Argentina’s worst ever terrorist attack, on July 18th 1995, a bomb placed in the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, killed 85 people and left hundreds wounded. To date, no one has been charged and the perpetrators remain the subject of speculation. In 2006, Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, accused the government of Iran of orchestrating the bombing, and Hezbollah of carrying the actual act out.

Then, in January of this year, Nisman issued a request that a judge interrogate President Fernández and her Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman. Nisman had prepared a 289-page report, which accused the president and foreign ministry of communicating with the Iranian government via diplomatic back channels and offering to cover-up the involvement of five Iranian suspects in the AMIA bombing in return for a deal which would see Argentine grain exchanged for Iranian oil. Argentina at the moment is facing potentially crippling energy shortages. In 2013, Iran and Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding, which established a joint investigation into the bombing, and more significantly, allowed Iranian officials to give evidence in Iran.

Reminiscent of a plot from a John le Carré novel, on January 19th, the day before he was due to present his evidence to Congress, Alberto Nisman, despite his supposed ten-man security detail, was found dead in his 13th story apartment. He had been shot in the head with a bullet from a Bersa handgun, which was found lying beside him. Whether his death was murder or suicide remains unknown and the subject of fevered speculation.

On Friday, prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita acted on Nisman’s 289-page report, and formally requested the federal judiciary, under the guidance of Judge Daniel Rafecas, to investigate the President, the foreign minister, and Andrés Larroque (an Argentine deputy).

President Fernández is not in any immediate danger of arrest. As President, she is immune from prosecution, unless impeached by the Argentine Congress. However, this is highly unlikely, given her majority in each house. An excellent literature has now clearly demonstrated that presidential impeachment in Latin America lies at the intersection of popular protest and vanishing partisan support in the legislature (obviously two things that are not mutually exclusive).[1] Protestors are taking to the streets of Buenos Aires, but even in the face of mass protests, presidents who can boast secure support in the assembly, a ‘legislative shield,’ become very difficult to remove from office.

Regardless, this is a political disaster for President Fernández. Although top government officials have dismissed the allegations and even suggested that the whole affair is an attempted coup, this has added to something of an annus horribilis for the president. Amidst spiraling inflation, acrimonious disputes with vulture funds over Argentine debt, and increasing pressure on Argentine bonds, in June Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, was forced to appear in court in order to respond to allegations of corruption. Clearly, although not unexpected, this is the last thing the president needs right now.

What happens next? It is difficult to say. About the only thing that is certain is that this will bring more turmoil to Argentina.

[1] See for example, Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press; Mainstrendet, Leiv. and Einar. Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions.” Comparative Politics, 41(1), pp. 83-101; Hochstetler, Kathryn. 2006. “Rethinking Presidentialism: Challenges and Presidential Falls in South America,” Comparative Politics 38 (4), pp. 401-418.

Niger – Stalemate in the National Assembly

The National Assembly in Niger is gripped by stalemate. The National Assembly speaker Hama Amadou (from the opposition party Lumana) and the legislative majority (supporting President Mamadou Issoufou of the PNDS) have requested that the Constitutional Court step in and resolve a number of procedural issues currently blocking the election of a new legislative bureau. In the meantime, legislative business has been at a standstill for the past several weeks.

What is the issue? Hama Amadou, leader of the Lumana party and a former ally of Issoufou, was elected to the chairmanship of the National Assembly as a result of inter-party agreements in the lead-up to the second round presidential poll in March 2011. However, when Issoufou proceeded to a cabinet reshuffle in August of last year, inviting members of the opposition party MNSD to join the government, Hama claimed he had not been properly consulted and withdrew his party from the ruling coalition (see earlier posting on that development here). Hama retained his position as speaker, however. The MNSD members who accepted to join the government were meanwhile disavowed by their party.

Tensions have mounted within in the legislature over the past several months, as members of the MNSD crossed the aisle to join the PNDS and its allies, with the opposition accusing the government of buying their allegiance. In total, 12 opposition members of parliament (MPs) joined the 58 MPs from the majority to give Prime Minister Brigi Rafini a comfortable majority confidence vote (70 out of 113 seats) in November, 2013. Though more MPs have since crossed over, the majority is still short of the 2/3 legislative majority (76 seats) required by the Nigerien constitution to unseat a sitting speaker. So Hama has stayed on.

Disagreements around the renewal of the National Assembly bureau which should have been finalized in April have now brought legislative business to a halt. While the speaker is elected for the full five-year legislative term, the other members of the bureau have to be renewed every year. The dissenting MNSD MPs have aligned with the majority MPs to deny the MNSD-candidate put forward by his party sufficient votes to be elected to the 2nd vice-president slot. The MNSD dissidents claimed they were not consulted. Similarly, the Lumana-candidate for the 3rd vice-presidency failed to get elected.

Hama Amadou has set up a working group composed of five MPs from the majority, five from the opposition, and five from the “dissidents,” to see if a consensual solution could be found to the nomination of candidates for the two positions on the bureau still left vacant. However, the working group appears to have hit an impasse. Meanwhile, the majority MPs have asked the Constitutional Court to remove Hama from the speaker position for failing to respect the legislative rules of procedure and the constitution.

The situation has come to a head this week, with opposition MPs requesting that the Constitutional Court impeach President Issoufou for failing to fulfill his mandate. Among other complaints, the MPs accuse Issoufou of having orchestrated the legislative stalemate by seeking to influence the choice of opposition MPs to be represented in the National Assembly bureau.

Clearly, the ‘cohabitation’ within the National Assembly between an opposition speaker and the majority MPs is not working well. Will Issoufou decide to dissolve the legislature, as a way out of the impasse? He may fear a similar outcome to what former President Mahamane Ousmane experienced in 1995, where fresh legislative elections failed to produce the desired legislative majority and forced a period of cohabitation on him. That highly conflictual cohabitation was a direct contribution to the January 1996 military coup.

Ukraine – Presidency in turbulences

The recent weeks have seen overwhelmingly fast-paced developments in Ukraine. After months of protests, the conflict between government and protesters escalated and resulted in the deaths of at least 88 people. Government and opposition agreed on the return to the 2004 constitution which curtailed presidential power, yet parliament later moved to oust the president and installed the speaker of parliament as acting head of state. This post will give a brief overview of the developments and explain what changes were introduced with regard to the presidency.

Return to the 2004 constitution

Following the Orange Revolution, parties agreed to amend the Ukrainian constitution of 1996 (before then the country had operated under an amended version of their Soviet constitution). For the most part, these amendment concerned the role of the president. After having been a prime example of a president-parliamentary system under which the prime minister and government was subordinate to the presidency, the 2004 amendments transformed Ukraine’s political system to a Premier-presidential system. In 2010, president Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions reverted these changes by having the Constitutional Court – now staffed with the president’s allies – declare the changes unconstitutional.

presidential powers in the ukrainian constitution

The agreement between president and opposition of 21 February included to once again return to the the 2004 version which was confirmed by parliament on the same day. As can be seen in the table above, the differences largely concern presidential power in government formation and dismissal as well as the president’s power to annul government acts. However, the president retains his powerful presidential veto. Given that an absolute 2/3 majority is needed to override a veto but only a relative majority to adopt a version that includes the president’s amendment, the presidency can still dominate the legislative process without much effort.

Ousting of Viktor Yanukovych from the presidency

One day after the signing of the aforementioned agreement, parliament surprisingly decided to oust president Yanukovych from office even though it appeared that he would agree to step down by the end of the year and clear the way for early presidential elections. While many media outlets reported that Yanukovych had been impeached, this is not quite correct as parliament failed to follow the procedures laid down in Art. 111 of the Constitution (unaffected by the 2004 amendments). These require that an absolute majority of deputies establishes a special investigatory commission. Following the investigation a 2/3-majority of all deputies must then bring the case to the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court (depending on what the president is accused of). Only if the respective court confirms the constitutionality of the procedure and the allegations can parliament impeach the president with a 3/4-majority of its members.

Results of the vote to oust Viktor Yanukovych from the presidencyVote_Ousting of Yanukovch_presidential-power.com

While the Ukrainian parliament passed its decision to remove Yanukovych from office with 73% of its members (and with unsuprising absences on the part of Viktor Yanukovych’s ‘party of the Regions’), the vote was thus not an impeachment of the president in the constitutional-legal sense. Admittedly, the actual relevance of this violation is decreasing by the minute – even though Russia uses it as part of their argumentation not to accept the new regime – and will likely be dismissed as a ‘procedural error’ once a new president is elected.

Speaker Oleksander Turchynov as acting president & elections on 25 May

On the same day, parliament also elected the former deputy Prime Minister Oleksander Turchynov as its new speaker. Pursuant to Art 112 of the constitution Turchynov then took over the role of temporary head of state. As acting president Turchynov is forbidden to exercise a number of powers, in particular he cannot:

– convey public addresses to either the Ukrainian people or parliament
– dissolve parliament or set a date for early parliamentary elections
– propose new ministers of foreign affairs and defence, or make appointments to the constitutional court or National Bank
– grant pardons

Parliament also scheduled new presidential elections for 25 May (given the limited powers of an acting president to dissolve parliament this is the necessary precursor to early parliamentary elections). Potential candidates include former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from jail on the same day as the ousting of president Yanukovych, yet whose candidacy is seen with much scepticism among Ukrainians. UDAR-chairman Vitali Klitschko (read more about his presidential ambitions here) might have better chances. His decision to refrain from being part of the new government led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk was widely interpreted as a move to keep clear of any blame the government might attract over the necessary but painful economic reforms and thus start into the presidential race as a ‘fresh’ candidate.

[N.B.: The post previously stated that a 2/3 majority was needed for the final impeachment vote whereby in fact 3/4 are needed. Thanks to Justin Grove for pointing this out.]