Tag Archives: legislative election

The 2018 U.S. Midterms: Unstable Majorities Continue

The results of the Nov. 6 midterm elections extend a level of political instability in the United States not seen since the post-Civil War era more than a century ago. Democrats won at least 34 seats to regain control of the House of Representatives by 228-199 over the Republicans, with winners not yet declared in seven additional races. However, Republicans increased their narrow Senate majority with a net gain of two seats, bringing their majority there to 52-47 over the Democrats. (Republicans will likely hold a 53rd seat when Mississippi concludes its runoff race on November 27.) This means that, when the 116th Congress is sworn in next January, a divided legislature will share control at the national level with a Republican president. As this table demonstrates, the power-sharing arrangement will be the seventh of the eight possible configurations of institutional control of the Presidency, House and Senate the U.S. has experienced since 2001.

What explains this recurring pattern of instability? It is the culmination of a long-term process of partisan sorting and polarization, in which the two major political parties have shed their more ideologically moderate members. The result is a Congress composed of two internally homogeneous parties whose respective ideological centers of gravity are moving apart. In addition to being deeply polarized, the parties are electorally quite evenly matched. This means that when either controls the Senate or House, they see little reason to compromise, and instead seek to take advantage of their brief window as the majority to pass as much of their partisan legislative agenda as possible. Witness the Republican effort, with President Trump’s active support, to roll back Obamacare, including its politically popular coverage of pre-existing illnesses during Trump’s first two years as president. Such legislative overreach elicits the predictable response by the more moderate public: it votes the offending party out of majority control. And so the cycle perpetuates.

In addition to continuing this pattern of instability, the recent midterms also perpetuated the midterm loss phenomenon. Since 1938, the president’s party has lost seats in every House midterm election save two: 1998, when Bill Clinton was fighting an unpopular impeachment effort by Republicans, and 2002, the first midterm after the 9-11 terrorist attack, in which Americans rallied to support the Republican administration. Including these exceptions, the average House loss for the president’s party across all midterms during this period is 29 seats. A similar pattern affects the Senate – on average since 1938, the President’s party has lost four seats during the midterm.

What explains the midterm loss phenomenon? Political scientists have developed three related explanations. The first is the “surge and decline” theory, which posits that, compared to a presidential election year, the midterm turnout is smaller and less likely to contain the same proportion of voters who supported the President and his party two years earlier. A related explanation suggests that midterms often serve as a referendum on the president’s accomplishments to date. From this perspective, as the newly-elected president’s “honeymoon” with the voters inevitably erodes, his approval drops and midterm voters react by voting against his party. The third explanation is that the midterm provides Americans with an opportunity to “balance” control of the major governing institutions, by giving the non-presidential party greater representation in Congress. Of these explanations, the balancing hypothesis probably carries the most weight in an era of deeply-polarized and ideologically well-sorted parties, but there is evidence that all three factors were in play during the latest midterm. At an estimated 49% of eligible voters, turnout was the highest seen in a midterm in more than a century, and much of that was driven by increases in Democratic-leaning voters, including Latinos and younger voters. Trump’s approval rating, meanwhile, which is mired in the low 40’s, also likely contributed to Republicans’ seat loss. Moreover, it is likely that the largely moderate, centrist public sought to balance Republican extremism by handing control of the House over to Democrats.

After the tempestuous 2016 election and first two years of the Trump presidency, with many pundits and even political scientists expressing alarm at Trump’s apparent willingness to break norms of presidential behavior, it is perhaps reassuring that, at least when it comes to the midterm, the conventional electoral dynamics seem still to govern outcomes. As with presidential elections, political scientists have developed forecast models that – although simple in construction – are effective at predicting aggregate House and Senate midterm seat changes. Typically, these models focus on “fundamentals” – how long the president’s party has held on to the White House, how many seats the president’s party has exposed, the president’s approval rating and some measure, such as the change in disposable income, of how voters are doing economically. Note that the most of these variables are in place long before the events that cable news pundits proclaim as “game changers”, such as the controversial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, or the media focus on the “caravan” of immigrants heading toward the United States’ southern border. Despite slight differences in the variables utilized, all the political science models correctly predicted the Democrat House takeover, with the median forecast predicting a 30-seat gain, and the average of the forecasts at 36 seats. These were quite close to the mark. The same models forecast the Republicans making modest 1-2 seat gains in the Senate, however, primarily because of a historical quirk that found Democrats defending 26 Senate seats, including 10 that voted for Trump in 2016. This was the most Senate seats ever defended by the “out” party since direct popular election of the Senate began in 1914, and it was enough to offset the normal seat loss experienced by the president’s party.

What will the next two years of divided government bring? Already many newly-elected Democrats, reacting to pressure from their more progressive base, are threatening to launch multiple investigations of the president and his administration. This is a potentially risky strategy. With some notable exceptions, progressive Democrats did not do well in the midterms, with most of the Democrats’ gains coming by electing relatively moderate candidates, and some Democrats believe the party would be better positioned to regain the presidency and Senate if it showed it could pass a more centrist legislative agenda, perhaps by working with Republicans in areas like immigration reform and reining in health care costs. Unfortunately, recent history suggests it is more likely that the next two years will bring more partisan bickering, legislative gridlock, and deep dissatisfaction among voters. And if Democrats win the presidency in 2020, while retaining control of the House, and Republicans hold on to the Senate, the country will have cycled through every possible permutation of government control in only two decades. Contrary to the constant claim that Americans are hopelessly divided, it seems instead that a significant number share a deep conviction that both major parties are out of step with the public’s more moderate ideological and policy preferences, and that these centrist voters trust neither party enough to let them govern for very long.

Turkey – First Concurrent General Elections under the New Presidential System

Concurrent presidential (first round) and legislative elections are to be held, one year earlier than the original date, on 24th of June, for the first time since the adoption of presidential system in a highly debated referendum in April 2017. A majority runoff system will be used for presidential election and the D’Hondt system with a 10 percent national threshold will be used for legislative elections.

There are two major election alliances. The ruling AKP (the Justice and Development Party) and its partner the MHP (the Nationalist Movement Party) formed an alliance called “Cumhur/Public”. The main opposition party, the CHP (the Republican Peoples Party), formed an alliance called “Millet/the Nation” with 3 other parties (İyi Parti/the Good Party, Saadet Partisi/the Happiness Party, Demokrat Parti/ the Democratic Party). The pro-Kurdish HDP (the Peoples Democracy Party) has not participated in any of the alliances so far but remains an important player despite the fact that its leaders and many of its MPs are currently in jail.

The ruling party and its partner favoured concurrent elections and changed the electoral rules in order to avoid divided government. According to the new system, each partner in an alliance needs to pass the ten percent national threshold if the total votes are higher than the threshold. This is a great incentive for smaller opposition parties to join an alliance to pass the national threshold in the legislative election. Each party can have their own list under the umbrella of an alliance. The total number of seats that each alliance gets will be decided by looking at their total votes. After the total numbers of seats are known, they will be distributed by party according to their portion in the total votes by the D’Hondt method. According to this system, the more votes remain under the threshold the larger the share of the biggest party within the total numbers. Accordingly, the main opposition party’s (the CHP) strategy to include other three opposition parties into the alliance aims to make the ruling party’s share more proportionate.

As for the effect of concurrent elections together with the majority runoff system generally, the results of legislative elections echo the results of the first round of presidential elections in presidential systems (1). Research shows that the majority run off system encourages a larger number of candidates at the first ballot in the attempt to gain a better bargaining position in coalition building at the second round as well as increasing the number of parties in the assembly (2). In that respect, the majority runoff system encourages coalitions before the election, especially before the second round (3). On the other hand, concurrent elections lower the effective number of parties in the assembly (4). Creating friendly majorities in assemblies still depends on the party system’s level of fragmentation (5). For instance, in a country where the political party system presents signs of polarised pluralism (6) (highly fragmented and ideologically polarised political parties) concurrent elections tend not to produce a solid majority in the parliament. The higher the level of fragmentation, the lower the possibility of a single party majority in the assembly. In such situations, presidents face uncompromising opposition in assemblies which can lead to a constitutional crisis such as in Guatemala and Peru in the 1990s (7). In both countries the presidents (Serrano and Fujimori respectively) ordered the military to close the assembly and arrest the opposition leaders. In Peru Fujimori succeeded whereas in Guatemala Serrano was abandoned by the military and removed from office. Either way the result was not supportive of democracy.

Concurrent elections can help to lower the possibility of divided government and strengthen elected presidents only under the right conditions, such as high popularity of a single strong presidential candidate. The Turkish case seems to confirm this general wisdom. The ruling party’s strategy is to win the much-needed support from its smaller partner in order to win the presidential race in the first round as well as alienating and pressuring the leaders and members of the HDP in order to push the party below the threshold in legislative elections. Meanwhile all the parties in the opposition alliance are running their own candidates in the first round of the presidential race and have decided to support whoever reaches the second round. Their strategy is to push the presidential election into a second round and win a majority of the assembly.

This situation encourages certain outcomes. First, there is the likely increase in the number of parties represented in the parliament. It is highly likely that President Erdoğan’s coalition will gain fewer assembly seats than at present and might even lose its majority in the assembly.

Secondly, there may be more coalitions under then presidential system than previously because of the majority runoff system. Despite the fact that President Erdoğan defended presidential system for not needing coalitions, he has been forced to form a coalition with the MHP in the first round. Whichever alliance wins, it is clear that there will be coalitions in both the legislature and the executive.

Thirdly, the pro-Kurdish HDP seems to be treated as an “anti-system party” (8). Its ideology has been alienated and it has a polarising effect on other electors. For that reason, other opposition parties have refrained from being in a coalition with it. However, the HDP may yet the key to victory for both alliances since the polls are showing a close race.


1. J. M. Carey, “The Impact of Constitutional Choices on the Performance of Presidential Regimes.” Journal of Social Science and Philosophy 11, no.1 (1999), p. 97, and F. Nunes and M.F. Thies, “Inflation or Moderation? Presidential Runoffs Legislative Party Systems, and Coalitions.”, p.9 . Available at http://felipenunes.bol.ucla.edu/runoff.pdf, accessed 20 March 2015.

2.Carey, “The Impact of Constitutional Choices,” p. 95; Nunes and Thies, “Inflation or Moderation?”, p. 8-9.

3. Nunes and Thies, “Inflation or Moderation?”,p. 26.

4.Ibid., p. 18.

5.Carey, “The Impact of Constitutional Choices” p.101.

6.G. Sartori, Parties and Party Systems a Framework for Analysis, ECPR Press, 2005 , p. 117-118.

7.Carey, “The Impact of Constitutional Choices,” p.96.

8.Sartori, Parties and Party Systems, p. 118.

France – Honeymoon legislative election returns a huge majority for President Macron. Of course it does!

On Sunday 11th June, the first round of the French legislative election was held. On Sunday 18th the second round took place. Given the results of the previous week, Sunday’s election provided few surprises. There were some notable individual results: Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front national (FN), was elected, even if her party did badly overall; Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the left party, La France Insoumise (LFI), was also returned and his party won enough seats to constitute a group in parliament, giving him speaking time; the former Socialist (PS) prime minister, Manuel Valls, was also returned, though only by a whisker and as a non-aligned candidate, indeed the Socialists had actively campaigned against him; Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who is a high-profile figure from the right-wing Les Républicains (LR) and who had been the victim of an attack in the street while campaigning during the week, an attack that left her unconscious for a while, was defeated. However, the main event was the huge majority won by President Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party. Winning just 28.2% of the votes cast in the first round seven days before, the party ended up with about 300 seats in the 577-seat legislature after the second round. With the support of its MoDem ally, which won about 4.2% of the vote at the first round, President Macron now has the support of over 350 deputies in the legislature. This nice figure from Laurent de Boissieu’s blog neatly captures the many different components of the new French Assembly, but also indicates the huge majority for LREM and MoDem.

How did this happen? After all, before the first round of the presidential campaign, between the two rounds, and immediately after Macron’s victory, there were fears or claims that his party would not win a legislative majority and that he would not be able to govern, dragging France back to the bad old days of the Fourth Republic. Worse still, there were those who thought that he would face a period of cohabitation.

This was not the worry of a few isolated individuals. After the first round of the legislative election, L’Express put up a nice montage of politicians who argued that cohabitation was inevitable. But it wasn’t just politicians. At a certain point, Twitter got in a total fuss about the likelihood of cohabitation, though that’s what Twitter does.

But not everyone was so worried. Matthew Shugart said that the idea there would be a period of cohabitation was “nonsense“. And modesty almost, but not quite, forbids me from noting that we adopted a similar argument here.

What we have witnessed is instructive from a political science point of view. There is a well developed literature on how the legislative party system is shaped by direct presidential elections. (Anyone wanting a copy of the article with the literature review should just e-mail me). To simplify only a little, this work shows that when legislative elections follow shortly after the direct election of a powerful president, they typically return a presidential majority. This is exactly what we saw in France in 2017. For sure, the general argument is probabilistic, not deterministic. But the association is strong. The probability is high. So, the academic work hasn’t just generated something amounting to a reasonable guess that a certain outcome would occur. It suggested that there was a very good chance that Macron would get at least a working majority. In the end, he won the support of a huge majority, bigger than most academics had expected. The literature, though, was basically right. Why?

Well, the academics who have investigated this topic have made their argument on the basis of a statistical relationship, but they have also identified certain causal mechanisms to explain why we should expect honeymoon legislative elections to return a presidential majority. These mechanisms are all very general. They don’t always easily apply to specific countries. That’s all we can expect in large-n studies. However, and at the risk of committing an egregious ecological fallacy, the France 2017 case illustrates how these causal mechanisms can play out under local-level conditions.

We know that presidential elections are often the catalyst for party system realignments. This has been true in France before, but the evidence that this was going to be a realigning election was present even before the presidential election had finished. The election was catastrophic for the PS. It was hopelessly split and faced a strong challenge to its left. Going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a weakened state did not bode well for the PS. The presidential election also generated splits within LR. There were those, like the former prime minister, Alain Juppé, who were willing to work with LREM in a future Assembly, whereas there were others who were not. Going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a divided state did not bode well for LR. The FN was also in trouble. Le Pen did well to get through to the second ballot of the presidential election, but she did not perform as well as expected. The party’s support had been slipping even prior to her disastrous presidential debate with Macron. In the end, she was decisively beaten at the second round. After the election, there were reports that Le Pen was exhausted; the party was demoralised; there were also splits within the FN, even though it had done historically well. So, going into a honeymoon legislative election in such a state did not bode well for the FN either. In other words, presidential elections upend party systems. We saw how this general idea played out specifically in France in 2017.

A similar point applies to abstention rates. We know that abstention rates are higher in honeymoon legislative elections relative to the presidential election. We also know that it is typically the voters of the parties that lost the presidential election who stay at home. So, even when the presidential election does not generate a party system realignment of the sort that we saw in France in 2017, we should still expect the new president’s party to be the biggest beneficiary of the higher abstention rate at the legislative election. Again, this is exactly what happened in France. But it’s what we would expect to have happened.

There was a further element too. Macron’s victory at the presidential victory was bigger than expected. Thus, he had momentum. Once in office, he also had some excellent photo opportunities, meeting European and world leaders, even upstaging Donald Trump in the handshake stakes. There were one or two relatively minor concerns with his government, but by and large he kept his presidential promises in terms of government formation. In other words, presidential elections give the victor the potential to act, well, presidentially. This presidential lustre can rub off on to the president’s party at the legislative election. This is exactly what happened. In other words, like other presidents in a similar context, Macron benefited at the legislative elections from being the newly-elected president.

Of course, there are always local, idiosyncratic conditions. The electoral system clearly exaggerated the gains for LREM. But LREM was particularly well placed to benefit from the system. As a centrist party, it could win the support of right-wing voters who wanted to keep out left-wing candidates in LREM/left second-round duels; it could win the support of left-wing voters who wanted to keep out LR candidates in LREM/LR duels; it could also win the support of pretty much everyone in LREM/FN duels. So, strategically, it was better placed than some parties in equivalent situations. This particularity helped to inflate its majority. Also, Macron was not a long-time incumbent who had just been re-elected. He was a new figure and for some he did generate an enthusiasm for a new form of politics. In France 2017, all these local conditions worked in favour of his party at the legislative election. In other cases, they might not be present, helping to ensure that the relationship between presidential elections and legislative elections is not deterministic.

We are encouraged to talk confidently about our work (that’s Twitter again!), even when we do not always have grounds to be as confident as all that. More than that, we only have to look at opinion polling to see that even in an area where there has been a huge amount of research, where the sample is very large, and where there is competition in the academic market, we can still get things wrong. So, we should be modest about what we claim and certainly what we predict. However, we were on strong grounds to claim that cohabitation was very unlikely in France in 2017. We have an idea about the general processes. The  local conditions were ripe. In short, politicians and Twitter didn’t need to get in such a fuss.

Petia Kostadinova and Maria Popova – The 2017 legislative elections in Bulgaria

This is a guest post by Petia Kostadinova (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Maria Popova (McGill University)


Bulgaria held its third legislative elections in the last four years, the tenth such elections since 1990. These elections came on the heels of the November 2016 presidential race, which pitted an ostensibly pro-European candidate from the governing GERB against an ostensibly pro-Russian candidate backed by the opposition Socialists. At the outset of the presidential campaign, Prime Minister Borisov, had promised to resign if GERB’s candidate lost the election.  When that happened, Borisov kept his promise and triggered early parliamentary elections.

Eighteen parties and nine coalitions put forward candidates. A few new political formations are worth noting – Volya, United Patriots, DOST, and no less than three heirs to the defunct Reformist Bloc.  Five parties are to enter parliament – GERB, BSP, United Patriots, DPS, and Volya.

Topics that came through in the campaign

Many of the parties competing at the elections published election platforms. GERB’s was among the lengthiest, at 48 pages, and detailed the party’s actions in office. For the first time (to the authors’ knowledge), a party also explicitly mentioned the sources for its election program, a process that has remained a mystery in Bulgarian politics. Emphasis was placed on a collaboration between intra-party experts with current ministerial employees, thus pointing towards a continuity in GERB’s policies, while keeping the party in line with the priorities of the European People’s Party to which it belongs. The platform starts with GERB’s pro-EU and pro-NATO priorities, highlighting Bulgaria’s upcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union. Much of the platform is externally-oriented, detailing Bulgaria’s relations with individual (neighboring) countries, while keeping in line with the EU’s priorities towards the Russian Federation, Turkey, Western Balkans, etc. Even domestic policies, such as regional priorities were framed in terms of EU funding and structures. Thus, GERB staked out its claim to being Bulgaria’s main pro-European party, even though GERB’s leader Borisov frequently talked about improving relations with Russia on the campaign trail.

In contrast, the European Union was mentioned on only two of the 15-page long platform of the Bulgarian Socialist Party. The program was framed in terms of equality and poverty reduction, through increased government spending and protectionist measures. Very little space was dedicated in the Socialists program to the foreign policy priorities of the party, although the call for removal of EU sanctions against the Russian Federation was prominent.  Hence, the Socialists’ branding as the pro-Russian actor in Bulgarian politics. However, during their governing stints in 2004-2008 and 2013-2014, the Socialists had maintained Bulgaria’s unambiguously pro-European orientation, much to Russia’s chagrin, and had balked at pursuing many of the promised social welfare policies.

Similar to BSP’s, the platform of the Movement of Rights and Freedoms had a pessimistic view of the economic and political situation, calling for a plan to ‘save Bulgaria’. Emphasis was placed on spending and development of resources in education, healthcare, and agriculture. The EU and NATO were barely mentioned in the program, while Bulgaria’s relations with Russia, Turkey, or any neighboring countries were not at all discussed. Among all legislative parties, DPS’ was perhaps the most domestically-oriented election program.

Volya’s platform came close to that of the Socialists, advocating for increased social, education, and health spending, including support for families bearing more children, and for young families in general. The platform had a distinct pro-EU and pro-NATO tone, and in many areas the party emphasized adopting best practices ‘from abroad’. Volya called for a leadership role of Bulgaria in both the EU and the country’s immediate neighborhood. At the same time, the party also emphasized friendly relations with the Russian Federation. Volya’s ambiguous position on the EU-Russia foreign policy choice emphasizes that Bulgaria’s politics cannot be easily reduced to a pro-European/pro-Russian fault line.

United Patriots platform was typical of the coalition’s constituent parties combination of increased spending, protectionism, and curtailing of minority rights. Among the latter was a proposal that only those who are fluent in Bulgarian language, and have completed mandatory primary schooling would have the right to vote. Another idea put forward by the coalition was restricting the pro-Turkish parties from governing. Both ideas would most likely be struck down as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, but probably played well with the xenophobic and nationalist part of the electorate.

The previous parliament featured a prominent reformist, pro-European, centre-right coalition—the Reformist Bloc. The coalition fell apart over the decision by some members to withdraw support from the Borisov government over slow judicial reforms and corruption scheme allegations. In the parliamentary election, those who wished to continue cooperating with Borisov and GERB contested the election as Reformist Bloc-Voice of the People; those who opposed cooperation with GERB split into two—Yes Bulgaria (in coalition with the Greens and DEOS) and New Republic. That split may have been either leader-driven or ideological, with Yes Bulgaria wanting to straddle the left-right spectrum and present itself as a liberal party focused on anti-corruption, good governance and the environment, and New Republic staking out Christian conservative, free market, and anti-Communist positions. Whatever the drivers of the split, neither of the three heirs to the Reformist Bloc passed the 4% threshold. As a result, the roughly 10% of the electorate, which backed them in both 2014 and 2017, lost their representation in the incoming parliament.

Election Results

Five parties surpassed the 4% threshold. GERB clinched first place with a third of the votes (32.65%), just as it did in 2014 and in 2013. The Socialist Party came in second with 27.20%. The traditional kingmaker in Bulgarian parliaments, the Turkish-minority-backed Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) was replaced (albeit very narrowly) as the third biggest party in parliament by the new United Patriots, a coalition of three far-right/far-left nationalist parties.  United Patriots received 9.07%, which is roughly the same result as one of its members, Ataka, had received on its own in previous elections.  While the far right has become the third biggest parliamentary faction and will most likely have a strong voice in the formation of the new cabinet, it did not manage to capitalize on the populist zeitgeist and expand its electoral base.  DPS received 8.99%. DPS’s result was probably lowered by the entry in this election of a competitor for the minority vote—DOST, led by ousted an DPS leader. DOST received 2.86%, which leaves it out of parliament, but it likely siphoned off votes from DPS. The fifth and final party to get parliamentary representation, Volya, is another newcomer—the vehicle for a businessman-turned-politician from the city of Varna, who had already made a splash in the presidential election, by getting over 11%.  It remains to be seen whether Volya will be an active populist player in parliament or will simply trade votes for policies that benefit its leader’s various business interests.










Indriði H. Indriðason – The 2016 parliamentary election in Iceland

This is a guest post by Indriði H. Indriðason from the Department of Political Science at University of California, Riverside

The 2016 Icelandic parliamentary election was an early election.  The release of the Panama papers in April 2016, in which three ministers, including the Prime Ministers, were named, the Prime Minister resigned following popular protests and his replacement announced that an early election was likely to be called in the fall (for details see http://presidential-power.com/?p=4952).  In August, October 29 was finally announced as the date for the election.

The 2016 election garnered an unusual amount of attention in the international media. The main reason was the strong showing of the Pirate Party in the polls leading up to the election with the Pirates becoming a regular at the top of the polls starting in April 2015 with about 35% support and occasionally breaking the 40%.  Given the emphasis the Pirate Party, which has held three seats in parliament since 2013, on transparency and corruption, it is perhaps tempting to credit the Panama Papers with the party’s popularity.  However, while the party received its best poll results (43.6%)immediately after the papers’ release, the party’s rise in popularity began much earlier or in the first half of 2015.  Moreover, the Pirate Party’s popularity declined substantially in subsequent polls – to around 27-28%.  While the Pirates were undoubtedly the story of the election, it is still a story that has a lot of questions unanswered.  First, it is not clear what the source of the Pirates skyrocketing popularity in the first months of 2015 was.  While it is fairly clear (or at least plausible) that support for the Pirates is related to anti-establishment attitudes rooted in the financial crisis of 2008 that does not explain the timing.  Similarly, the Pirate Party’s MPs deservedly received credit for their in work in parliament but, again, it cannot explain the timing itself.  Second, as hinted at above, why did the Pirates’ popularity decline following the release of the Panama Papers?  A priori, one would have expected the Pirate Party to be poised to gain from such a scandal.  One possible explanation is that the Pirate Party’s support in the poll was in part a form of a protest vote against the established parties but with the emergence of a serious political scandal some respondents moved from simply expressing their general dissatisfaction to support parties that might be seen as more credible challengers to the government parties.

More generally, one might ask how the Pirate Party ended up with only 14.5% of the vote after having polled above 40% only half a year earlier – a spectacular loss of support by any measure.  Some of this loss – about 10 percentage points – occurred in the month after the Panama papers’ release but the party’s loses in the polls continued at a fairly steady, albeit lower, rate from that point.  One explanation is that the Pirate Party’s success inevitably attracted the attention of the established parties – before the party’s rise in popularity, the established parties could comfortably ignore the Pirates but, with its rising popularity, the established parties turned their swords against the party.  Another explanation has to do with the Pirate’s platform.  The Pirates started out essentially as a populist party, i.e., targeting the established parties for a lack of transparency and corruption and, more generally, portraying the political system as broken.  Thus, initially, its campaign was much more focused on highlighting problems than providing concrete policy proposals or solution (except maybe wanting to adopt the `new constitution’ drafted by a constitutional council in 2011).  However, as the election drew closer, the party found itself forced to respond to criticisms that it was a party without clear policies by clarifying their policy positions – it tends, however, to be much easier to identify problems than agreeing on what constitutions an appropriate solution and in adopting clearer policy positions the party may have alienated some of those sympathetic to the party.  Other factors may also have played a role.  The Pirate Party’s small parliamentary faction took the position to abstain on legislation that it was unable to study in sufficient detail and eventually came under fire for abstaining on a vote on controversial legislation on agricultural production and subsidies.  Similarly, the results of one of the party’s primaries were invalidated – while being in line with the party’s procedures it created an opportunity for the party’s opponents to cast a doubt on its commitment to democratic procedures.  Finally, the Pirate Party took the unprecedented step of trying to form a pre-electoral coalition with the other opposition party – a move that has been seen by some to have hurt the party’s electoral fortunes, and benefited the government parties, by turning the key question facing voters whether they actually wanted a government (probably) led by the Pirates.


The fact that Pirate Party only came in third in the election – after the Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement – does not detract from the party’s achievement.  The Pirates nearly tripled their vote share from the previous election, which brought their seat share from three to ten seats.  Thus, the Pirates claimed a victory – justifiably so, although it was substantially smaller than the polls had suggested.  However, the Pirates were not the only ones to claim victory.  The Independence Party also claimed a victory, emerging as the biggest party with 29% of the vote.  While 29% of the vote was not an outstanding result for the party in a historical context it was an impressive outcome considering that the party faced a challenge from a new pro-European conservative party, Revival (Vidreisn), but the Independence Party had been divided over the issue of EU membership.  Revival won 10.5% of the vote – making it one of the best performances of a new party in Icelandic history.  Finally, the Left-Green Movement also staked a claim on being the winner of the election, coming in second with 17.9% (up from 10.9% in the previous election).  There were also notable losers. The Progressive Party – that headed the coalition with the Independence Party – experienced one of the greatest losses in Icelandic electoral history. It won 11.5% of the vote, losing over half of its vote share from the 2013 election. The Social Democratic Alliance – which was the largest party in the 2009 election with 30% of the vote – was decimated and one only 5.7% of the vote.  Overall, the 2016 election represents a major change in Icelandic party politics and may well mark the end of the traditional four-party system (Independence Party, Progressive Party, and two parties on the left).  More immediately, it is difficult to see which parties will form a coalition government together.

The parties’ claims to be the ‘winner of the election’ were, of course, closely tied to the possibility that the president might overlook the biggest party in appointing a formateur and appoint instead the leader of the party that was perceived as the winner of the election.  The fact that none of the ‘usual’ coalition had a majority in parliament has, naturally, made these considerations all the more important.  Revival, however, appears to be in prime position with the option of forming a coalition to the left or the right.  Neither is straightforward.  A coalition on the left would have to be a five party coalition – negotiating such a coalition might be challenging although the Pirates have suggested that they might consider acting as a support party in such a coalition.  It is, however, fairly certain that the Pirate Party will expect some policy concessions in exchange for its support. A coalition on the right is similarly complicate as it would involve the Independence Party and some third party in addition to Revival.  Forming a three party coalition should in principle be easier but it is complicated by the fact that the Progressive Party is somewhat unlikely third party in such a coalition for at least a couple of reasons.  First, having led the incumbent coalition, the electoral results can easily be read as a rejection of the Progressive Party and its government.  Reforming the incumbent coalition with the support of Revival – however appropriate that may sound – is unlikely to be generate a lot of good will among voters.  Second, the Progressive Party is probably the party most opposed to joining the EU (having withdrawn from the accession negotiations during its term in office).  While the Independence Party is at best (or worst, depending on one’s point of view) Euroskeptic, Revival owes its existence to the demand for a pro-European, center-right party.

When this is written little progress appears to have been made in forming a coalition.  The President of Iceland did opt to appoint the leader of the biggest party, the Independence Party, a formateur on November 2.  No formal negotiations between parties have taken place but the current formateur has met with the leader of the other parties to explore the possibilities.  One sign that forming a coalition will be difficult is that an oversized coalition of the Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement along with Revival and Bright Future (a centrist, social democratic party) appears to be one of the options being consideration – but it may also signal the desperation of the Independence Party as it has few other options.  A three-party coalition of the Independence Party, Revival, and Bright Future does have a bare majority in parliament but Bright Future, in particular, appears uncomfortable with joining what would essentially be a center-right coalition.  Thus, bringing in the Left-Green Movement would shift the balance of power within the coalition to the center.  The obvious difficulty with forming such a coalition is that it brings together parties from the opposite ends of the political spectrum – although such coalitions are not unprecedented in Icelandic politics.  But perhaps the point of entertaining the Independence Party’s advances is not forming a coalition with the Independence Party but simply to strengthen the bargaining position of the Left-Green Movement in preparation for negotiations between the parties on the left?

Alexander Baturo – The 2016 parliamentary elections in Belarus produce a legislature with “an absolutely adequate composition” again

This is a guest post by Alexander Baturo, Lecturer in Political Science at Dublin City University

On 11 September 2016 Belarus held a parliamentary election. Even though the election lacked the uncertainty inherent in a democratic contest and the result was largely preordained, like many elections held in partly and non-democratic regimes the one in Belarus was neither entirely meaningless nor it lacked any intrigue. Belarus is a presidential regime. Therefore, in contrast to presidential elections that are often staged to signal regime strength and typically feature 75-90 per cent of votes cast for the incumbent with an equally high turnout, I think that the point of the legislative election this time was mainly to stage a process that would have appeared to have made some kind of democratic progress, and have it recognized as such by the foreign audience, without actually altering the fundamental nature of an undemocratic election. The pursuit of high turnout and a “big win” was not really necessary. Instead, it was a carefully calibrated exercise in instilling apathy among the voters so that the election campaign would largely go unnoticed, while attempting to achieve a reasonable turnout at the same time so that it does not look too bad.

To appease the Western governments and international organizations, the authorities probably decided that they could afford to tolerate certain minor improvements in the administration of parliamentary elections because the latter are not that important. They are not important because the parliament itself is not important: it has been a paradigmatic “rubber stamp” for 20 years since the 1996 constitutional referendum when a democratically elected parliament was dismissed and a personal rule of President Lukashenko has been established. With a possible exception of a hunger strike of three sitting members of parliament protesting against the government in 2004, the legislature has been, and is, completely docile. After each election, the parliament is predominantly stuffed by the representatives of regional and local administrative elite, of the state enterprises, by educational and medical professionals, with a dozen of businessmen or athletes on top of that – as aptly described by the head of elections, Lydia Ermoshina, so that it has “an absolutely adequate composition and mirrors the larger society.”[1] The members of parliament do not engage in policy debates, their lawmaking largely follows the instructions from the executive. Typically, the majority of election posters ignore national issues and emphasize vague promises of pork for the candidates’ districts. The overall impression is that these, and previous legislative elections were akin to local council elections in their significance for the nation. Arguably, to call them even a second-order election is a stretch of imagination.

Times change, the money tends to run out, and it does not hurt to signal that Belarus considers the prospect of political liberalization not completely inconceivable, especially if it does not endanger regime stability and there is something to gain in return. How have the Belarusian authorities fared in terms of projecting democratic improvements? Out of 30 changes recommended by the OSCE of which Belarus is a member-state, before the 2016 election the authorities arguably chose to address only three. The head of elections, Ermoshina, argued that the rest could not be addressed quickly since changes required were very significant and would have entailed constitutional amendments or the acts of parliament and that there was no time for that. She did not elaborate however what prevented the parliament to change the “easier” ones well in advance, even if constitutional amendments were indeed out of question.

In the end, they ignored the recommendations that really mattered: i.e., to introduce meaningful guarantees to include the opposition into regional and district election commissions, to ensure that the election observers were able to observe the outcome, that is, what was “ticked” on each ballot during the counting process, to ensure the equal coverage of campaign activities, etc. One of the strong recommendations that the OSCE made earlier was for the election officials during the counting process in each polling station to announce publicly how each ballot was cast. The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 17 May could not really come up with good reasons why announcements were out of the question. Instead, they provided the following “rationale”: “… we explained that the CEC was unable to introduce this norm.”[2] Of course the CEC was not able to introduce it, it would not have been Belarusian CEC if it was.

They also did not address the “bogeyman” of Belarusian elections, the advanced ballot. During the advance ballot during one week in the run-up to the election day, up to a third of voters cast, or in case of students and public sector workers — are strongly incentivised to cast, their votes. The process is largely opaque and can be manipulated. In their defence, the Belarusian Central Election Commission (CEC) frequently referred to the fact that the percentages of advance and postal ballots in Belarus were close to those in the US; the recent mess with postal votes in 2016 Austrian presidential election in all likelihood brought nothing but delight to the street of Belarusian CEC. While such delight at observing the “teachers” of democratic standards tripping over something they themselves criticise in others is probably understandable, almost always such hiccups are checked by strong institutions and party competition that Belarus did not  and eos not have: e.g., in Austria the losing candidate was able to challenge the results of a second round in the Constitutional court that in turn annulled the results and called a new election. Last time a post-Soviet court has annulled an election result was in December 2004 in Ukraine – a more open political regime than the one in Belarus – and even then the judges only did so after an unprecedented campaign of civil disobidience and, arguably, regime split and defections.

The regime of Alexander Lukashenko needed to send a signal that his regime was willing to improve, to democratise the election process. Perhaps believing that the West simply needed an excuse to embrace Belarus in the current international climate of tensions with the resurgent Russia, Belarus has adopted the very minimum of possible changes, and no more than that. For election, 630 candidates were nominated, 531 were registered and 484, including a large number from the opposition, competed. By rather bleak standards of many elections in the past, this time the candidates were able to campaign, to a considerable degree, freely. The CEC has also increased the number of transparent ballot boxes, and the election observers were permitted to observe the ballot count, albeit at a three-meter distance from the counting table. They were not permitted to cross the three-meter threshold and to approach the table — after all, the CEC believed that permitting more than that could have enabled the observers to start a riot, overwhelming and distracting the election officials, heavy police presence notwithstanding. Really, this is what they alleged several times during the press-conferences. The observers therefore, whether myopic or those lucky to have 20/20 vision, could not really see what preference was actually chosen on the ballots during the count. Arguably, a three-meter unhindered observation is a vast improvement over previous elections where observers were not able to observe anything but the backsides of election officials from a much longer distance. The current improvement therefore is that during the counting process at polling stations, the observers were able to see the officials placing ballots in separate piles for each candidates. In turn, the observes could therefore have made the rough estimates about the total number of ballots, or the distribution of ballots for different candidates. But this is as far as the liberalization of electoral process could go. After separating the ballots into several piles for each candidate, these piles were placed on a different table for tabulation that the observers were unable to see however. The counting table therefore was not “the” table. “The” table was the second table. On that second table two election officials including the trusted chairperson and her chosen assistant were tasked to make tallies, to enter the results in tables and in principle they could have declared any figures, even the product of their imagination, whatsoever without any hindrance or observation.

The process of administering the count worked smoothly and efficiently in 2016, practiced to perfection in close to a dozen legislative and presidential elections since 1991 by now.  Even though the OSCE has recommended to include the opposition nominees into regional and district election commissions, “usual suspects” were appointed instead; only very few representatives of civil society and opposition parties were included. Thousands of trusted election officials, usually from the ranks of local authorities and the public sector, those who worked together in previous elections and learnt not to rock the boat during the process, participated.  To incentivise the electorate, polling stations featured the food buffets at subsidized prices.

The OSCE concluded that “coverage of candidates’ campaign activities, meanwhile, was virtually absent and largely limited to short, pre-recorded speeches.” [3] The campaign itself was almost invisible, an exercise in apathy. The state media missed the whole point of election coverage and instead focussed on the activities of the Central Election Commission, i.e., regularly reporting how many candidates they registered, covered the CEC meetings with the representatives of international organizations, explained the technical aspects of how election was organized, etc. The state-run media largely ignored the candidates, their campaigns, interviews, their policy programs, arguably defeating the whole point of the exercise. Instead, during campaign, electronic and print media largely focused on the activities of the president and other officials. It is a bit like covering the X Factor but only focusing on Simon Cowell and completely ignoring the participants and their acts. While the candidates, including opposition candidates, were granted some air time, the time slots were often awkward and it was not clear who was slotted to make their speeches and when.

Overall, the impression among the public was that even though there was an election campaign in August and early September, it was not clear or well known who was running and why. Instead, the overall appearance was that a number of faceless and interchangeable and non-partisan candidates who were all standing for various positive things and against various negative things, with little policy specifics, were slotted to be endorsed on 11 September and that voting for alternatives was completely futile.  Not very exciting then.

What of the results? The Central Election Commission declared 75% turnout countrywide — “politically correctly” lower than in presidential elections or referenda, with 62% turnout in the capital city. All 110 seats for the lower chamber were filled. Apart from a three-meter advance and a number of transparent ballot boxes, in a further signal of electoral liberalization to the West, the opposition was permitted to increase their legislative representation from zero to two seats. Two non-governmental candidates, both female, Anna Kanopatskaya from the United Civic Party and Elena Anisim from a well-known NGO supporting Belarusian language and culture – were announced winners in their constituences. The OSCE picked up on that: “We note that, for the first time in 12 years, some members of the opposition will be represented in the parliament.” [3] The pro-democratic opposition fielded a number of attracting candidates in many constituencies including the former presidential candidate, Tatiana Korotkevich who contested presidential elections in 2015. Perhaps precisely because she dared to run against the president in 2015 or because she failed to congratulate the winner then, in 2016 the election factotums were probably told to write in Kanopatskaya as the winner instead, who ran in the same single-member constituency with Korotkevich. Altogether, 38 women candidates were elected, 27 old MPs were re-elected again, and only 16 members represented political parties.

Belarus has a bicameral parliament. Two days after 11 September election for a lower chamber, 56 members of a second chamber were elected by regional councils, with eight more to be appointed by the president. It is somewhat odd to have a bicameral parliament in a relatively small and homogenous country with no history of ethnic or territorial cleavages, or a past history of bicameralism. As I and Robert Elgie argue in a recent comparative paper that examines bicameralism in partly and non-democratic regimes, such senates however are often necessary to make sure that the executive is able to control the parliament even in the unlikely event of the lower chamber falling under the control of the opposition. It can also provide additional patronage jobs, or serve as firewall against possible impeachment attempts in the future. The introduction of a second chamber in Belarus in 1996 validates that argument rather well.

Over eight hundred international and thirty thousand domestic observers monitored the election. Many observers reported the inflated turnout figures that did not correspond to their own independent counts of turnout, as well as the incidents of ballot stuffing and carousels where people cast their votes repeatedly in multiple polling stations. No surprises then. The head of mission for the NIS observers, Sergei Lebedev (333 accredited international observers came from the NIS) however did not see any problem whatsoever and recognized the elections as free and fair. The NIS observers have been present in the increasing numbers in many post-Soviet elections across the region and they always find such elections “free and fair” thus giving the incumbent governments useful TV quotes to counteract Western criticism. In contrast, the US State department, while recognizing “some improvements in the electoral process,” also noted “that alternative voices will be represented in parliament for the first time in 12 years. Still, the elections fell short of Belarus’ international obligations and commitments to free and fair elections.” [4] The OSCE ODIHR report was equally reserved, acknowledging “visible efforts to address some long-standing issues, but a number of systemic shortcomings remain” [3]. In summary, the ball is probably in the court of the EU and US now. The Belarusian authorities have not done anything terrible, and in all likelihood they believe that with a new assertive Russia, the Western governments, even if not the international organizations such as the CoE or OSCE, are looking for any excuse, any positive signs, however small, to resume the relations with Belarus. They think they did just that, small positive steps. Will the two female opposition members of parliament, and few meaningless improvements in election process, be enough? There is a lot at stake. The economy is no longer what it was, and Belarus badly needs the credit from the IMF, the opportunity to draw funds from the EU if possible, as well as the overall normalisation with the EU and US.


[1] http://eng.belta.by/politics/view/revised-data-turnout-in-belarusian-parliamentary-elections-at-748-94321-2016/

[2] see http://news.tut.by/politics/496789.html

[3] http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/belarus/263651

[4] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/09/261780.htm

Fragmentation and Dealignment: the 2016 national elections in the Republic of Cyprus

On 22 May 2016, Cypriots went to the polls to elect their deputies for the 11th time in the short 56-year-old history of the Republic of Cyprus. There were 543,186 eligible voters and 494 candidates– the most ever in Cyprus’s electoral history, and which corresponded to one candidate for every 1099 voters. There were a total of 13 parties and platforms ranging from the left to the far right and covering niche agendas such as the Animal Party as well as individual candidates.

In the end, the elections were basically little more than a fight among the political parties amidst a largely indifferent electorate. It was a fight between big parties and smaller parties; a fight between the two largest parties to secure the lead in the balance of power and in view of the forthcoming presidential elections of 2018; a fight between the smaller parties for survival and for the lead in the so-called middle space; a fight among all parties against abstention; a fight within the parties for who would be elected.

The context of the elections was defined by three parameters. First and foremost was the huge crisis of legitimation of the entire political system.

Second were the repercussions of the bail-in of 2013, which caused the economy—for the first time in parliamentary elections– to be the most important issue of the elections but not the only one since negotiations for a possible solution to the long-standing Cyprus problem had been revived, bringing the issue into headlines again.

Finally, there was the decision to increase the electoral threshold from 1.8% to 3.6% just a few months before the elections. This was a joint decision of the two major parties (AKEL and DISY), an obvious attempt to keep out unwanted newcomers (e.g., the extreme right ELAM) and also limit their losses to smaller parties. This act invited the severe criticism of the smaller parties as they accused the larger, mainstream parties of authoritarianism, criticizing their decision as undemocratic.

The campaign was rather short by Cypriot standards and was a far cry from the passionate campaigns of the past. Indifference among the voters was the principal characteristic of these elections; polls indicated that approximately one-third of the voters would abstain.

The parties focused on a variety of different issues: the two major parties (AKEL and DISY) stressed the economy in lieu of the Cyprus problem and the ongoing negotiations; this was done to highlight their differences in the face of accusations by the smaller parties that their stances on the Cyprus problem were too similar. Thus, the other parties focused on the Cyprus problem while criticizing the two main parties of cooperation and of making too many concessions towards the Turkish side. This perceived cooperation necessitated, according to smaller parties, a decrease in the total vote for these two main parties.

In terms of the results, the most telling story of this election was the high degree of abstention, 33.26%; this sets a record for Cyprus post-1974 and reveals an 11.96 % increase from 2011. This figure is even more important if we factor in the 22,000 (out of the 32,000) youth who were eligible to register yet declined to do so. Although not confined to the younger cohorts, exit polls revealed their turnout to be the lowest.

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The results reveal that the biggest winners are center-right DIKO and all the smaller parties except EDEK; the biggest losers are the two main parties and especially left-wing AKEL (table). DIKO is the only historical/mainstream party that managed to maintain its seats despite the loss of approximately 13,000 voters; the party also managed to retain its modulatory role in the middle space.

Together, the newly founded parties polled 14.26% (including those that did not enter the parliament), a clear indication of voter frustration with the mainstream parties. In contrast, the entire ‘middle space’ –i.e., all other parties except the two big ones– polled 36.73%, a very important development since together they have the largest representation in the parliament. This fact does not mean that these parties are ideologically similar; at the same time, however, their differences should not be underestimated. Their parliamentary representation shows that they can have a considerable say in all future developments on the island, and especially with regard to the Cyprus problem: these parties all profess a more hard-line position, albeit to varying degrees.

Messages from the elections

These elections reveal interesting patterns and offer important insights.

First of all, the elections reinforce the trend in Cyprus towards dealignment, which indicates a crisis of representation. Abstention has become a systemic feature of Cypriot electoral politics. However, election results also revealed a partial realignment, with up to 25% of voters, according to the exit polls, changing party allegiance.

Second, if we consider the election results in Sartorian terms, the party system of Cyprus seems to resemble the polarized pluralism model. For a second time in its history, the Cypriot parliament houses eight parties compared to only six previously; this has significant implications both for the internal working of the parliament and for the relations between the legislature and the president. In this regard, cooperation and alliances between parties will become more complicated than ever before, which will definitely affect the president’s ability to pass legislation. In turn, this will affect coalition building with regard to the forthcoming presidential elections.

Third, the elections also reveal a shift in the Cyprus party system’s ideological center of gravity: the center-right, albeit more fragmented now, has increased its vote share at the expense of the center-left. In 2011 the center-left represented by AKEL, EDEK and the Greens polled approximately 44%, whereas in 2016 their overall share dropped to approximately 37%. The center-right (including the extreme right), represented by DISY, DIKO, Citizens Alliance, Solidarity and ELAM, rose from 51% to approximately 60%. This could be related to, and could also explain, as many scholars argue, the inability of the (center) left to provide feasible alternatives for overcoming the huge economic crisis, which reinforces conservative reactions among the electorates.

Fourth, the strength of bipolarism has declined considerably. Although AKEL and DISY still command more than half of the votes, together their vote total 56.36%, down from 66.95% in 2011. These losses represent the price they paid for holding the executive in this turbulent period, which saw both parties failing to meet the expectations of their constituencies. This decrease combined with the increased vote share of smaller and new parties verifies the trend shown in other recent elections, i.e., that Cyprus has entered an era of increased fluidity. Nevertheless, the new parties’ breakthrough does not prove their endurance, which must be tested in consecutive elections.

Fifth, these elections are the first in which an extreme, ultra-nationalist, right-wing party garnered enough votes to win seats in the House of Representatives. ELAM, sister party of the Greek’s Golden Dawn, tripled it vote share to elect two MPs. Their presence in parliament offers them an institutional/legitimate channel to air their (populist) views, while their anticipated marginalization by other parties will probably act as a public signifier of their fake ‘anti-systemeness’. In turn, this could help them fuel their propaganda and consequently their electoral fortunes, especially amidst the ongoing negotiations for a possible solution to the Cyprus problem. However, their mere participation in the parliament is also an expression of their incorporation in the political system and their acceptance of the political rules.

Finally, the two big parties’ decision to increase the electoral threshold to their benefit not only failed but even backfired. Many analysts now say that this act has created a reverse dynamic against the big parties and actually helped the smaller parties gain seats in the House.

Turkey – No Presidential System but ‘Cohabitation’ for Erdoğan

The results of the 7 June parliamentary election change many things in the political scene of Turkey. It not only ended thirteen years of single party rule by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but also thwarted President Erdoğan’s desire for “Turkish Type of Presidential System”. The President had actively campaigned for a governmental system change in favour of a Turkish type of hyper presidentialism for quite some time and turned this parliamentary election into a referendum on it, despite the constitutional clause obliging him to be unbiased and above party politics. Now the election results show that the AKP lost almost twenty per cent of its previous electors and its parliamentary majority seats, even though it remained the first party with forty per cent of the votes.

Many commentators believe that this is an outright rejection of presidential system and a endorsement of parliamentary practice. Even Prime Minister Davutoğlu agrees that voters did not endorse the idea of a presidential system. Research company Ipsos’ polls conducted right after the 2015 election show that 53 per cent of the electorate agree with this conclusion.

The new parliament is composed of four parties, none controlling a majority (276 seats are required to form a single party government). The AKP enjoys 258 seats. It is followed by the Republican People’s party (CHP) with 132 seats, Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (the HDP) with 80 seats, and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 80 seats. Thus, Turkey is entering a era of coalition government, which is associated with political and economic instability by many people due to not very successful previous examples.

The political climate is still highly polarised and is not quite prepared for a stable coalition as the MHP has already ruled out any coalition scenario with the AKP or HDP. The HDP has also ruled out a coalition with the AKP. The CHP as a left wing opposition party has a long history of disagreement with the AKP. Even if parties agree on some kind of coalition formula there is another actor whose reactions are determining: President Erdoğan.

As the first directly elected President of Turkey, Erdoğan not only enjoys democratic legitimacy but also the constitutional power to appoint the Prime Minister. If the council of ministers cannot be formed or fails to receive a vote of confidence within 45 days starting from the formation of the Bureau of newly elected Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), the president can call new elections. The president may choose to obstruct the formation of a coalition behind closed doors and force new elections or may never give the responsibility to form a government to a leader other than one from his own party’s.

However President Erdoğan’s first reaction three days after the election was to call on the country’s political parties to “leave egos aside” and form a government as soon as possible. He rejected the possibility of an immediate early poll by saying that he was not opposed to any coalition possibility and that leaders should try their best to form a government before new elections were due. He also invited the eldest deputy in the TGNA, the former leader of CHP Deniz Baykal, to discuss the election results. This meeting might be an indication that President is going to be active in the coalition formation process.

Even if a coalition government is formed and survived a vote of confidence in the TGNA, President Erdoğan will still have a weight in the executive branch and would potentially make it very difficult for any government to work with him. The Turkish Constitution grants more than a symbolic, but less than a policy-making role to the president. Before his election as president Erdoğan famously declared  that he would not be a traditional president hinting that he would interpret the constitutional rules outside the parliamentary tradition. He later pushed constitutional limits, chaired the cabinet regularly, interfered with the daily business of the Council of Ministers, created intra-executive conflict, and also directly violated his constitutional obligation of being impartial towards political parties.

The election results will not make a strong leader like Erdoğan  act more symbolically overnight, but it does mean a type of ‘cohabitation’ for him. He will no longer be able to dictate his policy choices directly. As for future governments it means that the president may meddle in the list of possible candidates for ministers, major executive appointments, executive decrees etc. by just simply refusing to sign them. The president may also impede the cabinet’s program to a degree. Indeed, a weak coalition or a minority government might potentially increase the president’s power or influence within the system.

Furthermore Erdoğan might turn any possible political instability or crisis into an opportunity to press again for a Turkish type of presidential system, pointing out the apparent shortcomings of the current system. He already argued before the election that coalition means disaster and there cannot be a coalition government under a presidential system, even though this is false.

How the current semi-presidential system will cope this difficult cohabitation is to be seen in the future, but one thing for sure is that it is not going to be easy for any of the actors.

Portugal – Changing electoral politics

In the run up to the legislative and presidential elections the ruling parties PSD and CDS-PP have announced the formation of a pre-electoral coalition and decided to jointly support a presidential candidate. Moreover, a growing number of non-partisans or ‘outsiders’ have officially declared their candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Both pre-electoral coalitions and large numbers of non-partisan presidential candidates are rare political phenomena in Portugal.

It has been 36 years ago since a pre-electoral coalition was formed in Portugal. In 1979 the PSD and CDS (the former CDS-PP) together with the smaller pro-monarchist party, the PPM, formed the so-called Democratic Alliance (AD) that managed to win a parliamentary majority, namely 128 seats in Portugal’s 250-member Assembly in the December 1979 legislative elections.

The announcement of the pre-electoral centre-right coalition or ‘new AD’ came on 25 April, four days after António Costa, leader of the Socialist Party (PS), presented his party’s electoral programme. The coalition’s fear of losing the legislative election is real. The Eurosondagem poll, published on 15 May gave the Socialists a 4.5 point lead over the newly formed coalition with 38.1 percent to 33.6 per cent. It is important to note that if this neck and neck race persists none of the two will obtain a parliamentary majority, a situation which may call for President Cavaco Silva to take on a powerful role in the government formation process.

The leaders of the ruling parties, PM Pedro Passos Coelho (PSD) and deputy PM Paulo Portas (CDS-PP), also agreed to jointly support a presidential candidate. The coalition will likely select either the former leader of the PSD and Law Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, or the former mayor of the city of Porto, Rui Rio, also a prominent member of the PSD party. President Cavaco Silva is constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term. The coalition has decided to select their candidate after the legislative elections.

The coalition’s presidential candidate will face a large number of non-partisan presidential candidates. It has been predicted that the upcoming presidential election will be the most competitive since the first democratic elections took place in 1976. So far, no fewer than five[1] non-partisan presidents have officially announced their candidacy for the presidency. Yet, the Constitutional Court ultimately determines which candidates are eligible to participate in the presidential election.

António Sampaio da Nóvoa, the former rector of the University of Lisbon, is considered to be the most popular amongst the non-partisan candidates and has the support of former presidents António Ramalho Eanes (Ind.) and Mário Soares (PS). If Sampaio da Nóvoa is elected, presidential politics may change. He recently stated that the role of the president ‘should not be ceremonial’ and pledged to combat political corruption and put an end to austerity.

Parliamentary elections will be held between 14 September and 14 October 2015. Presidential elections are scheduled for January 2016.

[1] Henrique Neto, Castanheira Barros, Paulo Freitas do Amaral, Paulo Morais, António Sampaio da Nóvoa.