Tag Archives: Legislative elections

Senegal – Implications of the July legislative election results for 2019

President Macky Sall’s coalition was the big winner of the July 30 legislative elections in Senegal, taking 125 of 165 seats in the country’s unicameral national assembly. This significant win was the result of a divided opposition, the country’s electoral system, and a determined campaign by the ruling coalition already eyeing the 2019 presidential poll where Sall will stand for reelection. “We aren’t talking any longer about July 30, but of 2019,” said Prime Minister Mahammad Boun Abdallah Dionne at a campaign rally in July.

Among Senegal’s 6.2 million voters, 54% turned out to vote, up from 37% in the 2012 legislative polls, a testament to the perceived higher stakes of these elections compared to five years ago. The campaign was tense, at times violent. Uncharacteristically for Senegal, administrative challenges marred the vote: delays in the distribution of biometric voter cards and confusion around voter lists prevented hundreds of Senegalese from casting their ballot.

The number of seats was this year increased to 165 from 150, to give room for 15 seats for the Senegalese diaspora that for the first time will have direct representation. The gender parity quota helped women win 42% of seats. The final results validated by the Constitutional Court after it threw out opposition electoral complaints are as follows:

Table. 1. Distribution of seats following July 30 legislative elections:

Coalitions/parties                                                                                                                            Seats

Benno Bokk Yaakaar – “Together for the same hope” (Pres. Sall) 125
Wattu Senegaal – “Winning Coalition” (former Pres. Wade)  19
Manko Taxawu Senegaal – “Accord to watch over Senegal” (Khalifa Sall)   7
Parti pour l’unité et le rassemblement (PUR) – (Prof. Issa Sall)   3
Kaddu Askanwi – “Patriotic Convergence Coalition” (Abdulaye Balde)   2
9 other parties/coalitions with 1 seat each   9
TOTAL 165

Source: IPU

Senegal’s electoral system, using a mix of party block vote (105 seats) and proportional representation (60 seats), greatly benefited the ruling coalition that won 75.8% of the seats with only 49.5% of the votes. This disproportionate win of seats was facilitated by the last minute weakening of the coalition around the mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall (no family relation to President Sall).

With former President Abdoulaye Wade returning to Senegal from France to head a separate opposition list – Wattu Senegaal – opposition votes split between two major coalitions, making it possible for the ruling Benno Book Yaakaar (BBY) coalition to win key constituencies, including Dakar, with just a relative majority of votes. Ironically, after being instrumental in hindering a wider opposition coalition, Wade is not going to take up his seat in parliament – he only ran to benefit his party.

The loss of Dakar was a particularly heavy blow for Khalifa Sall, the mayor of Dakar, currently awaiting trial for what his supporters say are trumped up fraud charges. They accuse President Sall of trying to sideline one of his potentially strongest competitors for the presidency in 2019 [see earlier blog post here]. Khalifa Sall campaigned successfully from his prison cell to win a seat in the new legislature, though his coalition overall fared poorly, winning less than 5% of seats.

Wade’s comeback likely reduced the overall number of seats going to the opposition, given the electoral system, but strengthened the relative position of his own party, the PDS (Parti Démocratique Sénégalais). Strengthening the PDS – which had 12 seats in the last legislature – is a means for former President Wade to “pave the way for his son” Karim Wade to run for the presidency in 2019, according to political analyst Ali Ndiaye. Karim, who was a powerful minister in his father’s government, was last year pardoned by President Macky Sall after serving half of a three-year prison sentence for corruption and has since been living abroad.

The legislative election victory was particularly significant for Macky Sall as the polls were widely seen as a referendum on his first five years in office and as the first round for the 2019 presidential election. While the win was noteworthy by most accounts, BBY nevertheless saw its majority slightly reduced in terms of percentage of seats – from 119/150 (79.3%) to 125/165 (75.8%) – and more importantly in terms of percentage of votes – from 53% to 49.5%. This is not surprising, given that most members of the Manku Taxawu Senegaal list were part of BBY in 2012. It means, however, that short of half of voters voted for the ruling coalition. Even if both Karim and Khalifa run in two years, given the two-round presidential election system 2019 is not a given win for Macky Sall.

Senegal – Sall vs. Sall

Senegal is preparing for legislative elections on July 2, 2017. In the country’s semi-presidential system, the prime minister and cabinet are responsible to both the president and the legislature. A legislative majority in opposition to the president can force out the prime minister and cabinet through a vote of no confidence. This could theoretically result in a situation of cohabitation – where a president and prime minister from opposing parties/coalitions have to share executive power.

Senegal has never experienced cohabitation and President Macky Sall surely hopes he will not be the first president to explore this uncharted territory. A new opposition coalition with the participation of Dakar’s mayor Khalifa Sall (no family relation) hopes to the contrary to wrestle away the majority from the presidential coalition in the July elections.

President Sall’s coalition, Benno Bokk Yaakaar (BBY), controls a comfortable majority of 119 seats in the sitting 150-seat unicameral legislature, with the remainder distributed across 12 parties or coalitions. With two years remaining of his first, seven-year term, will Macky Sall be able to maintain control of the National Assembly in the upcoming polls?

The government’s performance record appears at face value to be good. The economy is doing well, with above 6 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the past two years, a trend the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects to continue this year. Senegal has become one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, the fiscal deficit is falling, and after Tunisia, Senegal is only the second country in the world to adopt a new national digital currency – the eCFA. According to Transparency International, the fight against corruption has progressed, with the adoption of a number of anti-corruption reforms and the creation of a Ministry for the Promotion of Good Governance Responsible for the Relations with Institutions.

So why is the well-known youth group Y’en a marre in the streets, protesting against Macky Sall in an unlikely alliance with the Parti démocratique sénégalais (PDS), the party of former President Abdoulaye Wade? Y’en a marre was instrumental in mobilizing the youth vote in particular, in opposition to Wade’s attempt at securing a third term in 2012 when he ran against Macky Sall in the presidential run-off. What has happened to turn former friends into foes, and former foes into friends?

Y’en a marre cannot forgive Macky Sall for going back on his word (wax waxeet in Wolof – a bad habit of Senegalese political leaders according to the creators of the wax-waxeet.com monitoring website): Sall had promised during his campaign that he would reduce the length of presidential terms from seven to five years with immediate effect — to include his first term. However, instead of submitting a bill to revise the constitution accordingly for approval by the National Assembly — where it would likely easily have received the required 3/5 of votes to pass without requiring a referendum — Sall waited four years to consult with the constitutional court, in 2016. The court found that changing the duration of an ongoing presidential term would be against the spirit of the constitution and constitutional practice. Sall therefore declared in February 2016 that he would comply with the finding of the constitutional court and serve the full length of his first mandate. Constitutional revisions adopted a month later do include a provision for the reduced term-length, but it is a change that will only be applicable to his next term.

In addition to breaking a promise, Y’en a marre and opposition parties also accuse President Sall of having instigated the arrest of Khalifa Sall in March of this year on trumped up fraud charges. Khalifa Sall is a likely presidential candidate and strong challenger to Macky Sall in 2019. An attempt to dislodge him from his prominent position as mayor in Dakar by President Sall’s party (though the parties of the two Salls both belong to the ruling coalition) failed in 2014 [see earlier blogpost here].

Since his arrest, Khalifa Sall has joined forces with the PDS, the Rewmi party of former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck and others, to form a new coalition, Manko Taxawu Senegaal (Accord to Watch over Senegal), which will field joint lists for the legislative polls.

The legislative election campaign is getting off the ground. The election outcome will be an early indication of the relative popularity of the two Salls, as the 2019 presidential poll approaches.

Grant Godfrey – Takeaways from the legislative elections in Côte d’Ivoire

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC

The Legislature of the Third Republic of Côte d’Ivoire met for the first time on January 9, 2017, having been elected on December 18.  Two seats remain vacant after the Constitutional Council annulled the polls in Divo and KouiblyThe election results are complete enough, however, to draw some conclusions about what to expect going forward:

  • President Alassane Ouattara will continue to enjoy very few political limits. He succeeded in having his Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and former president Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party (PDCI) present a joint candidate list to voters, as the Houphouëtist Alliance for Democracy and Peace (RHDP). This is a major step toward the re-unification of the two parties after they split in 1994, reinforced by its victory at the polls: the RHDP can already claim 167 of the Assembly’s 255 seats, an overwhelming majority. It need only obtain 3 extra votes to amend the new constitution without a referendum.
  • Pascal Affi N’Guéssan’s leadership of the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI) is threatened. N’Guéssan has not been able to mobilize former president Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters at the polls. After receiving less than ten percent of the vote in the 2015 presidential race, N’Guéssan hoped to use rebuild the party with legislative success. The FPI hoped to win 30 seats it could use as a base for rebuilding a party starved for a taste of power. The party only achieved a tenth of that goal. Perhaps the biggest shock from these elections is that the FPI will not even be able to form its own parliamentary caucus.
  • There is no public opinion data to explain why the FPI fared so poorly, but the boycott called for by its hard-core wing, which refuses to recognize Affi’s leadership, surely played some role. Expect the “Gbagbo or nothing” hawks to continue to attack the inclusiveness of the Assembly and the legitimacy of Ivoirian elections and democratic institutions. 
  • In the absence of strong party contests in most districts, commentators looked to voter turnout as a key indicator of popular sentiment. The 34% national turnout rate represents a steep decline of voter participation from the constitutional referendum (42%) and presidential poll (53%). The Platform of Civil Society Organizations for Election Observation in Cote d’Ivoire (POECI) once again conducted a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), which was able to confirm the national turnout rate and other process indicators. In the south of the country turnout was even lower: POECI calculated a 15% rate in Koumassi, one of four races where it conducted a district-level PVT.
  • POECI and other civic groups continue to garner credibility, and a corresponding degree of influence, for Ivoirian civil society. The Observatory of the Code of Good Conduct, which monitors a voluntary agreement among political parties and candidates to conduct fair campaigns, again denounced violations when they occurred, regardless of who perpetrated them.
  • Voters are (still) dissatisfied with top-down management of the political process by party leaders. The RHDP victory, while resounding, comes with a pair of black eyes.  The low turnout rate and the victory of 75 “independent” candidates (29% of the Assembly seats) send a clear message that voters don’t want RHDP leaders choosing the people’s representatives for them.  Many of the independents are in fact RDR or PDCI figures, including incumbents who found themselves off the RHDP candidate list.  The Cocody race where incumbent Yasmina Ouegnin beat Communications Minister Affoussiata Bamba by over 10% exemplifies this.  Bamba was “parachuted” into the race by RHDP leadership to face Ouegnin after Ouegnin opposed the constitutional revision process.  While many independents are likely to back Ouattara on most issues, or even re-join the RHDP, their success in such phenomenal numbers illustrates weaknesses inherent in the RHDP and underlying party structures. The ruling coalition seems not to have learned from a similar attempt to impose leaders on constituents in the 2013 local elections. This top-down approach to party management is likely to become increasingly hard to sustain as 2020 approaches.
  • Women gain no ground. Despite the new constitution’s emphasis on gender parity, women were only 12% of the candidates in 2016 and won 29 seats, basically holding steady in their parliamentary presence at 11%. The barriers women face to getting on the ballot are compounded by the same opaque party and coalition nomination processes that gave rise to this year’s unprecedented numbers of independents.

#Burkinavote – Analysis of presidential and legislative election results

Burkina Faso has a president-elect, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and a newly elected legislature. Kaboré won in Burkina Faso’s first democratic presidential poll in 37 years held on November 29, 2015, with 53.5 percent of the votes in the first round. Fourteen presidential candidates vied for the support of 5.5 million Burkinabe voters. In legislative elections held on the same day, 3,529 candidates representing 81 parties and 18 political groupings ran for the 127 legislative seats.

Results of the presidential election were made public in the early morning hours of December 1. The runner-up, Zéphirin Diabré who secured 29.7 percent of the vote, conceded defeat via twitter even before the election commission had time to announce the results. Voter turn-out was 60 percent. The official results were validated by an independent parallel vote tabulation exercise conducted by a civil society election monitoring coalition, CODEL.

These peaceful, well organized polls were a major feat for a country emerging from a 13-month transition following the ousting of former President Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising last year, and after an attempted coup by Compaoré supporters just six weeks ago. “For once I am relieved to have witnessed a boring election on the African continent,” said Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at NDI – a sentiment echoed by many observers of elections on the continent.

So who is Roch Marc Christian Kaboré? He is certainly a seasoned politician, having served in a number of positions under Compaoré, whose government he first joined as minister of transports in 1989. Kaboré was prime minister from 1994 to 1996, chairman of the national assembly from 2002 to 2012, and president of the ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), from 2003 to 2012.

By some accounts, he was Compaoré’s anointed successor, until relations soured as Compaoré’s brother François gradually took control of the CDP. The situation came to a head in January 2014, when Kaboré and two other CDP heavyweights – former mayor of Ouagadougou Simon Compaoré, and former presidential advisor Salif Diallo – left the party to form the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP). The impetus for the break-up were the maneuverings by Compaoré and his supporters aimed at removing constitutional term limits and allowing Compaoré to run again in this year’s election, after 27 years in power. See earlier post on the coalescing of forces opposing another term for Compaoré here.

His solid CDP-roots notwithstanding, Kaboré has promised “a complete break with the old system.” He certainly faces great expectations and was quick to reiterate campaign promises of reviving the economy and improving access to public services, in an interview hours after being designated the winner.

Kabore’s knock-out in the first round did not translate into a legislative majority for his party, the MPP, however. Preliminary legislative results published by the election commission on December 2 give the MPP only a relative majority in the newly elected 127-seat national assembly:

Party Seats
MPP 55
UPC 33
CDP 18
UNIR/PS 5
ADF/RDA 3
Smaller parties Remaining 13 seats

In Burkina Faso’s semi-presidential system with its dual executive, this means Kaboré will have to collaborate with other parties in the legislature to select a prime minister, notably the Union for Progress and Change (UPC) of Zéphirin Diabré. This need for coalition building promises a welcome change from the past. Among the priorities of the new government will be the delicate task of facilitating an inclusive constitutional reform process, a piece of unfinished business left over by the the transition government.

Mexico – Legislative Elections and Independent Governors

Last Sunday, amidst allegations of corruption, violence and general animus towards the political classes, Mexico held legislative, mayoral and gubernatorial elections. All 500 seats in the legislature were contested: 300 in single-member districts and 200 by proportional representation. With all votes counted, the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and party of the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and its coalition partners, Nueva Alianza (PNA) and the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), managed to win approximately 40 per cent of the vote and secure more than the 251 seats they previously held between them. The PRI gained 29.25 per cent of the national vote; PVEM won 7.01 per cent; and the PNA managed to garner 3.75 per cent.

For the president, this means he is free to continue his reform agenda with a clear majority in the house.

The result itself is perhaps a little surprising given a recent poll, which indicated that 91 per cent of Mexican citizens had no trust in the country’s political parties, whilst over half of the respondents disapproved of the Peña Nieto government. However, the new majority of the ruling alliance is less a product of their popularity and more a product of divisions within the opposition. In particular, former presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, split from the left-leaning Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) to create a new political party, Morena. Morena’s campaign in this election proved extremely costly for the PRD, who saw their popular support fall by half to only 10.75 per cent of the vote, while Morena garnered an impressive 8.37 per cent. This division within the Mexican left most likely benefited the PRI’s coalition partners, PVEM and PNA.

The elections themselves occurred amidst a backdrop of violence and uncertainty. A coalition of radical teachers’ unions and activists attempted to block and disrupt the vote in the southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca. They burned ballot boxes and attacked the office of political parties. In the northern city of Monterrey, there were reports of armed men coercing and threatening members of the electorate.

Most significantly however, was the election of Mexico’s first independent governor, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, known as “El Bronco,” who won the gubernatorial race in the state of Nuevo León, which was previously a PRI stronghold. Formerly a member of the PRI and mayor of the northern city of García, Rodríguez is credited with launching a broadside against the Zeta cartel, which saw the death of his son in 2009 in an attempted kidnapping. With the electoral reform of last year, Rodríguez decided to leave the PRI and run as an independent. His victory is interpreted as symptomatic of the general animosity of the Mexican public towards the major and established political parties.

But Rodríguez was not the only independent candidate to be elected. Four other independent candidates managed to gain seats in the lower house, including Pedro Kumamoto, who has never been a member of a political party yet who managed to win a seat in Jalisco. Although the overall election results might suggest continuity, beneath the surface, winds of change are clearly rippling across the Mexican party system.

US – The 2014 Midterm Election Post-Mortem

Now that the dust has settled (mostly, pending a few races still too close to call or headed for a runoff or recount), we now know that Republicans will take control of the US Senate in January. That means that the Republican Party will control both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006. The results are not surprising, as polling during the final weeks of the campaign showed that this was likely to be a good year for Republicans. What does this outcome mean for the next two years in Washington as Barack Obama finishes his second term, and how does this election shape the outcome for both the presidential and congressional elections in 2016?

Let’s start with why Republicans won. Numerous factors were at play that gave Republicans an advantage in this election cycle. Primary among them would be Obama’s low approval rating, which has hovered around 40 percent for more than a year, as well as polling that shows a majority of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track. Low voter turnout (usually at or below 40 percent), which always favors Republicans and always occurs in midterm elections, also played a role. In addition, Republican candidates did a good job of staying on message (mostly in their attacks against Obama) and being disciplined on the campaign trail (no major gaffes, like comments in 2012 about “legitimate rape” that offended women in both parties). Also important is the fact that many Republicans beat out Tea Party challengers in the primaries, which allowed candidates to have broader appeal among Republican and independent voters in the general election. Finally, as the minority party in the Senate since 2006, Republicans benefitted from a strong anti-incumbent mood among the electorate. As the Washington Post called it in a recent headline, it was “An Election about Rejection.”

Other issues during the campaign played a significant role in why, conversely, Democrats lost (not only control of the Senate, but several seats in the House and some governor’s races). In the Senate, where one-third of the 100 seats are up for reelection every two years, this was perhaps the worst electoral map that Democrats have faced in decades. Many of the races were in red states, and the Democrats who lost were either elected for the first time or reelected in 2008 (a strong Democratic year with Obama at the top of the ticket). With lower voter turnout, and an unpopular Democratic president, many of the incumbents or even challengers did not have a real shot at winning in conservative-leaning states this year. An example: Kay Hagan, a Democrat who beat incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole to win a Senate seat in North Carolina in 2008, lost her reelection bid to her Republican challenger. In addition, despite Obama’s low approval rating, and despite calls that it was a referendum on his presidency, he wasn’t actually on the ballot. This hurt Democratic candidates with voter turnout among key demographics, particularly young voters and minority voters (including African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans) who overwhelming voted for Obama (and other Democrats) in 2012. Distancing themselves from Obama did not help Democratic candidates in getting out the vote among these key constituencies. Finally, despite an improving economy during the Obama presidency, Democrats were unable to take credit for those gains, particularly as many Americans haven’t felt as much improvement in their own lives as the national economic indicators suggest.

However, despite the victory on Tuesday, it’s not all good news for Republicans. The party’s brand is still widely unpopular, and while Americans are dissatisfied with both parties, polls suggest this is a bigger problem for Republicans than Democrats. Internally, the Tea Party still represents divisions that will not only make it difficult for the GOP to be unified, but will make compromises with the White House on legislation difficult as well. Like it or not, Republicans on Capitol Hill can’t govern alone, and must work with Obama to get something done as the legislative ball is now in their court. When the final results are in, Republicans may hold as many as 55 seats in the Senate, but that is well short of the 60 votes needed to break a Democratic filibuster, or the 67 votes need to override a presidential veto. While Tea Party members may call for sweeping legislative reform, Republican leaders will more than likely opt for more modest accomplishments, including a compromise with Obama on immigration reform, small tax reforms, and small fixes to but no repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Failure to get anything done over the next two years would not bode well for Republican chances for holding the Senate majority in 2016 (though the House seems safe barring a huge Democratic wave), and especially for the eventual Republican nominee in 2016 who will need a record of his or her party’s accomplishments on which to run.

While Democrats are reeling from Tuesday night’s loss, the news is not all bad for them. The 2016 Senate map looks much better, with many more contests in blue states. In addition, presidential election demographics will give an advantage to the Democratic nominee. And while Republicans may try to claim a mandate to govern during the next two years, making that claim is difficult with such low voter turnout and with their party so unpopular among the electorate. And what does this all mean for Obama for his last two years in office? His party losing control of the Senate will make any judicial or executive branch appointments, whether controversial or not, much more problematic. In preparing for this reality, the White House plans to push through numerous judicial nominations, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder’s replacement, in December before the next congressional session begins in January. Another controversial policy issue—approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline—may land on Obama’s desk soon, which will require the President to finally support or reject the plan. And any reform in areas such as immigration will now require even more compromise with Republicans. The bottom line is that Republicans in Congress and President Obama both have incentives to get things done in the next two years. Republicans will need to prove to voters that they are capable of governing, and Obama wants to accomplish some policy changes before he leaves office. Being seen as a president who can compromise with the opposing party and signing resulting legislation into law could go a long way in his approval rating rebounding, and in shaping his legacy, before he leaves office in January 2017.

São Tomé and Príncipe – Legislative elections: clear victory, uncertain future

Local, regional and legislative elections were held in the archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe on 12 October. The opposition Independent Democratic Action party (ADI) under the leadership of Patrice Trovoada secured an absolute majority in parliament. The Prime Minister-in-waiting is, however, not a newcomer to politics and his relationship with incumbent President Manuel Pinto da Costa is far from cordial.

São Tomé and Príncipe has a unicameral parliament with 55 seats. MPs are elected every four years in general elections. The last legislative elections were held in 2010.

Distribution of seats

Political Party 2014 Change
ADI (Partido Aliança Democrática Independente) 33 +7
MLSTP/PSD (Movimento de Libertação de São Tomé e Príncipe/Partido Social Democrata) 16 -5
PCD (Partido da Convergência Democrática) 5 -2
MDFM/PL (Movimento Democrático das Forças da Mudança/Partido Liberal) 0 -1
UDD (União para a Democracia e Desenvolvimento) 1 +1

Patrice Trovoada is the son of former President Miguel Trovoada (1991-2001). In the first years after independence, a power struggle between President Pinto da Costa and Miguel Trovoada, then Prime Minister, culminated in the detention of the latter without charge or trial from 1979 to 1981. Since that time Pinto da Costa and Miguel Trovoada have been considered as arch political rivals in the archipelago.

The relationship between Patrice Trovoada and President Pinto da Costa is equally problematic. In December 2012 Pinto da Costa dismissed Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada, following a parliamentary vote of no-confidence against the ADI minority government. The President then appointed a ‘government of presidential initiative’, a move which was considered ‘illegal’ and ‘unconstitutional’. In the aftermath of the censure motion, ADI mobilised street protests in support of Trovoada and temporarily boycotted parliament.

Since then, ADI has been at loggerheads with opposition parties MLSTP/PSD, PCD, and MDFM/PL. In early June 2013, PCD filed a criminal complaint against the former Prime Minister for his alleged role in money laundering practices. For its part, on 16 June 2014, ADI filed a criminal complaint at the International Criminal Court against the President, Prime Minister and other government officials, accusing them of ‘political persecution’ and of ‘violating the constitution’. In a communiqué ADI also asked for an official investigation into crimes committed during Pinto da Costa’s dictatorship from 1975 to 1991.

Trovoada told reporters he will transform his country into ‘Africa’s little Dubai’ and to achieve this goal he plans to start by attacking the problem of extreme poverty and unemployment. ADI has significant backing among the poorer parts of the islands. The Prime Minister-elect also promised to bring political stability to the country.

São Tomé and Príncipe now faces a period of political uncertainty that is likely to continue until the presidential elections of 2016. Officially, President Pinto da Costa is non-partisan. So, the result of the election will not lead to a formal period of cohabitation. However, the President is expected to be particularly active in the legislative area, using veto powers to slow down decision-making.

William J. Crotty – Obama at Midterm and the Politics of Polarization

This is a guest post by Professor William J. Crotty, the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life at Northeastern University

Photo William Crotty

Barack Obama emerged as a force in American politics unexpectedly. A speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 electrified the delegates and brought national attention. Four years later he won the Democratic party’s presidential nomination defeating the heir apparent Hillary Clinton in an extraordinary upset. During the general election campaign he ran a carefully calibrated organizational effort, after he had in the nomination phase demonstrated his superior intelligence in the presidential debates and drew on an ability to articulate a progressive agenda (“change you can believe in”). He combined his issue positions with an incisive dissection of the incumbent George W. Bush administration, one of the least popular in history. Propelled by the economic collapse in the fall of 2008 (called by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (in private) the worst since and including the Great depression) he went on to win the election.1

 A black man was now president, unthinkable as that may have been.2 It was a galvanizing moment in American history, watched and applauded universally. The dawn of a new era had begun and a new politics would see the redefinition of a nation: a new course of social justice; respect for human rights; an emphasis on negotiation and compromise in international affairs; an end to war and the police state that had been emerging; a green environment; and an emphasis on economic fairness and equality, rechanneling the wealth of the nation for all to enjoy.

It never happened. In office Obama, lacking previous administrative experience and a relative newcomer to national politics would find himself unprepared for what was to come. An intransigent Republican opposition would effectively, with limited exceptions, stalemate his programs and in time essentially grind his administration to a halt. The military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan would continue. The president proved himself not to be the civil libertarian he had once seemed, cracking down on dissent, authorizing at his initiative the assassination of American citizens and on a much broader scale alleged terrorists, including Osama bin Laden. The Bush policies – some came to argue that the Obama presidency was essentially a continuation of the Bush presidency – in domestic and foreign security matters would continue and, in the context of the War on Terror, come to engage the presidency to a greater extent than other concerns. The polarization of politics in the form of a better personal and hyper partisan assault culture would worsen and the complementary polarization of wealth upwards to the very wealthiest would also accelerate.3 The main domestic initiative, a national health plan, controversial in conception and never to be accepted by its opponents, was adopted at great political cost. The one outstanding success, and the earliest and most consistent of Obama’s attention, the economic recovery, concentrated on the bailout of Wall Street succeeded brilliantly; the stock market was to reach its highest levels in history. The new politics of the 2008 campaign was little more than a distant memory.

Obama by the early years of his second term would come to rank in the Gallup polls as the least popular president since the polls began, outdoing his predecessor, Richard M. Nixon, and other contenders.

What happened? A selection of established political scientists would ask themselves this very question. From the earliest years the directions and emphases of the administration would emerge, presenting a stark contrast with the programs advanced to win an election. The transformation seemed to describe what had taken place, why it had occurred and identify the consequences to emerge, the basis for this series of studies.

Crotty bookThe selections in our new edited volume, The Obama Presidency Promise and Performance, focus on the principal issues, political and substantive, that marked the Obama presidency, with an emphasis on the formative period. The president’s approach to issue development, public communication (curiously inadequate), congressional leaders and parties and in essence, governing (removed, nonpartisan, unengaged, apolitical) is explored.

The analyses were developed by scholars expert in their particular areas, with a level of knowledge that combined with a sense of political reality, to provide a meaningful look at one of the more fascinating presidencies in recent history. The authors represented different shades of the political spectrum and a diversity of views and evaluations was encouraged.

Among the topics addressed:

  • The politics of campaigning versus the reality of governing; a progressive agenda largely lost in a focus on banks “too big to fail” and elective wars (W. Crotty)
  • A controversial national health care plan, its adoption and implementation despite an all-out and continuing, opposition movement (James E. Morone)
  • A comparison of the Obama presidency with its predecessors in its decisive formative, structural phases (Bruce E. Caswell)
  • A mixed environmental record for a president emphasizing a pro-environmental mindset; the controversial handling of the BP disaster (John C. Berg)
  • The influence of structural realities, international pressures and a real politik Washington community on attempts to enact adaptive, negotiation-based approaches to foreign affairs (Lawrence C. Reardon)
  • The opposition strategy and threats of government shutdowns adopted by congressional Republicans to stalemate presidential initiatives (R. Lawrence Butler)
  • Realignment pressures and the move from coalition-based, umbrella parties to more of an ideologically-driven, hyper-partisan politics based on a more responsible party system (Arthur C. Paulson)
  • Midterm elections as unique, discrete responses to prevalent domestic concerns and international events, working to the disadvantage of an incumbent president; an approach applicable to all off-year elections (Maureen S. Moakley)

And in conclusion

  • The clash of principles and pragmatism, reality and idealism, commitments and flexibility, all played out in Obama’s adaption to the demands to the presidency (W. Crotty)

The intersection of politics and policy, campaigns and governing and the paths chosen form the crux of the presentations in this book.

As for the 2014 congressional election:

The basic issue for President Obama, as it is for every president, is to minimize the damage that is sure to follow.

More specifically:

  • To the extent there is a unifying issue in its off-year elections it is the unpopularity of the president. Democrats do not want his endorsement or for him to appear in their districts. Republicans tie their opponents to the Obama administration. The president’s role has been to act as a fundraiser, something he excels at.
  • The congressional districts are severely gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. Democrats are at a substantial disadvantage before the campaigns even begin. This is a consequence of recent Republican success at the state level in winning governorships and state legislative majorities, the source of the electoral engineering.
  • The Democrats have considerably more Senate seats and governorships up for election and these are more vulnerable as are House seats. The Democratic priority is to maintain control of the Senate but to do so would mean holding or winning seats likely to go Republican.
  • The congressional electorate is fundamentally different from presidential electorates; there are in essence two electorates. The off-year races are low turnout and selective in participation, attracting older, white voters, a better-off clientele and more committed conservatives. Absent are blacks, Latinos, professional women, the young and low-income whites, Democratic 4
  • There has been a systematic campaign since the success of such efforts in Florida in 2000 to restrict voting and make it as difficult as possible: pruning rolls, limiting polling stations, placing polling booths in difficult to get to areas, requiring photo ids, not publicizing registration dates or localities, ending or limiting early voting, and so on. Aimed at Democratic constituencies, it has proven successful in restricting participation. The Supreme Court’s effective voiding of the enforcement powers contained in the Voting Rights Act (2013) is one such example of the anti-vote efforts.
  • The off-year elections will be the most expensive in history. Money in politics is a direct reflection of the dominant economic structure in the society. Such money is increasingly being invested in larger and larger sums in lower level (congressional, state and local) races. A million dollars is baseline for running a competitive House race. The governor’s race in Florida pitting a conservative and unpopular incumbent against a centrist Republican turned Democrat has drawn 1 million for the incumbent and $500,000 for the challenger. It is likely one of a number of such races. The final figures will not be available, and then primarily only for national races, until well after the final vote.
  • Billionaire funding of Tea Party races (among others) has created a bloc within the Republican party (and the Congress), difficult to deal with, divisive for the Republicans, yet successful in pushing legislation, tax policies and budgets that reward the funders.
  • Wildcards: There will be the usual off-the-wall independent candidacies and others internal to the (largely) Republication nomination process. These can have serious consequences in deciding close races and they are not immune to being elected. They serve whatever else they do to push the Republican party farther to the right. Such independent candidates can be mainstream (the Democratic gubernatorial and Senate candidates in Alaska resigned to run with independent candidates). More often thy are fringe figures on the political spectrum with, to say the least, idiosyncratic views (ex., proposals such as reclassifying single parenthood as child abuse; looking at “blood moons” as forces to change the world; advancing a “biblical worldview”; and attacking Hillary Clinton as “the Anti-Christ.” Independent candidates have rendered elections, in addition to Alaska, uncertain in Kansas, South Dakota, Georgia, Maine, Florida, Colorado, West Virginia, New Mexico, Iowa and Hawaii, among the more visible races. House races would be even more vulnerable to such campaigns, and established candidates have already lost re-nomination before getting to the general election phase (House Republican minority leader Eric Kantor of Virginia being the most prominent). Such independent efforts can be taken as evidence of a party system in flux with potentially less to offer voters and less power over their own decision-making processes.

What gives such candidacies hope, and creates further difficulties for the president, is the sour mood of the nation: September, 2014 New York Times poll showed 5 percent of the public believe that incumbent members of Congress should be re-elected (collectively support for the Congress is at its lowest in decades); 87 percent said the need was for new blood.

None of this works to Obama’s advantage. It is a time of stress, anxiety and uncertainty in American politics. The major parties have not answered the call. Neither has a presidential candidate who appeared to ride the wave of the future. It can be argued that the Obama years have contributed to the malaise of a nation and an electorate doubting itself, its leaders and the adequacy of its governing institutions.

It if offers any relief, the 2016 presidential race is already well underway.

William J. Crotty is the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life at Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. His research interests include political parties; electoral behavior; American politics; presidential nominating systems; comparative public policy; and democratization. He received the Samuel J. Eldersveld Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Political Science Association’s Political Organization and Parties Section and is a former president of the Midwestern Political Science Association. He currently chairs the Executive Council of the New England Political Science Association and is a member of the Governing Council of the Northeastern Political Science Association. Among his recent publications are Winning the Presidency 2012 (2013); The Obama Presidency: Promise and Performance (2012); and Winning the Presidency 2008 (2009). He has a book forthcoming, The Consequences of Polarization: Parties, Politics and Policy (2014). Several of his books have won CHOICE awards from the Academic Library Association (ALA).

Notes

  1. See W. Crotty, ed., Winning the Presidency 2008 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2009) and W. Crotty, ed., Winning the Presidency 2012 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2013). I am calling largely on research with which I have been associated and with which in terms of quality and approach I am comfortable. There are obviously many other fine works available.
  2. On Obama and race, see: Michael Tesler and David O. Sears, Obama’s Race (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010): and Gerald M. Pomper, “The Presidential Election: Voting for Parties and Principles” in W. Crotty, ed. Winning the Presidency 2012 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 013), pp. 40-62; and Shayla C. Nunnally, “Race and the 2012 Presidential Election: The Declining Significance of the White Majority and the Future of American Party Politics,” in W. Crotty, ed., Winning the Presidency 2012 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2013), pp. 126-144.
  3. See W. Crotty, ed., Polarized Politics: The Impact of Divisiveness in the US Political System (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Press, forthcoming December 2014) for a comprehensive assessment of the causes and consequences of a polarized politics.
  4. Or an examination of these and related points, see: Elizabeth Drew, “Obama & the Coming Election,” The New York Review of Books, September 25, 2014, pp. 84-87.

See Jonathan Weisman, “House Hopefuls in GOP Seek Rightward shift,” New York Times, September 29, 2014, pp. A1ff; and Jonathan Martin, “Long Shots Loom as Spoilers in Tight Races Across Nation,” New York Times, September 28, 2014, p1ff.

Indonesia – Preliminary Results of the April 2014 Legislative Elections

Indonesians went to the polls April 9, 2014, to vote in one of the largest elections in the world: 560 seats of the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR), 128 seats for the People’s Representatives Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah, DPD), 2112 seats in provincial elections, and 16,895 district elections. Only 12 parties – of which one is new, Nasdem – were sanctioned by the General Election Commission (KPU) to contest the national elections, with an additional three eligible to contest provincial elections in Aceh. The one new party, NasDem (National Democrat Party) was founded by media mogul Surya Paloh, a former Golkar Party member.

There is intense interest in the results of the legislative elections, given the election law that only parties who receive 25 percent of the national vote or 20 percent of the parliamentary seats will be able to field a presidential candidate for the July elections. The Constitutional Court ruled in January 2014 that the next elections in 2019 must be concurrent for both legislature and presidency but deferred to the new legislative body to specify what thresholds, if any, should apply.

Preliminary quick-count results for the legislative elections reveal that no parties achieved the level of popular support needed to run independently for the presidential election in July. Official results are expected to be announced May 9, 2014.

The results show the PDI-P, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, leading in the polls with 19 percent of the popular vote. The PDI-P has not led in the polls since 1999, but the showing is less than the 27 percent popular vote that many had expected from the widely popular Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and the “Jokowi” factor. This means that the PDI-P will have to form a coalition with partners to run for presidential elections in July.

The results also report better-than-expected performance across the Islamic parties, contradicting expectations of significant setbacks to religion-based parties. Indeed, even the PKS (Prosperous Justice Party), which had been caught in a sex-and-corruption scandal, lost only about 1 percent of popular support from the previous election.

The preliminary quick-count outcomes are tabulated below, alongside results from the previous 2009 legislative elections. A chart of the current composition of the parties in the legislature follows.

Party, leader or presidential nominee 2014 election quick count results 2009 legislative election results
PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, chair former President Megawai Sukarnoputri, presidential nominee Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo) 19 14.03
Golkar (leading party of the Suharto era, chair Aburizal Bakrie) 14.9 14.45
Gerindra (Party Movement Indonesia Raya, chair Prof. Dr. Ir. Suhardi, founder Prabowo Subianto in 2009) 12 4.46
Democratic Party (PD, chair President Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) 10 20.85
PKB (National Awakening Party, chair HA Muhaimin Iskandar) * 9 4.94
PAN (National Mandate Party, chair M. Hatta Rajasa) * 7.7 6.01
PKS (Prosperous Justice Party, chair Muhammad Anis Matta) * 7 7.88
Nasdem Party (National Democrat Party, chair media mogul Surya Paloh, former Golkar Party member. Only party to meet qualifications of General Elections Commission to join elections) 6.6
PPP (United Development Party, chair Dr. H. Suryadharma Ali) * 6.3 5.32
Hanura (People’s Conscience party formed in 2006 by chair former presidential candidate H. Wiranto, running mate Hary Tanoesoedibjo, media mogul) 3.2 3.77
PBB (Crescent Star Party, chair Dr. H. MS. Kaban) * 1.4
PKPI (Indonesian Justice and Unity party, Partai Keadilan dan Persatuan Indonesia, splinter party from Golkar) 1
* Denotes Islamic party

Governing coalition, 2009-2014, 426/560 total seats in the House of Representatives

Democratic Party: 148 seats

PKB (National Awakening Party): 28

PPP (United Development Party: 38

PAN (National Mandate Party): 46

PKS (Prosperous Justice Party): 57

Golkar Party: 109

 

Opposition

PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle): 94 seats

Hanura: 17

Gerindra: 26

 

Colombia – Legislative Elections a Slight Setback for Santos

This is a big year for Colombian politics. On Sunday, voters went to the polls to elect a new Congress and in May, they will return to the polls to elect a new president. Sunday’s election was widely viewed as a referendum on the popularity of President Juan Manuel Santos’ peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group currently under way in Havana, and as a barometer of Santos’ popularity prior to this year’s presidential elections.

Although Santos’ legislative position was weakened slightly, his governing coalition still managed to retain a majority in both houses, and his Partido Social de Unidad Nacional (Partido de la U) still retains the largest share of Senate seats (21of 102) and the second largest share of seats in the lower house (37 of 166). The new Colombian lower and upper houses now look like this:

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Of particular interest in this election was the return of Álvaro Uribe, the former two-term president who left the Partido Liberal Colombiano to form his own vaguely populist party with appeals rooted in security. Uribe, running under the slogan “no to impunity” became the first Colombian ex-president to win a seat in the Senate. Throughout the election Uribe accused Santos, his former defense minister, of treason, by providing the FARC with a political stage at the peace talks in Havana. Centro Democrático, the new party established by Uribe for the elections, only managed to win 12 of 166 seats in the lower house, but won 19 of the 102 seats in the upper house, the place where congressional power in Colombia traditionally lies.

Uribe is likely to prove a thorn in the side of Santos. Congress will be essential in the process of drafting legislation for any peace deal that emerges from the talks in Havana, and while 68 per cent of Colombians agree with the peace talks, 78 per cent disapprove of former FARC members entering politics without some form of penal sanction. As the Economist notes, Uribe and the Centro Democrático will “stoke this sentiment” thereby reducing the space available for Santos to reach a deal with the FARC.

Nonetheless, Juan Manuel Santos still remains the favorite to win the upcoming presidential election. His only real challenger appears to be Óscar Iván Zuluaga of Uribe’s Centro Democrático party. Check this space in May.